Former big leaguer Litsch raising China’s game

Baseball is finding a home in some unlikely places around the world and one of them is China’s Yangtze River Valley, where Major League Baseball has established development centers in Wuxi, Changzhou and Nanjing.

There, pitching coach Jesse Litsch is passing on what he learned in a career that culminated in five big league seasons on the mound with the Toronto Blue Jays and is enjoying the experience to the fullest.

“It was a pleasant surprise, the way they (the Chinese students) wanted to play baseball, the way they present themselves on the fields,” Litsch told Kyodo News recently by telephone. “In the States, you don’t know what you’re going to get with some kids.”

“Here, they really appreciate it.”

Jim Small, MLB’s vice president for Asia and the Pacific, said last month that China was one of four areas MLB is targeting.

“We have really tried to focus on China and in Mexico, where baseball is underdeveloped, and in Europe and Brazil,” Small said. “We look at pockets, where we think we can go in and make a difference.”

MLB opened its first Chinese center at Wuxi’s Don Bei Tang school in 2009 and this past school year trained 85 student athletes, who now come from all parts of China.

Litsch, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, was hurt in spring training the following year and unable to return despite undergoing a host of procedures. After calling it quits in 2014, he was looking around for coaching jobs and found an offer online that brought him to China for a one-month trial last November.

“I sent a resume and it turned out it was with MLB,” Litsch said. “I went with the mindset of ‘Who knows?'”

“I had a few pro job offers. I turned them down because I felt I could make more of an impact here, show off more of my skills. As a pro, you’re doing things the system’s way.”

Since taking on this challenge, Litsch, who is all too familiar with various surgeries, has spent a lot of time learning best practices for young pitchers, and said one of the advantages of working with Chinese youngsters is that many of them are starting from scratch. They have few bad habits to unlearn and are keen to pick up whatever they can from their instructors.

But while there are many pitching mechanic pitfalls Litsch can help them avoid, so much is unknown about the best way to develop young pitchers in a time when there is an epidemic of elbow ligament injuries in the States.

“I went to a couple of my doctor buddies to get as much info as you can get,” said Litsch, who has a huge number of decisions to make regarding how to bring the youngsters along.

Assisting in the process is Jackson Zhou, a graduate of the program who now works as an interpreter.

“I started playing when I was nine years old and now it’s getting popular,” said Zhou, who graduated in 2014. “The staff is great. They help you a lot in baseball. I’m working with (head coach) Bill Thomas and Jesse and they’ve taught me so much about baseball and life.”

MLB’s program, which uses fields and facilities that would make many American junior college programs envious, began seeking talent in the area around Wuxi, home of this season’s China Baseball League champion Jiangsu Pegasus.

“The first recruiting class in 2009 consisted of 16 players, mostly from the local area of Wuxi,” said Rick Dell, MLB’s Director of Baseball Development Asia. “Since that time, we have expanded our recruiting to the four corners of China.”

“We have developed relationships in what we call ‘Independent Pockets’ throughout China…a Korean, American or local Chinese, working in an area wanting to do a good thing, organizes a baseball club. They have little support (but) we help them with our consulting. They develop players and we give them an opportunity. It is a win-win situation.”

Because students who attend are getting into universities, and have the opportunity to play abroad, interest is growing. Dell said they are now fielding requests for tryouts and not only from mainland China but also from Taiwan and South Korea.

“For some of these kids, it’s a 38-hour train ride from their hometowns,” Litsch said. “This is an adventure for me, but it’s an opportunity for life for them.”

Hiroshima and the international family

Forget the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball’s new “We Are Family” champions are the Hiroshima Carp.
Although a few teams have signed more foreign talent in recent years, Hiroshima’s family-oriented international operations are the envy of Nippon Professional Baseball.

The basic process is the same for every team: find good players and sign them. But the Carp go to greater lengths to get the process right under owner Hajime Matsuda and general manager Kiyoaki Suzuki. Part of the payoff is in the yearly performance of players like pitcher Kris Johnson and slugger Brad Eldred, who have helped power Hiroshima’s revival along with first-year pitchers Jay Jackson and Bradin Hagens, but it has a human side that goes beyond individual numbers.

