NPB games, news of July 30, 2019

Central League

Giants 8, Carp 5

At Tokyo Dome, Emailin Montilla, the latest product of Hiroshima’s Dominican Academy, made his NPB debut, allowing three runs, two earned, in 2-1/3 innings as the Carp’s nine-game losing streak crashed to a halt.

The lefty was unlucky on some first-inning groundballs, but a basketful of fat third-inning pitches resulted in three line drives, with Alex Guerrero just settling for a two-run double when his drive struck high off the wall in left. Giants starter Shun Yamaguchi (11-2) cruised for most of the game until four runs on a pair of eighth-inning homers.

Rubby De La Rosa struck out two in a scoreless ninth for his first save in Japan.

Giants manager Tatsunori Hara became the 11th manager in NPB history with 1,000 wins and the third Giants skipper after Tetsuharu Kawakami and Shigeo Nagashima.

Game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 6, Swallows 2

At Yokohama Stadium, rookie Taiga Kamichatani (6-3) became the first DeNA rookie to win six-straight decisions, allowing two runs on Tetsuto Yamada home run. He gave up a walk and three hits in the win over Yakult.

With the game tied 2-2 in the fifth, Neftali Soto and Jose Lopez each singled in a run as the BayStars took the lead for good.

Tigers 7, Dragons 6

At Koshien Stadium, Yangervis Solarte was impactful, winning the game with a sayonara two-run homer, his second two-run shot in a game that also saw his defense at short contribute to a two-run sixth inning.

He went 4-for-4 and even as the announcers are bemoaning his defense, they can’t stop talking about him non stop.

Pacific League

Eagles 2, Fighters 0

At Sapporo Dome, Rakuten rookie Hayato Yuge (1-0) threw a two-hit shutout in his second pro start and a pair of mid-season acquisitions, Ren Wada and Ko Shimazuru, accounted for both his team’s runs against Nippon Ham.

Mitsuo Yoshikawa (0-2) was given the medium start (two trips through the batting order) for Nippon Ham but allowed two runs over four innings and the Fighters managed just two hits and a walk off of the rookie, who kept them off the barrel as he located and surprised hitters with a nice little cutter.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Hawks 2

At MetLife Dome, Seibu’s Tatsuya Imai (6-8) allowed two runs over six innings to capture a pitchers’ duel against SoftBank’s Rei Takahashi (9-3), who allowed three over six.

The Lions speed and batting made the difference as Shuta Tonosaki set up the tying run with a stolen base, scored on a Tomoya Mori single. A Takeya Nakamura double and a Takumi Kuriyama single plated the go-ahead run and set up an insurance run and Seibu never looked back. A couple of errors by SoftBank sealed it in a two-run seventh.

Alfredo Despaigne came out of the game after striking out in the second inning. He’d complained of not feeling well before the game.

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 4, Buffaloes 1

At Zozo Marine Stadium, right-hander Daiki Iwashita (5-3) didn’t allow a hit through 5-1/3 innings and Lotte held on behind a solo homer and RBI double from Leonys Martin to beat last-place Orix.

For the second straight game, the Buffaloes lost their first-inning leadoff runner on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.

Daichi Suzuki singled in Lotte’s two other runs. In the on-field hero interview, Martin said in Japanese, “I’ll do my best, too!’

Game highlights are HERE.


RIP Loek van Mil

The details are still not clear, but former Netherlands international closer and Rakuten Eagles reliever Loek van Mil has died, apparently in a fatal accident in Europe.

We spoke a few times and he talked about going back to university when offers to play baseball stopped coming. They may not have been the offers he was looking for, but he kept taking them.

My favorite Loek moment came in San Francisco on the morning after the Netherlands and Japan were eliminated from the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The wife and I were walking to a lunch meeting with friends, and we walked passed the players’ hotel. There, mostly Japanese fans were waiting out on the street for players to make an appearance, when Loek came out, all 7 feet, infinity of him.

He was flustered because he didn’t know where he had to go do catch his bust to get to minor league spring training and he was late. Although he protested that he had no time, Loek patiently had his picture taken with a dozen or so Japanese baseball fans there on the street at Union Square.

By the time they left him alone, panic was in Loek’s eyes but he just sucked it up and went in search of the bus

NPB games, news of July 28, 2019

The league leaders fired warning shots over the bows of their pursuers on Sunday as both the Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks and the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants won lopsided games to avoid being swept at home.

Central League

Giants 16, Tigers 4

At Tokyo Dome, Alex Guerrero and Ginjiro Sumitani each hit grand slams for Yomiuri as right-hander Toshiki Sakurai (5-1) watched as his teammates overturned a 1-0 first-inning deficit with seven runs in the bottom of the first.

Sakurai struck out six while allowing three runs over seven innings.

Former Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukudome homered for the Tigers, becoming the 42nd player in Japan to score 1,000 runs.

Game highlights are HERE.

Dragons 4, BayStars 2

At Nagoya Dome, two streaks were snapped as lefty Kotaro Kasahara (3-1), in his second start back from a three-month injury layoff, allowed two runs over six innings.

