• Kyodo

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Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles manager Masataka Nashida on Wednesday indicated he will pin his hopes on Takahiro Norimoto for next season’s opening game against the Japan Series champion Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

It will make the 25-year-old Norimoto the first NPB pitcher to start four consecutive curtain raisers, having made his debut as a rookie in the 2013 season opener.

“Generally thinking, there’s only him. There’s that big a gap between him and the rest,” said the two-time Pacific League winner Nashida, who replaces Hiromoto Okubo after his predecessor posted a .407 winning percentage to send the Eagles to bottom of the Pacific League this past season.

Norimoto was 10-11 this year, posting the first losing record of his three-year-career, but marked both his best ERA (2.91) and strikeouts (215) over 194⅔ innings.

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