It was not Dickey Gonzalez's first start of the season. But for a pitcher who has been through the wilderness since going 15-2 in 2009, seven scoreless innings was like a new beginning.
A day after the Yomiuri Giants beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-0 in the right-hander's best start in over a year, the 32-year-old said things were looking up for his club.
"We've got good pitchers," he told the Daily Yomiuri on Friday at Tokyo Dome before the Giants took on the Central League-leading Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
"We're going to finish in a good position."
The Giants entered the three-game series at Tokyo Dome in fourth place, trailing the Swallows by 11 games.
Coming off a 2010 effort that produced a 5-13 record and a 5.29 ERA, Gonzalez failed to go five innings in either of his first two starts. That earned him a demotion to the minors.
"I've been working since I got sent down," he said. "[One issue was] maybe my elbow, dropping it too low. My back foot, I was pushing [too much] to get more power.
"[When my mechanics are off] I pitch different, I don't have power. I just tried to figure it out. But I feel good now."
In two months of Eastern League exile, Gonzalez went 2-3 with a 2.68 ERA before being called up earlier this month.
He worked 6-1/3 innings of scoreless relief over two games prior to his Thursday start before a crowd of 45,071. Gonzalez struck out six, while walking one, hitting one and allowing four singles.
"I like to pitch at Koshien: lot of people, loud. I got excited," he said.
If it was a little like old times with Gonzalez dealing on the mound, the Giants lineup had a new look in the No. 4 spot.
For the first time since he joined the Giants in 2008, Alex Ramirez was out of the starting lineup. Ramirez, who has not missed a game since 2004, came on as a ninth-inning pinch-hitter.
After 459 straight games with Ramirez as their starting cleanup hitter, second-year outfielder Hisayoshi Chono stepped into the limelight and went 1-for-4 with an RBI double.