Three of Chunichi’s runs came on sacrifice flies, as did one of DeNA’s — when the BayStars loaded the bases in the sixth with no outs. Neftali Soto, last year’s CL home run leader drove in that run and also hit his 27th home run.

The Dragons’ win snapped an eight-game losing streak, while the BayStars had pushed into second place on the back of a seven-game win streak.

Carp 12, Swallows 5

At Jingu Stadium, Allen Kuri (5-5) allowed two runs over seven innings, while 19-year-old rookie Kaito Kozono went 3-for-4 with a homer, a walk, two runs and two RBIs as Hiroshima smashed Yakult.

The Carp’s eight-game win streak is now their second-longest of the season and ties the SoftBank Hawks for NPB’s second longest.

Pacific League

Hawks 9, Buffaloes 2

At Yafuoku Dome, SoftBank’s Cuban lefty Ariel Miranda (4-3) won for the first time since May 19 with six shutout innings, while Orix’s Daichi Takeyasu suffered his first career defeat. The rookie, who was acquired as free agent compensation from the Hanshin Tigers, fell to 2-1 after surrendering seven runs on seven hits and a walk over two-plus innings.

After the game, Orix manager Norifumi Nishimura blamed Takeyasu’s lack of control and the inability to bunt in the top of the first after the leadoff man reached as the key factors in the loss. This led me to do some quick research HERE.

Seiichi Uchikawa, one of two players to win batting championships in each league, had his 350th career double in the first inning. he’s fourth among active players. The others are Kosuke Fukudome (389), Kazuya Fukuura (388), and Shinnosuke Abe (353).

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 4, Eagles 3

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Seiya Inoue walked three times, scored twice himself and contributed to the winning run by drawing a leadoff walk in the ninth. Pinch-runner Hiromi Oka stole second, was sacrificed to third and scored on an Ikuhiro Kiyota’s sac fly as Lotte beat Rakuten.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 8, Fighters 7, 10 innings

At MetLife Dome, Seibu closer Tatsushi Masuda surrendered a three-run, game-tying homer in the ninth to Kensuke Kondo, but Fumikazu Kimura singled in the 10th and scored from first base on a throwing error by Nippon Ham shortstop Takuya Nakashima.

Lions starter Zach Neal appeared set for the win having allowed three runs over seven innings while striking out seven, while Deunte Heath (1-2) did get the decision after striking out two in a 1-2-3 10th.

Japan home run leader Hotaka Yamakawa, one of the Lions who didn’t go deep in Saturday’s six-home run loss to Nippon Ham, hit his 31st homer and drove in four runs for the Lions.

Game highlights are HERE.

Scoring 1 run for your starter

One thing I love about Orix Buffaloes manager Norifumi Nishimura is his willingness to speak his mind. Of course, as one of Japan’s principle advocates of the sacrifice bunt, that means ascribing all kinds of benefits to the tactic.

Nishimura attributed Orix’s 9-2 loss to the SoftBank Hawks on Sunday to:

  • His starting pitcher repeatedly throwing pitches that were easy to hit
  • His No. 2 hitter failing to sacrifice after his leadoff man reached in the 1st inning.

Mind you, his starting pitcher, rookie Daichi Takeyasu had been fairly sharp in his four previous starts. But still, Nishimura is asserting that getting the runner to scoring position with one out could have prevented the ass-whipping that was to follow.

Is it reasonable to assume that a visiting pitcher would do better if he entered the bottom of the first with the one-run lead Nishimura lives to play for?

Here’s a quick study from the available data including recent starting pitchers, and how they performed on the road in those games when they went to the mound in the first inning of games that were either scoreless or 1-0. Included only those in which I have a record of them with a minimum of 50 innings as a starter in games that were 1-0 after the top of the first.

NameIP 1-0 startsERA 1-0 startsERA 0-0 startsWin Pct 0-0 startsWin Pct 1-0 startsERA Diff .
Randy Messenger664.093.200.5000.3750.89
Kenshin Kawakami54 1/34.143.700.5600.7500.44
Takayuki Kishi107 1/32.932.540.5830.6150.39
Kazuhisa Ishii93 2/34.043.660.3670.4440.38
Hideaki Wakui142 1/34.053.770.4950.4740.28
Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi89 1/34.844.570.4040.3330.27
Atsushi Nomi1504.143.870.4780.4500.27
Tetsuya Utsumi151 1/33.513.540.4420.450-0.03
Kan Otake124 2/33.543.610.3860.625-0.07
Koji Uehara122 2/
Masanori Ishikawa152 2/33.483.680.3880.619-0.20
Shunsuke Watanabe99 2/33.794.040.4260.500-0.25
Kenichi Nakata104 2/33.614.030.3730.692-0.42
Yoshihisa Naruse118 1/33.423.910.3750.571-0.49
Toshiya Sugiuchi196 2/32.613.200.4940.684-0.59
Kenta Maeda1452.112.710.4460.688-0.60
Hisashi Iwakuma742.433.070.5920.625-0.64
Fumiya Nishiguchi1053.604.300.4260.769-0.70
Daisuke Miura1842.843.540.3410.647-0.70
Masahiro Yamamoto1243.824.670.4070.667-0.85
Hiroki Kuroda1202.333.330.4760.786-1.00
Yasutomo Kubo952.564.130.4510.857-1.57
Tsuyoshi Wada188 1/31.963.680.5140.941-1.72
Naoyuki Shimizu86 2/
Pitchers performances in starts as visitors in games started with 1-0 lead or 0-0 lead.

