Kenshin Kawakami Providing Consistency for Atlanta Braves

Joe MorganSenior Analyst IJune 25, 2009

ATLANTA - APRIL 11: Pitcher Kenshin Kawakami #11 of the Atlanta Braves starts against the Washington Nationals on April 11, 2009 at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

When New York Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain hit a liner right at Atlanta Braves pitcher Kenshin Kawakami Wednesday night, everyone at Turner Field collectively held their breath.

While the primary concern was about Kawakami's safety (luckily, he only suffered a neck contusion and is day-to-day), the Braves also worried about losing their solid new starter.

Kawakami, who was signed to a three-year deal this offseason to help shore up the Atlanta rotation, has quietly put together a solid first half for the fourth-place Braves.

Admittedly, his 4-6 record and 4.25 ERA are not, by any means, good numbers, but those stats are actually quite misleading and fail to represent his true value.

After allowing 17 earned runs in his first four starts, eight of them coming in a ghastly outing against the Cincinnati Reds on April 26, Kawakami wasn't exactly the most popular Brave in Atlanta.

With critics joking that "Kawakami" was the Japanese translation of "long ball," Atlanta's Eastern hurler was determined to improve on his shaky debut.

Since his disastrous performance against the Reds, Kawakami has embodied the concept of consistency, allowing three earned runs or fewer in 10 consecutive games. In addition, he has averaged nearly six innings pitched per start and has improved his control, issuing only eight walks in his last five starts.

Kawakami has also put a muzzle on the "long ball" jokes, surrendering only three home runs in his last 10 outings.

What may be even more impressive is that Kawakami's success has come against some of the best competition that baseball has to offer. He has been dominant as of late, scattering three hits over eight shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays, the American League's best-hitting team this season.

He also performed well against the vaunted lineup of the Boston Red Sox, yielding only two hits and two earned runs in an 8-2 defeat of fellow countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Kawakami even seemed to be having his way with the Yankees, effortlessly dispatching a team laden with All-Star players for three perfect innings before being hit by a liner from Chamberlain.

Granted, while Kawakami continues to improve each time he takes the mound, he, like any other pitcher, is susceptible to making mistakes and falling off track. The hurler from Japan is still learning the ropes of being a MLB pitcher, and he may experience a few more growing pains before becoming completely settled in the United States.

However, Kawakami, along with fellow new-coming starters Derek Lowe and Javier Vazquez, has provided Atlanta with stability and consistency—two qualities they sorely lacked in 2008.

Whether Kawakami and the rest of the Braves starting rotation can help rest the bullpen and continue to be solid inning-eaters has yet to be determined, but one thing is certain: Kawakami has been a great addition to the Atlanta pitching staff and will likely continue to be a consistent force for the Braves down the stretch in 2009.