Roki Sasaki pitched out of early trouble to strike out 11 over eight innings in a 2-1 Pacific League win Wednesday over the Seibu Lions.
With Seibu hitters looking for first-pitch fastballs at Zozo Marine Stadium east of Tokyo, Sasaki (6-2) quickly found himself in a first-inning jam, with two hits on his first two pitches.
With runners on second and third and no outs, the 192-centimeter right-hander buckled down and struck out the next three batters.
"I was thinking, 'This is very bad.' But I was able to give it all I had and get out of the inning," Sasaki said.
Sasaki was barely threatened again. He allowed five hits and a walk while throwing 106 pitches, a borderline figure that made manager Masato Yoshii think about sending him out for the ninth.
"His pitch count wasn't that high, so it was a conundrum, but I figured it was a good time for him to call it a night," Yoshii said.
Lotte took a third-inning lead on a double by rookie Atsuki Tomosugi and a Katsuya Kakunaka single off Seibu right-hander Kaima Taira (5-4). Marines captain Shogo Nakamura homered to open the sixth to make it 2-0.
Asked about Sasaki's game, Kakunaka talked about his high expectations for the 21-year-old pitcher.
"He's nowhere near what he might become," Kakunaka said. "I expect him to strike out 27 batters. I was next to him in the dugout at the end, but was thinking he could have been out there to the end."
Marines closer Naoya Masuda struck out three batters in the ninth to secure his 20th save, but not before a two-out infield single and an RBI double on a difficult but catchable ball allowed Seibu to avoid being shutout for the second straight night.
The SoftBank Hawks beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 5-1 to move into first place in the PL past the Orix Buffaloes, who lost 6-1 to the Rakuten Eagles, with rookie Kosei Soji (1-3) throwing six shutout innings in his first pro win.
In the Central League, Kotaro Otake threw a five-hitter for his first career shutout to pace the league-leading Hanshin Tigers to a 2-0 win over the Hiroshima Carp.