Suzuki said the ideas of family, loyalty and trust spring from the city’s nature, and that idea extends to the players’ families, for whom the Carp have established an office that looks after the players’ needs off the field.
“Hiroshima is a compact town, everyone is family,” Suzuki said.




“From searching out restaurants to various other things, we are able to respond to needs 24 hours a day, providing care for children and so on. They can call their interpreter 24 hours a day, wherever they are. If you take good care of a player’s wife and children, he can play with a sense of security.”

Former Carp pitchers Dennis Sarfate and Bryan Bullington are fans of what the team does. Asked if he would recommend the Carp to a friend wanting to play in Japan, Sarfate didn’t hesitate.

“Hiroshima would be my first recommendation because of the way they treat you off the field,” he said.
Bullington, who is out of baseball this season after four seasons in Hiroshima and one with the Orix Buffaloes, said his family made good use of the team’s resources and assistance.

“Every team has some sort of resource, perhaps a lot more reliance on the interpreter or someone else. But because the Carp have three or four people working full time, trying to manage your apartment scenario and bills, taking kids to doctor’s appointments, it is a little unique,” said Bullington.

“Especially that first year, we definitely used the guidebook for things to do with the kids, parks, pools that kind of stuff, and also trying new restaurants and stuff. They’ve done their research. It definitely helps having that type of info, and we used it a lot.”




Interperter Hirofumi Matsunaga (松長 洋文) said part of his job is taking sick children to the doctor.
“We always have female staff in the office, who speak English and can take care of the wives’ needs,” he said. “It’s us interpreters who usuallly do a lot of the other things like taking kids to the doctor.”
“They always seem to get sick when we’re on the road and on weekends, when hospitals aren’t open, so it’s hard to find one.”

But the players aren’t the only ones who appreciate Hiroshima’s special focus.
Former pitcher Erik Schullstrom, who finished his four years in Japan with the Carp in 2002, has been scouting for Hiroshima ever since. He and and former infielder Scott McClain scour the U.S. minor leagues for talent.

“I’m super happy,” Schullstrom said. “I’ve told the owner. I’m never going to leave my job. You can fire me. I’m never going to quit if I get offered another job, another club, a major league club, I will not take it. I’ll be working for the Carp forever. That’s how happy I am. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of this organization. Mr. Matsuda has a relationship with my children. They go and visit him, and he treats them like they’re his own kids, or his grandkids or part of his family. He’s so generous. He’s just a great person to work for.”

American assistant general manager Jonathan Fine has been the team’s representative in the United States since 1994 after working briefly alongside Suzuki and Matsuda in the front office in 1989 and 1990. He said getting the right players starts with frank discussion among coaching staff and front office in Hiroshima to identify needs, continues with Schullstrom and McClain doing a thorough job of identifying players with skill and character, and the trust that permeates the operation allows him the ability to quickly go after the players the club wants.

“There have been a lot of changes in the (Japanese) work place the last 25 years, but the Carp remain a traditional Japanese company,” Fine said. “They are run that way and their people are treated that way. Loyalty is expected and loyalty is earned and rewarded. It’s rewarded in the ease of getting things done. Barriers come down, people can participate in conversations, frankly. Decisions can get made relatively quickly. We’ve been able to beat other NPB teams to the punch to get good players in the past because of the ability (to move quickly).”




Schullstrom said he looks for maturity, flexibility and – with pitchers – the ability to make Triple-A batters swing and miss. But another key factor is hunger and the desire to build a successful career in Japan.

“They need to be hungry. They need to be broke. It helps to have no money. I’m not kidding,” Schullstrom said. “Guys who have some money in the bank almost never do well. They’re not interested in it. They don’t want to jump through the hoops. Some of the things we see (in Japan) are bizarre. They’re totally foreign.”

