NPB games of May 31, 2019

Fifteen, count em 15. The Yakult Swallows are now one game from matching their record for Central League futility set in 1970, the first year “Yakult” was affixed to their uniforms and the team was known as the “Atoms.”

If they do get to 17, it will be the third time they’ve set the league record. The franchise, originally owned by Japan’s national railroad and known as the Kokutetsu Swallows, lost 14 straight in 1950, when Japan’s two-league system opened for business.

Central League

BayStars 3, Swallows 2

At Yokohama Stadium, Yakult battled to stay in the game before falling short, as Shota Imanaga (6-2) beat them for the third time this season and the eighth time in his career — his highest win total against any of NPB’s 12 teams.

Imanaga struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings, and Neftali Soto hit his 15th home run in the first, when David Buchanan (1-2) missed with a 2-2 changeup. The right-hander allowed three hits and a walk, while striking out one over six innings to take the tough loss.

Scott McGough allowed two runs in the seventh, allowing the BayStars to overcome a two-run Wladimir Balentien double in the eighth. The Swallows may be struggling, but Balentien was diving and tumbling to make catches in left field.

The streak

Essentially, the Swallows’ problem has been giving up runs, particularly with two outs and runners in scoring position. Before the streak started, on May 14, Swallows’ batters had a .749 OPS, their opponents a .730 OPS. Since then, Yakult’s hitters have done poorly with runners in scoring position with less than two outs, their OPS dropping from .808 to .534.

The Swallows pitching and defense has failed miserably with runners in scoring position since May 14. Through Friday’s loss, the Swallows’ opponents are batting .441 when they put the ball in play with two outs and runners in scoring position during the streak.

Carp 2, Tigers 1

At Mazda Stadium, Takayoshi Noma singled home Takashi Uemoto with the winning run in the 11th inning, lifting the Carp to their fourth-straight win. Uemoto’s older brother, Hiroki, scored the tying run for Hanshin in the ninth.

Carp closer Shota Nakazaki allowed three hits in the inning to blow the lead after stranding five runners over his last two games. Lefty Kyle Regnault (4-0) earned the win after pitching a scoreless 11th for Hiroshima.

Dragons 7, Giants 3

At Tokyo Dome, Shuhei Takahashi continued to rake, driving in three runs for Chunichi. He broke a 1-1 tie with a two-run double and added a solo home run in the win over Yomiuri. It was the fourth time in eight days that Takahashi has had three or more RBIs in a game.

Pacific League

Fighters 4, Buffaloes 0

At Kyocera Dome, lefty Takayuki Kato (2-4) took a no-hitter into the eighth inning, and three relievers completed Nippon Ham’s two-hit shutout of Orix, which has surrendered seven unearned runs over the past three games.

Buffaloes starter Taisuke Yamaoka (4-2) was picked up by his defense in the second, when right fielder Kodai Sano threw a runner out at the plate to keep the game scoreless. But an ugly error by first baseman Hiroyuki Shirasaki when he dropped the ball as he tried to fire home for a force out contributed to Nippon Ham’s three-run eighth.

Eagles 3, Hawks 1

At Yafuoku Dome, Eigoro Mogi singled in the tie-breaking run off Kodai Senga (5-1) in the eighth inning, and Hiroaki Shimauchi added a sacrifice fly, handing the SoftBank right-hander his first loss of the season. Senga allowed seven hits and hit a batter, while striking out eight.

Wataru Karashima (4-2) allowed a run on three hits and three walks over seven innings to earn the win for Rakuten, as Sung Chia-hao and Yuki Matsui each pitched a scoreless inning in relief.

Zelous Wheeler opened the scoring in the second with his 11th home run, before Akira Nakamura tied it in the bottom of the inning on an RBI double in his first at-bat of the season.

Lions 3, Marines 2

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Kona Takahashi (5-4) repeatedly pitched out of trouble with the help of 10 strikeouts over 6-2/3 innings, and rookie Daisuke Togawa hit his first home run to tie the game 2-2 in Seibu’s two-run fifth.

In other news

  • Veteran Hawks outfielder Akira Nakamura, who has been sidelined since March with an autonomic nerve disorder, returned to active duty for the first time this season and tied the game with an RBI double in his first bat in front of the home crowd in Fukuoka.

NPB games of May 30, 2019

Thursday was a big day for a couple of 20-year-old rookies as Sho Yamaguchi took a no-hitter into the seventh inning at Jingu Stadium, and Haruto Takahashi beat the Yomiuri Giants at Koshien Stadium.

The Yakult Swallows, meanwhile, moved to within two losses of their Central League record for consecutive losses.

Central League

Carp 13, Swallows 0

At Jingu Stadium, Hiroshima rookie Sho Yamaguchi (1-0) allowed one hit over seven scoreless innings in his first pro start, as he dealt Yakult its 14th straight defeat.

The 20-year-old Yamaguchi, Hiroshima’s second draft pick in 2017, started out relying on a good fastball and slider, and mixed in his curve and splitter as the game went along. He didn’t allow a hit until Yakult rookie Munetaka Murakami muscled a broken-bat flare over short with two out in the seventh.

Xavier Batista opened the scoring in the first off Yasuhiro Ogawa (1-7) with his 13th home run and his fourth over the past seven days. Ogawa made too many mistakes up in the zone, and with Yakult’s defense looking less than solid he allowed seven runs on nine hits and four walks over 4-1/3 innings.

BayStars 8, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, Jose Lopez hit a first-inning grand slam off Chunichi rookie Akiyoshi Katsuno, while DeNA lefty Katsuki Azuma (3-1) struck out 10, while tossing a five-hitter to win his third straight start.

