As a member of the Akron rotation, Toru Murata has been untouchable this year. The fact that his latest gem came on his 29th birthday made the performance that much sweeter.
Murata allowed two hits and three walks while striking out five batters over six innings Tuesday night in the Double-A RubberDucks' 1-0 win at Altoona.
The outing extended the right-hander's season-opening scoreless streak as a starter to 17 innings over three games. He has allowed eight hits and five walks over that span, during which he's 3-0.
"I have been a starter my whole life and the routine suits me right now," Murata said through pitching coach Jeff Harris, who served as translator. "I feel really comfortable. Last year, my velocity was down and this year it is back. I am commanding my pitches better.
"I threw my fastball, a slider and a splitter. [I was] throwing the slider and splitter for strikes and also under the strike zone when I needed to."
The Japan native, who has allowed four runs over 4 2/3 innings in a trio of relief appearances, threw 52 of 81 pitches for strikes and induced 11 ground-ball outs. His fastball sat around 88-89 mph and he kept hitters off-balance with a high-60s curevball.
Murata stranded runners on first and second in the opening inning and left runners at the corners in the second. He then retired 10 batters in a row, facing the minimum the rest of the way.
"We had a birthday party for him in the clubhouse and we bought him a cake and he did some breakdancing," Harris said. "He was having fun. The guys love this guy and they all rally around him."
Signed by the Indians as a Minor League free agent in 2010, Murata has seen time in the Eastern League in each of the past three seasons, both as a starter and reliever. The southpaw also has spent time at Triple-A Columbus, where he's 0-4 with a 6.39 ERA in 10 appearances across three seasons.
"He made a nice little adjustment in his delivery from last time to this one," Harris said. "He pitched off his fastball and changed speeds to keep hitters off-balance. But you would never be able to tell whether he was in a jam or whether he was cruising.
"Obviously, the guy has a ton of value. He can start or he can pitch out of the bullpen."
Adam Miller relieved Murata and allowed one hit over two innings before Shawn Armstrong worked around a two-out walk in the ninth to earn his seventh save of the season.
"I don't know if there are any expectations on him," Harris said of Miller, a 2003 first-round pick who sat out last season. "He made some adjustments to his delivery and he uses his lower half more, and that has taken some of the pressure off his arm. He's made strides with his command and we will keep running him out there to see where it takes him."
Indians No. 5 prospect Tyler Naquin produced the only run of the game in the fifth. Jordan Smith laced a two-out double, Justin Toole walked and Naquin lined an RBI single into center.
Altoona starter Adrian Sampson (3-3) took the loss, despite recording a career-high eight strikeouts over seven innings. He yielded a run on three hits and a walk.