Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Steady starter Kris Johnson improves to 10-2 as Carp pound Giants

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Hiroshima Carp pitcher Kris Johnson gave himself a passing grade, just barely, for his performance against the Yomiuri Giants on Tuesday night.

As for his teammates, well, they all passed with flying colors.

Johnson allowed one run over seven innings, the Carp hitters put on a fireworks display at the plate and the Central League’s top team beat the Kyojin 10-5 at Tokyo Dome.

Johnson (10-2) allowed four hits, struck out three and walked one batter. The only runner he allowed past second was Alex Guerrero, who hit a solo homer. While he was pleased to have induced a number of ground balls, he was less thrilled about all the deep counts he faced.

“Maybe a C, maybe a B-minus,” Johnson said of his outing. “Because I did correct it and was able to get through the seventh. It’s just those deep counts the last few starts.”

Johnson made history with the win, becoming the first foreign pitcher in franchise history to record three seasons with 10 or more victories. The left-hander won 14 games in 2015 and 15 in 2016.

“That’s a great thing to accomplish,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without these guys (his teammates). I get all the glory, but it should be them. Because they’re the ones scoring the runs, they’re the ones playing defense.”

The Carp certainly did plenty at the plate on Tuesday.

After getting blown out 11-1 by the Chunichi Dragons in their last game, the Carp bounced back in a big way.

Hiroshima set the stage by sending nine men to the plate, and scoring three runs in the process, in the first inning against starter Tetsuya Utsumi and just never cooled off.

All nine Carp starters also batted in the third, an inning that saw Takayoshi Noma and Ryosuke Kikuchi hit RBI doubles, Yoshihiro Maru connect on an RBI single and Seiya Suzuki add an RBI double, all in succession, as the team blew the game open.

The Carp ended up with 19 hits overall to equal a season-high. Maru was 4-for-6 while Noma, Suzuki, who was a triple away from the cycle, and Kosuke Tanaka all finished with three hits. Seven of the team’s nine starters had at least one hit.

Suzuki, who hit his 26th home run of the season during the first inning, led Hiroshima with three RBIs, while Maru drove in two and Kikuchi, Noma and Tetsuya Kokubo had one apiece. Hiroshima’s other runs came when Tanaka scored on a wild pitch in the third and Kikuchi came home on an error in the seventh.

The outpouring of run support was more than enough for Johnson.

“You know they’re going to score at least three or four runs a game,” Johnson said. “So I tell myself, if I can go as deep as I can, giving up only two to three runs, I’m going to give the team a chance to win no matter what.”

After watching the Carp batters’ latest outburst, Johnson was just appreciative to be the recipient.

“It’s weird, some of these wins, I feel like I don’t deserve,” said Johnson, who improved to 45-19 overall in NPB. “But the offense was there to score a lot of runs, even if I didn’t go deep in the game. There are some games where I did go deep in the game, and sometimes you don’t get the run support. It all evens out somehow. This year just happens to be more the offense has done so well lately, that it makes it easier to do my job.”

With Tuesday’s victory, the first-place Carp maintained their 11-game lead in the Central League and lowered their magic number to 21.

The third-place Giants fell 1 1/2 games behind the Tokyo Yakult Swallows in the standings. The Kyojin remained two games ahead of the fourth-place Hanshin Tigers.

The Giants got solo homers from Alex Guerrero, who hit his 12th of the year and second since returning from a prolonged stay on the farm team, and Kazuma Okamoto. Daikan Yoh drove in two runs for the team, both on a double in the ninth, while Takumi Oshiro had an RBI single.

Utsumi (5-4) had an especially rough night for Yomiuri. He didn’t make it out of the third and was charged with eight runs in 2 2/3 innings.

The Carp will send Aren Kuri (7-3, 4.78 ERA) to the mound when the teams meet Wednesday at the Big Egg. Mitsuo Yoshikawa (6-4, 3.93) will take the ball for Yomiuri.

Swallows edge Tigers

KYODO

Yasuhiro Ogawa (6-5) outdueled Yuta Iwasada (5-7) over seven innings. Tetsuto Yamada doubled Tomotaka Sakaguchi with the game’s only run in the first inning and Tokyo Yakult held on to beat the Hanshin Tigers on Tuesday.

BayStars 5, Dragons 3

At Yokohama Stadium, Neftali Soto hit his 26th and 27th home runs, and Yokohama’s Hiroki Minei broke a 2-2 tie with his seventh-inning home run in a win over Chunichi.

PACIFIC LEAGUE

Marines 2, Hawks 1

At Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, Yuki Ariyoshi somehow held Fukuoka SoftBank at bay for seven innings, allowing Chiba Lotte to squeak out a victory over the red-hot Hawks, snapping their nine-game win streak.

SoftBank took the lead in the first on a Taisei Makihara double, a sacrifice bunt and a Yurisbel Gracial sacrifice fly.

“I was told that the first inning was crucial, but I gave away a run in the first, so that’s something I have to reflect on,” said Ariyoshi (6-2), who scattered eight hits and three walks, while striking out three.

The visitors tied it in the fourth inning on a one-out double from Katsuya Kakunaka and a long RBI single from Kazuya Fukuura, who moved to within nine hits of 2,000 in his career.

Hawks starter Nao Higashihama allowed a run on five hits and two walks over 5-1/3 innings. He left the game after Kakunaka singled for the third hit.

The Marines pulled ahead in the eighth, when Kakunaka led off with a double off reliever Robert Suarez (1-1). After a sacrifice bunt, pinch runner Shohei Kato scored on catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura’s double.

“Even though I allowed a runner in every inning, I was able to make big pitches when I had to do. I’m so grateful to my catcher, Tamura. Not only did he call a good game, but he got the big hit we needed,” Ariyoshi said.

The Hawks had a chance to tie it in the eighth, after Akira Nakamura singled and went to second on a sacrifice against reliever Takahiro Matsunaga. Pinch hitter Keizo Kawashima lined a single to center, but a perfect throw home from center fielder Hiromi Oka allowed Tamura to apply a tag on Nakamura to preserve the lead.

Lions 6, Eagles 5

At Gunma’s Maebashi Stadium, Hideto Asamura’s three-run, seventh-inning home run overturned a two-run deficit as league-leading Seibu rallied to beat Tohoku Rakuten.

Fighters 4, Buffaloes 0

At Miyazaki’s Sun Marine Stadium, Sho Nakata homered and drove in three runs, while six Hokkaido Nippon Ham pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout of Orix.