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National League

Ishii Is Quickly Building Fan Base

Baseball: Rookie strikes out 10 and looks like crowd favorite after impressive debut in 9-2 Dodger win.

April 07, 2002|GARY KLEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers spent $23.46 million to bring left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii from Japan to Los Angeles. It was an investment that did not look as if it would produce a windfall based on Ishii's spring-training performance.

But the rookie left the jitters behind Saturday night against the Colorado Rockies and turned in a debut performance that might have marked the start of Ishii-mania.

Ishii gave up two hits, struck out 10 and walked three in 52/3 shutout innings as the Dodgers defeated the Rockies, 9-2, before 38,693 at Dodger Stadium. "He answered everybody's questions," Dodger Manager Jim Tracy said.

Ishii tied a Los Angeles Dodger record for strikeouts in a debut set by Pedro Astacio on July 3, 1992, against the Philadelphia Phillies. The major league record for strikeouts in a debut is 15, held by former Brooklyn Dodger Karl Spooner and former Houston Astro J.R. Richard.

This is what the Dodgers expected when they paid $11.26 million to the Yakult Swallows to earn the right to negotiate with Ishii, and then signed him to a four-year, $12.2-million contract in February. Ishii was 78-46 with a 3.38 earned-run average in the last 10 seasons and pitched in six Japan Series.

He looked nothing like a composed veteran during most of the spring when he amassed a 12.96 earned-run average with 10 walks in 81/3 innings. Last Sunday, in his final exhibition start against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, he gave up five runs and walked seven in 22/3 innings and pitched from behind in the count to 17 of 20 batters.

"The biggest difference between my outing in Seattle and tonight was my concentration level," Ishii said through interpreter Scott Akasaki. "After my outing against Seattle, virtually all of my teammates came up and gave me encouragement and I wanted to win for them."

Before Saturday night's game against the Rockies, Tracy described what he would consider a good start for Ishii.

"I think a positive start in his case or any other staff member is to pitch deep enough into the game to give us a chance to win," Tracy said.

Ishii did just that, using a fastball, slider, curve and split-fingered fastball to baffle Colorado hitters. He threw 95 pitches, 57 for strikes, as the Dodgers staked him to a 3-0 lead on a run-scoring single by Eric Karros in the fourth and an RBI double by Mark Grudzielanek and RBI single by Cesar Izturis in the fifth.

After the Rockies pulled to within 3-2 in the seventh, the Dodgers answered with a six-run inning highlighted by Brian Jordan's grand slam into the left-field pavilion against reliever Todd Jones.

But this game was all about Ishii, who helped the Dodgers rebound from their 0-3 start to the season with their second consecutive win, a night after right-hander Andy Ashby pitched seven shutout innings.

Ishii got Mark Little to pop up the first pitch to second baseman Grudzielanek, then struck out Juan Uribe and Larry Walker. In the second inning, he sandwiched strikeouts of Todd Helton and Benny Agbayani around a ground out by Todd Zeile. He retired the side in order in the third.

Ishii walked Little to open the fourth and, one out later, Walker singled to right for the Rockies' first hit. Ishii, faced with his first real test, struck out Helton for the second time with a slider then caught Zeile looking at a 92-mph fastball for strike three.

Ishii began to labor in the sixth, walking Uribe and Walker. After Helton flied out, Ishii was replaced by right-hander Giovanni Carrara and left to a rousing ovation.

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Impressive Debuts

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