Tigers 5, Giants 2

At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin lefty Haruto Takahashi (1-0) struck out nine, while allowing four hits and walking two, while Pierce Johnson and Rafael Dolis each worked a scoreless inning of relief to finish off Yomiuri.

Tigers cleanup hitter, 24-year-old Yusuke Oyama, hit a three-run, first-inning homer off Taylor Jungmann (3-2) and singled home Yoshio Itoi from third in the fifth inning. Jungmann repeatedly fell behind in counts and walked five.

Pacific League

Fighters 8, Marines 0

At Sapporo Dome, Kohei Arihara (6-2) struck out a career-high 13 batters in a four-hitter without issuing a walk to win his 14th career game at the Nippon Ham’s main park, and his 14th against Lotte, whom he’s beaten more than any other team.

Marines starter Atsuki Taneichi (3-1), winner of his previous three starts, struck out eight over four innings, but allowed 11 hits and a pair of home runs.

Second-year slugger Kotaro Kiyomiya iced the game in the fourth inning with a three-run home run, the 8,000th in franchise history.

Hawks 5, Buffaloes 4

At Kyocera Dome, Orix’s defense gave away two unearned runs for the second straight game, helping SoftBank win a bullpen game against one of the PL’s more impressive young pitchers, 20-year-old rookie Tsubasa Sakakibara.

Alfredo Despaigne broke a 2-2 tie in the sixth with a two-run home run, and a 4-4 tie with an eighth-inning RBI single. Sakakibara allowed four runs, two earned, over six innings and did not figure in the decision.

In other news

  • Shun Takayama’s game-winning home run on Wednesday was the third sayonara grand slam in a game between the Hanshin Tigers and Yomiuri Giants. It was the first by a pinch hitter.
  • Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami walked one batter and struck out two in three scoreless innings in a Western League game against Orix on Thursday.
  • SoftBank Hawks outfielder Akira Nakamura, who was diagnosed with an autonomic nerve disorder in March, could be activated as early as Friday, when he is expected to rejoin the first team for practice in Fukuoka after playing in a Western League game on Wednesday with no difficulties.
  • The Orix Buffaloes have activated infielder Kohei Suzuki, not to be confused with pitcher Kohei “K” Suzuki.

NPB games of May 29, 2019

There were a couple of big home runs from unexpected sources on Wednesday, while the Yakult Swallows continued to lose, dropping their 13th straight.

Central League

Carp 5, Swallows 3

At Jingu Stadium, Seiya Suzuki opened the scoring with his 15th home run, a first-tinning, two-run shot off rookie lefty Keiji Takahashi (0-2), tied it with a broken-bat, fifth-inning double and scored from second on a two-out infield single as the Carp came from a run down to take command after a rain delay.

The Swallows, who lost their 13th straight, took a one-run lead in the bottom of the first on rookie Munetaka Murakami‘s 14th home run, a three-run shot off Daichi Osera.

Osera (5-2), who allowed four runs in six innings against the Swallows two weeks earlier, improved to 11-0 in his career against Yakult, the only CL team he has never lost to.

A night after loading the bases in with a one-run lead, Carp closer Shota Nakazaki again made things interesting, putting the tying runs on board with walks before nailing down his eighth save.

Tigers 8, Giants 4, 12 innings

At Koshien Stadium, Shun Takayama, whose career has gone nowhere since he was the CL’s 2016 rookie of the year, hit a pinch-hit, sayonara grand slam to lift Hanshin over Yomiuri. It was his second career pinch-hit homer, the other one coming on Sept. 29, 2017.

Jefry Marte, who singled and scored Hanshin’s first run, tied the game with his fifth home run, a two-run, eighth-inning homer off former closer Hirokazu Sawamura. Marte went 3-for-5, opening the Tigers 11th with a single.

Hayato Sakamoto became the 104th NPB player with 200 career home runs, while new Giant Yoshihiro Maru hit his 155th and 156th, and lefty Nobutaka Imamura allowed two runs over six innings.

Hanshin side-armer Koyo Aoyagi remained winless at Koshien against the Giants in his career, allowing three runs over five innings on eight hits, two walks, and a hit batsman.

BayStars 2, Dragons 1, 11 innings

At Nagoya Dome, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo singled home the tie-breaking run in the top of the 11th off Chunichi closer Hiroshi Suzuki (0-2).

Dragons starter Yudai Ono struck out seven, allowed a run over eight innings, while contributing to Chunichi’s sixth-inning game-tying run with a one-out single.

Pacific League

Lions 4, Eagles 1

At Hirosaki, Ken Togame (3-0) struck out seven and allowed one run over six innings, while Hotaka Yamaka hit his 22nd home run in Seibu’s win over Rakuten. The home run puts Yamakawa on pace to hit 64 this season. The current NPB record is 60, set by Wladimir Balentien of the Yakult Swallows.

A night after he homered twice and drove in five runs, Jabari Blash came to bat with runners on just once and walked.

Hawks 5, Buffaloes 2

At Kyocera Dome, rookie Go Kamamoto went 3-for-4 and singled home two runners who had reached on errors to snap a 2-2, fourth-inning tie as SoftBank snapped a three-game losing streak.

Hawks starter Kotaro Otake (2-2) escaped several jams to allow two runs over six innings on eight hits while striking out one. Orix starter Daiki Matsuba (0-4) allowed four runs, two earned, on nine hits and a walk over six innings to take the loss.

Yurisbel Gracial drove in an insurance run for the Hawks with his ninth home run

Fighters 5, Marines 3

At Sapporo Dome, Kensuke Tanaka, playing in his final pro season, hit the second pinch-hit home run of his career, the previous one coming on Sept. 28, 2005. This one was also a two-run shot and also against Lotte. What is it about September pinch-hit home runs?

