The Yomiuri Giants aren't blowing the competition away in the arms race, but it hasn't crossed them up so far.
The rotation has been without two-time Central League wins leader Seth Greisinger from Opening Day, ace lefty Tetsuya Utsumi's sore shoulder got him deactivated on Thursday, the Tetsuya Yamaguchi experiment as a starter appears to be over and fill-ins have had to step up on the hill.
The team ERA is 3.59--second in the CL, but on the high side--and none of the front-running Giants starters has gone the distance. Dicky Gonzalez, in particular, hasn't shown last year's form, wriggling through enough jams to have a 2-2 record but posting a 5.83 ERA in five starts.
Cause for concern?
"Well, when you look at it that way, you could say there are issues," pitching coach Masaki Saito told The Daily Yomiuri before Friday night's game at Tokyo Dome against Hiroshima.
"Certainly the plan is to have the starters pitch as many complete games as possible--that would be best.
"In that sense, it's not going well, but Utsumi has four wins, [Shun] Tono has three wins and you can't complain about that. How would you compare those numbers to other teams?"
Yamaguchi might have grounds to complain. Skipper Tatsunori Hara this spring yanked him from the bullpen, where he had 60 holds over three seasons, and moved him into the rotation.
The southpaw had two poor starts, allowing seven runs in 11 innings, before being shifted back to the bullpen. That didn't work out in his first relief appearance on April 14, when he gave up two runs in one-third of an inning to take the loss against the Hanshin Tigers.
He gave up a run in one inning the next day in a win over the Tigers, but his role is in question.
"We used him from the bullpen in an emergency situation, with [closer Marc] Kroon out," Saito said. But Hara was quoted Thursday as saying Yamaguchi, who has three relief appearances, will remain in the bullpen for the time being.
Kroon was activated before Friday's game, although he hasn't fully recovered from the right thumb injury he suffered April 3 in Hiroshima.
In fact, he said he has a torn tendon that could hinder his performance.
"I need surgery. The tendon's torn off the bone," said Kroon, who worked one inning of a farm team game against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Wednesday, walking two and hitting a batter while fanning two.
He didn't allow an earned run in the stint, but said: "Here and there are two different worlds. I feel like I'm capable of pitching up here, but only time will tell."
In the meantime, the Giants have to patch together a rotation.
Right-handed Dominican Wirfin Obispo, who starred in the postseason last year, is expected to be activated today or Sunday, and Takahiko Nomaguchi could get called up for a spot start.
Greisinger underwent elbow surgery during spring camp and there is still no timetable for his return.
"We have guys on this club who pitch at a high level," said Shugo Fujii, an offseason free agent pickup who has no decisions in four starts and a 4.01 ERA.
"I think we can cover for those guys while they are gone. If we win, we can let those guys get completely healthy. If we lose, they might think they have to rush back."