The top Pacific League arms are obviously dangerous. The names that appear first on the list of top hurlers read like a who's who of World Baseball Classic heroes.
Rakuten Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka has allowed six earned runs in seven high-quality starts--all dominating wins--that have been off the charts.
Nippon Ham's Yu Darvish lost his Opening Day gig when he was outpitched by Rakuten's Hisashi Iwakuma, also in the top five, but came back to win seven straight decisions.
And then there's D.J. Houlton of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. No superhuman performances. No WBC-showcased heroics. No media-dissected exploits. Not even a winning record at this point.
In fact, Houlton's win Tuesday's over Yokohama inched him just above .500 at at 4-3.
After Tuesday's games, he had the third-best ERA in the PL at 2.21. He has been a quality-start factory, with stints of six or more innings of allowing three earned runs or fewer in all nine starts.
His numbers rank right up there with the best. Even at his worst, when he gave up four runs--three earned--against last year's Japan Series champion Seibu over 6-2/3 innings in an April 29 loss, he still qualified for a quality start.
Overall he has yielded just 38 hits with 20 walks over 61 innings.
Even with the strong numbers, wins have been hard for Houlton to come by. Teammate Toshiya Sugiuchi, who has allowed more hits (55) and more walks (25) and whose ERA is 2.44, is 5-1 in nine starts. Opening Day starter, southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada, has the same 3-3 record with a 3.05 ERA for the Hawks.
Granted, Tanaka and Darvish are putting on must-see shows for the hordes of big league scouts here to explore Japan's talent pool, but foreign players tend to get shoved to the side of the sports news pages when it comes to their contributions.
And maybe it was Houlton's Southern California background jumping to the forefront, but he sounded kick-back-on-the-beach content when speaking about his low profile.
"There are a lot of good pitchers in the Pacific League--we've got two really good lefties here. I'm just trying to pitch well. I don't really care if I'm one of the top pitchers or not, I'm just trying to win games," Houlton told Hard Drives recently.
Even so, playing in the well-hidden dome in Fukuoka doesn't help. Dicky Gonzalez, who has posted gaudy numbers in winning his first five starts with the Giants, has generated much more attention in the Central League.
But the 29-year-old Houlton is putting together as consistent a season as the PL's big names.
The second-year 1.93-meter, 101-kilogram hurler said a new outlook has helped him successfully settle into his role with the Hawks.
"I have a positive attitude this year--I'm a lot happier this year," admitted Houlton, born and raised in the shadows of Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif.
"Last year it was my first year and it was nice over here, but I wanted to be back playing in the States.
"This year, I'm just happy with it--I don't need to go back home and play. It's huge, I think."
On the mound, the trick has been the development of his repertoire.
"I think my slider has gotten a lot better," Houlton said. "I'm throwing it to lefties and righties, and I've worked on the grip a little bit in the offseason and it has been a little better for me."
"It's another pitch for them to think about--instead of having just three pitches, I think I have four pretty decent ones now."
Houlton and the Hawks are starting to get some wind beneath their wings.
After getting tossed around early on, SoftBank has worked its way up to second place in the PL, thanks to an interleague-leading 8-1-1 stretch.
The Hawks, following Houlton's lead, are finally starting to fly right.
"We were pitching well and not hitting, and then sometimes we actually did hit, we weren't pitching well," he said. "But hopefully I can keep it up. I think we're coming around."
If Houlton does keep it up, the media will likely come around as well.