Takayuki Kishi, whose poor February form cost him a spot on the national team, came prepared for the Lions' home opener on Tuesday night.
The Japan Series MVP allowed two runs in eight innings as the Satiama Seibu Lions came from behind to beat the Orix Buffaloes 8-3.
Playing before a crowd of 24,011 at renovated Seibu Dome, Kishi struck out six and walked one, while allowing four hits.
"Our starter did a workmanlike job," said Lions manager Hisanobu Watanabe. "He wasn't really very good in the preseason, but I thought he'd do a good job. That's why I used him, and he responded."
Lions first baseman Yoshihito Ishii went 4-for-5 with a game-tying home run to lead off the fourth inning.
"That homer sparked our offense, so it was very meaningful," said Watanabe. "The batters came around and our starter was able to work comfortably, so the game developed perfectly."
Kaneko had struggled with runners on base prior to the regular season, but the 24-year-old, who has won 23 games over the past two seasons, was completely at ease.
"All spring, his body when he worked with his quick motion was not quite right. He seemed to be rushing. But today he was fine," Watanabe said.
The Buffaloes were first onto the scoreboard on Mitsutaka Goto's two-run, second-inning home run.
The Lions answered back in the second. Takeya Nakamura led off with a hit, but was still at first with two outs before back-to-back singles pushed him home. A walk filled the bases with Lions, but starter Chihiro Kaneko stranded all three.
The right-hander allowed three more third-inning base runners but none found their way home thanks to a double play and an inning-ending strikeout.
The Lions grabbed the lead in the fourth after Ishii tied it with a leadoff shot down the right-field line. It was the 30-year-old career utlity infielder's 19th career home run.
A good at-bat by Toru Hosokawa produced a double. The Lions catcher went to third on a single and scored on a double play groundout.
While Kishi was setting down one man after the next, retiring 13 straight after Goto's homer, Kaneko left after five. The Lions then tatooed former ace Hidetoshi Kawagoe for three runs in the sixth.
Ishii opened with a single and scored on Hiram Bocachica's triple. Yasuyuki Kataoka singled home Boca and stole second and scored on a two-out single by Nakamura.
Kishi had to pitch out of a jam in the eighth, but escaped unscathed with his pitch count at 135.
The Lions added two more in the eighth on three straight two-out doubles by Nakamura, Takayuki Shimizu and G.G. Sato. Orix reliever Takuma Nito escaped further damage by getting Ishii to ground out to second and end the inning.