All posts by Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

NPB games, news for July 15, 2019

NPB play resumed Monday, a national holiday, after the all-star break with a full slate. The big result was the Hiroshima Carp beating the DeNA BayStars in Yokohama as the three-time defending champs won for the first time since June 25. During that 12-game stretch, they lost 11 and played one tie.

Central League

Carp 8, BayStars 5

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA starter Shoichi Ino couldn’t locate his pitches at the start, and Hiroshima punished him for it, scoring six runs in three innings. Carp right-hander Allen Kuri, who had recorded his team’s last win on June 25 in his first career shutout, allowed three runs over six innings.

Giants 7, Swallows 4, 11 innings

At Nagano Olympic Stadium, a single and a two-base throwing error on former major league pitcher Ryota Igarashi (5-1) on a sacrifice bunt broke an 11th-inning tie and Yoshiyuki Kamei finished off Yakult with a two-run home run.

The Swallows led 4-3 in the eighth, but lefty David Huff surrendered a leadoff single to Yang Dai-kang and an RBI double to Christian Villanueva.

Scott Mathieson (1-1) worked a 1-2-3 10th inning to earn the win, while Ruby de la Rosa struck out two in a scoreless inning in his NPB debut

Dragons 4, Tigers 2

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi lefty Yudai Ono (6-6) allowed two runs over eight innings as the Dragons scored two runs off of Hanshin’s all-star middle reliever Pierce Johnson (2-2) to take the lead in the eighth. Raidel Martinez worked a 1-2-3 ninth to record his seventh save

Pacific League

Fighters 5, Hawks 1

At Yafuoku Dome, Kensuke Nakata capped a four-run first inning against with a two-run triple — a double that got past left fielder Yurisbel Gracial — as Kotaro Otake (5-3) allowed five runs over 4-2/3 innings. Nippon Ham’s win snapped the club’s six-game losing streak to SoftBank.

Two three-inning stints from Mizuki Hori and Bryan Rodriguez (4-2) held SoftBank to a run, and three relievers, Naoya Ishikawa, Naoki MIyanishi and Ryo Akiyoshi allowed one hit while striking out six and walking one.

Hori faced nine batters, and the guys on TV were going, “Don’t you want to see him stay in the game and see what he can really do?” But manager Hideki Kuriyama limits how many times batters get to look at his pitchers, and even the talking heads had to admit it’s kind of working.

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 6, Lions 5

At MetLife Dome, both starters went six innings despite giving up four runs through two. Tomoya Mori doubled and scored in the sixth to put Seibu in front, but former Yankee Brandon Laird hit his 25th home run in the seventh off former Red Sox pitcher Kyle Martin (2-4), a game-changing two-run shot for Lotte, whose players were wearing their Hawaiian shirt jerseys.

The Lotte bullpen put two runners on in each of the last three innings but did not allow a run.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 6, Buffaloes 2

At Kyocera Dome, Rakuten’s Hiroaki Shimauchi had three hits including a triple, scored a run and drove in three to lead Rakuten past Orix. Shu Sugahara (1-2) allowed two runs over five innings in an emergency start after Takahiro Shiomi was scratched.

Game highlights are HERE.

Cleanup man bats 2nd, world survives

The world did not end on Monday, although considering the urgency two different broadcasts placed on Japan cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsustugo batting second for the first time in his life, it seemed some kind of cataclysm was in the making.

As many of you probably know, the No. 2 hitter is the Area 51 of Japanese batting orders. It’s the weird-shit-goes-on-there-but-don’t-ask-questions spot. From box score data I have access to, the No. 2 spot has been the seventh weakest spot in both teams’ lineup based on aggregate OPS.

This is a development, I believe, from the canonization of the sacrifice bunt that took place between 1975 and 1990, that dictated that the No. 2 hitter’s job was primarily to make productive outs. The irony is that at the same time the bunt was being spoken of as the secret to winning, home runs were beginning to fly out of Japanese parks.

Here are the figures from 2003 to 2016 — my current era box scores go back to 2003.

NPB OPS by batting order

Min YearMax YearB orderOBPSlugOPS
2000201610.3390.3790.718
2000201620.3240.3540.678
2000201630.3620.4510.813
2000201640.3580.4840.842
2000201650.3390.4430.782
2000201660.3280.4110.739
2000201670.3190.3860.705
2000201680.3000.3340.634
2000201690.2330.250.483

And here are the past two seasons below. As you can see, the No. 2 spot has kind of undergone an upgrade recently.

