• Kyodo


Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles closer Yuki Matsui recorded a club-record 33 saves last year, but hopes to reach greater heights this year with a more efficient form that will get him through the stretch run of the season.

In his second season, the southpaw was handed the closing role and went onto record a 0.87 ERA, and was named to the Japan national team for the inaugural Premier 12 competition.

Yet the success of 2015 has hardly gone to Matsui’s head as the 20-year-old has been working out in the bullpen daily during the Eagles’ spring training camp in Okinawa Prefecture.

Matsui said pitching on consecutive days took too much out of him last year, something he hopes to correct by the time the season opens at the end of March.

“I’m not at all satisfied with the results of last season,” Matsui said. “There were days I said I can’t go. I need to be able to throw at 120 percent with an arm swing of 75 to 80 percent.

“In my head, I know how to shift my center of gravity on the mound. I just have to be able to act it out.”

Matsui said he is working on a curveball, a pitch he did not use last season, to give himself “more options.” His batterymate Motohiro Shima said he does not want Matsui becoming a one-dimensional pitcher.

“We relied too much on the changeup last year. We need more movement sideways,” Shima said.

Matsui hopes to cement his position as Rakuten’s closer and record 40 saves with a 0.75 ERA this season — while not blowing a single save.

“I want to become a player who can help create a winning atmosphere on the team,” he said.

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