Shintaro Fujinami gave up 11 runs — seven earned — in 4 2/3 innings on Saturday night. That’s more than he’s ever allowed in his career and, per Daily Sports, more than any Hanshin pitcher has in a single outing.
The loss dropped the second-place Tigers 7 1/2 games behind the Giants in the Central League pennant race.
“This was a game we had to win in an important four-game series,” Fujinami was quoted as saying by Daily Sports. “I’m really sorry for causing trouble for the team.”
On one hand, it was just a bad game in which a struggling pitcher was left in too long — probably due to the team having 13 games in 13 days on the schedule.
On the other, bad games haven’t exactly been an outlier for Fujinami as of late. In seven starts this season, the 26-year-old has allowed fewer than four runs just three times.
Which brings us back to the same old question of what do the Tigers do with him?
In the immediacy, it seems like the answer is to keep sending him out there. Fujinami wasn’t taken off the roster Sunday and with the club in the middle of a compressed schedule, we should see him again sooner rather than later.
Fujinami was under a lot of scrutiny coming into this season and has not put up good numbers.
Among starters with at least 40 innings pitched, Fujinami’s 5.27 ERA is better than only the Hiroshima Carp’s Kris Johnson, who is on the farm, and the Seibu Lions’ Tatsuya Imai, who has been in the bullpen since early August.
Fujinami’s 1.62 walks plus hits per innings pitched rates better than only three starters from the aforementioned group. He’s around the middle of the pack, however, with a 3.96 fielding independent pitching, per Deltagraphs.
Fujinami has put his fair share of runners on base and hasn’t pitched well in those spots.
He has a left on base percentage of 50.9 (as listed by Deltagraphs) that’s the worst among the starters with at least 40 innings. Johnson (58.7) is the only other pitcher below 60 while the league average in both the Central and Pacific League is above 70.
Fujinami has had games in which he has looked solid only to have it fall apart when a couple of runners get on base. That’s often when crooked numbers start going up on the scoreboard.
He’s still one of the hardest throwers among NPB pitchers, but while his control problems aren’t quite as pronounced this year, his command is still very much lacking, and when he gets into trouble it can snowball easily.
It’s possible Fujinami’s issues are as much mental as mechanical. That if he figures out how to stay under control and pitch well with runners on base — or stops putting a lot on in the first place — perhaps his fortunes will change. With his arsenal, he’s the type of pitcher who should be able to pitch out of some trouble, he’s just not doing it as much as he needs.
So what’s next?
There isn’t an easy answer. Putting him back on the farm seems pointless, and trading him (a change of scenery and voices may actually do him some good) doesn’t seem to be in the cards.
Fujinami and the coaches need to get creative and figure out a way to improve his consistency and ability to show better command. Fujinami still has plenty of talent, it’s just locked behind a vault no one can remember how to unlock.
Outside of Fujinami’s implosion, Hanshin won three of its five games last week and is currently in second place in the CL.
The Giants, meanwhile, won four of five last week and maintained control of the pennant race with a 7 1/2-game lead.
The Yokohama BayStars are still third after a 2-3-1 showing last week.
The lowlight for the BayStars came Tuesday, when using an opener blew up in the club’s face in a 13-4 loss to the Giants.
Shinichi Onuki provided a highlight on Saturday, holding the Carp to one run for his first career complete-game victory. Onuki improved to 6-2 and lowered his ERA to 2.03. The 26-year-old also singled and scored a run.
Elsewhere around the league, the fourth-place Chunichi Dragons were 4-2 last week, the Swallows were 2-4, though they rose out of last place, and the Carp fell into the basement after a 1-4-1 week.
In the Pacific League, the second place Chiba Lotte Marines maintained their recent mastery over the first-place Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks with a weekend sweep in Kyushu.
The Marines are just a half-game back in the standings and are 25-11-1 against the Hawks since last season.
The third-place Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters were both 3-3 last week while the Seibu Lions won four of six. In last place, the Orix Buffaloes were 2-3-1.
That’s a new one: Scott McGough
The Swallows reliever made a play few, if any, had ever seen before in a pro game on Thursday against the Tigers.
McGough was pitching with runners on the corners and his team ahead 3-2 in the seventh when Hanshin’s Naomasa Yokawa stole second.
Later in the at-bat, McGough, to the surprise of everyone (himself included, probably) threw a pickoff to first — where, remember, there was no runner.
The ball got past the first baseman, both runners scored, McGough was charged with a balk and the Tigers went on to win 4-3.
It was a stunning play with some media members remarking they’d never seen anything like it. They probably won’t see it again for some time.
Throw in a freebie: Raidel Martinez.
The Chunichi Dragons reliever put in a little overtime in the ninth inning on Friday against the Swallows.
Martinez struck out Munetaka Murakami to start the frame then rung up Yasutake Shiomi. The latter, however, reached first when the ball got away from the catcher.
Martinez didn’t let it faze him and struck out the next two batters to become the 25th pitcher in NPB history with four strikeouts in a single inning.
Master salesman: Jerry Sands
Tigers outfielder Jerry Sands’ “Happy Hands” home run performance has caught on among fans of the CL club.
The Tigers connected on this marketing opportunity the way Sands does fastballs, releasing a “Happy Hands” line of merchandise. on Aug. 25.
Sands has been doing his part to drive up sales by driving balls out of the park. He’s hit six homers since Aug. 25, with three coming last week.
It was a good week for: Masataka Yoshida
Opposing pitchers just can’t keep the Buffaloes star off base. The PL batting leader picked up 10 hits (including two homers), walked three times and drove in 10 runs last week.
Yoshida also extended his hitting streak to 24 games.
It was a bad week for: the Carp
Not only did the Carp fall into last place, but pitchers Daichi Osera and Kris Johnson were both taken off the top-team roster last week.
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