This one overturned a 4-3 deficit with two outs in the eighth inning. Lotte rookie Daiki Iwashita allowed an unearned run on four walks and three hits over six innings, but a pair of relievers let the Fighters back in the game.

Ryo Akiyoshi worked a 1-2-3 ninth to record his 10th save.

In other news:

  • On Tuesday, Yakult Swallows reliever Ryota Igarashi celebrated his 40th birthday by pitching in his 800th NPB game. Igarashi, who pitched in 83 major league games, mostly with the New York Mets, is seventh all-time in career games. Japan’s career saves leader, Hitoki Iwase, pitched in 1,002 — all for the Chunichi Dragons.

NPB games of May 28, 2019

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched in a live game for the first time this season, while two Central League games were rained out on Tuesday and the Pacific League has a new leader.

Central League

Carp 8, Swallows 7

At Jingu Stadium, Yakult fought back from a six-run deficit to make it a one-run game, but left five runners on base over the last two innings and fell to its 12th straight loss. The Swallows loaded the bases in the ninth on two walks and a hit batsman, but could not touch Hiroshima closer Shota Nakazaki’s slider as he recorded his seventh save.

Carp catcher Tsubasa Aizawa tied the game 1-1 with a fly to center that was blown out for a home run and provided a crucial insurance run in the eighth with his second of the game and his sixth of the season.

Pacific League

Fighters 4, Marines 3

At Sapporo Dome, second-year slugger Kotaro Kiyomiya doubled in two runs in the fourth inning and then scored the tying run as Nippon Ham came from three runs down to beat Lotte. Four relievers kept the Marines scoreless with former Japan reliever Ryo Akiyoshi pitching out of a two-out jam to record his ninth save.

Eagles 7, Lions 2

At Morioka, Jabari Blash overturned a 2-0 deficit with a three-run, sixth-inning home run off Seibu’s Tatsuya Imai (4-5) and added a two-run shot in the seventh, giving him 15 homers on the season. The Eagles’ win lifted them into first place after the Hawks lost in Osaka.

Locked in a scoreless duel, two of Rakuten starter Takahiro Shiomi’s mistakes cleared the fence, a fat fastball in the sixth to Shogo Akiyama (10) and a hanging curve to NPB home run leader Hotaka Yamaka (21), in the seventh. Shiomi, who made his first start of the season last week in his comeback from back surgery improved to 2-0.

Imai did not allow a hit through five, but former Lion captain Hideto Asamura opened the Eagles’ seventh with a single, Zelous Wheeler followed with a double, and Blash bashed a high straight 2-1 fastball. The Eagles followed by loading the bases and with two outs, Hiroaki Shimauchi stole home on a pickoff throw to second, and another run scored when the throw home sailed over the catcher.

Buffaloes 3, Hawks 1

At Kyocera Dome, Yoshinobu Yamamoto (3-2) struck out nine over seven scoreless innings, while career minor leaguer Akira Niho (0-1) allowed a run over four innings in his first start in seven years as the Hawks lost their third straight.

Yamamoto has made three starts against SoftBank this season and has struck out 27 batters in 24 scoreless innings but this was his first win against the Hawks. Hirotoshi Masui allowed a run in the ninth but recorded his NPB-best 15th save.

In other news

  • Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched in a Western League game at the SoftBank Hawks, the team he played for from 2015 to 2017 after leaving the majors. He threw two innings at Chikugo’s Tamahome Stadium, and said it felt like coming home: “Compared to Fukuoka Dome, I spent almost all my time with the Hawks here, so it was a homecoming.” He struck out three and is on track for a return to first-team duty in a week.

Carter Stewart can change the world

Carter Stewart hasn’t thrown a baseball in anger as a member of the SoftBank Hawks, but his arrival in Japan, as the first big-name American amateur to turn pro with a Japanese team, could cause a ripple effect through baseball’s labor markets. It could mean an end to the posting system or more money for U.S. amateurs from MLB.

Say it again: “This is MLB’s fault”

Although the Hawks signing Stewart is news, it is not a new story. His signing is made possible by MLB and its union conspiring to deprive amateur players of the right to fair value for their service, and MLB’s choice to further clamp down on the below-subsistence wages paid to minor league players.

Without those two factors, no Japanese club is going to spend what it would be worth to lure a top amateur to NPB, at least not as long as the economic structure in NPB continues without significant change.

But with MLB’s draft signing pool bonuses, draft slot values, and the criminal level of pay in the minor leagues, Japanese teams can now pay the best American amateurs less than they’re worth but vastly more than MLB clubs can.

Sure, there’s a limit on having four players on each team’s active roster in Japan, but NPB clubs could theoretically have up to 52 foreign players under contract, not including those on developmental contracts, who don’t count against each organization’s 70-man official roster.

Japan was in a similar bind 25 years ago

A quarter of a century ago, Nippon Professional Baseball’s owners were bullied into allowing the Yomiuri Giants sign their big name veteran stars by agreeing to the introduction of free agency after the 1993 season.

What was intended as a way for the country’s biggest-name franchise to enrich itself at the expense of its business partners became something else altogether within two years. The free agent system was predicated on owners’ belief that competition in the majors was too hard for Japanese players.

Unfortunately, for the NPB owners, that belief was proved wrong in the most dramatic fashion by pitcher Hideo Nomo.

Jean Afterman, then working with Nomo’s agent Don Nomura, found the loophole needed to punish NPB for its arrogance. Because NPB rules considered Japanese players to be inferior and incapable of playing in the majors, they were permitted to play abroad after retiring in Japan.

