The team finished IL play with a 9-13 record and are in 5th place, 13.5 games behind the first place Giants, and the regular season is about to start back up on the 26th...
I just need to work hard. It's going to be tough, we need to give the fans something to cheer about. I want them to be happy with the game they're watching. We need to build on those kind of things. I think if we do that, every player will have less responsibility to bear... As long as we focus on making the Hanshin fans happy, I think that will translate into the team doing better.
The Tigers would love to see you throw every day.
I feel the same way. The reason why I haven't been throwing much is because that situation hasn't presented itself. If I enter a game, I do my best to please each and every fan in the stands. I have never pitched a game where I only thought about myself. I also want to give the fans a different view, so I'm trying to change the way I perform on the mound a little. I think that'll end up helping the team as well.
People have been pretty critical about the season so far...
We want to show the fans good games. That's part of our duty. And I think everyone feels the same way. If you get angry I think it's good to let off steam --- I think it's important to let off steam. But we're all trying really hard. Our approach doesn't change whether we're in first or fifth. We're all fighting for the fans. That feeling is really strong. We only have good times because there are bad times. It's because of those two contrasts that we can have fun, can be happy, and can be moved.
You've appeared in 17 games and have a 1-3 record with 7 saves. You have had a number of appearances that have made some people worry. Your thoughts?
I struggle quite a bit early in the season. I usually pitch in about 13-14 games in April and then slowly turn things up in May and June during Inter-league play... That's the way things have been. But I haven't been able to do that this year. And that's why I haven't been able to make the appropriate adjustments. I've never experienced anything like this.
Are you having a hard time bringing your best stuff with you to the mound right now?
Yeah. I wasn't really expecting something like this so it's not like I prepared myself for it. I never thought I wouldn't be throwing this much. I usually do my best when I warm up little by little from the start of the season. Except that has taken me until the middle of June [this year].
What do you think has improved?
I'm still in the process of improving. I still don't know if it'll go well. It might have something to do with [a change] my form, or [a change] in the way I think... I'm just trying to find something good to go on right now.
In my opinion, I don't think 5th and 6th place teams need a closer. This might not be a good thing to say, but even if a closer racks up 30 saves, I don't think it has much of any value [on a losing team]. That's why I have nothing to be proud of. At least, at the moment. Under these kinds of circumstances, I think the best thing is for the team to go up in the standings, but I want to work on trying to figure something out new over the next year or two.
There's 84 games left on the schedule. On getting things back on track?
I think it's really important to think of the season starting from here. Even when times are tough, if you can hold onto something to keep you moving forward, that can sometimes lead to helping you win. Making that a reason to live... I don't think that's a bad way to live.
There are some tough games ahead...
It isn't really time to look back on things yet, but we haven't really been able to do with the manager told us we needed to do in the beginning, which was to play well right from the start. I have never experienced anything quite like this before.
Is 17 appearances not enough?
I just haven't experienced anything like this before... The year before last, we were 9 games under .500, but that isn't really a strong memory. Especially because I was pitching in games that we were winning. The thing that bothers me now is not being able to pitch when we're losing. It's the first time I've experienced it, but the longer you play the game, the more things you see. I was a little confused as to what I should do in this kind of a situation. The team was losing and I was getting frustrated. And so when I did get to pitch, I felt like I HAD to win and I think that was too much for me.
On the pain in your right eblow that got you removed from the active rosters for 10 days starting on May 3rd...
That was big. It was because I took a break back then that I have to throw more now. If I never took that break, I probably would have been fine by now.
Was it that bad?
I was really forcing myself to throw... No, I was in so much pain I couldn't even force myself to throw. And when I did force myself, I got hit. Wins and losses are decided in such small areas. I don't think it was about being tired from too much work, although I suppose it could have been a sudden injury... Regardless, I'm fine now.
You once said that you were in the process of changing things after one of your games, does that have anything to do with what happened?
Yeah. I was using the fork a lot since last season, as well as other pitches. I turn 30 in July next season. I'm trying to find a style that fits my age a little more. I want to make it easier for me by trying out new techniques, and I'm looking for a pitch that I know can get hitters out. That's why people around me keep giving me advice. But I'm like, "say whatever you like, I'll just do what I want." It's my life, right? I've felt very strongly about that lately. Some people think I've started my decline, and if that's what they want to think, then that's what they can think. But when I quit, I'll do it on my own terms.
What about your fastball?
That's a part of me, and it's something I already have. It's about how I adjust from there. Fail or succeed. People have questioned this process of mine... But a lot of great people have been considered strange. I like to think that the things people are saying is just a form of praise.
Naoto Tsuru, at Ni-gun, has been called the next Kyuji, what are your thoughts?
I'd love to see him up here. I think he needs to realize his chance will definitely come and that he should have a good idea of how he wants to pitch, and work on that until he gets here. And I want him to hurry up and take over for me. I think it would be nice to have that kind of a threat.