CHIBA – It took a few innings, but the real Shohei Otani showed up, striking out 10 en route to his first win of the season as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Chiba Lotte Marines 9-4 in the Pacific League on Sunday afternoon.
Before 29,672 at a packed QVC Marine Field, Otani, the fastest Japanese pitcher ever recorded, began with little of his trademark velocity or command.
Otani (1-2) walked the first batter he faced on four pitches, and came perilously close to blowing a five-run lead before he established a rhythm and seized control of the contest.
The right-hander went the distance, allowing four hits and four walks through the first three innings but nothing after that in his 138-pitch effort.
“It’s been a while, so I’m pretty happy with it,” Otani said. “They (the Marines) are among the league leaders and they can really swing the bat.
“Although it got better at the end, my forkball was mediocre early on, I wasn’t finishing them properly. I had to try something a little different — using the slider. My slider was good today, and using that and the fastball saw me through.”
Sho Nakata broke the ice in the top of the first against Marines right-hander Yuta Omine (1-2). With two outs, the cleanup man doubled in leadoff man Daiki Asama and Nakata himself scored when Yang Dai-kang’s liner to center eluded a dive from center fielder Yoshifumi Okada.
The Fighters loaded the bases with no outs in the second. After a two-run Asama double and a walk, Omine was yanked. Lefty Takahiro Fujioka took over and surrendered a sacrifice fly but got Nakata to hit into an inning-ending double play.
Omine left after 54 pitches. He was charged with five runs on six hits and two walks, and did not strike out a batter.
Otani, however, gave away most of his lead in the bottom of the second. Alfredo Despaigne doubled to center to open the inning and scored on Yamaico Navarro’s one-out single.
With two outs, Shunichi Nemoto launched a two-run triple and scored on a single by Okada before Otani got out of the inning with his first strikeout.
The Fighters’ flamethrower began missing bats with his slider and splitter as he struck out three in the third to work around a pair of two-out walks, and just got stronger and more in command as the game progressed.
“He is usually a slow starter,” pitching coach and former big leaguer Masato Yoshii said. “His pitch count was OK and physically, his condition is really strong, so I thought it would be good for him to finish, give him a confidence boost going into his next start. And the manager agreed.”
Fujioka left after three scoreless innings, and right-hander Masaki Minami worked a 1-2-3 fifth but allowed an unearned run in the sixth.
Kensuke Kondo singled with one out, and scored after Brandon Laird’s second hit of the game, a double, and a throwing error by left fielder Katsuya Kakunaka.
Trying to nail Laird at second, Kakunaka’s throw hit Laird in the foot and rolled into the outfield as Kondo scored. Center fielder Okada prevented it from becoming a three-run game when he hustled in to retire the side by catching a flare in center with Laird poised to score from third.
Rookie right-hander Taiki Tojo took over for the Marines in the seventh, and let the game get away in the eighth, when the first six Fighters batters reached to score three more runs.
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Buffaloes 4, Eagles 2
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Carp 10, Dragons 7
At Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima overcame a four-run deficit to complete a three-game sweep of Chunichi. Brad Eldred hit his 10th home run, a pinch-hit, three-run shot in the Carp’s six-run sixth inning.
Tigers 7, BayStars 6
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Swallows 11, Giants 2
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