TOKYO -- The Hanshin Tigers' Shintaro Fujinami is building a case to be the next pitching star in Japan.
The 6-foot-6 bean pole (189 pounds) through Sunday had thrown seven innings in warmup action this spring and had 12 strikeouts to show for his efforts.
The 19-year-old, Hanshin's first pick and the second selection overall in the 2012 draft, won 10 games for the second-place Tigers last year and was arguably better after the All-Star break.
Fujinami's strikeout rate signals he could shape into the ace the Tigers envisioned when they -- and three other teams -- selected him. Hanshin won a lottery for his draft rights, and the right-hander helped push them into second place in the Central League last season.
He could be ready to make a Masahiro Tanaka-like push over the next few years.
"He's not Ma-kun [Tanaka], but when there are no runners he's a little relaxed. When runners are on base, though, he really lets it fly," said Tigers skipper Yutaka Wada.
Fujinami, whose fastball sat in the low 90s last year, won four games in August and had seven quality starts over a stretch of nine second-half outings last year. Not bad for a kid who came straight out of high school and worked in 24 games.
He was ninth in the CL in strikeouts with 126 in 137.2 innings, and to see him start out even better in preseason could put him at the forefront of a strong second-year crew of hurlers.
Fujinami lost out in the Rookie of the Year Award running to Tokyo Yakult Swallows hurler Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa and his CL-best 16 wins. Even Yomiuri Giants rookie hurler Tomoyuki Sugano had more wins at 13 and those are just the pitchers in the same league.
Fujinami is on the radar of major league teams and there’s no second-year jinx on the horizon. He looks better so far this spring.
Left-hander Atsushi Nomi is the team’s ace and is expected to get the Opening Day nod, but Fujinami figures to get the second slot. Import Randy Messenger, who is 39-32 with the club over four seasons, is likely next in the order and other rotation spots could be up for grabs this spring.
NOTES FROM AROUND NPB
The Yomiuri Giants won their first two Tokyo Dome preseason games over the weekend, edging the Tokyo Yakult Swallows 3-2 in a walk-off on Saturday and sneaking past them 1-0 on Sunday when five hurlers combined on a three-hitter.
Yomiuri won the opener by rallying in the ninth inning after the Swallows tied the score with two runs in the top of the frame. Itaru Hashimoto’s double plated first-year import Leslie Anderson with the game-winning run.
Anderson the next day cracked his first longball of the spring -- his third hit of the game -- in the seventh inning for the lone run.