Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Tatsuya Imai pitches first career shutout as Lions blank Eagles


Right-hander Tatsuya Imai threw a three-hitter for his first professional shutout on Sunday in the Saitama Seibu Lions’ 4-0 win over the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles.

Imai (4-2), who will turn 21 this week, walked four, while fanning five of the 33 hitters he faced at MetLife Dome.

The only time he pitched into a jam was in the second inning, when he put runners on first and second bases with no out. The right-hander, however, retired the next three batters to close the inning without any damage.

“I assumed the relievers in the bullpen were worn out from pitching the last couple of days, so I wanted to pitch as many innings as possible,” said the third-year pro.

“I’m glad I was able to go the distance. I think this gave me confidence that I can pitch all nine innings.”

Shogo Akiyama went 3-for-4 and scored three runs to give Imai plenty of run support. He put the home team on the scoreboard with a first-inning, solo home run against righty Ryota Ishibashi (2-2).

“I’m glad I was able to open the scoring. I didn’t do so well in April, so I knew I had to do something about it,” said Akiyama, who went 21-for-90 last month with a .233 batting average.

Akiyama led off the fourth with a single, advanced to second on a fly out and scored the game’s second run on Ernesto Mejia’s RBI single. He reached base on a double in the bottom of the sixth and came home on cleanup hitter Hotaka Yamakawa’s 13th homer of the season, a two-run shot into the left field stands.

“I’m very happy I was able to hit that homer today. The season has just started, so I want to keep hitting homers that lead the team to a win,” Yamakawa said.

Ishibashi was tagged with the loss for surrendering two runs on three hits and two walks, while striking out three over four innings.

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