TAMPA – Kenshin Kawakami woke Friday to find a flurry of messages and texts on his phone, then turned on the television and saw what they were about.
A massive earthquake rocked the Braves pitcher’s Japanese homeland. Kawakami immediately wanted to make sure his parents and sister were safe before making his spring training debut Friday against the New York Yankees.
He saw that the earthquake was centered off the coast more than 500 miles from his hometown of Tokushima, so he figured they were probably OK, but wanted to be sure.
After many failed attempts to reach them by phone, he heard back from his older sister via e-mail, just as the Braves’ bus was pulling into the parking lot at George M. Steinbrenner Field. His family was safe.
That issue resolved, Kawakami proceeded to have a successful spring debut, giving up one walk and no hits during the fifth inning of the Braves’ 6-2 Grapefruit League win against the Yankees.
“My body felt really good today,” Kawakami said through his translator. “I want to keep with the pace and be ready to start the season.”
The Braves can only hope it helps reinvigorate trade interest in the 35-year-old right-hander, who went 1-10 with a 5.15 ERA in 2010 and has one year and $6.7 million left on his contract.
“I don’t have time to think about where I’m going,” he said. “For me it’s about myself right now, and the way I’m pitching, and to get ready for the season.”
His debut was delayed because he missed two weeks of camp with visa issues in Japan.
“For his first time out, I thought it was good,” Braves manger Fredi Gonzalez said. “He made an adjustment.”
Kawakami got behind 3-0 against the first batter, Justin Maxwell, and bounced the second pitch. He walked him on five pitches, but Maxwell was thrown out by catcher Brian McCann trying to steal second on the next pitch to Austin Krum.
“Giving up that first walk, I was kind of a little nervous,” Kawakami said. “But I was able to settle down. I really appreciate Mac throwing out the runner at second base.”
Krum grounded out, then Derek Jeter grounded to short on a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.
Kawakami insisted it wasn’t difficult to put the earthquake out of his mind and get ready to pitch, although he was worried about friends in Tokyo and about former Braves teammate Takashi Saito, whose family lives in the coastal region hit hardest by the quake.
“The main spot where the earthquake hit, it’s where Saito lives,” he said. “Luckily, I heard his family is fine so far.”