It seems from this data that it might be a good idea to get your pitcher a 1-0 lead in the first inning if you can. Having said that, I think I can see why Randy Messenger‘s teammates have infamously scored so few runs for him: He has done better when they don’t.

So Nishimura’s assertion that one run could have changed everything is probably not as ridiculous as it first sounds. And if your starting pitcher was Tsuyoshi Wada — at least back in the day before he had Tommy John surgery, why the heck wouldn’t you sacrifice in the top of the first if you had a chance?

NPB games, news of July 27, 2019

Daisuke Matsuzaka‘s high-wire act crashed on Saturday, when the 38-year-old, former power pitcher took the mound for the second time this season since coming back from shoulder inflammation. The Chunichi Dragons right-hander retired one of the 10 batters he faced, allowing eight hits and hitting a batter in the DeNA BayStars’ eight-run first inning.

Since he signed with the Dragons in 2018, Matsuzaka has been living on the edge, fooling batters with his cutter and changeup and being unusually effective with runners in scoring position. In 2018, opposing batters had — by my estimate — a .726 OPS against Matsuzaka, but just .572 with runners in scoring position.

The eight runs are the most scored in the first inning in Japan this year and the most scored in a Central League first inning since Sept. 23, 2017, when Saturday’s BayStars starter, Kenta Ishida, took the mound at Nagoya Dome with an eight-run first inning.

The eight runs are the most Matsuzaka has allowed since Sept. 7, 2010 against the Rays in Boston, and the most in Japan since he coughed up eight over 6-1/3 innings to the Dragons when pitching for the Seibu Lions in Game 2 of the 2004 Japan Series, also at Nagoya Dome.

“Pretty much all his pitches were fat,” Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda said.

After several of his players, who like Matsuzaka were products of Yokohama High School, explained how much they get up for batting against him, DeNA manager Alex Ramirez called Matsuzaka a national hero and that everyone was motivated by playing against him.

Despite the amazing run support, Ishida, who won the game, is now 3-3 at Nagoya Dome, where he has a 2.11 career ERA. Six of his previous seven were quality starts, and this one wasn’t since Ramirez apparently wanted to give some of his seldom-used relievers some work after the fifth inning. Ishida’s other win was a 2-1 affair after he allowed a run over eight innings in 2015.

Central League

Tigers 3, Giants 2

At Tokyo Dome, Hanshin tried hard to throw this game away, but Inspector Clouseaued its way to victory over the Yomiuri Giants. With the winning run at second and one out, the Tigers do what NPB teams all do, they bring the outfield in so the runner can’t score on a ball that gets through the infield.

Right fielder Shun Takayama had to race back and make an awkward falling catch on a ball to medium deep right field, a ball he had no business catching in that defensive alignment.

Having avoided defeat, Tigers catcher Ryutaro Umeno put his base running acumen on display, legging out a double that allowed him to score the go-ahead run.

With the lead in hand, and closer Rafael Dolis on the farm so that new import Yangervis Solarte can play, 39-year-old former Chicago Cub Kyuji Fujikawa nailed down saves on consecutive days for the first time since Oct. 10 and 11, 2011.

A day after Solarte hit a two-run, tie-breaking home run, he doubled and scored Hanshin’s first run to make it a 2-1 game. Jefry Marte homered to tie it 2-2 in the seventh, and Pierce Johnson struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth inning for Hanshin. New Giant Rubby De La Rosa helped send the game to extra innings with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Game highlights are HERE.

Carp 3, Swallows 2

At Jingu Stadium, solo homers from Ryoma Nishikawa leading off the game, Seiya Suzuki, his 22nd, and Xavier Batista, a sixth-inning tie-breaker that was his 24th, lifted Hiroshima past Yakult to its third eight-game winning streak of the season.

Rookie Carp lefty Hiroki Tokoda (6-5) allowed two runs over five innings to earn his first win since May 24.

Pacific League

Buffaloes 5, Hawks 3

At Yafuoku Dome, Orix right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto (5-4) dominated SoftBank for 8-2/3 innings. One out away from a shutout in the ninth, he surrendered two hits and a three-run Alfredo Despaigne home run.

Brandon Dickson came on to get the final out and struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda to end it and earn his ninth save.

Steven Moya got the ball rolling for the Buffaloes with a two-run, first-inning home run.

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 9, Eagles 7

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Leonys Martin had his first hits in Japan and made them count, breaking a 5-5, sixth-inning tie with a two-out RBI single and snapping a 7-7 deadlock in the eighth with a two-run home run as Lotte came-from-behind twice to beat Rakuten.

Here’s Martin’s home run.

