Tigers’ Weekly Wrap-up – July 7-13, 2014

While last week’s 5-0 record was impressive (and much needed), this week would be a true test of the Tigers’ mettle. Beating up on the lowly Swallows and Baystars was one thing, but going up against the two teams ahead of them in the standings would prove to be a lot harder. Or would it?

The week opened on Tuesday at Koshien, with Iwata taking the mound. The lower half of the order came through, and the Tigers posted a run in three consecutive innings (including an RBI by Iwata himself), and the Tigers started the week with a 3-1 win.

The Beard Buddies (ひげ友), Mauro Gomez and Matt Murton, hit home runs in the same game for the first time ever as the Tigers took a commanding 6-1 lead before collapsing at the end of the game. Fortunately, Oh was able to close the game before the tying run could score, and the Carp fell to the Tigers for the second straight game, this time by a 6-5 score. The Tigers actually broke a hitting record during this game: 27 straight innings with at least one base hit! Amazing! Thursday’s game was called off for fear of a typhoon that never arrived. Seven straight for the Tigers heading into their weekend series with the division leading Giants!

The strong show at the plate continued on Friday, and the bats stayed red hot! The Tigers scored 12 big runs in support of Randy Messenger, got a little help from a poor decision by Giants’ manager Hara, and won game 1 of the series.

Unfortunately, they ran into a red-hot pitcher on Saturday in Sugiuchi. The Tigers recorded a mere two hits and four base runners as they lost 5-0. The game featured Atsushi Nohmi’s return to the mound after nearly two weeks recovering from an injury. He pitched adequately, allowing 2 earned runs in 6 innings, but receiving no run support or help from the bullpen.

Fortunately the week ended on a positive note, and the Tigers took the series from the Giants, winning 6-4. Trailing much of the game, pinch hitter Sekimoto hit a grand slam in the seventh and followed it up with another RBI in the ninth for good measure.

July 7 Week

The good times continue as the Tigers beat up on the Carp and took two of three from the Giants. Second place is ours again! Here are the standings as of the end of play on July 13th:

July 13 StandingsThe imports had another incredible week! Here are this week’s stat lines for our foreigners:

Gomez 5 18 5 9 1 0 2 5 3 3 1 0 .500 .571 .889 1.460
Murton 5 19 2 8 1 0 1 5 1 1 0 1 .421 .429 .632 1.060
Messenger 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 7.0 8 3 3 2 0 6 3.86 1.14
Oh 3 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 3.0 2 0 0 0 0 6 0.00 0.67

The record looks better, the standings look better, and it was great to see the Tigers play so well against the stronger teams in the division. This should give them confidence heading into their 3-game series against the Dragons starting Monday in Nagoya. The week ends early due to the All-Star Break, so let’s finish the first half strong! GO TIGERS!

Interview Translation – Shintaro Fujinami

Keep on Challenging – The Pitching Philosophy of a Young Ace

(The original Japanese text is by Kenta Aoshima and was published in a J:COM special baseball insert in March 2014. To see the Japanese original, click here and here. 元の記事はこちらです)

“I’ll wear these things ‘till I wear them out!”  (Translator’s note: This is play on words that also means “I’m going to give it my all.”)

fujinamiarticleRookie pitcher Shintaro Fujinami captured the fans’ hearts as he spoke in a thick Osaka dialect during a postgame interview last season after his first victory as a pro. Nobody knew that the “things” he was referring to were the red-coloured tights he wears under his uniform. Apparently red has been his colour of choice ever since his third year of high school, when he pitched his team to back-to-back national championships in the spring and summer Koshien tournaments.

He may not have won Rookie of the Year, but there’s a reason he was able to pile up ten wins (versus six losses) just a year after graduating from high school. Tigers’ manager Yutaka Wada lauds his pitcher, saying:

“He’s incredibly gifted at making mid-game adjustments. He’s got the poise of a seasoned veteran. But just when you start to believe that, he busts out impressions of the veterans. He’s really something special.”

He’s incredibly tactful with the media, too. Though they know him on the surface as a charming young man who loves reading, very few know the fiery red passion burning deep in his heart. This young ace’s dual nature is the best thing about him. We asked him about his philosophy of pitching.

“Before games, I get as much data on the opposing hitters as I can. But I never make my game plan based solely on what I know about them. If the game plan went perfectly, I’d be throwing perfect games every time up! Circumstances change from pitch to pitch. So I’ve got to change what I’m doing, too. That’s baseball.”

What are you doing in the bullpen before your starts?

“Just figuring out how I feel what which pitches feel good. My cutter is basically my most reliable pitch. Even on bad days I can make adjustments to make it work. The change up and two-seamer don’t always feel right. So I kind of put them aside for the day.”

What do you talk about with the catcher after your bullpen session?

“I ask him what he thinks of my stuff. He’ll tell me that my cutter’s looking good or my forkball is dropping well, stuff like that. We decide which pitches to focus on. It’s important that we’re feeling the same way about the pitches.”

So with a fastball and six off-speed pitches, Fujinami chooses his arsenal and heads for the mound.

“Even if the batter is glaring at me, I refuse to make eye contact. He doesn’t matter to me. Of course I check to see if he’s standing at the front or back of the batter’s box, that’s about it. I pretty much focus on the signs the catcher is giving me and my pitching form.”

Last season, Fujinami was able to shut down his opponents’ sluggers, including the Giants’ Shinnosuke Abe. The only hitter to bat over .300 and hit 2 home runs off of him was Yokohama’s [Tony] Blanco. Tell us about Abe.

