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SoftBank Hawks 2011 Preview: Starting Pitching

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SoftBank Hawks 2011 Preview: Starting Pitching

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This is part one of a four-part preview of the SoftBank Hawks 2011 season. Comments are always appreciated. Enjoy!

Coming off their regular season championship last year, the Hawks already have a good foundation for the 2011 season. Augmenting the roster with such additions as Toru Hosokawa, Seiichi Uchikawa, and Alex Cabrera means that the Hawks are just as dangerous as ever offensively, and that bodes well for their already-potent pitching. But is this team championship-caliber? Let's break it down area by area.

Starting Pitching
This has been a strength of the Hawks for quite a while, but this is an unbalanced and unpredictable group. Here is the projected starting rotation based on how it finished last year:

LHP Toshiya Sugiuchi
LHP Tsuyoshi Wada
RHP DJ Houlton
LHP Kenji Ohtonari
LHP Shinsuke Ogura
LHP Hiroki Yamada

See what I mean by unbalanced? Of the six potential starters, five are left-handed. For all the success the Hawks had in free agency this year, there really wasn't much available for right-handed pitchers, much less starters. This is probably the single most-important area the Hawks can have because if the pitching isn't there and it turns into “Sugiuchi, Wada, pray for rain,” then it could be a long summer.

X-Factors
For starters (no pun intended), Houlton and Ohtonari need to pitch a lot better. Houlton spent a lot of 2010 injured, and added a hitch in his delivery that looked like it threw him out of whack. He might have also tipped pitches because of it, and he also couldn't find the plate. Ohtonari is a different story: his team just didn't score for him. If he gets some run support (and he should with this offense), that leaves him free to pound the strike zone, which he needs to do more of, especially with two strikes.

The back of the rotation also leaves room for concern. Of the two pitchers I would expect to spend some time at ni-gun, I would peg Ogura and Yamada as the most likely candidates. Ogura has been prone to meltdowns all throughout his career (both starting and relieving), and Yamada just isn't experienced enough. A swingman who saw time as a starter was Yao-hsun Yan, but nobody knows what to expect from the Taiwanese righty.

Waiting in the Wings
It's a case of the usual suspects for the Hawks at ni-gun, but with a bit more experience to go around. Touted prospect Shingo Tatsumi was allergic to the strike zone in his short look early last year, and while his stuff is electric, he could be mentally wrecked from his failures at ichi-gun.

Speaking of pitchers who flamed out at ichi-gun last year, Sho Iwasaki was particularly painful to watch (and I saw him twice). However, the young righty spent two months in the Puerto Rican Winter League, and he was amazing with an 8-1 record. He also won an MVP award, so he might have figured it out, but his problem is the same as Tatsumi: he has to find the strike zone and not get killed when he does.

Other potentials could include foreign signing Anthony Lerew, and the returns of Nagisa Arakaki and maybe, just maybe, Kazumi Saitoh could make for some interesting decisions for Akiyama-kantoku. Also, let's not forget about Shota Ohba, the one-time “golden rookie.” That is, if he can find the plate.

Part two coming tomorrow! たのしみに!
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