Japanese native Toru Murata was once the top draft pick of the Yomuri Giants.
That was 2007 during the Nippon Pro Baseball League’s draft, when the right-hander was on top of the Japanese sports world.
But after pitching three seasons in the Giants’ minor leagues, Murata was released. Just 20 days later, he was signed by the Indians, who had begun efforts to more seriously scout the Pacific Rim.
In his first professional season in the United States, Murata went 3-2 with a 2.36 ERA in 22 games (including five starts) at high Class-A Kinston.
Last season, he made his debut at Double-A and this season he has become one of the Aeros’ top pitchers. Murata, 27, showed why again Friday night, despite the Aeros getting crushed for the second consecutive night 13-5 by the visiting Bowie Baysox.
A fielding error on left fielder Delvi Cid did Murata in after 5⅔ innings, but it was a total of five errors that proved too much to overcome for the Aeros.
But before the game got of hand, Murata had the Aeros cruising, limiting the Baysox to just one earned run on five hits and a walk.
“Everybody talks about how good his fastball command is,” Aeros pitching coach Greg Hibbard said. “And it is. When you have above-average fastball command, it complements not-so-good secondary stuff because it makes batters swing the bat.
“So, his above-average fastball command complements an average slider and average change-up. But when you can command your fastball in the bottom of the strike zone to both sides of the plate, they’re going to swing at a change-up that starts at the bottom of the strike zone.”
Murata (1-2, 2.60 ERA) did just that to keep the Baysox off balance, and second baseman Jose Ramirez helped the Aeros to an early lead. With one out in the bottom of the first inning, Ramirez singled, stole second and third bases and scored on first baseman Jesus Aguilar’s fielder’s choice.
But the Baysox tied the score 1-1 in the fourth when center fielder Kyle Hudson led off with a double that dropped in shallow center field and then scored on catcher Luis Martinez’s single. Martinez entered the game in the bottom of the second inning after Caleb Joseph had to leave after fouling a ball off his right shin/ankle area leading off the top of the inning.
The Aeros took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the inning with a two-out rally. Catcher Chris Wallace doubled and scored on Ronny Rodriguez’s single. The Aeros made it 3-1 in the fifth inning. After reaching on a fielder’s choice, Ramirez stole second base and scored on an Aguilar single.
The Baysox cut the deficit to a run with an unearned run in the sixth inning when Cid dropped a wind-blown ball in left field. Murata couldn’t shake off the mistake, walking the next batter and then allowing a single, and his night was done.
In Murata’s place, Austin Adams made his season debut after recovering from shoulder surgery. Adams allowed the two runners to advance on a wild pitch and then gave up a two-run single to Henry Urrutia. The unearned runs gave the Baysox a 4-3 lead and wiped Murata out of contention for the win.
The Baysox added two more runs that were charged to Adams in the seventh inning to push their advantage to 6-3. The Aeros battled back with two runs after back-to-back walks by Tyler Holt and Ramirez opened the seventh inning. Both came around to score on Aguilar’s two-run double that gave him four RBI in the game.
But the Baysox scored seven runs in the eighth inning, and the rout was on.
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.