Otani outpitches Fujinami in preseason matchup

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NISHINOMIYA, Japan, March 8 (20:11) Kyodo

Nippon Ham right-hander Shohei Otani outpitched fellow
second-year man Shintaro Fujinami as the Fighters defeated the
Hanshin Tigers 6-5 in a preseason game on Saturday.

Otani changed speeds effectively to hold Hanshin to a run on two
hits over five innings at Hyogo Prefecture's Koshien Stadium to make
a case for inclusion in the Fighters' starting rotation. Both
pitchers were taken in the first round of the 2012 amateur draft and
were rookie sensations last season.

The two had faced each other once before at Koshien as high
school seniors in the 2012 spring invitational tournament. In that
game, Fujinami and Osaka Toin beat Otani's Hanamaki Higashi 9-2.

"My only memory had been of losing," Otani said of his previous
experience at the fabled ballpark. "I have now managed one good

Fujinami also went five innings in the rematch, but allowed five
runs on nine hits. The Fighters also stole three bases while he was
on the mound.

"My pitching was indecisive and not very good," said Fujinami,
who hit 153 kilometers per hour on his fastball during the first two
innings, when he notched four of his six strikeouts.

Eight of the Fighters' nine hits off him were by left-handed
hitters, who gave Fujinami trouble last season.

"He has issues that need to be solved," Tigers manager Yutaka
Wada said.

Otani, who has split his time as a pro playing right field and
pitching, threw his fastest pitch in the first inning, when he got
Tigers star Takashi Toritani swinging at a 156-kph fastball for
strike three.

But it wasn't all about speed for Otani. He employed two
different curves and was able to keep his slider low, enabling him to
get ahead in counts with his breaking stuff -- something he's been
working on.

Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama, who has yet to reveal his
pitching rotation for the start of the season, said, "It appears he
(Otani) has really put things together."

Otani, who went 3-0 in 13 games in his rookie season, suggested
he still had some catching up to do to match Fujinami, who was 10-6
last season.

"Fujinami has already produced results," Otani said. "My
position is that of a challenger."

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