The kotatsu league: Marines discharge four

Lotte drops Bolsinger, Mann, Ravin, Vargas

The Lotte Marines announced Saturday that pitchers Mike Bolsinger, Brandon Mann and Josh Ravin, and infielder Kennys Vargas would all be released in December.

Bolsinger, who was sent down to the minors six times, went 13-2 in 2018, when it seemed like the Marines scored 10 runs every time he pitched.

He is definitely planning to be in NPB in 2020, and it would be a huge surprise if a team doesn’t take a chance on him. His debut season was a case of everything going right. His sophomore season was the opposite. He got softer contact but had terrible luck with his balls in play.

The Kyodo News story in Japanese is HERE.

There is reason to suspect the new mound and turf in Chiba were an issue for Bolsinger as well, and the run support wasn’t there. Put him on a decent defensive team with run support and Bolsinger would look A LOT better.

Ravin and Vargas were both in their first NPB season. Ravin suffered some injury setbacks early on and appeared in just two games.

Vargas stopped hitting early in April and the Marines gave up on him after about 70 plate appearances. The 29-year-old batted 249 times between the Pacific League club and Lotte’s Western League farm team, where, he batted .267 with some power, while striking out 42 times in 147 PAs.

If I’m a team I’d be willing to give him some kind of chance to see if he can sort through his problems on the farm. That also goes for Mann, who was extremely successful in his return to NPB after spending two seasons with the BayStars in 2011 and 2012. With the exception of one bad game in April and two in June.

Here are their NPB English pages:

High school body sets limits, kind of

For the first time in its history, Japan’s national high school baseball federation set pitch limits for its games and those organized by prefectural federations.

Kyodo News’ English language story is HERE.

The move is for three years starting from next spring’s national invitational. During the time the rule is in effect pitchers will ONLY be allowed to throw 500 pitches over any seven-day period, but will be able to pitch on back-to-back days, although not on three straight days.

The move comes 11 months after Niigata Prefecture’s high school body implemented its own measures and was shouted down by the national federation. But without Niigata going out on a limb and without some strong words of support from the head of Japan’s Sports Agency, Daichi Suzuki, it is an open question whether the national body — which had resisted considering pitch counts for so long — would have acted.

Still, it’s a positive step, and the mere fact that is coming from a body that has in the past seemed so intransigent, could have an oversized impact on the amateur baseball landscape.

The kotatsu league: Johnson, Coco taking their leaves

Much of Friday’s news from NPB concerned foreign-registered players who will not be back next season with their current teams. The big leavers include two quality middle relievers and Japan’s single-season home run record holder.

Coco free to go go

Wladimir Balentien’s run with the Central League’s Yakult Swallows has come to an end Kyodo News reported Friday. According to the report, the Swallows international director Masayuki “Michael” Okumura said, “Time’s up. We were unable to come to agreement.”

The 35-year-old Balentien, who in 2013 shattered Japan’s single-season home run record by hitting 60, hit 288 home runs and posted a .378 on-base percentage in his nine seasons with Yakult. He led the CL in home runs three times, in on-base percentage twice and was 2013 MVP.

Because of his nine years of service, he no longer counts against the four-active-player limit for foreign-registered players.

Kyodo News’ Japanese language story is HERE.

Tigers’ Johnson 1 and done

Reliever Pierce Johnson (28) will be handed his release on Nov. 2, Kyodo News reported Friday. Johnson posted a 1.38 ERA in his lone Japan season with the Hanshin Tigers. He went 2-3 and logged 40 holds.

According to Delta Graphs, Johnson led all Tigers pitchers with 50-plus innings in swinging-strike percentage (16.0) –and was second in the CL. Opposing batters made contact on just 66.5 percent of their swings against him, the best figure in the CL and the fourth best in NPB.

Dragons’ Rodriguez leaving Nagoya

Left-hander Joely Rodrirguez, whose 44 “hold points” (holds plus relief wins) led the CL by two over Pierce Johnson’s 42, is also on his way out of the Chunichi Dragons organization, the team announced Friday according to Kyodo News.

