Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Dragons' Valdes rises to challenge against Giants' Sugano

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Raul Valdes never blinked.

Locked in a pitcher’s duel against a player considered by many to be no worse than one of the best two or three pitchers in Japan, Valdes just methodically racked up outs.

By the time it was over, he’d racked up a win as well.

Valdes threw eight innings of shutout ball, Nobumasa Fukuda drove in the only run, and relievers Shinji Tajima and Hitoki Iwase made it hold up in the ninth inning as the Chunichi Dragons earned a 1-0 win over the Yomiuri Giants on Friday night at Tokyo Dome.

“I thought it would be a good game from the beginning because I was facing the other team’s ace,” Valdes said.

It was a game in which neither starter gave up much, and one where Valdes was just a little bit better than Tomoyuki Sugano.

“He almost always gives us a quality start,” said Dragons manger Shigekazu Mori.

The Dragons won their third straight game and snapped the Giants’ three-game winning streak. The contest was the first for both teams since the end of interleague play earlier this week.

Valdes (4-4) limited the Giants to two singles and a double. He struck out six and walked three. Tajima recorded the first two outs of the ninth, though he allowed two runners in the process. Mori then turned to Iwase, as the Giants called on pinch hitter Yoshiyuki Kamei, who hit a pinch-hit three-run homer in his last game.

Japanese baseball’s all-time saves leader retired Kamei to end the contest and record his first save since the 2014 season, extending his record total to 403.

The Dragons only needed one run to get the job done, and it came in the fourth inning, when Fukuda singled in Masahiko Morino, who led off the frame with a double.

Sugano (7-3) went nearly pitch-for-pitch with Valdes in defeat, allowing just a single run on five hits over eight innings. He struck out five and walked a pair.

Valdes ended interleague play on a high note (allowing one run over 14 innings in wins over the Orix Buffaloes and Seibu Lions) and kept the good times rolling to record his third straight victory.

“I wasn’t thinking about that,” Valdes said. “I was trying not to think too much about anything. I’ll now make some adjustments so that I can pitch well in my next outing.”

The most tense moments of his gem came with runners on the corners (and later second and third after a stolen base) and Giants slugger Casey McGehee and Daikan Yoh due up with one out in the sixth. McGehee swung through a 3-2 changeup and Yoh popped up in foul territory as Valdes protected his slim 1-0 lead.

“McGehee is a good batter, and I’m glad I could get a strikeout,” Valdes said.

The left-hander also wasn’t fazed by the Giants fielding an all-righty lineup for the first time in 23 years.

“I just focused on the batter in front of me,” Valdez said. “I just wanted to make sure I pitched with control.”

There wasn’t much offense on either side. Morino had the only multi-hit night for his club, finishing 2-for-4, and Hisayoshi Chono, who nearly started a rally with a double in the sixth, did the same for the Giants with a 2-for-3 night.

The teams will meet in the second game of a three-game set on Saturday night at Tokyo Dome. Chunichi’s Shinnosuke Ogasawara (3-8) will get the ball as the Dragons try for a fourth straight win, with Miles Mikolas (6-3) set to start on the other side.

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