New Saitama Seibu skipper Hisanobu Watanabe made Kazuhisa Ishii welcome in Saitama, and on Saturday the veteran southpaw began to pay the manager back.
Ishii began his 17th pro season and his first in the Pacific League with seven shutout innings as the Lions shotgunned the Orix Buffaloes with both barrels in a 6-0 victory at Seibu Dome.
Ishii, who joined Seibu as a free agent after a career spent in the Central and National leagues, surrendered four soft singles, while walking one and striking out six. The 34-year-old said he was happy to be there for the guys that made him feel welcome.
"Soon after I signed, the manager took me out to dinner, we talked and he made me feel at home," Ishii said. "Being my first win in the Pacific League doesn't compare with it being the skipper's first as a manager. I was happy to help out.
"The manager, all the pitchers have brought me in, made me feel a part of this. I joined a good team with great teammates that let me enjoy doing what I do."
On Saturday what he did, along with batterymate Toru Hosokawa, was a number on the Buffaloes, who were less disciplined than in their 2-1 Opening-Day victory. Ishii got ahead in the count over and over, putting manager Terry Collins' men into holes they rarely got out of.
"You've got to be patient," Collins said. "He got ahead of us, made us chase balls in the dirt--which you can't do against him. We had two or three sub-10-pitch innings. You can't let him do that."
The Lions made Ishii's job easier by scratching out a first-inning run off inexperienced lefty Shinya Nakayama. Leadoff man Yasuyuki Kataoka lined a single, stole second, and scored as a result of two straight ground outs.
Nakayama had excellent movement, although he couldn't command his curve early and that cost him. In the second, he fell behind 2-0 to rotund No. 6 hitter Takeya Nakamura, who juiced a high, listless fastball for a solo homer.
The Orix starter allowed four runs in 5-1/3 innings, while striking out six and walking one. The walk, a leadoff free pass to Nakamura, hurt when Hosokawa doubled off the wall to make it 3-0. Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a solo shot in the sixth, while G.G. Sato capped the carnage with his second homer of the season, a two-run shot in the eighth.
Although Nakayama took the loss, it was a strong start for a pitcher with a future.
"He pitched better than a lot of people expected," said Orix pitching coach Mike Brown. "He mixed in his breaking pitches, used his changeup. It's a good start for him, something to build on."
With Orix's starting rotation besieged by injuries, Nakayama will have more chances to learn how to get guys out.
Ishii, on the other hand, doesn't need to learn how to get guys out. He does, however, need to keep his head in the game. A stereotypical flake of a southpaw, Ishii said his 91 pitches were enough because his "undershirt was soaked." Ishii is famous for two things: great stuff and making games more difficult than they need be. This one, however, was a breeze.
"My games are usually nerve-wracking, so I suppose I deserve an easy one now and then," he said.
"Hosokawa and I didn't talk during the game, but he caught me twice in the preseason and he knows me. He made my pitches work for me. He's one smart catcher.
"He used this one as an out pitch and that one to set up the counts. He called a lot of different patterns--more than you'll usually see from me."
It added up to a satisfying day at the office for Watanabe, who spent three years as Seibu's farm manager before getting his chance at this level.
"We were a little stiff in the first game," Watanabe said. "But we had a good practice yesterday and came out running. Once you get that win, you feel like you can play ball."
In other Pacific League games:
Hawks 5, Eagles 4, 11 innings: Mitsuru Honma's 11th-inning, bases-loaded single lifted host Fukuoka SoftBank to its second straight sayonara victory over Tohoku Rakuten.
Eagles closer Domingo Guzman blew his second straight save opportunity when Nobuhiro Matsuda greeted him in the ninth with a two-out RBI double that tied the game.
Marines 3, Fighters 2: Yoshihisa Naruse went the distance and 38-year-old Koichi Hori put Chiba Lotte on top for good with a seventh-inning RBI double at Sapporo Dome.