Martin, who started in right field, carelessly missed a liner off the bat of Eigoro Mogi for a three-base error that opened the Eagles’ three-run fifth, when they overturned a 2-1 deficit. Martin, did however, save a run in the inning, when he fielded Ren Wada’s RBI single on a hop and threw a strike to catcher Tatsuhiro Tamura on the fly to end the inning on an out at the plate.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Martin hammered a high fastball away for an opposite-field homer.

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 10, Lions 6

At MetLife Dome, Nippon Ham overturned a 4-0 deficit in a six-run fifth inning, when the Fighters knocked out Seibu starter Shinsaburo Tawata (1-5). The Fighters’ fourth-straight win moved them to within a half game of the PL-leading Hawks.

Seibu hit six solo homers, three by catcher Tomoya Mori, who had invited 33 families with intellectually or physically handicapped children to the game. Takeya Nakamura’s was his fifth home run in four games.

NPB games, news of July 26

The streakers are streaking and the leads are shrinking as we enter the final weekend of July. The Carp, who have an 11-game winning streak, an 11-game losing streak, won their seventh straight, their third longest winning streak of the season.

After Friday’s games, the SoftBank Hawks lead the PL by 1-1/2 games after entering the second half with a seven game lead. The Yomiuri Giants, who came out of the all-star break leading by 10-1/2 games, now lead by 4-1/2 games over the DeNA BayStars.

They call them the streaks: 2019’s longest runs

TeamTypeLengthEnding date
Yakult SwallowsLosing15May 31
Hiroshima CarpWinning11May 25
Hiroshima CarpLosing11July 10
DeNA BayStarsLosing10April 28
Rakuten EaglesLosing10July 8
SoftBank HawksWinning9July 6

Pacific League

Fighters 12, Lions 7

At MetLife Dome, Nippon Ham beat up Seibu starter Ken Togame for seven runs over 1-1/3 innings, but the Lions barely blinked. Japan’s best offense bounced back to tie it as Takeya Nakamura homered twice, tying it with a two-run shot in the fifth. The six-time PL home run champ now has 19 home runs and four over three games.

But after the game was tied, the Fighters rallied with two outs and no one on, loading the bases for Ryo Watanabe who tripled past center fielder Shogo Akiyama, who was playing shallow.

Bryan Rodriguez, who pitched three innings of scoreless relief, earned the win to improve to 5-2. The Fighters moved to within 1-1/2 wins of the PL-leading Hawks.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 6, Marines 3

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Leonys Martin made his debut for Lotte, but the night belonged to Zelous Wheeler, whose 15th homer, a three-run shot, overturned a 3-2 deficit for third-place Rakuten.

Game highlights are HERE.

Buffaloes 6, Hawks 2

At Yafuoku Dome, Masataka Yoshida homered twice as SoftBank’s Kodai Senga (9-4) missed with too many pitches and Orix snapped a three-game losing streak with some help from Stefen Romero and Steven Moya.

“His pitches moved OK, but he lacked control,” manager Kimiyasu Kudo said of his top pitcher. “Next time, I expect he won’t make so many mistakes.”

Senga struck out eight over seven innings and now leads both leagues with 154 strikeouts.

Moya doubled in the third and scored from third on an error after Senga had trouble handling a smash off Romero’s bat. Romero homered in the sixth, and Moya singled in a run in the seventh.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Tigers 4, Giants 2

At Tokyo Dome, Yangervis Solarte made his Japan debut, batting second and playing shortstop for Hanshin. He broke a 2-2 tie in the seventh with a two-run home run, and went 1-for-4 with a walk.

Jefry Marte singled and scored as Hanshin took a 2-0, second-inning lead against Yomiuri ace Tomoyuki Sugano. Pierce Johnson struck out two in a scoreless seventh, while Kyuji Fujikawa worked the ninth to save his first game of the season.

Game highlights are HERE.

Carp 12, Swallows 3

At Jingu Stadium, Hiroshima scored six runs, five earned, against Yakult lefty Keiji Takahashi (2-4) in three innings with new Carp Takumi Miyoshi homering for the second-straight day.

Kaito Kozono, Hiroshima’s top draft pick last autumn, hit his first career home run, a three-run shot, doubled twice and singled.

The Swallows’ Wladimir Balentien homered for the fifth-straight game.

BayStars 2, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, DeNA’s atypical batting order made the difference as Japan cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, batting in the No. 2 hole, homered with pitcher Kentaro Taira on board after singling from the No. 8 spot.

Taira (3-2) struck out seven over 6-2/3 innings, while allowing a run on three hits and no walks. The Dragons’ only run came on a Dayan Viciedo homer leading off the seventh.

Dragons starter Yuya Yanagi was the unlucky loser, allowing both runs on four hits and a walk over seven innings. He struck out five but saw his record fall to 9-4

Sasaki had elbow issue before start

Ofunato High School manager Yohei Kokubo, who was criticized by some in Japan for not throwing his ace pitcher Roki Sasaki two days in a row after he had thrown 332 pitches over four days, but not criticized for having him throw 194 pitches last Sunday, may have a new headache.

