Kenshin Kawakami is set to pitch his first career Major League game tonight against the Washington Nationals. While Kawakami comes over with less fan fare than that of a Hideki Matsui or Daisuke Matsuzaka, he has had great success in his own right in Japan.
In 10 years in the Japan Central league, Kawakami posted a 106-62 record, with a 3.17 ERA. He struck out 1201 in 1497 innings pitched and walked only 315. He is a two time 17 game winner and one time recipient of both the Central League MVP and the Sawamura, Japans equivalent of the MVP.
In a weak free agent market the right handed Kawakami signed a three year $23 million deal with a two million dollar signing bonus. While the Braves obviously have enough confidence to give the 33 year old pitcher a serious Major League deal, they can not have him that high on their depth chart considering this is his first start, and their fifth game.
In six spring training starts Kawakami pitched 23.1 innings, posted a 3.09 record and struck out 11. What is striking, however, is that he allowed 15 walks in that span. That’s incredible considering he only allowed 25 all of last season in 117.1 innings.
This has to make us wonder about the strike zones being used in Japanese baseball. If you look at Daisuke Matsuzaka’s first season with boston, he struggled almost exclusively because of his lack of command. He walked 80 batters compared to 34 the year before in roughly the same amount of innings, just on the other side of the world.
It would seem then for the Nats to be successful tonight they have to capitalize on Kawakami’s adjustment to the new strike zone. If guys like Guzman and Zimmerman can hold back on what they perceive as fat slow moving stuff, they can beat the crafty veteran.
When it comes to older crafty guys, the young Nats need to make them pitch to them.