“I would say (we want) guys who have hunger and some patience and ability and flexiblity in their personality. And you can see that. You can see guys: how they play, how they get along with other players. If they have a bad game, if they strike out four or five times in a game. You can look into the dugout, you see how guys are talking to each other. You watch Kris Johnson come off the mound after a bad inning. How is he behaving? How is he reacting? How is he running out to the mound the next inning? Is it consistent?”

Schullstrom pointed to difficulties that Eldred and former Carp slugger Greg LaRocca faced and how the team’s trust and patience allowed them to achieve success.




“Eldred got sent to the minor leagues and he could have pouted,” Schullstrom said. “You can react a bunch of different ways. But, if you stand tall and act like a man, good things can happen. Toledo (where he last played in Triple-A) is way better than being in the minor leagues with the Carp.”

“LaRocca got off to a terrible start for 3 weeks. And Koji Yamamoto was our manager and he just kept putting him in the 3 Hole. And he stunk. He kept grounding out to third and rolling over balls.”

“There are no expectations (from the media) in Hiroshima. The press is relatively friendly to the team. It’s not like Osaka. They (the team) showed patience and look what he did. He hit 40 home runs, batted .328 with 100 RBIs. If a foreigner starts to struggle after 10 days, you’re out in almost every other town. But in Hiroshima with the whole coaching situatation there’s more trust. Now we (scouts) have a little bit of a track record with having success, so the leash is even longer for those guys. And sometimes it takes a little longer. We can take some credit, Mac and I, but the majority of the credit goes to the people in Japan for making it easier to succeed in Hiroshima.”

Eldred said that not only do the Carp look after the player’s family but the team IS a family.

“If a guy is new and struggles for 10 games, some teams forget about them,” Eldred said. “It’s nice to have a team that brought you here because they know you’ve got talent, and they’re expecting you to do a lot. It’s nice that they’re willing to give you as many opportunities as they can.”

“They (the Carp) always treated me very well. My second year, I had an injury and broke my hand and missed some time. I didn’t play as well as I liked, but they trusted in me and brought me back and I had a really good (third) year. That shows loyalty to their players. Once you’ve built up some time and become part of their family, they really treat you the right way. I think it’s a big family organization.”

When players arrive in Hiroshima, they have to prove themselves, and they have to put up with lots of things that are different, but Eldred and Jackson were used to playing abroad from winter ball and came in with open minds.




“I talked to other players and knew what to expect. Then when you get here, you see how helpful everyone is and how nice it is. It is very easy to trust them and be comfortable,” Jackson said.

“When I played in Mexico, when I played in Venezuela, I saw stuff I never thought I’d see, and here it’s a little bit more extreme, because baseball is so big here.”

It’s not easy coming to a different country and a different culture, but whatever the Carp can do to make it easier, they do and they do it in style, and everyone feels that the owner has his finger on the pulse of the team.

“It helps to have an owner who is involved and knows what’s going on,” Eldred said. “He takes care of us foreign players really well. When we have family or friends in town he always sends us out for a nice Japanese dinner. It’s kind of cool for him to take care of us like that. You never expect something like that, but he thinks of us.”

Sports agent Alan Nero, who represents Eldred, called Matsuda, “an outstanding individual.”

“He’s let players move on to other teams where they had better opportunities,” Nero said. “That’s very unusual. Most teams wouldn’t do that.”




Former Carp reliever Kam Mickolio, who has spent the past two seasons with the Rakuten Eagles, said, “I loved playing in Hiroshima. The owner is awesome.”

“Because of all they do, and how they are willing to structure contracts, the Carp are able to sign players for a lot less money than it would take for them to sign with any other team,” he said.

What Matsuda and the Carp have built is special and other teams have taken notice. Sarfate said the Hawks have built a similar program to take care of players’ families and Mickolio said the Eagles are doing the same.

“Rakuten’s always asking about what they do in Hiroshima, because they want to model their program after what the Carp do,” Mickolio said.

It’s not hard, but it’s not something that happens overnight. It takes time and trust to develop the bonds of loyalty that makes a system like the Carp’s sing. And it takes someone at the very top to give it a heart and soul.




