So much of the news about the Nippon Ham Fighters this year has centered around Shohei Otani, whether he’s hitting or pitching or both. But on Sunday, the Fighters matched Nippon Professional Baseball’s longest win streak since Nippon Ham won 14 straight under current Astros bench coach Trey Hillman. And the 14th win came despite a poor outing from Otani.
Otani had won his previous seven starts, in which he batted in six of them — despite pitching in a DH league — and moonlighting on weekdays as the Fighters’ designated hitter. But on Sunday, out of the batting order for the first time since May, Otani allowed three runs in 6-1/3 innings, while giving up five hits, walking two, hitting one and striking out eight.
The Fighters came back from a five-run deficit to tie it in the ninth on a Kensuke Tanaka solo homer off Lotte Marines closer Yuji Nishino, and Brandon Laird hit his 25th home run of the Pacific League season in the 12th inning, without which the game would have ended in a 5-5 tie at Sapporo Dome.
Otani left the mound in the seventh with a ruptured blister on the middle finger of his right hand, and the Fighters are saying it is unlikely he’ll pitch in this weekend’s all-star games.
“I don’t know how it will turn out. I’ll try to recover to be able to pitch, but I fear it’s probably not possible. It’s looking bleak,” said Otani according to Kyodo News.
A Fighters trainer said there are no issues with him batting at the all-star games scheduled on Friday and Saturday — Otani is likely to be voted into one of the pregame home run derbies.
Manager Hideki Kuriyama said, “We’ll do our utmost for him to be able to pitch.”
If so, he’ll need to take things one step at a time. Famous for his batting as for his speed off the mound, umpire Yoshiharu Yamaguchi and Fighters catcher Shota Ono tested Otani’s reflexes with a different kind of challenge on Sunday: