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Jim Allen

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Flaming hot / CL ERA leader Yoshimi stays perfect

by Jim Allen (Apr 28, 2008)

Dragons right-hander Kazuki Yoshimi looked almost human on Sunday.

Chunichi's 23-year-old Central League ERA leader allowed two runs over eight innings in a 4-2 victory over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium.

Yoshimi, the Dragons' first pick out of the corporate leagues in 2005, saw his ERA more than double, from 0.35 to 0.79. On the other hand, he allowed just three hits and a hit batsman while striking out nine as he kept his record perfect in four decisions.

"I was just fired up, going on emotion tonight," said Yoshimi, whose slider was working nearly to perfection with an on-target fastball frequently humming at 144 kph.

As expected, Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai had little interest in seeing Yoshimi get his third complete game of the year. Ochiai brought in closer Hitoki Iwase to finish up for his eighth save.

"We needed some more runs before I was going to worry about a complete game," Ochiai said. "But he has become our most reliable pitcher."

Swallows starter Tatsuyoshi Masubuchi (1-3) pitched away from his strength, and it took the Dragons just two innings to punish him for it.

The hard-throwing side-armer nibbled against Kazuhiro Wada, issued a leadoff walk and fell behind Masahiko Morino, who blasted a high 2-1 sinker into the right-field stands for his seventh home run of the season.

"I owe it to the guys who gave me the lead," Yoshimi said. "They are playing their hardest, so I want to do my best, too."

Although Yoshimi entered the game having allowed just one run in 26 innings, this was easily as good a game as his two shutouts. He was usually ahead in counts and able to consistently hit the glove.

Yoshimi bagged the first nine Swallows with ease before leadoff man Keizo Kawashima homered to open the fourth.

Yoshimi had struck out five of the first nine batters he faced with more mustard than usual on his fastball and a razor sharp slider. But two consecutive hanging sliders set Kawashima up for his first career home run.

The Dragons pitcher, however, restored his two-run lead in the top of the sixth with a safety squeeze.

Morino led off with a single, advanced one base on a groundout, another on a passed ball. With one out and runners on the corners, Yoshimi pushed a bunt down the first base line that defiantly refused to roll foul. Morino beat the throw home and everyone was safe on the sacrifice.

With that, Swallows skipper brought hard-throwing former shortstop Jun Hagiwara to the mound. After getting the second out, Hagiwara surrendered a single, but right-fielder Aaron Guiel ended the inning with a strike to the plate.

Masubuchi, who'll turn 20 on Saturday, made batters miss his fastball in the zone, but was not aggressive enough. He fell behind nine of the first 10 batters he faced before finding some semblance of rhythm. Few of the eight hits he allowed were ripped.

The hardest-hit ball off him may have been Wada's smoking two-out liner to short that ended the Dragons' fifth with runners on second and third. Wada again did his job in the seventh only to hit into bad luck again. With one out and a runner on third, Wada hit a low bullet that second baseman Hiroyasu Tanaka had to stoop to catch.

The Swallows made it a one-run game in the bottom of the inning. Norichika Aoki hit a leadoff double and scored on Shinya Miyamoto's double.

With the tying run at second, Yoshimi pulled out all the stops to win a nervy eight-pitch battle with veteran pinch-hitter Mitsuru Manaka and end the uprising.


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