An improvised lineup and a starting pitcher without his good command is not ideal, but it worked for the Yomiuri Giants on Tuesday.
Everyday catcher Shinnosuke Abe looked shaky while making his season debut at first base, and Dicky Gonzalez was unable to command his slider, but the pair still boosted the Giants to a 5-1 over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
With a string of injuries limiting his options, manager Tatsunori Hara had Abe at first. But before he had a chance to show his inexperience, Abe highlighted a three-run first inning with a two-run triple.
"Some people might say the move allowed me to concentrate on my hitting, but it makes you nervous in a different way," said Abe, who let a ball get past him for an error in the fifth.
Gonzalez (3-3), whose previous start lasted just 3-2/3 innings, survived a two-on, no-out jam in the first inning to work six innings while allowing just one unearned run.
"The first inning was kind of tough, but I just kept fighting," he said. "I forgot the last game. It doesn't affect me when I pitch. That time I felt good--fastball, slider--but sometimes you need a little luck."
Ironically, his inability to throw his slider helped him this time out.
"I didn't throw too many sliders, mostly fastballs inside and out," he said. "Sometimes I could see guys hesitate when they look for a slider.
"He [catcher Kazunari Tsuruoka] called a good game. He's a good catcher. We were on the same page."
Gonzalez got out of the first by staying down to Norichika Aoki, who hit into a double play. The right-hander then struck out cleanup man Jamie D'Antona and the Giants went to the bank in the bottom of the first.
Three straight singles off Masanori Ishikawa (0-6) loaded the bases for Alex Ramirez, who delivered a sacrifice fly. Abe followed with a triple off Aoki's glove in center to make it 3-0.
Ishikawa allowed four runs on seven hits in 6-2/3 innings.
The hosts came back for another run in the bottom of the second on doubles by No. 8 hitter Tsuruoka and leadoff man Hayato Sakamoto.
Aoki got his team started offensively in the fourth. He bunted to the left of Gonzalez, who had no play but swatted the ball into foul territory, resulting in a two-base error.
D'Antona singled to right and hustled to third on Yasushi Iihara's single to right-center. A walk loaded the bases with one out, but Gonzalez again got out of jail free, this time on an infield fly and a strikeout.
Abe's error in the fifth gave the Swallows an opening with one out, but Tsuruoka threw out two-time CL stolen base champ Kazuki Fukuchi with the help of a generous call from the second base ump. Gonzalez allowed two singles in the sixth, but erased the first runner on a double play. His stint on the mound ended when Iihara tried to turn a single into a double but became one of Ramirez's rare victims when the left fielder gunned him down at second.
In addition to his effective defense, Ramirez finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Lefty Tetsuya Yamaguchi set the Swallows down 1-2-3 in the seventh and Norihito Kaneto did the same in the eighth. Marc Kroon allowed two walks in the ninth, but induced up a double play--the Giants' third of the game--to work a scoreless inning.
The last-place Swallows, who haven't won back-to-back games since April 2 and 3, have lost eight of nine. The Giants' second straight win pushed them two games clear at the top of the CL.
Asked to explain the reasoning behind a lineup that also gave youngster Daisuke Nakai his first start of the season at second, Hara simply said it was part of his "best plan."
"There isn't any one point in particular," said Hara, who also said he had no qualms about using any of his relievers.
"Of course, I have a plan for games we are winning, and a plan for the opposite situation. It's not like any one combination is my ideal. My ideal is to develop pitchers who battle and succeed."
Abe, who heard about his assignment the day before, said he was looking forward to wearing a mask today.
"I never thought I could turn down the request," the Giants captain said. "I had to give it my best shot.
"I have a better understanding of how the fielders feel now, so it was a good experience. Still, I'll be happy to go back to my regular workplace."
In Nagoya, the Chunichi Dragons made it two straight against Hanshin with a 6-2 victory that pulled them to within 1-1/2 games of the second-place Tigers.
Masahiko Morino went 4-for-4, starting each of the Dragons' run-scoring innings with a single. Tony Blanco homered to plate Morino in the fourth and doubled him home in the sixth, while Kazuhiro Wada hit his 10th homer of the year in the fourth.
In Yokohama, recent acquisition Shotaro Ide singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth in the BayStars' 6-5 victory over the Hiroshima Carp.
Lions walk off against Eagles
Takumi Kuriyama went 4-for-6 including a two-out sayonara double in the 10th inning that lifted the Saitama Seibu Lions to a 6-5 victory over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in Pacific League action at Seibu Dome.
Kuriyama's RBI single tied the score 4-4 after the Eagles had taken a four-run, first-inning lead. Norihiro Nakamura's RBI double put the visitors ahead in the eighth, but Yasuyuki Kataoka's RBI single tied it in the home half.
In Chiba, Shoitsu Omatsu went 3-for-4 with two homers, three RBIs and a walk as the PL-leading Chiba Lotte Marines routed the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters 10-1.
Tadahito Iguchi and Kim Tae Kyun hit back-to-back homers in the third to put Lotte in front, and Saburo Omura capped the inning by plating Omatsu with a two-run shot.