Hiroyuki Kato, the Dragons’ official representative to NPB, said Rodriguez’s agent suggested “the lefty’s priority was a contract with an MLB team” and therefore the Dragons decided not to include him on their reserved list.

The 28-year-old Rodriguez, who has displayed a plus two-seamer and changeup, has been solid in middle relief since joining the Dragons in the middle of the 2018 seasons.

Uwasawa apologizes for broken kneecap

In today’s “Only in Japan” corner, Nippon Ham Fighters Opening Day Starter Naoyuki Uwasawa accepted a pay cut of 10 million yen ($94,000) because he missed half the season due to injury. The lefty, one of two starting pitchers used in a traditional fashion by Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama this season, had his season ended on June 18.

A drive off the bat of DeNA BayStars slugger Neftali Soto struck Uwasawa on the left knee cap and broke it.

On Friday, he said, “I’m afraid I was unable to carry my weight and was a bother to the team.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s like getting hit by a bus and then apologizing to the driver that hit you for making him late.

Here’s the Sponichi Annex story.

The kotatsu league: Moves aplenty

Tigers announce Bour agreement

The Hanshin Tigers announced Thursday that they have come to terms with Justin Bour. The team’s director of baseball operations, Osamu Tanimoto said, “He reminds one of (two-time triple crown batter Randy) Bass.”

@thehanshintiger might have said: “Welcome to the monkey house”

The comparison is not utterly without merit since both came to Hanshin as left-handed hitters with some pop who drew walks, but their ages and career paths prior to signing with Hanshin are so different.

Kyodo News Plus’ story is HERE.

Unlike Bass, who was at the age of 21 one of the best Triple-A hitters in America and then got better, Bour came out of college and didn’t make it to Triple-A until he was 26. The following year he had 446 plate appearances for the Marlins. Bass had 366 plate appearances over six major league seasons, most coming in his Age 27 season with the San Diego Padres in 1981.

It’s not hard to look at Bour’s major league career and see Bass doing the same or even a little better. Of course Bass came to Japan at the age of 29, while Bour is nearly two years older.

Bass’ Japanese batting stats are HERE, in Japanese unfortunately.

Although Bass took a couple of years to really master the Japanese strike zone, he had two seasons when he walked more often than he struck out — something that had been routine for him in the minors.

I’m not saying Bour has no chance to be nearly as good, but Bass — whose bid for the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame is gaining momentum in the expert’s division, is a fairly optimistic target.

Sugano wants 20 wins before moving to majors

Kyodo News reported that Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano has set a target of 20 wins for next season after a 2019 campaign that was marred by injury and ended his bid for an unprecedented third straight Sawamura Award. The Kyodo News story as published by Nikkei Shimbun is HERE.

Sugano’s player profile is HERE.

“I want to try and win 20 games,” he said after signing his 2020 contract. “I understand what I am capable of, and I think it’s important to go into the offseason having set oneself such an issue to attend to.”

On Wednesday, Giants owner Toshikazu Yamaguchi left the door open a crack for the possibility that Sugano could be posted, even while asserting that the club has not changed its official policy of rejecting the posting system altogether.

Yamaguchi said, “The case of (pitcher Shun) Yamaguchi was an individual exception…Sugano, of course, sat out a year as an amateur (to sign with the Giants) and so that is something that could be taken into consideration.”

On Thursday, Sugano said, “My desire (to go to MLB) remains unchanged. But my focus is on next year. I want to take care of that business, aim for a championship, and after that, I expect there will be various discussions.”

No such luck for Senga

Asked whether the Giants move to discuss posting had changed the landscape for his team, SoftBank Hawks owner Masayoshi Son, said in essence, “No, no, and hell no.”

“Why should we do anything that’s not in the team’s best interest.”