100-mph pitcher told medical staff of issues

The Nikkan Sports is reporting Friday morning that Sasaki, who has been clocked at 100 mph and has been followed by at least 20 of 30 MLB teams told the medical staff prior to Wednesday’s Iwate Prefecture semifinal that he felt discomfort in the inner part of his right elbow.

Sasaki, who hit 99.4 mph in the fourth inning of Sunday’s 12-inning, fourth-round game, threw 129 pitches in the semifinal. Manager Kokubo, who had previously treated his star carefully, held him out Thursday’s final — a 12-2 loss to local powerhouse Hanamaki Higashi HS, due to muscle stiffness. Something that flies in the face of Japanese high school baseball tradition, where, it seems, nothing short of death is an excuse to keep your best pitcher off the mound in a big game.

Sasaki threw 435 pitches over 4 games

In 29 innings over four games of Iwate’s prefectural tournament, Sasaki threw 435 pitches over 29 innings. He allowed two runs on nine hits and struck out 51 batters.

Before that last game, he had apparently not recovered fully from Sunday’s marathon and told the Iwate Prefecture High School Baseball Federation’s medical staff about the discomfort.

Despite that, he pitched and showed no ill effects, hitting close 98 mph with ease in his loose relaxed motion.

That is the problem in Japanese amateur ball in a nutshell. Pitchers whose arms are in danger may still be able to pitch effectively — but in so doing may push their elbow ligaments past the breaking point.

The Nikkan Sports writer asserts that there was “only a small chance of the injury getting worse” but he is asserting something that even a thorough examination could ascertain.

Former manager: ‘I would have thrown him,’ but…

A story on asked Shinichi Sawada, the former manager of Iwate Prefecture’s Morioka Dai Fuzoku HS about Kokubo’s decision, and Sawada praised the choice of holding Sasaki out to protect his arm, saying he could not have made that choice.

“It was a brave decision,” Sawada said. “If it had been me, I would have said, ‘I’m counting on you,’ and sent him out there.”

Yet, Sawada applauded it.

“Even if the player wants to go, it’s the coach’s job to protect the children’s future,” Sawada said. “Until now the dogma has been training kids to have guts through an absolute focus on winning. But going forward, we have to respect the rights and wants of the students. I think manager Kokubo is the picture of the new age manager.”

Sawada recommended the regional tournaments switch to round robins from the current knockout style in order to reduce the number of games on the top teams.

NPB games, news of July 25, 2019

And another diversion down the rabbit hole of Japanese high school baseball…

Team loses as ace pitcher benched for safety’s sake

That’s the front page news in Japan tonight, that 100-mph high school pitcher Roki Sasaki was left on the bench as his Ofunato High School team was eliminated from Japan’s national championship in the final of Iwate Prefecture’s summer tourney.

Sasaki threw 194 pitches in Ofunato’s fourth-round game on Sunday, and pitched again on Wednesday, throwing 129 pitches.

From Day 1, manager Yohei Kokubo has said his players win and lose as a team and it’s not about Sasaki carrying the team — which is the flip side of the philosophy that allowed Kosei Yoshida to throw 1,517 pitches combined between the Akita Prefectural tournament and the national finals according to Nikkan Sports.

Kokubo, who played pro ball in the United States in the independent minors, said that Sasaki’s muscles were still stiff from Wednesday’s game.

At least one reporter at the game demanded to know whether manager Kokubo cared more about Sasaki’s arm than victory, but surprisingly many of the comments on the internet have been supportive of his decision — something I never expected to see.

The times are changing very quickly.

The news of Sasaki not pitching dominated Japan’s sports news broadcasts Thursday night, with many either understanding or supporting manager Kokubo’s decision.

Dice-K’s manager would have pitched Sasaki

Motonori Watanabe, who managed Daisuke Matsuzaka during his extraordinary pitching feats at Koshien in 1998, said he understood manager Kokubo had a tough choice to make but he would have started Sasaki.

“I think the player himself wanted to pitch,” Watanabe told the Asahi Shimbun, the summer nationals’ sponsor. “More than anything, he strived to achieve his ambition of getting to Koshien. High school baseball is about listening to the player and as much as possible allowing him to pursue (his dream).”

In February, the National High School Baseball Federation backed itself into a corner by rejecting Niigata prefectures rules for pitch limits in that federation’s spring tournament. To extricate itself, the national federation named a panel of experts to study what could be done to prevent pitching injuries and included Watanabe on the panel.

After reviewing medical evidence, the panel concluded that pitch limits and mandated rest days would be required, but Watanabe dug in his heels.

“I hope for a broader discussion about what options we have other than instituting limits on the number of pitches,” he said.

Central League

BayStars 6, Tigers 0

At Koshien Stadium, Shota Imanaga (9-5) started out getting by with some mistakes, but picked up the pace from the third inning. He struck out four and walked one in a four-hitter for his second shutout of the season in the win over Hanshin.

“I don’t think Imanaga was in top form, but he still shut us out,” Tigers skipper Akihiro Yano said after a loss in front of 45,000. “This many people came out to see us, you’d think we’d have the courtesy to show them something in our scoring opportunities.”