NPB’s best of 2016

It’s award time again and so here are some thoughts about the best of the best in Nippon Professional Baseball.

The MVPs

@JBWPodcast has had a crush on second baseman Ryosuke Kikuchi of the Hiroshima Carp because of his clutch fielding. Kikuchi had a career year at the plate in 2016. According to Bill James Win Shares, he was the Carp’s most valuable hitter and NPB’s most valuable fielder. His fielding is so eye-catching that it’s easy to vote for him. But is he the most valuable player in the CL? Three players have more win shares:

  1. Tetsuya Yamada 36
  2. Hayato Sakamoto 34
  3. Yoshitomo Tsutsugo 32
  4. Ryosuke Kikuchi 28

No one makes as many big defensive plays as Kikuchi, and to do it on grass when everyone else plays on plastic makes it that much more impressive. These big plays can be game changers in the same way that a late-inning relief effort or a clutch hit can be. Sometimes they will tip a game from a loss to a win, but the clutch performances don’t do the bulk of the heavy lifting.




If Kikuchi makes a huge play that saves a run, it can turn a close game, but the one play doesn’t win the entire game. Lots of other things have to happen, and the people who do those things deserve credit, too. What I’m trying to say is if he turns 10 games around with his glove, it doesn’t mean he won 10 games with his glove.

Finishing high in the standings is important, and I’m willing to discount Yamada’s share of the Yakult Swallows’ successes because of that. But that’s a huge gap for Kikuchi to overcome to match the big three.

My standard test for MVP is this: If you had to fill out a team to win a pennant, and all players were considered to be the same age, who would you want more based on what they did THIS past season? Who would be your first choice? The numbers above are opinions of a system that attributes team wins to its individual players. I think it’s clear that Kikuchi was not as valuable as Yamada, but where these four rank is really difficult.

I’m inclined to go for Hayato Sakamoto as MVP rather than Yamada, but I wouldn’t really fault anyone for ranking any of the four in any order.




The Pacific League is the flip side to this. The player who lead the PL in win shares, played for the league champion Nippon Ham Fighters. The PL’s elite three according to win shares were more or less in a dead heat and all playing for the top three clubs.

  1. Shohei Otani 32
  2. Yuki Yanagita 32
  3. Katsuya Kakunaka 32

With Otani winning the league, he’s a no-brainer.




Shohei Otani two-times Hawks

Wednesday night, Shohei Otani (9-4) started on the mound and batted in the same game for the first time in over two months. Otani went eight innings, allowing a run on four hits, three walks and made a costly throwing error. Otani went 1-for-4 with a double and struck out three times, twice on good splitters from the SoftBank Hawks’ Kodai Senga.

Here‘s an evaluation of Shohei Otani’s potential in the big leagues by scout Dave DeFreitas.

The Fighters will post Otani when he wants to go — and a good bet would be a year from now after the World Baseball Classic — when he will likely both bat and pitch for NPB’s team. The Fighters have tried to persuade their stars to stay, but have not stood in their way and will likely post Otani should he request it.




A Fighters source has said Otani is loving both hitting and pitching, and spurned big league offers out of high school because the Fighters offered him the chance to do both. The same source said Otani would be interested in moving to the majors if teams over there are interested in giving him the opportunity to do both.




Two-way Otani forces writers to show award-winning flexibility

Shohei Otani’s ability to both hit and pitch has moved a group that has seemed impervious to change: the Tokyo Baseball Reporters Club, who vote on Nippon Professional Baseball’s postseason awards.

On Tuesday, the club’s board of governors announced a change to the rules for the Best IX awards for each of NPB’s two leagues to account for Otani,  who some considerJapan’s best pitcher, while also being NPB’s most effective designated hitter.

Until now, any ballot for the Best IX Award that named a player at two different positions was invalid. From this autumn, the ballots we expect to get soon will enable us to vote for one player as both his league’s best pitcher and the best player at another position he played.




