Kawakami ready to impress America

Kawakami ready to impress America

While spending the past 13 years as one of the top pitchers in Japan's Central League, Kenshin Kawakami often wondered how he would fare in the United States. The 33-year-old right-hander will start to get a better understanding on Saturday night, when he makes his Major League debut for the Braves.

Less than 24 hours before making his debut against the Nationals, Kawakami wasn't providing any indication that he was nervous. In fact, late Friday afternoon, he jokingly told Japanese reporters that he's going to go 28-1 this season.

"I really don't feel nervous," Kawakami said through his interpreter. "Right now, I'm just getting myself ready for the start of the season. I won't know how I'm going to feel until tomorrow."

Obviously, Kawakami wants to begin his big league career with positive results. At the same time, he wants to show the Atlanta fans that he's certainly better than he was last Saturday, when he pitched at Turner Field for the first time.

While lasting just 2 2/3 innings during that exhibition game against the Tigers, he issued seven walks, hit a batter and threw 33 of his 74 pitches for strikes.

"I feel my last start was one of the worst of my career," Kawakami said.

When asked if he had trouble getting adjusted to the Turner Field mound, he said, "The mound was fine. It was just myself."

Kawakami's outing last weekend certainly wasn't indicative of how he pitched, posting a 1.74 ERA in the five exhibition starts he made in Florida. During the 20 2/3 innings that he completed in those outings, he issued seven walks.

"He didn't get roughed up hardly at all," Braves manager Bobby Cox said. "He had one game where a couple of ground balls got through. He's been impressive."

Regarded in Japan as a pitcher who often rose to the occasion in big games, Kawakami provided some indication of this on March 30, when he produced what was arguably his finest outing of the spring while pitching against Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Unfazed by the increased media attention that day, Kawakami limited the Red Sox to two runs and four hits in six innings.

"He can rise to the occasion," Cox said. "You can just see it in him."

The Braves began the season by taking two of three games against the defending world champion Phillies and then resumed their winning ways by opening this three-game series against the Nationals with a 6-5, 10-inning victory.

"I'm happy that the team won the series against the defending world champions, and I'm just hoping to continue the flow," Kawakami said.

Pitching matchup
ATL: RHP Kenshin Kawakami (0-0, -.-- ERA)
The 33-year-old right-hander captured the Sawamura Award -- equivalent to the Cy Young Award -- and was named the Japan Central League's MVP in 2004, when he went 17-7 with a 3.32 ERA. Over the past five seasons, he went 66-35 with a 3.12 ERA. Known for his consistent control, he possesses an average fastball that is complemented by a slow curve that proved effective during the exhibition season.

WSH: LHP John Lannan (0-1, 18.00 ERA)
Lannan will face the Braves for the fourth time in his career. He is 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA against them. His best start against Atlanta occurred on April 22, 2008. Then-Braves right-hander John Smoltz became the 16th pitcher to reach career strikeout No. 3,000, but the Nationals ended up winning the game, 6-0, thanks to a superb performance by Lannan. He pitched seven innings and gave up five hits, and it was hard to figure out who was the veteran and who was the rookie on the mound. The only time the Braves had runners in scoring position against Lannan that game was in the second and fourth innings, and they each came with two outs.

Garret Anderson aggravated his right calf muscle before Wednesday's game, and there's a good chance he'll be held out of the lineup for the remainder of this series. He has gone hitless while serving as a pinch-hitter in the past two games. "I just want to get it right," said Anderson, who originally injured the calf on March 6. ... The Nationals won 12 of the 18 games they played against the Braves last year. ... Five of the six hits Brian McCann has recorded this year have been for extra bases.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• Peachtree Television

On radio
• 640 WGST, Project 9-6-1

Up next
• Sunday: Braves (Jair Jurrjens, 1-0, 0.00) vs. Nationals (Scott Olsen, 0-1, 24.00), 1:30 p.m. ET
• Monday: Off-day
• Tuesday: Braves (Javier Vazquez, 0-0, 4.50) vs. Marlins (Chris Volstad, 1-0, 1.80), 7:00 p.m. ET

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.