“He can hit even the best pitches hard, so even if you keep the ball to the outside he’ll hit you. So I give it my everything against him. I try to jam him by throwing hard inside. Even if I’m off a little, hopefully I can beat him with speed. If you don’t throw hard against him, you can’t stop him.”

What was it like facing Blanco?

“He hit two of my pitches to right center. One of the things the foreign batters do well is stretching out and making good contact with high outside pitches. So if you throw good stuff inside, or even down and outside, you should be able to shut them down. My lack of strength became apparent when I faced him. But his hits came off my fastball. This year I hope to mix things up and throw off his timing with some off-speed pitches.”

Is there any hitter that you look forward to facing?

“No one in particular. I want to get every hitter out. But my intensity might change depending on the hitter. That’s what pitching’s all about. You don’t need to try to strike out a guy that you can get out with one pitch. Throw him a two-seamer and make him hit a soft grounder to one of the infielders. If I could do that to every hitter though, the game would be over after 27 pitches. Obviously that will never happen.”

What is the core element of the art of pitching?

“Even the best pitchers give up hits. It all comes down to how you throw with runners on base. Once a guy gets into scoring position, you bear down even harder. Baseball is a game of percentages. How can you keep your strand rate as high as possible… that’s the battle. You’ve got to be meticulous and cautious with every pitch in those situations. Keep telling yourself that you can’t miss, and you throw that best pitch you’ve been holding back all game. So you can’t show the other team your best stuff until you’re in those situations. You hide it. I always try to keep that level of intensity when I’m playing. Baseball isn’t a game of ‘nice pitches’. If I could end the game throwing nothing but 100-mph fastballs low and outside, I would, but strikes are strikes, whether foul balls or swings and misses. The important thing is what you will do next. I don’t think about just pounding the strike zone with my best pitch every time. Throwing pitches that make the guy think, ‘I  thought I could hit it, but I missed’ is good enough. Then throw your best pitches when you need them most. What do I have to do to win? That’s what’s always on my mind.”

What’s your goal for this season?

“I want our team to win the championship, but personally I want to build on what I did last year and win more than 10 games. When I step on that mound, my first goal is to throw a perfect game. If I give up a walk, I’m going for a no-hitter. If they get a hit, I’m going for a complete game shut out. If they score, I still want a complete game. I want the best possible result. And I want to win, no matter what. That’s the kind of pitcher I want to be.”

Apparently it’s not easy to beat this youngster.

Tigers’ Weekly Wrap-up – June 30-July 6, 2014

It seems like only the rain could stop the Tigers from going a perfect 6-0 this week. Thursday’s rain-out meant the men in black, gold and white only played 5 games this week. They needed to take advantage of their weaker schedule, and did they ever make the most of it! Their perfect week gave them their second five-game win streak of the year, and put them back in third place and a few games over .500! This gives them the confidence they need for the upcoming week.

The week started in Okayama (at Muscat Stadium) with a bang, as the Tigers put up seven runs in the first inning to obliterate the short-lived lead that the Swallows took. The game ended 12-6, with Gomez hitting a big home run to left in a 5-run fourth inning.

Wednesday’s game featured a Swallows team that resembled the Tigers of June. They put 12 runners on base against Tigers’ starter Iwata, but came up empty-handed, and the Tigers squeaked out a 1-0 victory. Thursday’s game was rained out as the Kansai area had a full day of showers.

The team hit the road on Friday, playing their Independence Day game in Shizuoka in front of a somewhat small crowd of 19,000. All four foreigners played a great game, with the Americans in particular shining. Messenger pitched 7 solid innings of 2-run ball, while Murton hit a 2-run home run in the sixth to tie the game up. The Tigers eventually won the game 3-2, with Sekimoto hitting a sacrifice fly in the eighth (lining Mess up for the victory). Seung-hwan Oh closed the door on the Baystars in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the win.

The next night in Yokohama, the Tigers put up another three-spot, this time getting stellar pitching from Iwazaki. Gomez hit his second HR of the week while both foreign hitters went three-for-four. Result: Tigers 3, Baystars 0.

The week finished up with a wild one. The Tigers scored three runs in the early going, thanks to Murton’s two doubles. With the game getting out of hand and the Tigers up 7-1, the relievers let the lead nearly entirely evaporate, as the Baystars put up five in the bottom of the eighth. However, the Tigers came right back in the top of the ninth, bringing their slim one-run lead back up to a six-run cushion. Oh came in again and finished the game up.

June 30 WeekThe Giants had a strong week, so despite going 5-0 this week, the Tigers only gained one game on the division leaders. However, they did regain third place and pulled within two games of the second-place Carp. Here are the standings as of the end of play on July 6th:

July 6 StandingsThe imports had an incredible week! Here are this week’s stat lines for our foreigners:

Gomez 5 18 2 6 0 0 2 6 2 3 0 0 .333 .381 .667 1.048
Murton 5 19 2 7 3 0 1 6 1 2 0 0 .368 .400 .684 1.084
Messenger 1 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 7.0 6 2 2 0 3 8 2.57 1.29
Oh 4 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 0 4.0 1 0 0 0 1 5 0.00 0.50

Now that’s more like it! It was definitely an easier week, schedule-wise, so the Tigers needed every win they got! Now let’s see what they’re made of, as they face the Carp for three at home and then visit the Giants for three in Tokyo! It sure would be nice to see them dominate the teams that are ahead of them in the standings! Keep on charging, team! GO TIGERS!