CHIBA – Chihaya Sasaki said he was nervous before the first pro start of his career. It was hard to tell in the fifth inning, when nursing a one-run lead with a runner on base, the Chiba Lotte Marines rookie struck out Shohei Otani with a sinker that left the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters star flailing at air.
Sasaki got his career off to a winning start with five innings of one-run ball, Seiya Inoue drove in four runs and the Marines beat the Fighters 5-1 on a chilly, windy afternoon at Zozo Marine Stadium on Thursday.
Sasaki was the Marines’ first-round selection in the 2016 draft. He overcame a shaky beginning to limit Nippon Ham to one run on three singles, though he also walked six batters. The 23-year old finished with five strikeouts.
“Honestly, I was a little nervous until I got on the mound,” Sasaki said. “This was my first step as a professional. I didn’t throw my fastball the way I would’ve liked and I walked a lot of batters. I wasn’t able to totally display my style of pitching.”
Sasaki said he felt his curveball worked well and that despite the windy conditions, he got decent break on his breaking balls. Still, he hoped to do better the next time out.
“I think my control can be better,” he said. “I want to work on my pitching ahead of my next start.”
Sasaki got a big boost on Thursday from Inoue, who drove in runs in his first three at-bats. Inoue connected on an RBI single in the first inning, a run-scoring double in the fourth and a bases-loaded two-run double in the sixth. He finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs.
“I was thinking even a sacrifice fly would be good in that spot,” Inoue said of his sixth inning hit. “Today I’m just thankful for the batters in front of me who created the opportunities for me.”
The Marines earned their second victory of the season and second in as many days over Nippon Ham.
“It’s good to start a winning streak after we lost consecutive games to start the season,” said manager Tsutomu Ito.
The wind nearly wreaked havoc on the Fighters’ fielders early, but Inoue and the Lotte batters tormented Nippon Ham’s pitchers throughout the game.
Catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura also drove in a run, with a sacrifice fly, and second baseman Daichi Suzuki reached base four times, hitting three singles and being hit by a pitch.
Haruki Nishikawa knocked in the Fighters’ only run of the game with a single in the third inning. Otani finished 1-for-3 with a double in his first career game as the No. 2 batter.
Fighters pitcher Yuki Saito allowed three runs on six hits over five-plus innings in his first start of the year. Saito (0-1) was seeking his first victory since a win over the Marines on Sept. 16, 2015. Saito struck out two and walked one.
Suzuki got the Marines going with a single in the second inning. He then stole second to put himself in scoring position. The effort paid off when Inoue hit his RBI single to left.
The Fighters struck back with a game-tying single by Nishikawa in the top of the third.
Suzuki was hit by a pitch in the fourth and Inoue again drove him home, this time with his double to right.
Jimmy Paredes drew a walk to start the home half of the sixth and singles by Suzuki and Matt Duffy loaded the bases. Inoue doubled to left to bring in two runs and Tamura’s sacrifice fly later in the inning made the score 5-1.
Peguero lifts Eagles
First-place Tohoku Rakuten’s Carlos Peguero hit his third homer of the season, a two-run shot off Fukuoka Softbank starter Rick van den Hurk (0-1) in the third inning in the Eagles’ 3-1 victory on Thursday.
BayStars 4, Giants 2
At Yokohama Stadium, Yokohama ended Yomiuri’s five-game winning streak to start the season, Takayuki Kajitani hitting a tie-breaking two-run single in the seventh inning.
The Giants were the last unbeaten team in NPB, but the BayStars, with the game tied 2-2, loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh.
Kajitani singled off Tappei Tanioka to score Toshihiko Kuramoto and Yasutaka Tobashira as Yokohama, which improved to 2-4, won at home for the first time this year in halting a three-game slide.
Tanioka had taken over in the inning from Tetsuya Yamaguchi (1-1), who took the loss after allowing both Kuramoto and Tobashira to reach base.
Kajitani said no one on the team had his head down even though the BayStars had just one win from their first five games.
“The atmosphere in the clubhouse has been good although the losses were piling up,” said Kajitani, who also singled in the first inning.
“I thought about this and that against the pitcher, but being aggressive is my strength so I swung with all my might. I’m really happy about this.”
Spencer Patton (1-0) won his first game in Japan after working a scoreless seventh. Yokohama got six solid innings from Joe Wieland, who, in his first NPB start, struck out eight and held the Giants to two earned runs, both coming from Shinnosuke Abe’s two-run home run in the sixth.
Yasuaki Yamasaki pitched the ninth to earn his first save of the season. “I look forward to more wins here in Yokohama,” Patton said. “I felt great, my arm feels good and I’m just happy to do what I could do to help the team win.”
Carp 5, Dragons 3 (11)
At Nagoya Dome, Takahiro Arai’s bases-loaded sacrifice fly and a defensive miscue by Chunichi produced two runs in the 11th for Hiroshima, which won in extra innings for the second straight day.
Tigers 5, Swallows 4 (11)
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Fumihito Haraguchi led off the bottom of the 11th inning with a solo shot off Tokyo Yakult’s Toshihiro Sugiura (0-1) as Hanshin walked off with its second consecutive win.
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