This does not bode well for star right-hander Kodai Senga, who will not be able to file for international free agency until Nov. 2024 at the earliest, — when two months before he turns 32. Although some said hell had frozen over when the Giants posted Yamaguchi, it seem

Hawks ditch Miranda, Suarez

The SoftBank Hawks announced Thursday they will not offer contracts to to left-hander Ariel Miranda and right-hander Robert Suarez. Suarez had been a bullpen workhorse in 2016, but has not been as effective after needing elbow surgery after the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

After eight impressive starts in 2018, Miranda was much less effective this season over 18 games.

The kotatsu league: VerHagen poised to sign with Fighters

The Nippon Ham Fighters announced they have come to terms with Detroit Tigers right-hander Drew VerHagen on Tuesday. In a Japanese language press release, VerHagen was quoted as saying he was eager to be coming to Japan, having heard so much about the country from others.

No contract terms were announced by the Fighters. The following is a translation of manager Hideki Kuriyama’s comments relayed by the club:

“Without a doubt, as we go through the process of regrouping, one of our absolute needs was for a starting pitcher. VerHagen has the quality to be considered in an MLB team’s starting pitching plans for next season. We had a number of options available to us and are very happy to have been able to have him join the Fighters. He’s thrown as hard as 158 kph (98.2 mph) with a good sinker, a power curve, a slider, and a changeup. He’s a very well balanced pitcher. I’ve heard he’s big on preparation and so perhaps he can adjust quickly to Japanese baseball. He has the potential to be a big right-handed rotation anchor for us, and I’m grateful to our U.S. based scouts.”

Kuriyama didn’t mention that FanGraphs has called some of his pitches splitters. A lot of people don’t know this but being able to throw six pitches in competition makes you eligible for Japanese citizenship since you will be indistinguishable from the other pitchers in NPB.

Last season, the Fighters became the first modern Japanese team to use an opener and a “short starter” — a starting pitcher whose job was to go through the order either once or twice, a plan which caused former New York Mets pitcher Masato Yoshii to end his second stint as the club’s pitching coach after yet another policy disagreement with Kuriyama.The

The Detroit News had a nice writeup of this story.

Marines land coveted reserve outfielder Fukuda

The Marines have landed — a free agent outfielder — that is. After failing to land two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru a year ago, Lotte has succeeded in getting SoftBank Hawks fourth outfielder Shuhei Fukuda, a bench player in Fukuoka largely because of the Hawks deep frontline talent in the outfield.

According to Sports Nippon, the 30-year-old Fukuda selected the Marines because of his relationship with head coach Yusuke Torigoe, who had been with him as a Hawks coach until 2018, saying, “I’ve been able to make it this far, largely because of him.”

The Seibu Lions, Rakuten Eagles, Chunichi Dragons and Yakult Swallows had also been pursuing Fukuda.

Haraguchi reveals cancer severity

On Sunday, the Daily Sports reported on Hanshin Tigers catcher Fumihito Haraguchi’s visit to a cancer care facility. On Jan. 24, Haraguchi announced he had been diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery two days later.

Haraguchi’s English language player page is HERE. The 27-year-old revealed that although he returned to play 43 games this season, the follow-up examination after his surgery revealed that his cancer was at stage 3B, meaning:


Stage IIIB: The cancer has grown into or through the outermost layer of the colon or rectum and may have spread into nearby organs or tissues. The cancer has spread to up to three lymph nodes near the primary site, but has not spread to distant organs.

Cancer Treatment Centers of America, colorectal cancer stages.

He began having treatment in cycles composed of four weeks of drug therapy and two weeks of rest. Although the team told him to be patient and come back when he was fully fit, Haraguchi opted for a plan to receive treatment over a five-year period while still playing, and his physician credited that desire to play with boosting his recovery.

“My doctor liked baseball and encouraged me to play as much as I could,” Haraguchi said. “The plan is receive treatment as I play five years, although that demands careful monitoring of my situation.”

Simply being able to play would have been testament enough, but Haraguchi wrote the most melodramatic script allowable.

