The Hanshin Tigers came to Tokyo Dome on Tuesday to kick off their annual journey that will keep them away from Koshien Stadium until Aug. 31.
The Tigers charge into the road trip of death with one of their most productive groups of foreign players in recent seasons.
Although outfielder Matt Murton and first baseman Craig Brazell have been socking the ball since the season's start, the foreign pitching has stepped up more slowly.
Jason Standridge, in his second tour of duty in Japan, joined the Tigers on April 6. The 31-year-old right-hander entered Tuesday's series opener against the Yomiuri Giants with a 7-1 record.
Randy Messenger, a 28-year-old right-hander in his first year here, has thrived since being thrust into the rotation in July. Standridge, whose record through 15 games matches his best mark over two seasons with Fukuoka SoftBank, has had to relearn Japanese ball.
"It's almost like when I was here last. Then I went back to pitching in the States and it's different," he said.
After two games out of the bullpen in April, the 1.91-meter Standridge won his first start, despite allowing four runs in five innings to the Giants at Koshien on May 1.
He struggled for three starts before getting into something of a groove.
"[It's] more pitch selection," Standridge said of the principle adjustment he's made. "You have to throw more offspeed stuff here. You have to be able to locate for strikes.
"These guys are so good--if it [the pitch] is something straight--at barely getting a piece of it. If it's anywhere up in the zone at all, they're going to flare it up over the infield. It's like, 'Dad gum it! That was a good pitch.'"
Instead of working off the fastball as pitchers are taught to do in the States, Standridge believes it helps here to use the breaking ball to set up the hard stuff.
"It's the first time I've ever started a game with a breaking ball," he said. "I never, ever did that in the States."
Standridge pitched 17 games with a 3.00 ERA for the Hawks in 2007, but was released the following season after injury limited him to just 13 games with the top team.
"In '07 they were giving me the ball, and then in '08 I hurt my arm and it was, 'OK, we don't need you no more,'" he said.
"I talked to [pitcher] D.J. Houlton. It is like night and day playing for [current manager Koji] Akiyama. He said it is so much nicer, because the guys are relaxed."
Standridge said the Hawks, now leading the Pacific League, were a tough team to play for under former manager Sadaharu Oh.
"It was crazy. [Oh is] a tremendous gentleman. I love the guy big time. But guys were scared to death. People were always looking over their shoulder, 'Are they going to send me down?'"
Two years after watching the Hawks crash and burn in Oh's final season in charge, Standridge is in the heat of a pennant race and playing in the nation's home of baseball.
"Playing for the Tigers is nice. Koshien is an awesome place," he said. "It's a big league ball park. Then there's the atmosphere--especially against these guys [the Giants]. It's like the Red Sox and Yankees."
Greisinger return aborted
Seth Greisinger's 2010 debut was a brief one. The Yomiuri Giants right-hander left Tuesday night's game against Hanshin after just 15 pitches.
After a scoreless first inning, Greisinger, who had elbow surgery in March, was unable to field a batted ball back to the box off the bat of Craig Brazell to lead off the second inning.
The pitcher left the field for treatment, returned to the mound for two trial pitches, but was then scratched in favor of Takahiko Nomaguchi, who made his first appearance since May 26.