Big Brian Falkenborg is hard to miss at 2 meters, but he has found a way to blend in as a standout in Fukuoka SoftBank's shutdown bullpen.
The 32-year-old set-up man quietly goes about his job, focusing on staying out of the limelight and away from the media. The best way to avoid reporters, he said, is to have standout performances.
"I've always been a guy who just likes to stay in the background. I really don't want to be the center of attention," Falkenborg recently told The Daily Yomiuri.
"A relief pitcher only gets talked to when he screws up a game. If I stay in the background, it means I'm doing my job."
That means Falkenborg, in his second year with the Hawks, hasn't given many interview opportunities since coming to Japan. In 46 outings last season, he went 6-0 with one save and 39 holds.
The righty is 2-1 this season with 22 holds--one behind PL-leading teammate and 2009 rookie of the year Tadashi Settsu. Falkenborg has allowed a league-low two earned runs in 34 appearances, which covers 35-1/3 innings. And his 0.51 ERA is the best of any reliever in Japan with at least 20 appearances.
Falkenborg is a confident pitcher, but he credits a stable situation with the Pacific League's third-place Hawks for his steadiness on the mound.
"My stuff has always graded out well, no matter where I've played. I maybe struggled a little bit at the big league level to find some consistency with that stuff," said Falkenborg.
Born in Newport Beach, Calif., he bounced around from the Baltimore Orioles, Seattle Mariners, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres before coming to Japan and finding a niche.
"I think I found a little bit more consistency when I came over here--maturing as a pitcher. And my split has actually become my second-best pitch. I used to be a fastball-curveball pitcher--now I'm a fastball-split guy.
"I feel like I know where I'm going to be over here--pitching the eighth inning in a game we're winning," he said." At the big league level, I was always kind of wondering, 'Is this my last day in the big leagues? Is somebody coming off the DL? Do they need another bat?'"
Falkenborg also pointed to Hawks pitching coaches Ikuo Takayama and Keisaburo Tanoue and battery coach Tetsuya Matoyama for working with him, and not working to transform him.
"Most of the credit goes to the coaches. They looked at me and adapted my game to Japanese baseball and didn't try to change what I did," said Falkenborg, who had a 5.59 ERA in 64 games in the majors.
"They did a good job of telling me how I would get guys out instead of trying to change me as a pitcher. I really think I ended up in the perfect spot."
Falkenborg, who hasn't allowed an earned run since May 29, and Settsu, who has a 1.90 ERA in 39 games, have two losses between them. Throw in closer Takahiro Mahara, who has a 1.35 ERA and 18 saves, and the Hawks can shorten games with their bullpen.
"The advantage with our team is that our manager doesn't have to pitch to matchups," said Falkenborg, whose opposing batting average is .106 vs righties and .160 vs lefties.
"And if someone needs a day off, we can slide [Keisuke] Katto into the seventh and everyone else moves back an inning. The mark of a good bullpen is that when someone needs a day off, you don't notice."
Not being noticed is making Falkenborg a standout performer on a playoff-bound team.