Fujinami stays 'under control' second time around

A's righty logs 3 scoreless frames vs. D-backs after trying to do too much in spring debut

March 8th, 2023

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- One week after making his spring debut,  was determined to learn from his mistakes.

No, the pitching line from his first career start in the Cactus League wasn’t bad -- he threw two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and three walks with three strikeouts against the Angels on Feb. 28 -- but he issued those free passes to open the second inning, getting into a tricky jam before working his way out of trouble.

“I was trying to do too much,” Fujinami said through an interpreter. “Today, I was more relaxed and tried not to do too much. Just be myself, relax and pitch.”

On Tuesday, Fujinami limited the D-backs to one run on one hit and two walks with three strikeouts over three innings in the A’s 9-3 victory at Salt River Fields. He threw 52 pitches (32 strikes), 13 more than in last week’s debut.

“The more times he goes out on the mound and pitches in games, he’s going to find that routine of what it takes inning in, inning out to keep going,” catcher Shea Langeliers said. “He showed that in the first and second inning; he looked really good, and in the third inning, he looked really good, too.”

Corbin Carroll grinded out a 10-pitch walk to start the home half of the first, but Fujinami wasn’t fazed. The 28-year-old came right back and struck out Kyle Lewis, retired Jake McCarthy with a fly ball to center and got Carson Kelly to ground into a fielder's choice to shortstop, needing just nine pitches to get through the inning.

“I knew that the leadoff hitter is a very patient guy, and he makes you throw a lot of pitches,” Fujinami said. “I heard it from the pitching coach; it was the same as the data. The hitters after that were pretty aggressive so I tried to get ahead in the count. It worked pretty well.”

Fujinami allowed a walk and an infield single in the second inning, but he also induced a broken-bat grounder and had a punchout during the scoreless frame. When Carroll came to bat to start the third, Fujinami and Langeliers weren’t about to get into another lengthy battle with the talented young leadoff hitter.

“The first at-bat, we kind of threw the kitchen sink at him to see how he would react,” Langeliers said. “Second at-bat, we weren't going to mess around; we were just going to go straight at him, try to get him to put the ball in play in the first couple pitches and we ended up getting the strikeout.”

Two batters and two outs later, Fujinami’s afternoon was done.

“I thought Fuji looked really good,” manager Mark Kotsay said. “Coming off last outing, I was excited about getting him to his pitch count. I thought he commanded the ball really well today. Overall, it was a good day for him. He was just more under control.”

Prior to the game, Kotsay spoke about Fujinami’s desire to be great and to compete, chalking up the issues in his first outing -- which came against Shohei Ohtani -- to nerves and excitement.

“He looked a lot more calm out there today,” Kotsay said. “Under control.”

Still, that competitive fire was evident during the pitcher’s postgame interview, when Fujinami was occasionally harder on himself than his pitching line suggested was necessary.

Fujinami threw about 10 splitters to D-backs hitters, though he wasn’t particularly pleased with the way the pitch looked. The two-seam fastball and slider were working far better, though he knows that he’ll need his full arsenal of pitches against the competition he will be facing all year.

“Not bad,” Fujinami said in English before returning to his native language. “It could have been better if I could have commanded the splitter better, but overall, it wasn't bad. If I can improve my splitter for the next outing, that would be great.”