Kyuji Fujikawa: Start me up

Kyuji Fujikawa

The Central League rival Yomiuri Giants used to take the field at Tokyo Dome in to the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” but it would work just as well for Hanshin Tigers returnee Kyuji Fujikawa. With 220 NPB saves under his belt, the right-hander is being groomed for a return to the mound as a starter for the first time since 2003.

On Sunday, Fujikawa threw five hitless innings against the Nippon Ham Fighters in his second spring start. My colleague at Kyodo wrote, “Fujikawa mixed in a lot of breaking balls,” with “a lot” for Fujikawa meaning four curves in 55 pitches, although an occasional cutter and two-seamer also appeared.

After a lifetime of getting swings and misses by shifting between his forkball and four-seam fastball, Fujikawa preached the gospel according to Crash:

“If you take a long-term view, it’s good to have balance, throw a variety of pitches and get batters to put the ball in play. Going forward, I think that is going to be essential.”

Sho Nakata of the Fighters said, “Rather than being fast, his pitches felt fast.”

How’s that for a complement?

In other news around NPB, Seibu Lions right-hander Kona Takahashi got hammered in an Eastern League game and his status as a member of the Lions starting rotation is currently on hold.

And just when you thought his name wouldn’t pop up again for a while, three scoreless innings in the same game has put the Fighters’ Yuki Saito back in the media’s radar. Another game or two should fix that.

Johnny Gomes hit his second homer of the spring for the Rakuten Eagles, while Jason Pridie hit a come-from-behind two-run shot for the Hiroshima Carp, to hand Hiroki Kuroda a pre-season win.

In Fukuoka, the two-time defending champion SoftBank Hawks improved to 9-0 with three ties in the spring with Shota Takeda saying he wants to be efficient with his pitches so that he has the gas to strike batters out with runners on third. The rationale is that since Japan’s umpires will no longer ignore the rule against catchers blocking the plate without the ball, infield grounders will more easily result in runs being scored.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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