OPS by batting order 2017-2018

Min YearMax YearB orderOBPSlugOPS
2017201810.3430.4030.746
2017201820.3230.3740.697
2017201830.3770.4830.860
2017201840.3730.5100.883
2017201850.3360.4290.765
2017201860.3250.4210.746
2017201870.3120.3640.676
2017201880.2950.3340.629
2017201890.2380.2480.486

Nomura gets sick over this revolting development

Despite these changes, the two broadcast crews were pretty taken back. Here’s a snippet translated from the TBS broadcast, with former BayStars pitcher Hiroki Nomura doing the color commentary:

Nomura: He can say he’s going to keep the same approach, but the question is how he’s going to feel when there’s no outs and a runner on first…

<Carp No. 2 hitter Ryosuke Kikuchi comes to the plate with the leadoff man on first, doubles down the left field line to set up a four-run inning.>

Nomura: It would be hard to avoid that urge (to play small ball).

<Tsutsugo bats in the 5th inning.>
Announcer: I’m not used to saying, ‘Batting 2nd, Tsutsugo.’
Nomura: Frankly, it makes me feel queazy.

And here are some takes from another broadcast with former Carp ace Kazuhisa Kawaguchi providing the somewhat more enlightened commentary.

It’s all about the batting order

Analyst: Kazuhisa Kawaguchi
Announcer: Kei Fukuzawa

F: No. 2 Tsutsugo. Manager Ramirez said I want a high on-base percentage guy batting second. He has not hit well with runners in scoring position but he does get on base. So he wants him to get on base.
F: So in the first appearance as No. 2 in his life, Tsutsugo flies out to right.
K: Yes. He got him to hit his pitch.

<Neftali Soto steps in.>

<Ball 1 to Soto>

K: He (Tsutsugo) gets on base a lot as a No. 4 hitter, so for me what I’d like him to see is keep that same approach unchanged.
K: If he can’t do that, his results will get worse.
F: If you look at his last 5 seasons…
<Soto fouls off 2-0 pitch>
…he has basically batted 3rd or 4th.
K: No. 3 was not that long either…
F: Of course, one aspect of this may be motivation for the individual from manager Ramirez’s standpoint.
<Soto flies out to short>
F: No. 3 Soto flies out. Three outs, inning over.

<New inning and the camera focuses on Tsutsugo walking to left field.>

<Strike 1 to Carp batter Kosuke Tanaka>

F: The Carp are in an 11-game losing streak, and now we’re back from the all-star break as we begin the second half of the season.

<Strike 1 to Tanaka>

F: Tsutsugo, batting 2nd for the 1st time in his life, flew out, and the BayStars failed to score in the first inning.

<Ball 1 to Tanaka, 1-1>

F: The Carp are now batting in the second…

I’m glad to say that as runs were scored, and there was a game to talk about both broadcast crews kind of got over the whole thing.

NPB news for July 14, 2019

Marines sign speedy outfielder Martin

The Pacific League’s Lotte Marines have signed 31-year-old outfielder Leonys Martin following his release in June by the Cleveland Indians, the Pacific League club said Sunday.

The contract is reportedly worth $300,000. Over his past three big league seasons, Martin has posted a .290 on base percentage and has gone 18-for-31 as a base stealer.

The Marines, in their second year under former major leaguer Tadahito Iguchi, are fifth in the PL, 8-1/2 games back of the league-leading SoftBank Hawks, but only four games separate the second-place Nippon Ham Fighters from the last-place Orix Buffaloes.

Tigers return all-star fire at Koshien

Koji Chikamoto had a night for the record books on Saturday. The Hanshin Tigers rookie became the second player to hit for an all-star cycle and was named the MVP of All-Star Game series Game 2, an 11-3 blowout by the Central League that ended the Pacific League’s five-game winning streak.

Chikamoto became the first rookie to lead off the first inning of an all-star game when he went deep off Orix Buffaloes pitcher Taisuke Yamaoka in the CL’s two-run first.

After Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano’s two scoreless innings, the CL hitters got to face Seibu Lions right-hander Kona Takahashi. To say they schooled him or took him to the woodshed would be an understatement. They went to the lumber yard and gave him a beating with some serious clubs.

Two Tigers catchers went deep back to back to open the inning. Fumihito Haraguchi, who homered in the ninth inning of Friday’s game as a pinch hitter led off. His catching partner Ryutaro Umeno, an early favorite for the CL’s Best Nine Award, followed. Chikamoto doubled and scored on the first of two doubles by the Chunichi Dragons’ Shuhei Takahashi.

After a Tetsuto Yamada singled, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo crushed a line drive out to left center, which takes a tremendous poke at Koshien, which boasts Japan’s deepest power alleys thanks to its original design as a multipurpose stadium.

