A small step for Tanaka

At Nagoya Dome, Masahiro Tanaka allowed two runs over four innings of relief on Saturday as headlines trumpeted his “preseason game debut” as opposed to his practice game debut from two weeks earlier. Welcome to my world of nonsense.

Tanaka struck out six in his 70-pitch outing in a game in which he spent most of his time working on his slider until he got it right in the Rakuten Eagles’ 2-1 loss to the Chunichi Dragons.

“I used to be basically a slider pitcher. When I was able to get a tighter break on it, I could get swinging strikes,” he said, according to Nikkan Sports.

Manager Kazuhisa Ishii said, “He’s improving step by step. He’s not quite there with his mechanics, but I think he’ll be at a high level before long.”

And teams are now playing preseason games in front of fans for the first time since the end of last February. Here are some of the highlights from Saturday.

Buffaloes’ rookie looks good

In Yokohama, rookie Orix lefty Hiroya Miyagi, the Buffaloes’ first pick out of high school in 2019, struck out three and walked two in five scoreless innings in 5-0 win over the DeNA BayStars. Adam Jones went 2-for-3 with a home run for Orix.

Sasaki gets ready for 1st game

The Lotte Marines are inching closer to letting Roki Sasaki, their flame-throwing first pick from the 2019 draft, actually pitch in a game. On Friday, Sasaki threw in a simulated game.

Osera looks fit in 4 scoreless innings

Daichi Osera, tabbed to start on Opening Day for the Hiroshima Carp after coming off arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in September, threw four scoreless innings in a 1-0 win over the Yakult Swallows.

Sands homers again against Hawks

Jerry Sands homered for the second straight game for the Hanshin Tigers in their preseason series against the four-time defending Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks.

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