With the pitcher batting eighth again for DeNA, No. 9 hitter Yamato Maeda twice helped set the table for the top of the order. He drew a leadoff walk in the third and scored on a Jose Lopez single. He followed a two-out ninth-inning single by Imanaga with an RBI double and scored his second run of the game as the top of the order drove in two runs in the four-run ninth.

The BayStars manufactured a run in the sixth, with slugging No. 2 hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo drawing a leadoff walk, advancing on an error and a fly out before scoring on a ground out.

Game highlights are HERE.

Swallows 8, Giants 1

At Gifu Nagaragawa Stadium, Hiroki Yamada, one of Yakult’s numerous starting pitching reclamation projects, scattered two walks and six hits to allow just a run over five innings and improve to 3-0 in a win over league-leading Yomiuri.

Taylor Jungmann returned from injury, starting for the first time since May 30 but allowed five runs in 1-2/3 innings.

Wladimir Balentien had an RBI single and homered for the fourth straight game for the Swallows.

Carp 11, Dragons 4

At Mazda Stadium, a day after Hiroshima revealed that manager Koichi Ogata had slapped around outfielder Takayoshi Noma for not running out a pop fly, the Carp changed gears and slapped around Chunichi, handing the Dragons their xth straight loss.

The Carp, who have an eight-game win streak and another of 11 in addition to an 11-game losing streak, have now won x straight.

New Carp Takumi Miyoshi’s first home run in two years, a two-run shot off Enny Romero (6-7) in the second inning opened the scoring. Ryosuke Kikuchi and Seiya Suzuki homered in a three-run fifth to help Yusuke Nomura (4-3) to his win in over a month.

Pacific League

Marines 7, Hawks 4

At Yafuoku Dome, a trio of Lotte hitters homered in the fourth inning off lefty Kotaro Otake (5-4), who, former catcher Motonobu Tanishige pointed out, went away from the successful inside pitching he started with and worked outside — where Shogo Nakamura, Brandon Laird and Seiya Inoue were waiting.

It was Laird’s 29th homer, while Inoue, whose two-run homer in the sixth iced the game, has had two, two-homer games in three nights.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Eagles 1

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Japan’s two starting pitchers named Wataru matched up in Sendai, with Seibu’s Wataru Matsumoto (5-2) striking out eight and allowing a run over six innings in the win over Rakuten and Wataru Karashima (6-5).

Ernesto Mejia, making a rare start at DH, went 3-for-3 with an RBI double, a home run and a walk.

The Lions bullpen trio of Katsunori Hirai, Kyle Martin and closer Tatsushi Masuda combined for five strikeouts over the last three innings without allowing a base runner.

Game highlights are HERE.

NPB games, news of July 24, 2019

Diverging again from pro ball for a moment again tonight after 100-mph pitcher Roki Sasaki pitched Ofunato High School into the final of Iwate Prefecture’s summer tourney with two-hit shutout in Wednesday’s semifinal. Sasaki was working on the luxury of two days rest after a 194-pitch, extra-inning win on Sunday.

Sasaki was held out of Tuesday’s quarterfinal, but the high school senior now has one chance to pitch in the summer nationals at Koshien Stadium if Ofunato can beat Iwate powerhouse Hanamaki Higashi — the alma mater of Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani.

The final is set for Thursday, and once again it will be interesting to see how much Sasaki pitches after throwing 129 pitches on Wednesday. His manager, Yohei Kokubo, is unusual by Japanese high school standards. Most managers would think nothing of using a pitcher of Sasaki’s caliber to start on no rest, but Kokubo is unusual.

And with that out of the way, back to NPB…

Pacific League

Eagles 4, Lions 3

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Hideto Asamura tied the game with his 18th home run, a two-run shot in the fourth inning, and Ginji Akaminai’s two-run homer in the sixth brought Rakuten back from 3-2 deficit in a win over Seibu.

Takahiro Norimoto (2-1) struck out nine while allowing three runs, one earned, over six innings to earn the win for the Eagles. He’s now allowed four runs in his three starts with his only loss coming his last time out when the Eagles fell 1-0.

Although he gave up three runs, it was Norimoto as advertised as he pounded the zone with his fastball and gave hitters no choice but to flail at his splitter.

“Nori pitched well again tonight,” Asamura said. “Last time we didn’t give him any support, so I’m glad we could get the job done today.”

Takeya Nakamura, who singled and scored a run for Seibu in the fourth, homered to break a 2-2 tie in the sixth, but Lions starter Tatsuya Imai (5-8) walked four batters but couldn’t hold the lead.

Three Eagles relievers, Frank Herrmann, Kohei Morihara and closer Yuki Matsui each survived a leadoff single, with Matsui recording his Japan-best 26th save.

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 5, Buffaloes 4

At Hotto Motto Field Kobe, Kohei Arihara (11-4) won his marquee matchup against Orix’s Taisuke Yamaoka (7-3), who fell to 0-2 against Nippon Ham this season. Yamaoka struck out eight over 4-2/3 innings but allowed five runs on eight hits and better defense might have won the game for him.

Kazutomo Iguchi inherited a potential tying run in the seventh when Arihara left the game but retired all three batters he faced. Ryo Akiyoshi recorded his 17th save for the Fighters, two shy of his 2016 career-high with the Swallows when he split his time between the closing and setup roles.

