A year after being the talk of the town, Dicky Gonzalez has had trouble getting it going in 2010.
The Yomiuri right-hander, who pounded the zone with his fastball and slider en route to going 15-2 in his first season with the Giants, is 3-7 with a 6.12 ERA this year.
"I talk to the hitters, and they say if I pitch like that [like last year], they'd be scared," Gonzalez said Thursday at Tokyo Dome.
"Once I find something good, I want to stay there. I want to get back to that point."
Getting back, however, has not been easy. The Puerto Rican, who came to Japan in 2004 with the Yakult Swallows, has been working on the command of his slider all spring and believes it's almost there.
"Some of it has been mechanics, my rhythm. Some of it has been mental," he said. "Hitters told me I opened up too quick, that my arm [action] was different."
The Giants came out of interleague play leading the Hanshin Tigers by three games, and the Chunichi Dragons, who will open a three-game series tonight at Tokyo Dome, by six.
It will be the Giants' first game since they played Sunday afternoon in Fukuoka, and Gonzalez has not pitched since June 2.
For weeks Gonzalez had been concerned about the health of his son, Dicky Jr. The 5-year-old had suffered a head injury in an accident at home. The hurler left Japan briefly to see his son and confer with doctors, who told him there was no permanent damage, although the boy required 80 stitches.
"There was no brain damage," Gonzalez said. "I feel better. It's hard going out and pitching, especially when you're not doing well and you have all that going on."
Dealing with the family crisis, however, put the slider rehabilitation project on the back burner, and now he will be thrust back into action.
"It's not easy, but that's my job," he said. "I have to keep fighting. [Manager Tatsunori Hara] is giving me the ball. He believes I can get it done. I'm ready to go out and show what I can do."
When he next takes the mound at Tokyo Dome, his whole family will be there, including his 5-year-old.
"He loves baseball, so I'll be so happy when he's here," Gonzalez said.
When his family does arrive, they might notice a new wrinkle in the 31-year-old's game. Gonzalez has made his living going after batters low in the strike zone and serving up ground balls, but he has recently worked on giving his game more variety.
"The team wants me to work more out of the zone," he said. "I'm trying to do that, because I see the batters being more aggressive this year. So I'm working on throwing more up high."
Ramirez nearly back
Giants left-fielder Alex Ramirez said he is getting close to 100 percent after suffering from bronchitis since the end of May. The veteran outfielder said he has been getting regular shots of antibiotics, but the recovery process has been slow.
The 2009 CL batting champ and MVP, Yomiuri's cleanup hitter finished interleague batting .265 but has just two extra bases in 38 at-bats this month.
"You feel weak, the bat feels heavy," Ramirez said Thursday. "Sometimes I think, 'Why not let some guy who can produce more because he's 100 percent play?'
"But I only think that at home. When I get to the park I want to play. Then after the game, sometimes I think, 'Maybe that was a mistake.'"
Okada named interleague MVP
Orix Buffaloes slugger Takahiro Okada, who hit .588 with runners in scoring position against the Central League and tied for the most RBIs with 24, was named the interleague MVP on Thursday.
Okada earned 2 million yen for the award, while runnersup Shinnosuke Abe of the Yomiuri Giants and left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada of Fukuoka SoftBank picked up 1 million yen each.
In other baseball news:
--Saitama Seibu Lions lefty Kazuhisa Ishii (6-4) will undergo orthoscopic surgery next week on his left ankle, the team said Wednesday. He is expected to be out for two months.
--Chunichi southpaw Hitoki Iwase became the third pitcher to record 250 career saves on Wednesday, when he shut down the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in the ninth inning of the Dragons' 5-3 victory.