Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

Aggressive Ishikawa impressive in opener

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

The 2012 NPB season opened Friday and it wasn’t bereft of a little bit drama on Opening Day. The fans at Tokyo Dome nearly saw a bit of history as Tokyo Yakult Swallows pitcher Masanori Ishikawa flirted with the first no-hitter in Opening Day history.

Ishikawa kept the Yomiuri Giants totally off balance in a dominating performance that saw him carry a no-hitter into the ninth before allowing a pair of hits in Yakult’s 4-0 victory on Friday.

“I knew I had to attack them if we were going to win,” Ishikawa said. “I tried to attack them on the outside.”

Ishikawa’s slider was sharp and his command was superb, which left the Giants searching for answers for most of the night.

“I felt about halfway through the game it might develop,” Swallows manager Junji Ogawa said. “Ishikawa pitched really well, and I’m happy we won.”

Ishikawa threw 8⅓ shutout innings, but got through the game on just 99 pitches. The low pitch count helped him maintain his energy and pace throughout the game. He simply followed the lead of catcher Ryoji Aikawa and said he tried to not to stray from his usual style of pitching.

I tried to preserve my energy,” Ishikawa said. “The manager also told me to take it easy. I didn’t throw many pitches, so I felt I did OK.”

Ishikawa wasn’t the only one flirting with history on Opening Day. In Nagoya, Chunichi Dragons starter Kazuki Yoshimi took a perfect game into the eighth, before allowing a leadoff single to the Hiroshima Carp’s Kenta Kurihara in a 4-2 win.

Moving on: The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters sent media darling Yuki Saito to the mound to start the team’s first game since the departure of ace pitcher Yu Darvish.

For one night, it was like nothing changed for the Fighters. Saito allowed just one run in a complete-game effort, giving up four hits and striking out seven.

Chin up: Reigning Sawamura Award winner and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka’s season did not get off to a good start. Tanaka gave up five runs — two earned — over six innings in his team’s 5-3 loss to the Chiba Lotte Marines on the first night of the season.

It was a bad start, but as a friend reminded him later, it was still just one game.

“The result wasn’t good, but in 2011, I started by giving up seven runs in seven innings,” Yu Darvish wrote to Tanaka on Twitter. “You did better by comparison.”

After allowing those seven runs in the 2011 season opener, Darvish of course went on to finish 18-6 with a 1.44 ERA.

Still not flying: The first day of the second season with the ball NPB introduced last year didn’t yield many promising results for hitters. With all 12 teams in action Friday, just three players managed to hit home runs.