Although there are no rules against voting for MVPs from teams that don’t win the pennant, unless they achieve the most eye-popping numbers, such as when Wladimir Balentien became the first player to surpass NPB’s long-standing, single-season home run record of 55. Nearly every MVP award goes to a player considered to be the big star on the pennant-winning team.

By the way, Otani’s club is in the thick of the pennant race, despite him not starting on the mound for about two months — he developed a blister on his pitching hand that didn’t hinder his batting and the Fighters were more interested in having him hit every day than taking him out of the lineup to tuneup for the mound. So if Nippon Ham does win the PL pennant, Otani is probably a lock to be an MVP-winning pitcher with perhaps just 10 wins on his resume (He is currently 8-4). But he does have 22 homers and in his second game back in the rotation, he threw a pitch 101.9 miles per hour, a Japanese record.

The change in the award rules was as perhaps as big a surprise as when the Fighters announced on May 29 that the team would ditch the DH rule in Otani’s start against the PL-rival Rakuten Eagles so that Otani could bat sixth. Otani, who is currently working his way back into the starting rotation, has batted in six of his starts. He has become the first pitcher to lead off a game with a home run, but has typically batted in the 3 Hole. In those six games, he is 7-for-17 with a double, a homer, seven runs, four RBIs, seven walks and four punch-outs.




In 2014, Otani posted 8.1 batting win shares and 11.7 pitching win shares, and finished a distant third in the voting for Best Pitcher with three votes behind, MVP and Sawamura Award winner, Chihiro Kaneko (232 votes) and Takahiro Norimoto (4). Otani (nine votes) was also more valuable (overall) than those who finished ahead of him in the voting for Best DH: Takeya Nakamura (81), Wily Mo Pena (69), Lee Dae Ho (63) and Ernesto Mejia (11) — Mejia tied Nakamura for the PL home run lead in less than a full season and won the vote at first base by a landslide.

The new rule might not have made any difference in 2014, since Otani was neither the best pitcher in the league nor the best DH, but at least voters won’t be troubled by the dilemma of having to split their votes.




A brief history of futility

Sometimes, a tweet is not enough, so here is a list I was fiddling around with, the longest number of seasons without a pennant in Japanese baseball history.

This was not as easy as it looks to compile because of Japan’s seasons, and I don’t mean the four seasons everyone tells you about until you get to June and then add on that there’s another one — the rainy season. Japan had two seasons a year in 1937 and ’38 with separate champions, and the Pacific League pennants were decided by playoffs (first half/second half) from 1973 to ’82, and (1st, 2nd, 3rd) from 2004 to ’06. From 2007, both leagues adopted playoffs, given the jizzy new name of the “Climax Series” that copied the PL format, but WOULD NOT IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM determine the pennant winner. How about that for anti-climactic? It would, however, select the teams to compete in the Japan Series.

So we figure in all those little pearls, we get the following list of the franchises with the longest suffering fans.




