Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Yuki Saito Watch: Episode 2

It was a long wait between starts as Yuki Saito's Waseda University club gave a few turns in the rotation to other pitchers for their April 21st and 22nd series in Tokyo. Saito has played the role of freshman quite easily as his elder teammates have playfully ribbed him at every available opportunity. The learning curve is very high for a player of his talent and being around the caliber players that migrate to a program like Waseda has been very fruitful for the young college man.

This time around, Saito was looking to follow up his nearly perfect 6 innings of work against Tokyo University with a strong outing against Hosei University at the Jingu Stadium grounds in front of 25,000+ wild fans. The teams in the Tokyo Big Six League do not announce the starters until just before game time, so Saito's debut was largely unattended until the middle innings. This time, fans anticipated another Saturday turn in the rotation, only to be disappointed by the news that Saito would not be the man on the hill in that game. That news, however, did virtually guarantee that the young idol would be on the mound the following day and attendance boomed. It was announced during the game that the number of people in the stands to see Saito pitch, was nearly identical to the attendance of the Giants/Swallows game that same afternoon.

Saito came out calm and focused and proceeded to throw strikes from the beginning. It didn't take long for Hosei to get to him, however, and Waseda's young prince was forced to pitch from the stretch after one batter. The defense didn't help very much as the leadoff hit was a humpback liner that dropped just behind the third baseman, a ball that could have been caught with a better timed jump. A sac bunt later, and Yuki Saito was in a little pinch. The first run of the game scored on an infield single up the middle that was knocked down by second baseman Uemoto, but the ball scooted away to the shortstop side and the runner raced for home. Saito was unfazed and got out of the inning otherwise unscathed.

The Waseda boys put together a little rally of their own in the bottom of the second, scratching out a run to knot the game at 1-1. The RBI belonged to none other than Saito himself. That was all he needed to dominate the rest of the contest with a nice fastball clocked around 90-91, his signature slider, and a developing curveball that had a number of Hosei batters fooled. He also managed another RBI hit later in the contest and smiled away the afternoon on the base paths. As a first year player, it was striking to see the level of maturity that Saito possesses on the mound, and the sophistication of his pitches. He has a lot to work on at this point, including some serious weight training, but he is in another league compared to the other pitchers in the university ranks. The Hosei starter, Futagami, worked too quickly and looked hurried on the mound. His pitch repertoire was fine, but he three upwards of 5-6 pitches a minute. He paid the price for his lack of rhythm and his rushed pace, giving up 3 hits, 3 walks, and 3 runs over 3.2 innings of work. He managed to strike out 5 batters, but took 83 pitches to get to the end of the 4th inning.

Saito, on the other hand, looked sharp and in control. He pitched quickly, but at a very level pace. In the end, he went 7 innings on 91 pitches (13/inning), giving up 4 hits, a walk, and an earned run while striking out 7. In his 13 innings of work to date, Saito has given up 5 hits, 1 run, and a walk, against 15 strikeouts. Waseda is 4-0 and off to the races. Next week, Waseda plays against Rikkyo University (0-4) and we hope to have more from the young Waseda ace in about a week's time. Stay tuned!!!!


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