So Nomo “retired” and became Japan’s first free agent import to the major leagues. Although NPB closed that loophole within a few years, the free agent route that was meant to enrich the Yomiuri Giants with Japan’s top talent, soon became a highway for Japanese stars to leave for the major leagues.

This could be something big — or not

The question then is whether this type of deal will become a supply line for Japanese baseball to upgrade its talent base at the expense of MLB.

In order for that to happen, Japanese teams will need to handle the players and develop them in a sustainable relationship with MLB so the international rules don’t change at the whim of MLB and its union.

The Japanese side of the equation

The SoftBank Hawks were perfectly placed for this kind of venture. They have the money, the infrastructure, the patience, and the will. Since SoftBank’s founder Masayoshi Son took over the club in 2005, he has aspired to field the world’s best baseball team and has frequently pestered his staff to sign the biggest names available.

Son has repeatedly challenge major league owners to an international championship series between the NPB and MLB champs, something that will happen the second MLB owners think it’s profitable.

The Hawks have invested heavily in development and in their medical side. While other clubs expect first-year pros to make an immediate impact, Hawks newcomers have to slog their way through an impressive logjam of minor league talent to even get a shot at the top.

The Hawks are an exception, but with the will, a few other teams, the PL’s Rakuten Eagles and the CL’s Giants, Hiroshima Carp and DeNA BayStars could join them in a true money ball campaign — exploiting the sizeable gap between what MLB requires amateurs be paid and what they are worth to Japanese teams. In 2023, when the Nippon Ham Fighters open their new stadium outside Sapporo and begin generating huge amounts of revenue, they could become players as well.

The Carp probably won’t go down this road, although they are well situated to expand into MLB’s Dominican Republic player pool because of their academy in that country. Hiroshima is focused on recycling talented players who fail in their first shot with big league clubs but are not willing to see their baseball dreams die.

But for now, it’s just the Hawks.

The MLB side of the equation

The market solution on the MLB side is to increase the amount of the signing bonus pools and draft slot allocations so that those amounts at least equal the value of those players to NPB teams — eliminating the demand for those players by raising the prices.

But that’s not what MLB does, and doing so would require negotiations with its union to alter the details of the CBA.

The posting system, however, is not included in the CBA. Though the agreement must conform to the CBA and the union must sign off on it — as it did in December 2017. But because either MLB or NPB can back out of the deal with a few months notice, it’s an easy way for either side to fire a shot across the bow.

With the union’s cooperation, MLB could also take more drastic measures, such as instituting its own “Tazawa Rule” — named for Junichi Tazawa, because it effectively banned him from playing in NPB because he turned pro with the Boston Red Sox rather than submit to NPB’s draft. MLB could banish players who turn pro in Japan, but that seems like too drastic of a solution, and the Tazawa Rule hasn’t prevented Japanese from following his path.

The posting system

Ironically, punishing the Hawks by eliminating the posting system might be part of SoftBank’s grand plan, since the club has never used it and is opposed to its existence. That being said, the Hawks can use the posting process as part of their plan with Stewart.

If the deal is for six years, from June 2019 to June 2025, Stewart will qualify as an international free agent under current rules on Nov. 3, 2024, exactly when the posting period begins. If Stewart develops and has value, he will have options. SoftBank being SoftBank, they’d prefer Stewart to stay in Japan and sign an extension, but without an extension, Carter would be able to move to the States as a free agent when his contract expires.

Using the posting system prior to the 2025 season would allow the Hawks to recoup all the costs incurred with signing and training Stewart and essentially get paid to benefit from all his contributions. It’s also the reason why other clubs might jump on this train. They could make a profit signing and posting American amateurs, and eliminating the posting system would put a damper on that part of the business.

Still, the Hawks would be happy to see the posting system gone, because if it remains in place and Stewart has that option, SoftBank will have a hard time denying the requests of its Japanese stars, read Kodai Senga, who want to leave early.

But sooner or later, the Hawks are going to have to fall in line and post players if the system remains in place. That’s because at some point they’ll want to sign a player who will only work for a club that promises an early exit to the majors, read Roki Sasaki.null

The Shohei Ohtani example

Shohei Ohtani is one reason why MLB would like to weaken the posting system and raise the age of international free agency. If Japan’s best amateurs think it’s easier to get to the majors through free agency by going through NPB and the posting system, it will be even harder for MLB to sign kids like Roki Sasaki, which is the big league’s ultimate wet dream.

Being major league baseball, they think no one can teach professionals the way they can be prepared through in the minor leagues with all the soul-sapping crappy treatment that entails. But the real reason is the control that comes with signing amateurs. MLB is all about control, if it weren’t we wouldn’t see blatant service time manipulation.

If Japanese teams could take the best high school stars and promise to post them at the age of 23 so they could be international free agents, everyone would benefit, the NPB teams, the players, MLB. The only thing it would cost the MLB teams is control, and they put an awfully high value on that.

The problem is that by worrying so much about control, MLB guys lose sight of one fact, that Japan is a great place to learn how to play baseball.

The advantage of a Japanese education

There are things players won’t see in Japan, like a lot of 100 mile-per-hour fastballs, but other than that, you name it and Japanese baseball has it.

When a player ventures out of the minors and into Central and Pacific league, he faces some incredible pitchers, guys who can locate their fastball and then use NPB’s stickier baseball to throw some of the wickedest breaking balls in the world. Because the talent depth is thinner, there are pitchers who lack command and control, too, guys who throw more fat pitches that can be exploited.

“A lot can be gained from playing here. Playing in Japan is a great way to develop a hitter. Look what happened with Shohei Ohtani. He’s an elite hitter and an elite pitcher. That couldn’t have happened in the States.”

