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Kyuji Fujikawa

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Kyuji Fujikawa

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[edit] Biographical Information

The characters Kyuji Fujikawa mean something like "baseball child"; his father had thrown a no-hitter in an amateur league the day before his birth. In junior high school, he saved a man from drowning. After a very good high school baseball career, he was drafted in the first round of the 1998 NPB draft by the Hanshin Tigers.

Fujikawa spent his first couple of years at ni-gun, getting in 19 games for Hanshin in 2000 (0-0, 4.76, 25 K in 22 2/3 IP). After a 2001 injury, he considered retiring, but returned to the hill and got an extended look from Hanshin the next year. Making 12 starts, Fujikawa went 1-5, 3.71. He was 1-1 with a 3.38 ERA the next year in two starts and 15 relief appearances.

In 2004, Kyuji continued to improve, fanning 35 in 31 innings and going 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA. The next year, Fujikawa became a Central League All-Star with a 1.36 ERA, 7-1 record and one save. He pitched in 80 games, a Nippon Pro Baseball record. In 92 1/3 innings, he allowed only 57 hits, 20 walks and struck out an impressive 139 batters. That year, Kazuhiro Kiyohara (then with 499 career homers) criticized Fujikawa for throwing a forkball to strike him out instead of challenging him with a fastball. The next time they met, Fujikawa K'd Kiyohara with his heater. With Tomoyuki Kubota as the Hanshin closer, Fujikawa was named Japan's Middle Reliever of the Year.

In addition to his forkball and fastball (sitting 92-94 mph, tops out at 97 mph), Kyuji throws a curveball. Fujikawa has "no homers allowed" sewn into his glove.

After his dazzling 2005 campaign, Fujikawa struggled in the 2005 Japan Series, giving up four runs in three innings, though he struck out 4. Picked for the 2006 World Baseball Classic, he was 0-1 in 4 games, but the only run he gave up was unearned. He struck out three and allowed four hits in 2 2/3 innings.

Fujikawa was even better to start 2006, almost making it to the All-Star break before he allowed a run. His 47 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings were the 7th-longest stretch in NPB history. Through July 15th, Kyuji was 3-0 with nine saves and a 0.33 ERA. He had allowed 31 hits, 14 walks and 82 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings. He finished the year with a 5-0 record, 17 saves, a 0.68 ERA, .165 opponent average, 46 hits allowed, 22 walks and 122 strikeouts in 79 1/3 innings over 63 games.

Fujikawa finished a one-hit shutout of the Pacific League in the first NPB All-Star Game of 2007. He followed Shingo Takatsu, Masanori Hayashi, Atsushi Kizuka, Hitoki Iwase, Hiroki Kuroda, Tomoyuki Kubota and Marc Kroon in the 4-0 win. He reached 100 strikeouts for the third straight season that year.

In 2007, Fujikawa was 5-5 with 46 saves in his first year as full-time closer. In 71 games and 83 innings, he allowed only 50 hits and 18 walks while striking out 115 batters. He led the Central League in saves and save points and was third in games pitched. He was only 8 strikeouts shy of the #10 spot in the league, held by Hiroki Kuroda.

Fujikawa retired all three batters he faced in the 2007 Asian Championship; Japan won and advanced to the 2008 Olympics. In Beijing, Kyuji struck out 7 in 4 innings and only allowed one run but Japan failed to get a Medal. The only run he allowed came when Japan blew a 2-1 lead over the South Korean national team in the semifinals; Fujikawa relieved Kenshin Kawakami in the 7th and walked Dae-ho Lee before Young-min Ko and Jin-young Lee singled to tie the game. South Korea went on to win Gold.

Fujikawa went 8-1 with 38 saves and a 0.67 ERA in 2008, striking out 90 in 67 2/3 innings. He walked 13 and allowed 34 hits for a .125 opponent average and 0.69 WHIP. He tied Katsuhiro Nagakawa for second in the Central League in saves, behind Kroon, and led in save points.

In the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Kyuji tossed four shutout innings to help Japan take the title. He was 5-3 with 25 saves, a 1.25 ERA, .161 opponent average, .82 WHIP and 86 K in 57 2/3 IP in 2009. He made his fifth straight CL All-Star team. He was 5th in the league in saves. In 2010, he went 3-4 with 28 saves, a 2.01 ERA, .207 opponent average, 1.07 WHIP and 80 K in 62 2/3 IP in a drop-off year; still excellent, he was an All-Star and 4th in the league in saves after Iwase, Chang-yong Lim and Shun Yamaguchi.

In 2011, he was again lights-out with a .140 opponent average, .75 WHIP, 1.24 ERA and 80 whiffs in 51 innings. He went 3-3 with 41 saves, leading the CL in both saves (4 ahead of Iwase) and save points (7 ahead of Iwase). He was an All-Star for the 7th year in a row and lowered his career ERA to 1.80 with a .96 WHIP. He went 2-2 with 24 saves and a 1.32 ERA in 2012, finishing 4th in saves behind Tony Barnette, Iwase and Kentaro Nishimura.

On December 1, 2012, Fujikawa signed a two-year contract with the Chicago Cubs. He made his major league debut on Opening Day, April 1, 2013, pitching one-third of an inning to close out a 3-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates, earning the save by getting Russell Martin to fly out to center with two men on base after replacing James Russell. After a couple of late-game meltdowns by titular closer Carlos Marmol, manager Dale Sveum announced on April 7th that the Japanese veteran would now fill the role. However, he then had to miss almost a month with elbow problems after giving up 3 runs in one inning to the San Francisco Giants on April 12th; ironically, he picked up his first win that day when the Cubs came back with two runs in the bottom of the 9th for a 4-3 victory. Back in action on May 12th, he pitched 7 times in May, but with no more thoughts of making him the closer. He was shut down after his 12th appearance of the year, on May 26th, again complaining of pain in his elbow. This time, exams showed that he needed Tommy John surgery. His season ended with a record of 1-1, 5.25 and 2 saves in 12 innings. He had struck out 14 while walking only 2, pitching extremely well apart from a couple of rough outings that had accounted for 6 of the 7 runs he had allowed.

Sources: Japanbaseballdaily.com by Gary Garland, Japanesebaseball.com by Michael Westbay, World Baseball Classic website, Sergei Borisov's 2006 NPB site, IBAF site, 2008 Olympics

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