Having thrown 131 pitches through seven innings at rainy Koshien Stadium on Friday night, Hanshin Tigers manage Tomoaki Kanemoto sent right-hander Shintaro Fujinami back out to face the visitors in the top of the eighth inning. He allowed three runs on three hits and a walk, while hitting a batter before leaving the mound after 161 pitches.
After the game, Kanemoto said — according to Sankei Sports that his purpose was to teach the 22-year-old a lesson.「（藤浪は）立ち上がりがすべて。四球から崩れて…。今日は何球投げようが、何点取られようが最後まで投げさせるつもりだった。（エースとしての）責任は感じてほしい。感じないといけないと思う。立場として」
Roughly translated: “The way he (Fujinami) opened the game was everything. The walks ruined him. My intent was that he was going to throw until the end, however many pitches he threw and however many runs he allowed. I want him to feel the responsibility (that comes with being an ace). I think that’s what he has to feel.”
On Saturday, when Fujinami goes out and begins to inventory the inflammation, his arm will know exactly what it felt like to be an ace back in the days when Kanemoto was coming up as a young player in the mid 1990s. In those days, former Carp player and manager Marty Brown said he recalled Kanemoto and other rookies being taken to the side and having balls thrown at them to instruct them. Hooray for old school
It was the highest pitch count of the season and the highest by a pitcher not named Hideaki “Don’t take the ball from me, I know where you live”) Wakui in nearly eight years. There have been 10, 160-pitch games since the start of the 2006 season, and Fujinami’s start brought on some serious nostalgia. One of the things that fascinated me about NPB when I arrived here 30-plus years ago was the inclusion of pitch counts in the daily box scores that were printed in the different daily sports papers.
Ten years later, when I began writing analytical guides to Japanese baseball, I asked people in the game, “Why do you let pitchers throw so many pitches?” The answer I often got was a surprise.
“We know it is bad for the pitchers’ arms, but this is what we do in Japan.”
Obviously, that is no longer the answer, perhaps because of the large number of outstanding young pitchers in the 1990s whose arms did not last long enough for them to become good veteran pitchers — at least without Tommy John surgery.
Looking through my 1997 Guide to Japanese Baseball, I see 12 games between 170-199 pitches in 1996, and 51 games with between 150-169 pitches. Including Friday’s little gem, there have 47 games (nine by Wakui) since the start of the 2006 season in which a starter was allowed to throw 150+ pitches, that’s 12 times less common than they were 20 years ago. I’m just guessing, but if I look at my first guide, published in 1994, there would be some 200-pitch games.