Former Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres GM Randy Smith

For a pitcher, there is less pressure from lineups where every batter is trying to take you deep, but those batters are there along with guys who can foul off one good pitch after another, and are really, really hard to strike out.

Players also get used to playing in pressure situations in meaningful games in front of large crowds. If minor league baseball are less meaningful because one goal of every player is to get promoted, NPB games are more meaningful because they are all about winning, and there is value in that.

The other side is the fanatical amount of discipline and practice, which can be a good thing if a player embraces it. Another advantage is a good diet, a place to live in the team dormitory, a healthy diet and easy access to training facilities.

What this means for Carter Stewart

It means an opportunity to learn more about pitching than he would ever learn in the United States. If there is a weakness in the Japanese system, it is that so many talented pitchers never survive the nation’s old-school youth baseball traditions.

Some NPB training methods are obsolete, and most pro coaches tend to teach players to follow established models rather than find what works best for them as individuals. In that, however, there are messages worth learning if one can handle the often authoritarian way in which those messages are delivered. If Stewart can handle that, remain humble, remember that he is coming to learn and improve, he will excel to the degree he is physically and mentally able to handle.

Simply by reaching out to Stewart, the Hawks have instantly changed the way MLB views Japan since this is something it considered impossible. If Stewart succeeds and comes out of this as a world-class player, that will be a further shock to MLB owners who have shown little but disdain for Japanese baseball.

NPB games of May 26, 2019

One ended and one kept going on Sunday, as the Hiroshima Carp failed to match the 12 straight wins posted by the 1984 Japan Series championship team. The Yakult Swallows also lost — for the 11th straight time.

Central League

Giants 5, Carp 4

At Tokyo Dome, 22-year-old Yomiuri cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto’s ninth home run and Shun Yamaguchi allowed a run over six innings. Shinnosuke Shigenobu broke a 4-4 eighth-inning tie by plating Okamoto with a sacrifice fly off Geronimo Franzua (4-2) as the Giants snapped Hiroshima’s 11-game winnings streak.

The Carp scored three runs in the seventh off Samuel Adames, to tie it with former Giant Hisayoshi Chono delivering a game-tying, pinch-hit RBI single. Yomiuri reliever Hirokazu Sawamura struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth to earn the win.

Former Cubs farmhand Xavier Batista continues to rake, going 3-for-5 for the Carp.

Tigers 7, BayStars 0

At Yokohama Stadium, lefty Onelki Garcia (1-2) struck out six and walked one in a four-hit shutout of DeNA. Hanshin hammered lefty Haruhiro Hamaguchi (2-2) for five runs, four earned, on five hits and a walk over 1-2/3 innings.

Hamaguchi, coming off his second shutout in three weeks, gave up a leadoff homer in the first to rookie Koji Chikamoto, while a leadoff triple by catcher Ryutaro Umeno sparked a four-run second. Jefry Marte and Masahiro Nakatani followed with back-to-back home runs.

Dragons 10, Swallows 8

At Jingu Stadium, Steven Moya’s three-run, fifth-inning home run broke a 6-6 tie, while Naomichi Donoue hit two homers and Shuhei Takahashi singled, doubled, homered, scored three and drove in three as Chunichi won a home run derby with Yakult. The Swallows lost their 11th straight.

Leading 3-2, Norichika Aoki opened the third with a home run, and Tetsuto Yamada and Wladimir Balentien followed with two more to make it a 6-2 lead, Swallows starter Hirotoshi Takanashi allowed nine runs in five innings.

Dragons closer Hiroshi Suzuki issued a one-out walk but got Balentien to hit into a double play to earn his league-leading 14th save.

Pacific League

Eagles 4, Buffaloes 1

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Rakuten starter Ryota Ishibashi (3-2) allowed a run over five innings, and four relievers overcame a couple of jams to deliver four scoreless innings. Orix starter Kohei “K” Suzuki issued two, two-out walks in the second inning after Zelous Wheeler opened the inning with a single.

Hiroaki Shimauchi drew a 10-pitch walk and rookie Ryosuke Tatsumi walked on six pitches to load them up for rookie Kengo Horiuchi’s two-run, two-out single as the Eagles came from a run down.

Eagles closer Yuki Matsui struck out the side in the ninth to earn his 13th save.

Fighter 6, Lions 5

At MetLife Dome, Nippon Ham cleanup hitter Sho Nakata reached base four times, homered and had a sacrifice fly and three RBIs in a come-from-behind win that snapped Seibu’s winning streak at five games.

Kensuke Kondo broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth with an RBI double, and Nakata singled him home to make it 6-4.

Side-armer Ryo Akiyoshi () acquired in a four-way trade from the Yakult Swallows in December after posting ERAs of 3.35 in 2017 and 4.23 in 2018, recorded his eighth save with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Marines 8, Hawks 2

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Ayumu Ishikawa (2-2) struck out five and allowed two runs over 6-1/3 innings, while Seiya Inoue homered and drove in four wins as Lotte whipped SoftBank. Ikuhiro Kiyota failed to homer for the fifth straight game, but tripled, reached base four times and scored four runs.

Hawks starter Ariel Miranda (3-3) allowed four runs on six hits and two walks, while striking out one.

In other news

  • Nippon Ham’s top draft pick, Kosei Yoshida, who became a national hero at last year’s summer national high school baseball championship, returned to action after dealing with a gastrointestinal virus, throwing two scoreless innings in the Eastern League on Sunday.

NPB games of May 25, 2019

While the biggest news of the day centered around SoftBank’s announcement that it had signed 19-year-old American pitcher Carter Stewart, the Hiroshima Carp need to bring back their red-hot chili uniforms, because they are on fire!

