In an interleague campaign dominated by Pacific League pitchers, Shohei Tateyama of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows has been one of the Central League's bright lights.
Although his last start lasted just 3-2/2 innings before he was ejected for throwing a dangerous pitch, the 30-year-old right-hander's 0.55 interleague ERA is third best in Japan.
"I think some of that is just chance," Tateyama said Wednesday at Jingu Stadium. "Sometimes a player does well interleague simply because he is in good form when it starts."
Overall, Tateyama has a 5-1 record with a 1.43 ERA that is second best in the CL behind the Yomiuri Giants' Tetsuya Utsumi's 1.38.
"My breaking pitches are much, much better this year," Tateyama said. "But it's difficult to say how much of that is due to the ball, because I have altered my delivery since last year.
"I changed on account of the new ball, so more or less everything is different. Some of it is due to the ball, some of it is due to my delivery."
The delivery became a problem Sunday in Fukuoka for home plate umpire Junichi Sato.
"He said I was using an illegal double-clutch leg movement," Tateyama said.
"All spring, the umpires had been OK with it. The funny thing is that the same umpire had seen it twice before and never mentioned it.
"I didn't change a thing, but this time he thought it was illegal. For some reason he saw it differently."
That was in the second inning. In the fourth, Tateyama hit his second batter of the game, and Sato ejected him.
While Tateyama dismissed the notion that interleague play was different from playing the five other CL teams, going against PL clubs holds some attractions for him.
"Basically there's no difference. Baseball is baseball," he said. "Even if you are playing in an unfamiliar stadium, the conditions are the same for both you and your opponent.
"In interleague, we only play a few games against each team and I might just pitch once or twice in those games, so it's hard to get an impression of what the [Pacific League] teams are like.
"However, we prepare exactly the same way. Our advance scouts do the same job against the PL teams, prepare the same kind of reports. The information we get is no different."
What he likes about interleague is playing in PL parks, where the designated hitter rule is used.
While it might seem harder to face a lineup with a designated hitter instead of a pitcher making outs in the No. 9 spot, Tateyama prefers the DH rule.
"It's easier, because of the way the game flows," he said.
"A DH is usually a middle-of-the-order guy, so the heart of the order is deeper, but it still tapers down to the end.
"Facing a designated hitter in the opposing lineup is an easier adjustment. With the pitcher batting, you often get a pinch-hitter whenever the No. 9 hitter comes up. With the DH, the game flows more smoothly.
"If you were playing the Hawks and they had [slugger Nobuhiko] Matsunaka batting ninth, that would be different. But you don't see that."
Of course, the DH rule allows Tateyama to keep his career .104 batting average on the bench and concentrate on his pitching.
It's also easier, he said, because those games come in the bigger PL parks. He said his favorite stadiums on the road are Nagoya Dome and Sapporo Dome--each league's toughest parks for hitters.
"At Sapporo Dome, a ball was hit off me that I thought was gone for sure, but it didn't carry," Tateyama said.
"But because baseball is about wins and losses, I'll take Jingu, where our opponents have to play on our field in the conditions we are used to."