How Shota Imanaga’s comfort with Cubs has resulted in him becoming a stabilizing force


During a critical at-bat against Cardinals left fielder Brendan Donovan with runners on first and second and two outs in the seventh inning Saturday, Cubs left-hander Shota Imanaga was thinking ahead.

‘‘I was pretty hungry, so I was thinking about what kind of food nutrition I should take after the game,’’ Imanaga said through an interpreter.

Imanaga punched out Donovan with a sweeper to end the inning, then roared and spun around to celebrate.

With another stellar start in the Cubs’ 5-1 victory against the Cardinals — allowing four hits and one run in seven innings — Imanaga continued to show his approach can succeed in the majors.

‘‘He takes it upon himself to go out there in the seventh with 100-plus pitches and give us everything that he’s got, and that’s why everybody loves him,’’ catcher Yan Gomes said.

Imanaga and Gomes have formed a synergy. During the at-bat against Donovan, Imanaga said Gomes was calling the pitches he wanted to throw, which helped his command.

‘‘His location with his fastball was just excellent all day,’’ manager Craig Counsell said. ‘‘He’s a lot of fun to watch.’’

Imanaga’s affable personality has endeared him to the team and the fans. He has become more comfortable in the clubhouse, which has helped his pitching. When he emerges from the bullpen before games, he receives a loud ovation.

Since his introductory news conference, in which he spoke the lyrics to ‘‘Go, Cubs, Go,’’ Imanaga has allowed his personality to shine through.

Imanaga told reporters he uses ‘‘Mike Imanaga II’’ when he needs to give his name at places because he thinks ‘‘Shota’’ will be mispronounced. He said he appreciated the clubhouse staff making him a locker nameplate with the alias. It’s an example of how the team has accepted him.

‘‘He wants to jell with everyone, and that’s the coolest thing,’’ Gomes said. ‘‘He doesn’t speak very good English, but he tries. He tries to hang out with everybody, and you guys see the whole ‘Mike Imanaga II.’ He’s trying to be a part of this, and we appreciate that.’’

Imanaga’s 1.89 ERA is the third-lowest among qualified pitchers in the majors and the lowest in the first 13 starts of a career since Michael Soroka with the Braves.

Imanaga’s consistency has become a hallmark for the Cubs. He has thrown four innings or fewer only three times, with his start April 7 against the Dodgers being cut short by a rain delay.

‘‘That’s what great starting pitchers do for a team,’’ Counsell said. ‘‘When they take the ball, you know you’re going to get a good outing and you’re going to get a good chance to win. You feel it with those good starters when their day comes. He’s lived up to that, for sure.’’

Though he’s a rookie in the majors, Imanaga pitched eight seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, so he has had time to learn whom he is as a pitcher. That allows him to stay composed after allowing a hit or if a call doesn’t go his way.

That presence is rubbing off on his teammates.

‘‘He goes about his business every day,’’ said left fielder Ian Happ, whose three-run home run in the seventh broke open the game. ‘‘Then when he gets [his last] out there, he has the emotion.’’





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