  1. 37 seasons: The Taiyo Whales / Yokohama Taiyo Whales / Yokohama BayStars. After winning their first CL pennant in 1960, the franchise didn’t win another until 1998.
  2. 31 seasons: The Hankyu Braves. Before they became manager Yukio Nishimoto’s “Golden Braves” and the annual postseason whipping boys of the V9 Yomiuri Giants, the Braves went without a pennant from their inception as one of Japan’s first teams until 1967.
  3. 30 seasons: The Lotte Orions / Lotte Marines. The Orions, who won the first PL pennant and Japan Series as a brand new team in 1950, won the most games in the PL in 1974 despite playing only 50 percent of their home games in their main park, Sendai’s dilapidated Miyagi Stadium in the days before the Rakuten Eagles took it over and turned it into an amusement park. They wouldn’t win again until they had relocated twice and become the Chiba Lotte Marines. They finished second in the league behind the Daiei Hawks in 2005 but beat the Hawks in Fukuoka to grab the pennant.
  4. 29 seasons. The Kintetsu Buffaloes. Another hard luck story. The Buffaloes led the PL in over winning percentage in 1975 but Nishimoto’s Buffs were knocked out of the playoffs, by the Braves, now managed by his apprentice and future fellow Hall of Fame skipper, Toshiharu Ueda. The Buffaloes would have to wait until the arrival of Charlie Manuel in 1979 to win their first PL pennant. They then won two in a row but were beaten both times by another previous hard-luck team: The Hiroshima Carp.
  5. 28 seasons. The Kokutetsu Swallows / Sankei Swallows / Yakult Atoms / Yakult Swallows. The Swallows began with the CL in the 1950 expansion and didn’t win until Tatsuro Hirooka came in to manage a club that won in 1978 with the help of Charlie Manuel and won the Japan Series over Ueda’s Braves with the help of a controversial home run.
  6. (tie) 25 seasons. Hiroshima Carp and Nankai Hawks / Daiei Hawks. The Carp were underfunded but never underloved by the their loyal but cantankerous fans. A foreign manager, Joe Lutz, was brought in to make huge changes and he did. But his lack of control saw him quit early in the season over constant disagreements with umpires and one showdown with team executives. Lutz made two huge moves, moving Sachio Kinugasa to third base — where he became a Hall of Famer, and using ace (and another Hall of Famer) Yoshiro Sotokoba exclusively as a starter.

The Hawks won in Katsuya Nomura’s first year in charge as nominal player-manager in 1973, but fired him because he was married and news of his girlfriend, his current wife, surfaced. The Hawks went from competitive to being doormats and that wouldn’t change until Rikuo Nemoto, the man who laid the foundations for both the Carp and Seibu Lions dynasties was brought in, and used his personal skills to gain as much of the best amateur talent as he could through a wide variety of means. In 1999, under Sadaharu Oh, the Daiei Hawks finally broke through.

7. (tie) 24 seasons. Nippon Ham Fighters (1982 – 2005) and Hiroshima Carp (1992-2015) or so it seems.




Madison Bumgarner, eat your heart out

Japanese ball may be famous for being overly dogmatic and choking on its old-school ways, but sometimes it does things right. I’m no fan of the pre-game home run derbies that typical mar the start of every year’s All-Star games, but this year was a huge improvement. A fan vote selected the four competitors for Friday’s pre-game derby in Fukuoka and Saturday’s pre-game derby in Yokohama — and unlike stodgy MLB, the fans wanted a pitcher to bat.




MLB may have Madison Bumgarner, but Japan — for the time being — has Shohei Otani, who was voted into both home run derbies. On Friday, Japan’s best pitcher, Otani of the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters went head-to-head with Japan’s best power hitter Tetsuto Yamada of the Central League’s Yakult Swallows — in the first round of the home run-hitting contest, and the pitcher won.




After dispatching last season’s CL MVP, Otani moved on to the final round, where he defeated last season’s PL MVP, Yuki Yanagita of the SoftBank Hawks.

On Saturday, Otani and former Atlanta Braves farmhand Ernesto Mejia will represent the PL against the same CL duo who competed on Friday, Yamada and DeNA BayStars cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.

Former Yankee Kuroda stuck on 199

Hiroki Kuroda came up empty in his second attempt at his 200th career victory in top-flight pro ball as his Central League-leading Hiroshima Carp were shut out for the fourth time this season in a 6-0 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Mazda Stadium.

Kuroda, who has 79 wins in MLB and 120 in NPB, fell to 6-5 on the season, in a game that was tight through five innings. The Carp had a chance in the bottom of the fifth with no outs and one on and trailing 1-0. Giants third baseman Shuichi Murata passed a reflex-test by leaping for a liner near the third-base bag for an out.

In the top of the sixth, the 41-year-old Kuroda came within an inch of working around a leadoff double. The threate started when 23-year-old rookie Yasuhiro Yamamoto put a great swing on a good splitter. After two ground outs, first baseman Takahiro Arai stabbed at a bad hop, but it deflected off his glove for an RBI single and Murata followed with his 11th home run of the season.

Kuroda made few mistakes early but luck was not on his side. The right-hander’s ERA rose to 3.10 after allowing six runs in 6-2/3 innings.