My moment of the game, 38-year-old and soon-to-be-retired Kensuke Tanaka, once fleet-of-foot, laughing after he chugged around third base to score from first on a double because of a wide throw in the top of the first.

Game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 5, Marines 4

At Yafuoku Dome, SoftBank paid the price for having an inner fence and a “home run terrace” when Brandon Laird’s high fly to center in the first inning went for a grand slam and his 28th home run, but Lotte couldn’t scrape another run across the plate.

Kenta Imamiya had two hits and three RBIs and rookie reserve catcher Ryoya Kurihara broke a 4-4 tie in the eighth with a pinch-hit RBI triple. Yuito Mori earned his 20th save and his first since June 15th with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Swallows 10, Giants 4

At Kyocera Dome, recently acquired pitcher Yuri Furukawa surrendered four runs in the first inning as Yomiuri fell to Yakult.

Game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 3, Tigers 1

At Koshien Stadium, Jose Lopez did the bulk of DeNA’s damage when Hanshin starter Koyo Aoyagi missed with a cookie down the pipe and the BayStars cleanup hitter got enough of the ball to bounce it off the top of the fence and into the stands for a two-run, fourth-inning homer.

Game highlights are HERE.

Carp 2, Dragons 0

At Mazda Stadium, Kris Johnson (7-6) threw a one-hitter and Ryoma Nishikawa homered to open the bottom of the first against 19-year-old rookie Takumi Yamamoto in Hiroshima’s win over Chunichi.

The super streaky Carp have now won five straight. They began the season by losing 12 of their first 16 before reeling off win streaks of eight and 11 games. On July 10, they ended a 12-game winless stretch (0-11-1).


Carp skipper Ogata warned over physical abuse

The Hiroshima Carp on Wednesday announced they had issued a stern warning to manager Koichi Ogata over repeatedly slapping outfielder Takayoshi Noma, who had been Hiroshima’s center fielder until June 13.

Ogata blew his cool after the game of June 30, when the 26-year-old had failed to hustle on an 11th-inning pop up to the mound that dropped and was forced at first. The Carp and BayStars played to a 12-inning tie.

NPB games, news of July 23, 2019

There were a bunch of exciting games and big innings on Tuesday in NPB, with the SoftBank Hawks showing what they can do with the short fences at their ballpark — even with two of their three top home run hitters out of the lineup.

Central League

Giants 6, Swallows 5

At Kyocera Dome, pinch hitter Shnnosuke Shigenobu’s deep fly got over Yakult’s shallow outfield for a sayonara single that snapped Yomiuri’s four-game losing streak.

Both sides had ample chances to win this, missing a chance to deliver a knockout punch with the bases loaded. Giants starter Shun Yamaguchi was on track to win his 11th game of the season when the Giants bludgeoned David Buchanan for four runs in the first. Yamaguchi made the last out, grounding into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.

Yamaguchi didn’t allow a hit until Wladimir Balentien homered to open the fifth. With a three-run lead in the eighth, Yamaguchi left with two outs and two on, but Rubby De La Rosa’s first pitch to Norichika Aoki cleared the outfield wall to tie it.

Giants reliever Scott Mathieson walked two of the four batters he faced in the ninth, and lefty Kota Nakagawa walked the bases loaded but got Tetsuto Yamada to fly out and give the Giants a chance to exhale.

With two on and no outs, the Swallows went into their throw-the-runner-out-at-the-plate-on-a-single shallow outfield defense, and Shigenobu launched a fly to the warning track that Aoki couldn’t haul in.

Game highlights are HERE.

Carp 6, Dragons 5, 10 innings

At Mazda Stadium, Xavier Batista had his second two-home run game since Saturday, his two-run shot tying it in the ninth before Geronimo Franzua pitched out of a 10th-inning jam and Tomohiro Abe won it for Hiroshima by leading off the home half of the 10th with a home run.

Batista, whose first homer was launched into the netting above the upper deck in left field and protects Hiroshima Station’s rail yard from such missiles, now has 23 home runs this season. Franzua (6-3) walked two batters in the 10th but put the lead runner out on the third-base line before he could score and then celebrated when he got a fly out to end the inning.

The talking heads blamed Dragons runner Yohei Oshima for his late start, but it was a poor bunt and also good fielding from Franzua that made the play.

Here’s a look at the Franzua celebration if you haven’t seen it.

BayStars 6, Tigers 6, 12 innings

At Koshien Stadium, Yoshitomo Tsustugo prevented DeNA from losing with a two-strike, two-out, ninth-inning RBI double off Hanshin closer Rafael Dolis that tied a wild game 6-6.

The Tigers welcomed back Kosuke Fukudome, who reached base three times, while Jefry Marte went 3-for-5 with his eighth home run, a result the Nikkan Sports attributed to the arrival of Yangervis Solarte.

The story includes Marte speaking about how happy he is to have another quality player on the team, but there is a kind of subtext to it, essentially saying Marte is playing hard because he has competition.