Kris Johnson in the Carp’s spicy red outfits. The Carp are currently NPB’s spiciest outfit.

Central League

Carp 7, Giants 5

At Tokyo Dome, Kris Johnson (4-3) handled the Yomiuri Giants for seven innings before they knocked him out, but Hiroshima still held on for the win, as Johnson singled in a run off Cristopher Mercedes (4-3), and Xavier Batista went deep for the third time in two games.

“They put enough of the the bat on the ball when they needed to. I kept them quiet for a while, but then in the eighth inning their bats came alive,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to give to them, but we still came away with the victory.”

I can’t do simultaneous interpretation or any other kind of interpretation, but this was rendered in Japanese as: “The Giants are a good hitting team, and they really made that inning hard on us, but I had confidence in my teammates after I left the mound.”

If I tried it, I’d do much, much worse.

Johnson, however, is getting steadily better. He continues to do well in day games this season, although the three runs without an out in the eighth will put a dent in his day-game ERA.

There was an article the other day about how well he pitches in day games because he entered Saturday’s game 3-0 in the afternoon and 0-3 at night, so I thought I’d check how he’s done over his career in Japan, where his win total increased to 50.

Since arriving in 2015, Johnson is 36-17 at night, with a 2.65 ERA. In day games, he’s now 14-7 with a 2.60 ERA.

BayStars 6, Tigers 5

At Yokohama Stadium, the BayStars came close to blowing a six-run ninth-inning lead after starter Taiga Kamichatani (2-3) allowed the first four batters to reach.

Randy Messenger (2-5) walked a career-high eight batters, the most in NPB since Hiroshima’s Kazuki Yabuta walked eight Tigers hitters in April 2018. Jose Lopez drove in three runs for the BayStars.

Dragons 10, Swallows 3

At Jingu Stadium, a trio of Dragons had three hits apiece, including rookie Kosuke Ito, who scored four runs as Chunichi handed Yakult it’s 10th straight loss.

The game was close until David Huff allowed a run in the sixth and Scott McGough allowed four over 1-2/3 innings.

Pacific League

Buffaloes 4, Eagles 2

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Rakuten welcomed back veteran right-hander Takayuki Kishi for his first game since he injured his left hamstring on Opening Day. Kishi allowed a run in seven innings, but got no decision as Sung Chia-hao (1-2) surrendered three runs in the eighth inning.

To give the game something of an old-timers feel, lefty Yoshihisa Naruse allowed a run in 5-2/3 innings in his second start for the Buffaloes, who got two RBIs apiece from young slugger Masataka Yoshida and Stefen Romero.

Lions 7, Fighters 5

At MetLife Dome, it was an ugly day for starting pitchers as both Johnny Barbato of Nippon Ham and Shinsaburo Tawata of Seibu surrendered five runs. The Fighters’ bullpen cracked first, with lefty Mizuki Hori (2-1) walking three batters after Sosuke Genda‘s leadoff single.

The Lions have now won five straight, the PL champs’ longest winning streak of the season. Shogo Akiyama, who has expressed his desire to play in the majors next season as a free agent, homered twice off Barbato.

The Lions announced after the game that Tawata would be sent to the farm to regain his form.

Marines 4, Hawks 3

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Lotte’s Ikuhiro Kiyota homered for the fourth straight game, hitting a two-run shot off the third pitch Ryoma Matsuda (0-1) threw in relief of SoftBank starter Rei Takahashi.

The Marines’ Mike Bolsinger allowed three runs, one earned over 5-1/3 innings, but the win went to the bullpen, as four relievers delivered 3-2/3 innings of spotless work.

In other news

  • The Carp became the first team in CL history to ever go from eight games under .500 to 10 games over in the same season. They are now one game shy of the franchise record for consecutive wins, 12 set by the 1984 CL champions, who were the last Carp team to win the Japan Series.
  • Chunichi veteran Daisuke Matsuzaka is slated to work his first rehab game in the minors on Tuesday. after being injured in spring training by a fan. It will be his first game action since September.
  • The Fukushima Red Hopes of the Route Inn Baseball Challenge League have announced that Justine Siegal, the first woman to work as a coach for a major league team, will coach the independent minor league club over the coming weeks on a temporary basis. The Red Hopes are managed by former major leaguer Akinori Iwamura.

NPB games of May 24, 2019

Central League

Carp 8, Giants 3

At Tokyo Dome, Xavier Batista hit a pair of solo home runs, giving the former Cubs farmhand 11 on the season as Hiroshima rolled to its 10th straight win.

Seiya Suzuki hit his 14th for Hiroshima as the Carp overcame three solo home runs by the Giants, including two by shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who took over the league lead with his 14th and 15th.

Taylor Jungmann (3-1) gave up four runs on four hits and a hit batsman over five innings, while striking out three for the Giants. Rookie Hiroki Tokoda (5-2) allowed three runs over five innings, but five Carp relievers allowed just three base runners over the final four innings.

Dragons 6, Swallows 1

At Jingu Stadium, rookie Akiyoshi Katsuno (1-1) allowed a run over 6-1/3 innings as Chunichi handed Yakult its ninth straight loss. Yohei Oshima went 4-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs, while Shuhei Takahashi drove in three more for the visitors.

Yasuhiro Ogawa (1-6) allowed three runs, two earned, while striking out eight over six innings, but Wladimir Balentien accounted for Yakult’s only run, with his 11th home run of the season.

Tigers 3, BayStars 2

At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin cashed in its scoring opportunities, while DeNA put runners on but could only manage a two-run, first-inning homer by cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. The Tigers broke a 2-2, seventh-inning tie on a triple by rookie Koji Chikamoto and an RBI double by 24-year-old cleanup hitter Yusuke Oyama, who reached base three times.

