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John E. Gibson

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Sawamura, Makita top rookies

by John E. Gibson (Dec 1, 2011)

Huge expectations, a name that almost demands success and big-time pressure were some of the issues the Yomiuri Giants' Hirokazu Sawamura dealt with during his debut season.

The righty made a big impact and was the overwhelming choice Wednesday as the Central League's top rookie, becoming the fourth consecutive Giants first-year player to win the honor.

Starter-turned-closer Kazuhisa Makita of the Saitama Seibu Lions, who was 5-7 with 22 saves and a 2.61 ERA, won the award in the Pacific League.

Sawamura finished off a dominant first year with a flurry and topped Hanshin Tigers lefty reliever Daiki Enokida, garnering 235 of the 250 votes. Sawamura was 11-11 with a 2.03 ERA, but won his final five decisions and held teams to just seven runs over his last nine starts.

He struck out 174, and allowed 149 hits and 45 walks over 200 innings for a 0.99 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). He is the first rookie to win the award while logging 200 or more innings since Shigeyuki Takahashi of the Taiyo Whales did it in 1964.

Sawamura joins Giants reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi, who won in 2008, and outfielders Tetsuya Matsumoto and Hisayoshi Chono, who won the next two years, respectively.

Yomiuri broke a tie with Hiroshima for most consecutive years with the top rookie. A trio of Carp players--Takehiko Kobayakawa, Jun Kawabata and Hiroshi Nagatomi (now Nagadomi)--won the award from 1984 through 1986.

Second-place Enokida pulled in just seven votes, while Tokyo Yakult Swallows reliever Kentaro Kyuko, who surpassed Chunichi Dragons reliever Hitoki Iwase's 1999 rookie record for consecutive outings without allowing an earned run (22), was third with four.

The PL balloting was closer as Makita earned 150 of the 214 votes to beat out Takahiro Shiomi of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles, who picked up 43.

Chiba Lotte Marines outfielder Shota Ishimine was third with 16.

Makita, a submariner who started 10 games before being moved to the closer role, became the first rookie of the year from the Lions since Daisuke Matsuzaka in 1999, ending the team's longest drought without winning the award.

The 27-year-old from the industrial league is just the third PL rookie closer to notch 20 saves, joining Fukuoka Daiei Hawks southpaw Koji Mise, who had 28 in 2004, and Masafumi Hirai, who had 28 with the Orix BlueWave in 1995.

Makita's selection gives the Lions a PL all-time best 13 top rookies.

Popular right-hander Yuki Saito of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters also picked up three votes after going 6-6 in 19 appearances with a 2.69 ERA.

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Fujikawa turns down raise

Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa said no to a raise and on Wednesday signed a deal that will pay him 400 million yen, plus bonus money.

The 31-year-old, who led the Central League with 41 saves this past season, said he was content with the same salary.

"I feel like I owe the club," said the right-hander, who has notched at least 20 saves over the past five seasons.

"They have done enough to show how much they value my work the past three years, and I felt like I didn't need [a raise]."

Meanwhile, Hiroyuki Kobayashi, whom the Tigers brought in from the Chiba Lotte Marines to set up Fujikawa, will earn 200 million yen next season after a disppointing year. The righty was 1-5 with a 3.00 ERA.


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