Pacific League

Fighters 5, Buffaloes 2

At Hotto Motto Field Kobe, former Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko looked at home in Kobe, allowing two walks over six hitless innings for Nippon Ham. Kaneko (4-5), who left Orix in a contract dispute over the winter, struck out four in a 92-pitch effort.

New Buffalo Steven Moya belted a two-run home run for the second-straight game to account for his team’s scoring. Tyler Eppler threw a scoreless inning of relief for the Buffaloes, while Stefen Romero returned to action, going 1-for-4 with a ninth-inning single in his first action since being sidelined with injury in June.

Game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 11, Marines 7

At Yafuoku Dome, Kenta Imamiya returned to action for the first time since June 20, and blasted a home run in his first at-bat. Nobuhiro Matsuda followed with his first of the night, and Alfredo Despaigne made it a hat-trick as SoftBank jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in its win over Lotte.

The Hawks, who lead all 12 teams in home runs with 124, hit five, while Seiya Inoue hit two, two-run shots for Lotte. Katsuya Kakunaka plated Brandon Laird with a home run, and Laird chipped in with his 27th.

Game highlights are HERE.


Messenger to return to States for treatment

Veteran Hanshin Tigers pitcher Randy Messenger will return to the United States this summer for treatment to deal with lower-body issues. The 37-year-old right-hander was Hanshin’s Opening Day starter for the fifth-straight season in March, and has had that honor six times since joining the team in 2010.

This season he is 3-7 with a 4.69 ERA.

NPB games, news of July 21, 2019

The biggest news was not in NPB, but Japan’s marquee high school pitcher Roki Sasaki hitting close to 100 miles per hour (160 kph or 99.4 mph) in competition. The Ofunato High School senior struck out 21 batters over 12 innings in — according to the Nikkan Sports — a 194-pitch effort.

The boy of summer

Sasaki broke a 2-2, 12th-inning tie with a home run, allowing his team to advance to Monday’s quarterfinals. Ofunato manager Yohei Kokubo, has been assiduously careful of his young star’s arm, and it will be interesting to see whether he pitches Monday. Kokubo said that decision would be made after seeing how Sasaki feels.

He was working on two days rest after a six-inning called game in the third round in which his velocity maxed out at 155. Two days before that he maxed out at 147 in a five-inning game.

The semifinals are on Wednesday with the final on Thursday.

Earlier in the spring, I wrote about how Sasaki could reshape Japan’s baseball labor market and MLB’s international amateur setup. You can find that story HERE.

Pacific League

Marines 9, Fighters 4

At Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham’s short starter program is designed to get vulnerable starters out of the game before they blow up, but Kazuki Hori’s fuse proved dangerously short on Sunday as he surrendered seven first-inning runs in a loss to Lotte.

Rookie Kazuma Mike, who has spent much of his professional career on developmental contracts with the Hiroshima Carp and in independent ball, capped the rally with a three-run homer, the first of his career.

The loss snapped Nippon Ham’s five-game winning streak.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 10, Buffaloes 3

At MetLife Dome, Hotaka Yamakawa’s Japan-leading 30th home run, a three-run, sixth-inning blast brought Seibu from a run down in a win over Orix.

For the second straight night, Masataka Yoshida homered to break a tie, his 17th home run putting the Buffaloes up 3-2 in the sixth against Zach Neal (5-1) who worked six innings to get the win.

Steven Moya put the visitors up in the first with a two-run homer.

Game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 4, Eagles 2

At Rakuten Seimei Park, 34-year-old SoftBank veteran Yu Hasegawa, who spent the first half of the season with the club’s rehab legion due to Achilles tendon issues, brought the Hawks back from a 2-1 deficit with his first hit of the year, a two-run home run in a win over Rakuten that snapped a six-game losing streak.

Closer Yuito Mori returned to active duty and struck out two batters in a 1-2-3 eighth, a feat rookie Hiroshi Kaino repeated in the ninth to record his eighth save since Mori was sent down to the farm in June.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Tigers 5, Swallows 2

At Koshien Stadium, Yuki Nishi (4-7) struck out six and allowed two runs over seven innings to earn the win for Hanshin, and rookie Koji Chikamoto put his team in front with a three-run, fifth-inning home run off Yakult submariner Hirofumi Yamanaka (0-2).

Carp 2, Giants 1, 10 innings

At Mazda Stadium, Seiya Suzuki singled in the winning run in the 10th inning, as Hiroshima sent league-leading Yomiuri to its fourth-straight loss.

BayStars 5, Dragons 4

At Yokohama Stadium, Jose Lopez’s grand slam helped lift DeNA past Chunichi when the Dragons could only manage two runs over the final three innings despite putting nine runners on base over that span.

BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki protected a one-run lead for his 20th save despite loading the bases with one out.


Wada deactivated

The Hawks deactivated lefty Tsuyoshi Wada on Sunday due to discomfort in his right hamstring. Wada was able to walk without assistance and said it felt better than he expected a day after he collapsed to the mound in Sendai in the fifth inning after four scoreless innings of work.

The Hawks got some good news, however, when closer Yuito Mori returned to the mound for the first time since June 15.