“I felt my pitches just weren’t good enough to face the best CL hitters.” said Takahashi, who was added to his first PL all-star roster by his skipper, Hatsuhiko Tsuji of the Lions.

“I think I’ll be happy to avoid the all-star game from now on.”

After one win and one loss, Tsuji said.

Chikamoto became the first player with four extra-base hits in an all-star game and the second to have five hits, the other being Yakult’s Roberto Petagine in 2001.

The series, at Japan’s two biggest parks, set a two-tame attendance record of 90,008 spectators.

The two home run derby finalists, each homered in the game. Seiya Suzuki of the Hiroshima Carp won this year’s derby, beating Friday’s finalist Masataka Yoshida of Orix 4-3.

Suzuki beat Tomoya Mori of the Lions 4-3 in his first round and then knocked off Tsutsugo 5-4 in their semifinal. Tsutsugo advanced past Japan home run leader Hotaka Yamakawa on a tie-breaker.

Lions’ Mori top of the pops

Tomoya Mori continued to be Mr. All-Star home run on Friday, when he hit his third all-star home run in his third game, his two-run, second-inning homer sparking the Pacific League’s three-homer assault in a 6-3 win over the Central League in Game 1 of Japan’s All-Star Game series.

It’s called the All-Star Game despite the fact that there are always more than one. Mori was named MVP, while Seibu Lions teammate and NPB home run leader Hotaka Yamakawa also went deep in the sixth inning, following their former teammate, Rakuten Eagles second baseman Hideto Asamura into the seats.

Fumihito Haraguchi of the Hanshin Tigers, who is recovering from cancer surgery in January, hit a two-run, pinch-hit homer in the ninth.

The home run came off Orix Buffaloes right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto who pitched the last three innings to earn the save. It was the 10th three-inning save in all-star history but the first since Hiroshi Takamura (Kintetsu Buffaloes) did it in 1996.

The PL now leads the series — which started in 1950 after the CL and PL were formed out of an expansion, 85-78. There have been 11 ties without any help from Bud Selig.

The PL has now won five straight games.

Saturday’s Game 2 will be held at Koshien Stadium outside Osaka.

Yoshida reaches HR derby final

NPB’s ubiquitous and annoying home run derbies have been modified again this year into a single contest, albeit one that is played over two days.

Years ago, the rules for the obligatory batting practice power hitting contest differed from game to game, so nobody really knew what was going on. A few years ago, fans were allowed to vote on the participants for each game, so the most popular players generally appeared in both.

This year, eight players are taking part divided into four groups, each with one player from each league.

Masataka Yoshida of the Orix Buffaloes won Round 1 after defeating Yakult Swallows teenager Munetaka Murakami 5-4. Yoshida then dispatched Yomiuri Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who had beaten Brandon Laird of the Lotte Marines 4-2.

Saturday’s second round will see Hotaka Yamakawa and DeNA BayStars left fielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo in one group, and Tomoya Mori and Hiroshima Carp right fielder Seiya Suzuki in the other.

The winner will take on Yoshida in the final, so now in the future when someone in America says, “so and so won the home run derby in Japan” they’ll actually sound like they know what they’re talking about — because there’ll be only one.

Area coach holds efficient practice

This is not from the Onion or the Rising Wassabi. However, when the manager of a Japanese high school team limits his practices to 2-1/2 hours, it has a chance to be a national news item with a headline worthy of those satirical news sites.

Here’s the Sports Nippon Annex story HERE.

On Tuesday, 33-year-old Christopher Robert Kawamoto Boothe — known as Robert Kawamoto in Japan — won his first official game as manager of Hachioji Jissenchugakko High School, beating Meiji Gakuin Higashi Murayama High 11-7 in the first round of Western Tokyo’s summer tournament.

The Japanese story’s headline reads: “1st game for ‘Robert-san’ shows improvement from revolutionary 2-1/2 hour efficient practices”

Boothe, who grew up in Japan as the son of a Japanese mother and American ballplayer, signed with the Dodgers after he was not selected out of Asia University in NPB’s 2007 amateur draft. He appears to have played three seasons in the low minors. Since 2012 he has played mostly in Japan’s independent minors with a brief stopover in Taiwan with the Lamigo Monkeys.

He was hired this spring, and Boothe has asked his players to call him “Robert-san” instead of “Manager Kawamoto” as is customary.

The team captain said, “We are close to Robert-san. He patiently works out our mechanical issues, and reminds us that rest time is for getting rest.”

According to the story, the manager has also revolutionized the players’ workloads, reducing practices to 2-1/2 hours.