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Best value: Chunichi set-up man Asao wins CL MVP; SoftBank's Uchikawa named top PL player

by John E. Gibson (Dec 2, 2011)

Chunichi Dragons set-up man Takuya Asao was rewarded by Central League voters for his incredible numbers, while Seiichi Uchikawa completed a dream season with the Japan Series-winning Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.

Asao became the first set-up man to win an MVP award when he was named the CL's top performer Thursday. In the Pacific League, Uchikawa beat out Tohoku Rakuten Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka and Saitama Seibu Lions slugger Takeya Nakamura for the PL MVP in his first year with SoftBank after moving over from the lowly Yokohama BayStars.

Asao topped teammate Kazuki Yoshimi--who led the CL in ERA at 1.65 and won a CL-best-tying 18 games--for his first MVP award. The fifth-year righty earned 1,019 points from 170 first-place votes, while Yoshimi pulled in 825 points with 70 first-place votes.

Asao's selection made it two straight MVP awards for the back-to-back CL-winning Dragons, whose Kazuhiro Wada won the honor last year.

"This is an award I never thought I'd be in the running for, so my feelings of surprise exceed my feelings of joy," Asao said at a press conference.

Yomiuri Giants lefty ace Tetsuya Utsumi was third with two first-place votes. The voters acknowledged Asao's impact on Chunichi's 75 wins. He worked in 79 games, extending his club record for appearances by seven, and finished with a microscopic 0.41 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in 87-1/3 innings. The righty was 7-2, had 10 saves and led Japan with 52 holds, all without allowing a home run.

"I tried to work hard as a middle reliever every day of the season and I feel like this is the reward. I really didn't think it was possible to win it as a middle reliever so I'm very happy.

"This is proof that middle relievers can also win the MVP."

Meanwhile, Uchikawa, who joined Shinichi Eto as just the second player in Nippon Professional Baseball history to win batting titles in both leagues, hit .338 in 114 games and got the nod with the back-to-back PL-winning Hawks. He garnered 120 first-place votes, while Tanaka received 43 and Nakamura 21.

"I'm surprised, but at the same time I've very happy," said Uchikawa, who tied Seibu's Hiroyuki Nakajima for the PL lead in game-winning hits with 16.

"Our team has very strong pitching and the fact that they were able to keep the lead after we scored boosted the value of my RBIs. "But from my teammates to the coaches and the entire team, everyone made me feel at home when I came here [last offseason] and made it a very easy environment in which to play," said Uchikawa, who won his first batting title with Yokohama in 2008. Nakamura and Tanaka came up short. A career year by the Lions' cleanupman, who alone outhomered the Chiba Lotte Marines 48-46 in the first season with the new low-impact Mizuno ball, was not enough to sway the voters in a year when offense shrunk exponentially. Nakamura hit nearly half of his team's 103 homers and drove in 116 of the club's 482 runs, while playing in all 144 games for the third-place Lions.

Tanaka, the Sawamura Award winner, led Japan with the second-lowest ERA (1.27) in PL history. He went 19-5 on a team that finished in fifth place, but came up short in the voting.


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