Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Ex-Buffaloes ace Chihiro Kaneko leads Fighters to victory against old club


Chihiro Kaneko returned to his pro baseball roots on Thursday, throwing five scoreless innings to earn the win as the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters defeated the Orix Buffaloes 7-3.

Kaneko (1-1) had for years been Orix’s ace pitcher but left last winter in a contract dispute. Pitching at Hotto Motto Field, where he had earned his first pro victory, he allowed one hit and issued two walks, while striking out five.

“I think that there is fate at play here, but the most important thing for us is that this win prevents us from taking three straight losses,” Kaneko said.

His opponent, 20-year-old Yoshinobu Yamamoto (1-1), has pitched extremely well this season, his first as a starter. The right-hander, however, allowed four runs on five hits and two walks over six innings to take the loss.

“I know Yamamoto has been shutting teams down this season, and that he’s a good pitcher, so I was very conscious of not falling behind,” Kaneko said.

Yamamoto retired the first 10 batters he faced, but Taiwan’s Wang Po-jung opened the scoring with a fourth-inning RBI double. Wang’s sixth-inning single helped set up a three-run inning.

Kaneko’s victory against his former club made him the 18th pitcher in NPB to beat every team in both leagues.

Nippon Ham taken on a new look this year, becoming the first Japanese team to regularly employ drastic major league-style infield shifts and often only asking for a few innings from their starting pitchers.

Kaneko, pitching on just four days’ rest, was pulled after throwing just 54 pitches. Behind him, his infield played an extreme shift against left-handed slugger Masataka Yoshida, with their third baseman playing deep between first and second.

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