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National League

Ishii Provides a Shot in the Arm

Dodgers: Rookie left-hander's impressive debut is the third consecutive strong outing for the rotation.

April 07, 2002|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii was the center of attention Saturday night at Dodger Stadium, putting the Dodgers on the spot too.

The Japanese left-hander's major league debut would have been a big deal under any circumstances, but Ishii's command problems in spring training raised the stakes for him and concerned club officials. It was finally time to raise the regular-season curtain for better or worse, and the Dodgers were on the edge of their seats.

Ishii put them at ease in the rotation's third consecutive strong performance after consecutive flops, making the Colorado Rockies uncomfortable in a 9-2 victory.

After keeping the Dodgers guessing, Ishii delivered 52/3 shutout innings and matched a Los Angeles franchise record with 10 strikeouts in his first start. The Rockies were thrown off-balance from the outset against his late-breaking slider, swinging wildly at Ishii's best pitch, and sharp fastball clocked consistently at 92 mph.

Talk about a collective sigh of relief.

"I know he had some problems in the spring, so this might sound crazy, but I really thought he was close to getting his rhythm," catcher Paul Lo Duca said. "I mean, you saw the stuff he throws, an above-average fastball, curve, slider and split, and you just figured he's too good not to get it all together at some point.

"Obviously, you need to see if he can do it every fifth day here. That was a question that was going to be asked, especially with the way it went for him in the spring. It's just a matter of him settling in and getting used to all this media attention."

The entire rotation is already under the microscope.

Nos. 1 and 2 starters Kevin Brown and Hideo Nomo struggled in their outings against the San Francisco Giants. However, Odalis Perez worked 52/3 strong innings in his Dodger debut, and Andy Ashby was sensational in shutting out the Rockies in seven innings Friday, his first appearance since last April 12, while leading the Dodgers to their first victory.

With Ishii also delivering, General Manager Dan Evans believes the new-look rotation is off to a solid start overall.

"One through five, we're pretty good," Evans said. "I'm not going to rank it, in terms of where our rotation is in relation to other clubs, but we think that we will [avoid] longer losing streaks. The advantage of having your strength in your pitching staff is that you don't go into as many prolonged slumps with strong pitching staffs."

The Dodgers did not invest $23.46 million in Ishii to have him work out of the bullpen, so he was going to begin the season in the rotation no matter how he fared this spring. Of course, Ishii might not have been so nervous had the Dodgers announced early in spring he would open in the bullpen, but they couldn't change course with Ishii's confidence already in question.

"That's not something we were going to do because we believe in this guy," Manager Jim Tracy said. "That's never been a question in my mind, and I know [pitching coach Jim Colborn] feels the same way.

"He's going to contribute to what the Los Angeles Dodgers are trying to accomplish. And I'm not just talking about for this year."

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