Also in the CL, Zach Petrick, in his first game since April 28 and his first start after seven relief appearances, allowed two runs in five innings and went 2-for-2 with two RBIs for rookie manager Alex Ramirez‘s DeNA BayStars in a 7-2 win over the Chunichi Dragons. Elian Herrera doubled twice, scored twice and drove in a run for the BayStars.

At Tokyo’s historic Jingu Stadium, evergreen outfielder Kosuke Fukudome went 3-for-4 with two walks, a home run and a tie-breaking, two-run, 11th-inning double to lead the Hanshin Tigers past last year’s CL champion Yakult Swallows.

In the Pacific League, Felix Perez, who homered in his first NPB at-bat on Tuesday, delivered an encore on Wednesday, going 2-for-4 with 2 RBIs as the Rakuten Eagles came from behind to defeat the Seibu Lions at Seibu Prince Dome.




In Chiba, Kodai Senga allowed three hits but no walks over eight innings as the league-leading SoftBank Hawks beat the Lotte Marines 3-0, shutting the third-place club out for the second straight night.

In Osaka, the second-place Nippon Ham Fighters regrouped to beat the Orix Buffaloes 3-2 behind a three-run double from Sho Nakata. Former New York Yankee Chris Martin worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his 10th save since being promoted to closer on June 19.

Here’s the PL TV replay of Nakata’s double:

All good things must end, Fighters KO’ed after 15 wins

And so must streaks. Three wins shy of the NPB record for consecutive wins, the Nippon Ham Fighters’ winning streak ended at 15 on Tuesday night in a 4-3 loss in Osaka to the Orix Buffaloes. As mentioned on this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, Orix has played with a little more spark since bringing up a bus load of players from the farm team a week ago and telling them to go out and play.

Shohei Otani batted for the first time in a week and didn’t have much of an impact, going 1-for-3 with a walk — although he did hit one on the screws for an out that nearly took shortstop Ryoichi Adachi’s glove off.




Otani, who is unlikely to pitch in the All-Star games — Japan typically has two — because of a blister on the middle finger of his right hand, might hit and might participate in one of the home run derbies if he is selected in the fan vote. By having him available to play — but not pitch — the Fighters may be able to avoid the 10-game, post-break suspension that goes to all-stars who fail to report for the game.

The Fighters’ loss dropped them six games back of the Pacific League-leading SoftBank Hawks, who earned their seventh shutout victory of the season, beating the Lotte Marines 4-0 at Tokyo Dome behind seven innings from Shota Takeda, who allowed just two hits but walked five.

At Seibu Prince Dome, Felix Perez hit a two-run, first-inning home run off Felipe Paulino to spark the Rakuten Eagles to a 5-1 win over the Seibu Lions. In doing so, Perez became the first player in the Eagles’ 12-year history to homer in his first NPB at-bat.

In the Central League, the Yomiuri Giants traveled to Hiroshima and were full of vinegar after a three-game home sweep of the DeNA BayStars. But lefty ace Tetsuya Utsumi didn’t have much to offer and the second-tier relievers got mauled by the CL-leading Carp in an ugly 13-3 loss.




The BayStars bounced back at home, where Samurai NPB cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (OK, I know he’s not THE cleanup hitter, but he is the guy who should be batting fourth to spare us from Sho Nakata) homered twice and former Seattle Mariner and Yomiuri Giant Jose Lopez cracked a sayonara homer off luckless Chunichi Dragons reliever Daisuke Yamai (0-8) in a 6-5 win.

In the other CL game, Randy Messenger held Yakult to a run over seven innings, and the Tigers waited until submarine right-hander Hirofumi Yamanaka had finished his seven scoreless innings to strike in a 3-1 victory at Nagano Olympic Stadium.

On tap for Wednesday, the Giants will take a second crack at the Carp, who will try for the second time to help Hiroki Kuroda earn his 121st NPB victory — giving him 200 in top-flight pro ball when added to the 79 wins he earned for the Dodgers and Yankees.