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Houlton ineffective again as Fighters roll

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Houlton ineffective again as Fighters roll
There's no kind way to say this, DJ Houlton has been downright awful at times this season. His two worst outings, including today, have come at the hands of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, and his struggles this season have been mystifying.

Once again, Houlton could not even complete three innings as he was rocked for six runs on seven hits in just two innings. His teammates in the bullpen didn't help much either, as Ogura and Mizuta were also hit hard for three runs each.

The Fighters spread the work around as everyone in the starting lineup recorded a hit with the surprising exception of Pacific League batting leader Kensuke Tanaka. In addition, four Fighters had two runs batted in, including Hichiori Morimoto, Atsunori Inaba, Tomohiro Nioka, and old nemesis Makoto Kaneko.

The offense came early and often for Nippon Ham, as they scored three runs in each of the first three innings. Itoi legged out an infield single with runners on second and third and two out. Nioka followed it up with a two-run single for the quick 3-0 lead. This came after Hichori Morimoto was thrown out trying to score on an infield grounder by Eiichi Koyano.

Morimoto made up for his baserunning blunder the next inning when he singled home Shinya Tsuruoka, who singled and took second on Kaneko's sac bunt. Inaba lifted a sacrifice fly, and Koyano hit an RBI double to increase Nippon Ham's advantage twofold at 6-0.

Bobby Keppel paced the Fighters pitching staff today, as he recorded a solid seven inning start, giving up three runs on six hits with two walks, two strikeouts, and a hit batsman. All the offense SoftBank could muster off Keppel was a two-run home run from Matsuda (12) and a solo blast from Ortiz (24).

Also notable was that the Hawks' catching injuries added a second name to the walking wounded. Hidenori Tanoue was hit on the left arm with a batted ball in the first inning, but stayed in the game until the third, when the pain was too great to bear. Hiroaki Takaya took over from there, and Tanoue could be out for the foreseeable future.

SoftBank was lucky enough to have both Seibu and Lotte lose as well, so their first-place lead is intact at two games. The Hawks return to Starffin Stadium tomorrow as Tsuyoshi Wada (13-4, 2.91) gets the start against Masao Kida (4-1, 4.40).

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Michael Westbay
(aka westbaystars)

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