A Tale of Two Pitchers

June 19, 2009 - 11:56 am

Friday night at Fenway will be a duel between two seemingly lackluster Japanese pitchers, as the Sox Daisuke Matsuzaka faces off against fellow countryman Kenshin Kawakami.

The Braves'€™ 33-year-old rookie pitcher, who signed a three-year deal in January, hasn'€™t pitched quite as well as was anticipated at the beginning of the season (he was sporting a 3-6 record with a 4.54 ERA and 54 strikeouts coming into Friday night'€™s game). But the former Chunichi Dragon is well known as a crafty veteran with a slow curveball, a sharp cutter, and a pretty decent fastball.

Throughout his illustrious 10-year career in Japan, Kawakami established himself as one of the country'€™s most dominant pitchers and, above all else, a true leader with a desire to win. In 1998, Kawakami was named Nippon Professional Baseball'€™s Rookie of the Year after going 14-6 with a 2.57 ERA, and only a year later led the Dragons to the Central League title. He was named league MVP in 2004 after going 17-7 with a 3.32 ERA, and also received the Eiji Sawamura Award as Japan'€™s best pitcher.

Though it took all of nine years and several failed attempts, Kawakami finally helped lead the 2007 Dragons to their first championship in 53 years, as they beat the Nippon Ham Fighters in five games. Also on the Dragons'€™ roster was current Chicago Cubs star centerfielder Kosuke Fukudome.

Finally in 2009, Kawakami made the jump to the MLB and has since been pitching for Atlanta. While his record may not indicate so, Kawakami has been a pretty reliable starter for the Braves this season. Since May 5, he has not given up more than 3 earned runs in a start, and has averaged a 3.51 ERA in the months of May and June. On May 22 in a game against Toronto, Kawakami outdueled Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay in an eight-inning effort that resulted in a 1-0 Braves win. Tonight we'€™ll see if he can do it again against his slumping Japanese counterpart, whose decline from last season has been drastic.

In seven starts this season, Matsuzaka has a 1-4 record with a bloated 7.55 ERA.