The BayStars’ Neftali Soto reached four times, but Hanshin starter Yuki Nishi twice struck Tsutsugo out with runners in scoring position. Rafael Dolis worked the ninth for his 11th save.

Pacific League

Eagles 3, Buffaloes 2

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Manabu Mima (3-3) allowed two runs over six innings, and rookie Ryosuke Tatsumi drove in one run with a triple and scored the other in a two-run fifth inning.

Orix starter Taisuke Yamaoka (4-1) allowed five hits and two walks, while striking out nine on 96 pitches over the eight-inning complete game loss.

The Buffaloes’ struggling offense wasted a golden opportunity in the seventh against reliever Alan Busenitz, but the right-hander escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam and the Eagles bullpen retired the last eight batters to close it out. Sung Chia-hao worked the eighth, while Yuki Matsui recorded his 12th save.

Lions 10, Fighters 5

At MetLife Dome, seibu came from a run down in a five-run fifth inning, highlighted by Sosuke Genda’s game-tying RBI double and Shuta Tonosaki’s two-run homer.

Tonosaki also doubled, tripled, walked, scored three runs and drove in four. Fighters starter Takayuki Kato (1-4) and Lions starter Daiki Enokida (2-1) each gave up five runs, but Seibu’s bullpen delivered four scoreless innings.

Hawks 6, Marines 3, 10 innings

At Zozo Marine Stadium, SoftBank starter Kodai Senga, working on five days rest, allowed two runs over eight innings, while striking out nine, but failed to win his sixth straight start.

Hawks closer Yuito mori (2-3) allowed a solo homer in the ninth to Ikuhiro Kiyota as Lotte tied it. But Marines reliever Naoya Masuda (2-3) gave up three runs for the second-straight game, surrendering Alfredo Despaigne’s second two-run homer, and a solo shot to Nobuhiro Matsuda.

Yurisbel Gracial had four hits and scored three runs, while Cuban compatriot Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his first save.

News

  • The Orix Buffaloes’ position players spent their day off Thursday taking extra batting practice after the club failed to record 10 hits in 20 consecutive games. That hadn’t happened to the franchise since the Hankyu Braves failed to reach double digits in hits for 28 straight games in 1963.
  • The Chunichi Dragons have not cleared 38-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka to begin pitching in rehab games, noting that the condition of his right shoulder has not improved. He was hurt in February when a fan gave him a particularly strong high five during a fan event in Okinawa.
  • The Dragons called up Steven Moya on Friday, and put him in the starting lineup for the first time this season, batting sixth and playing right field in the absence of injured regular Ryosuke Hirata. In 42 farm games, Moya has posted a .372 OBP and a .559 slugging average in the pitcher-friendly Western League.
  • The Nippon Ham Fighters activated Kotaro Kiyomiya for the first time this season after he broke the hamate bone in his right hand on March 3. Kiyomiya, who will turn 20 on Saturday, hit seven home runs in 53 games last season.
  • Chunichi center fielder Yohei Oshima became the 76th NPB player with 200 career steals on Friday, when he stole his 13th of the year, in the fifth inning against the Hanshin Tigers. Oshima led the Central League in steals in 2012, and started the day with 12, one back of Yakult’s Tetsuto Yamada and Hanshin rookie Koji Chikamoto.

Active stolen base leaders (through 5/23/2019)

  1. Yoshio Itoi (Fighters, Buffaloes) 290 in 1,446 games
  2. Haruki Nishikawa (Fighters) 232 in 884 games
  3. Kensuke Tanaka (Fighters) 203 in 1,555 games
  4. Yohei Oshima (Dragons) 199 in 1,214 games
  5. Takashi Ogino (Marines) 172 in 642 games

NPB games of May 23, 2019

Central League

Giants 7, BayStars 4

At Tokyo Dome, DeNA rookie Shinichi Onuki (2-3) looked good getting out of a third-inning jam with a good inside fastball to two-time MVP Yoshihiro Maru, but the gave up six runs on seven hits in the fourth.

Four Giants pitchers allowed a run over the final 4-2/3 innings in relief of Nobutaka Imamura, who surrendered a three-run Neftali Soto homer in the fourth. With a two-run lead in the eighth former closer Hirokazu Sawamura had the tying runs in scoring position with one out but survived unscathed.

Soto, who led the CL in home runs last season, his first in NPB, moved out of a three-way tie for the league lead with his 14th. Seiya Suzuki of the Carp, and Hayato Sakamoto of the Giants each have 13.

Tigers 1, Swallows 0

At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin’s defense held off a sixth-inning threat to preserve a scoreless tie, before Kento Itohara ended the game with a one-out sayonara single in the bottom of the ninth.

With Yakult’s David Buchanan and Hanshin’s Haruto Takahashi locked up in a pitchers’ duel, the Tigers Jefry Marte gunned down a runner trying to score from third on a one-out grounder to first in the top of the sixth. Rookie center fielder Koji Chikamoto then ended the inning by going into Koshien’s spacious power alleys to haul in a fly off the bat of rookie Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami.

The Swallows, who lost their eighth straight, wasted scoring opportunities in each of the last four innings. The Tigers, equally inept in getting the big hit, finally made a go of it against Scott McGough (2-1), who loaded the bases with one out on two walks and a single before Itohara ended it.

Tigers closer Rafael Dolis (2-1) earned the win after putting the Swallows leadoff hitter on in the ninth with his throwing error.

