LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Feeling much more comfortable than he did a year ago, when he was introducing himself to a new team and a foreign nation, Kenshin Kawakami has returned to the Braves' rotation with the desire to find more confidence in his two-seam fastball.
Kawakami began throwing the two-seamer after the All-Star break and was gaining comfort with it before he unleashed a wayward one that drilled Reds pitcher Micah Owings in the head on Sept. 6. The unfortunate incident, which left Owings concussed, further motivated the Japanese pitcher to gain more consistency with this pitch during the offseason.
Based on the results that Kawakami realized during the Braves' 4-2 win over the Pirates at ESPN's Wide World of Sports complex on Thursday afternoon, manager Bobby Cox is among those who are excited about the fact that the 34-year-old Japanese right-hander plans to throw the sinking two-seam fastball with greater regularity this year.
"I think it's better right now, from what I saw today," Cox said. "It sunk really well. It's a new weapon for him."
Kawakami recorded one strikeout and surrendered one hit in his two scoreless innings against the Pirates. The veteran hurler displayed the two-seamer 12 times during his 17-pitch effort and utilized it to induce a double-play groundout after former Brave Ryan Church opened the second inning with a single.
"He threw a lot of strikes with it," Cox said of Kawakami, who threw 12 of his 17 pitches for strikes. "He had it going."
Kawakami's choice to throw this pitch so often during his Grapefruit League season debut is further indication that he is much more comfortable than he was last Spring Training, when he admits he felt he had to prove himself during every outing.
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"I was looking at every Spring Training game as if it was a regular-season game," Kawakami said through his interpreter. "I knew that I couldn't be too comfortable trying things out. This year, I'm more comfortable, and it's kind of like a trial and error. I'm just trying to see what pitches are working for me early on."
While going 6-7 with a 3.42 ERA in his final 21 starts last year, Kawakami allowed the Braves to feel better about the three-year, $23 million contract that they gave him before the start of the 2009 season. But more importantly, this run allowed the Japanese hurler to steadily gain confidence in his ability to find success in his new environment.
"There was a lot of pressure to show what kind of stuff I had and what would work over here," Kawakami said. "After a year of where players are comfortable seeing what I have and even the fans are more comfortable seeing what I have, I can try things out much more comfortably."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.