Side-armer Aoyagi gives Tigers new look

As John E. Gibson is fond of saying, NPB’s month-long interleague season from the end of May is a time for testing out new players against the other league, and such was the case for Koyo Aoyagi. After three interleague starts and one relief appearance the Hanshin Tigers side-armer was deemed ready for Central League opponents.

The right-hander, whose fastball was sitting at 141 kilometers per hour (87 mph) had some trouble locating, but good action on his two-seamer, his change and slider against the Yomiuri Giants on Thursday night at Tokyo Dome in a 6-0 Tigers victory.

The 22-year-old Aoyagi, the Tigers’ fifth pick out of Teikyo University last autumn, worked inside consistently and walked four hitters over seven innings, while striking out six.

“I was extremely nervous, but was able to relax after my teammates scored some early runs for me (two in the first),” Aoyagi said.

As has been the case this season, the win saw some productive at-bats by young Tigers hitters, in this case 23-year-olds Taiga Egoshi and Masahiro Nakatani.

In Thursday’s other CL game, DeNA BayStars outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutusgo became the first left-handed hitter in franchise history to reach 20 homers in three straight seasons, as he brought DeNA from behind with a three-run homer and an RBI single in a 5-3 win over the Yakult Swallows.

In the Pacific League, the league-leading Sho Iwasaki threw his first shutout in five years as the SoftBank Hawks spoiled the return of Orix Buffaloes ace Chihiro Kaneko, who surrendered home runs to Seiichi Uchikawa and Nobuhiro Matsuda at Kyocera Dome in Osaka. Iwasaki went 6-2 in 2011, when NPB forced all teams to use the same ball and chose a particularly dead one. When the ball was livened up in 2013, Iwasaki’s ERA floated up to the point where he became barely usable.

Except for a one-out single and a walk before Uchikawa came to the plate in the first, Kaneko was solid for Orix, allowing three hits and a walk, while striking out seven over seven innings.

In the other PL game, the Lotte Marines beat the Seibu Lions 4-3, getting their second straight solid effort from right-hander Yuki Karakawa.

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