Pacific League

Fighters 11, Eagles 2

At Sapporo Dome, Sho Nakata broke a 1-1, third-inning tie with a two-run home run off Rakuten’s Wataru Karashima (3-2), while Nippon Ham’s Toshihiro Sugiura (2-0), making his third five-inning start of the season allowed his first run of the year.

Light-hitting utility infielder Kenshi Sugiya became 15th player in NPB history to hit home runs from both sides of the plate in the same game, and the first Fighter since former New York Yankee and current Miami Marlins scout Fernando Seguignol, who accomplished the feat a record nine times.

“From now on, you can call me Seguignol,” joked Sugiya, who now has 10 career home runs in 960 career at-bats.

Fernando Seguignol and Takaaki Ishibashi reliving their favorite scene from the movie “Major League” at QVC Marine Field.

In other news

  • On Wednesday, the DeNA BayStars’ Jose Lopez set an NPB record with 1,517 consecutive chances without making an error at first base, surpassing the mark of Hall of Famer Kihachi Enomoto, who had 1,516 from Aug. 13, 1967 to Sept. 3, 1968 for the PL’s Lotte Orions. “El Chamo” a 35-year-old from Venezuela is in his seventh NPB season, and has won the last three CL Golden Gloves at first base as well as another in 2013.
  • The SoftBank Hawks deactivated starting pitcher Nao Higashihama on Thursday due to stiffness in his hip after he allowed four runs in in his Tuesday start against the Seibu Lions in Okinawa. He will be assigned to the team’s rehab facility in Chikago, Fukuoka Prefecture.
  • Yakult Swallows infielder Keiji Obiki reached nine years of service time on Thursday, qualifying him to file for international free agency in November. Asked, as such players always are, his thoughts, Obiki pulled out pat answer No. 1: “The season has only started. I don’t have the luxury of such thoughts.”

Taking a Sledge to baseball world

With major league scouts annually scouring Japan for imported players who’ve raised their games in Nippon Professional Baseball, Terrmel Sledge, now a hitting coach with the Chicago Cubs, believes an overlooked factor in players’ growth here is simply the understanding one gains of the world and the people in it.

Some NPB veterans say Japanese coaching made them better, some say it is the attention paid to practicing fundamentals or the extreme focus on fitness. Sledge, the son of a Korean mother and an American father, said his big takeaway from his time with the Nippon Ham Fighters and Yokohama BayStars was the experience of being there.

Terrmel Sledge
Chicago Cubs hitting coach Terrmel Sledge

Being there

“I was talking to one of our players who played in Korea. It’s the experience: different cultures, how they eat, family, discipline. It’s different,” Sledge said at the Cub’s spring training facility in Mesa, Arizona, in March.

“You almost wish other players could travel internationally and have a different perspective and not be so hard on themselves when they come back into their own in the United States.”

“It’s not about saying what culture is right or wrong. A good example, when I went over there, a tougher adjustment was the spacing between people. Every one is in your face or right behind you. It’s like, ‘Why are you so close to me?’ I heard in Australia it’s like extra space and in the U.S. it’s in the middle. You’ve got to adjust. You are in their country.”

When he finished playing, Sledge broadened his horizons further, traveling the world on business.

Going outside the game

“I did odd jobs, in small business, building web sites, google adverts and Adsense, flew all over the world, Bangkok, flew to China, India,” he said. “But I needed to be around baseball. I had to be on the field. Baseball was my whole life, I felt I had to get back in the game.”

“I am new with the Cubs. My first year with them was 2015, I went to the Dodgers for three years and now I’m back with the Cubs again.”

Like going to Japan or traveling the world, becoming a coach meant dealing with a new reality, one in which he was removed from the center.

On the outside looking in

“It’s like you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum,” he said of coaching. “It’s not really about you. They don’t care what you did or whether you’re a Hall of Famer or whatever. It’s what can you give them.”

“Our careers are over. It’s not about us or what we did. They frankly don’t even care. We’re on a different end and you have to find your way in. You just base it around as long as they know you care, genuinely really care. That’s the biggest thing to do.”

Finding one’s way in — in order to function as a coach — is yet another adjustment in a lifetime of baseball adjustments. In Japan, while dealing with the world off the field, Sledge had to cope with fewer bread-and-butter fastballs in hitter’s counts and those umpires whose view of the strike zone, players say, are colored by the batter’s nationality.

While Japanese baseball places a huge value on fitting in, foreign players who don’t succeed don’t last long.

Adjusting to Japan

“…I thought it was going to be a more relaxed environment, but foreigners have more pressure. They’re expected to do more,” Sledge said. “Their culture, I felt, for foreigners coming in there, I felt it was like, ‘Hey. You’re not going to just come in here and think you’re going to be successful. A bigger strike zone. A lot of offspeed pitches in hitters counts, so I had to study pitchers like the back of my hand. That helped me become a hitter over there and helped me survive for five years, studying the pitchers…because I grew up hitting a fastball my whole life.”

And now he’s studying hitters while trying to master the interpersonal relationships that are now central to his job.

Asked what he needs to do when he spots something a player is doing and is keen to deliver a message, Sledge said, “You better wait it out.”

“It’s about building the relationship, knowing that they know you care. You can’t just go in there and say (it) – especially at this level since these guys are the best baseball players in the world. I can tell a guy what I think only if we truly have that relationship together.”

In that respect, his being with the Cubs has provided a tremendous example in manager Joe Maddon.

Among the Maddon-ing crowd

“I was fortunate enough in my first year to be in this culture and environment,” Sledge said. “And you knew these guys can win the World Series, so my bar was set high. So everywhere I go I compare that to the Chicago Cubs. And being around Joe Maddon? What else can you ask for? You learn so much being around him.”

“He’s such a people person. Why wouldn’t you want to be around him? You don’t find too many guys like that.”