In his first at-bat of the season, he delivered a two-out, RBI pinch-hit double in Chiba. Five days later, on June 9, he batted with one on and two outs in the ninth at Koshien Stadium, and hit a sayonara home run off Nippon Ham Fighters closer Ryo Akiyoshi..

Haraguchi was encouraged by the chief physician at the care facility to reveal his situation.

“I was able to give the children (receiving treatment) courage,” he said after he had avoided revealing his situation all year. “The head doctor implored me to speak out, and I told the team that.”

“I’ve been able to compete while going through this. There are people who are doing their best fighting illnesses, and can resume working. They can even play sports. I wanted to relate that.”

The kotatsu league: Mejia staying

In a tribute to the late great Wayne Grascyk, I’ll be headlining player movement stories under the rubric “The kotatsu league” as he used to refer to Japan’s version of the hot stove league. Had Wayne come to Japan in the years before the Vietnam War, he might have called it the hibachi league. But by the time he was steered to Fukuoka by the U.S. Air Force, those charcoal braziers used to heat kotatsu had been replaced by electric coils, but I digress.

Lions poised to re-sign Mejia

According to Sponichi Annex, the Seibu Lions are close to an agreement on a one-year deal in the neighborhood of 50 million yen (roughly $450,000) for first baseman Ernesto Mejia. The 34-year-old, who became the first player to win a home run title after signing a pro contract after the start of the season, spent most of the last two seasons of a lucrative three-year deal on the bench, displace by 2018 Pacific League MVP Hotaka Yamakawa.

Mejia’s NPB player page is HERE. The new offer could be a testimony to how the Lions perceive his value as a good teammate.

Bolsinger moving on from Marines

Nikkan Sports reported 31-year-old right-hander Mike Bolsinger will not be back with the Lotte Marines in 2020. He went 13-2 in his 2018 debut season but had injury issues in 2019.

He has said he is looking to catch on with another team in Japan.

Bolsinger’s NPB player page is HERE.

And then there were four

On Monday, Nov. 18, the Yomiuri Giants announced that pitcher Shun Yamaguchi would be made available to major league teams via the posting system. The pitcher, who tied for the Central League lead in wins this season, while leading the league in winning percentage and strikeouts was ineligible to file for free agency until the end of next season at the earliest.

My profile on Yamaguchi is HERE.

The news was something of a bombshell since Yomiuri had denounced the very existence of the posting system since Day 1. It is likely that the club will now have to field similar requests from other players, including the team’s best player, Tomoyuki Sugano, who wanted to turn pro in the majors but was dissuaded from doing so. Sugano is the nephew of Giants manager Tatsunori Hara.

At a press conference, the Giants admitted that the team had accepted the pitcher’s desire to be posted when he joined them as a free agent from the DeNA BayStars ahead of the 2017 season, the team president saying, “no time was fixed for posting but that it was agreed to” according to a Daily Sport story.

And then there was 1

The Yamaguchi posting leaves the SoftBank Hawks as Nippon Professional Baseball’s lone holdouts against the posting system. When that dam breaks, MLB is going to be flooded with talent from Japan.

Games and news of Nov. 12, 2019

United States Japan

Submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi was unable to locate his fastball and lacked good movement on his sinker as he surrendered two runs on four hits and two walks over four innings at Tokyo Dome.

Japan climbed back to within a run in the eighth inning, but Orix Buffaloes right-hander Brandon Dickson shut down Samurai Japan in the ninth. Dickson, a starter through his first six Pacific League seasons, saved 18 games after being inserted into the closer’s role midway through the season. Dickson struck out the first two batters before ending it with a ground out.

The loss was Japan’s first of the tournament. Super round teams entered with the result of their previous game against the other team from their group. So Japan’s loss left them with a 2-1 record.

Seiya Suzuki, who entered having homered in Japan’s three previous games, tripled and scored on a Hideto Asamura single in the fourth, reached on an error and scored from first in the sixth on an Asamura double. The pair brought Japan within a run in the eighth when he doubled and scored on Asamura’s single. The RBI hat-trick came on Asamura’s 29th birthday.

Pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto, the hero of Monday’s come-from-behind win over Australia was stranded after a stolen base and a wild pitch.

The U.S. opened the scoring in the second when Alec Bohm doubled and scored from third when Asamura failed to gun him down at the plate to complete a 3-2 double play. Doubles by Conner Chatham and Robert Dalbec made it 2-0 in the third.

Mark Payton doubled and scored in the fifth on singles by Jordon Adell and Bohm against right-hander Taisuke Yamaoka. Adell homered off lefty Yudai Ono in the seventh to make it 4-2.

Mexico 3, Australia 0

Mexico’s bullpen did not allow a hit or a walk over four innings in relief of starter Eduardo Vera, while Jonathon Jones and Matt Clark, who played here for the Chunichi Dragons and Buffaloes homered at Tokyo Dome.

The win lifted Mexico to top of the super round with a 3-0 record, followed by Japan and South Korea, other two group-stage winners, at 2-1 following their first losses. Taiwan and the United States, who entered the super round with a loss, both improved to 1-2, while Australia is 0-3.

Taiwan 7, South Korea 0

Buffaloes right-hander Chang Yi scattered four hits and four walks over 6-2/3 innings, and Lotte Marines lefty Chen Kuan-yu kept South Korea scoreless through eight at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium in its first loss of the tournament.

A Kao Yu-chieh RBI double opened the scoring in the second and he came home on a Hu Chin-lung single. Taiwan put the game out of reach on Chen Chun-hsiu’s three-run seventh-inning home run.

Games and news of Nov. 11, 2019

Premier 12 comes to town

Japan 3, Australia 2

Pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto played hero by stealing second and third and then dashing past the tag at home on a seventh-inning two-out drag bunt to score the tying run as Samurai Japan came from behind in an unconvincing performance against Australia.

The Premier 12 super round hosts scored the go-ahead run in the eighth on a bases-loaded walk to eke out a 3-2 win in their opener.

Center fielder Aaron Whitefield robbed Yoshihiro Maru of an RBI flair single to end Japan’s third inning after Australia took a 1-0 lead in the top of the inning. George Darryl doubled off Shun Yamaguchi and scored on Tim Kennelly’s single.

In the fourth, Whitefield singled with two outs and scored from first on Mitch Nilsson’s double.

Seiya Suzuki made it 2-1 in the fourth, when he blasted his third home run in three games.

Mexico remains unbeaten

The Premier 12 Super Round kicked off Monday afternoon in Chiba, as Mexico shut out Taiwan 2-0 in a great pitchers’ duel with former Tampa Bay Rays and San Diego Padres catcher Roman Solis blasting a monstrous homer off Chiang Shao-ching, who struck out eight over 5-2/3 innings while allowing two runs.

Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Wang Po-jung went 1-for-4 and was caught stealing, while lefty Chen Kuan-yu had the privilege of representing Taiwan in the home park of his NPB club, the Lotte Marines. Chen struck out two in 1-1/3 innings.

Former Hanshin Tiger Efren Navarro went 0-for-3 for Mexico, while former Chunichi Dragon and Orix Buffaloes player Matt Clark was 0-for-2 with a walk.

Mexico’s Arturo Reyes allowed two hits and two walks over five scoreless innings to get the win.

The other four teams, Japan, Australia, the United States and South Korea began play later in the day.

Two Olympic qualifying places are up for grabs. One will go to either Mexico or the United States and the other to either South Korea, Australia or Taiwan.

South Korea 5, United States 1

Kim Jae Hwan hit a three-run first-inning home run and South Korea never trailed despite giving up 13 hits as the United States left 14 runners on base in its loss at Tokyo Dome.

The win kept the three group winners, Mexico, Japan and South Korea undefeated through four games.