Category Archives: Commentary

NPB owners shit the bed again

There is a fine line between understanding the business of baseball and the fact that baseball itself is not a business but a sport that people play or watch for their enjoyment. Although reporters often cross over that line and confuse the two, owners tend to forget completely that THEIR business is of no concern to the people who play or watch the game. Owners confuse the fact that because people care what their teams do, it makes what owners say important.

“Anytime who tells you baseball is ‘basically a business’ is basically an idiot. And you can tell him I said so.”

Bill James

This is no more obvious than in times of crisis when the goodwill of fans can be challenged by extraordinary forces. In these times, owners can show what they are made of and whether they truly understand that the true bottom line of the baseball business is not budgets, payroll, stadium rent and travel expenses, but the willingness of people to engage with their product.

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us again that Japanese pro baseball owners think that fans will believe whatever comes out of their mouths as if it were the word of God. This year’s example comes from the decision to switch Opening Day, first to April 10, then to April 24.

And while the world is now beginning to grasp the consequences of poor preparation for the pandemic, owners picked those dates, not because of any understanding that the public health crisis would be manageable by then, but rather that those dates allowed them to play a full 143-game schedule.

Only the owners’ arrogance led them to believe anyone – excepting those calculating team budgets on spreadsheets or ass-kissing media types – would buy the rubbish the teams are peddling.

It was this arrogance that led to Japan’s first work stoppage in 2004, and to a longer-than-necessary delay to the season in 2011 following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

2004: Go suck eggs

In 2004 when the Kintetsu Railroad wanted to liquidate its team, the Buffaloes, and get out of baseball, owners told the fans and players, “We’re reducing from 12 teams to 11 and if you don’t like it, suck eggs. We care about the fans and the players, but you can still suck eggs because baseball is a business that we understand and you don’t.”

That led to an embarrassing defeat for the owners, who did not bargain in good faith with the players on the assumption the courts would deny them the right to strike. Instead, the courts sided with the players and admonished the owners in public.

Then the owners editorialized about how the players were betraying the fans, who would never forgive a work stoppage and breaking a sacred trust. That was the gist of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s morning edition editorial of Sept. 19 – written before fans flocked to ballparks the day before to get ticket refunds from the canceled games.

But when the strike happened, the customers did what they had done throughout that contentious summer. They stood by those who cared about the product and turned their backs on the owners, whose only rationale was their businesses’ bottom line.

At Yokohama Stadium, the Carp and BayStars practiced – without coaches – but did not play. When the BayStars players came out of the stadium to the ticket plaza they got a warm reception from the fans waiting there, while the player reps, Daisuke Miura and Takanori Suzuki got thunderous applause.

In the end, it worked out great for everybody. The owners’ defeat meant an expansion team for Sendai and interleague play – something the Central League hated. Like free agency in the majors, the defeat of the owners, who ostensibly KNEW about baseball business, has led to a more vibrant baseball scene in Japan with attendance rising every year and vastly more effort to market their product.

2011: Disaster strikes

In 2011, when the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami meant the two Pacific League parks in Sendai and Chiba were unready for Opening Day. It also meant thousands were dead or missing, and many thousands more had lost their homes and jobs, while a nuclear disaster halfway between Tokyo and Sendai left the nation anxious and short of energy.

But because the CL owners KNEW baseball was a business, they insisted on plowing ahead with Opening Day on March 25 as scheduled because, after all, business is business. The PL wanted a delay until April 12, probably less out of consideration of the fans and more for the two damaged stadiums.

After the players union met with the Minister of Education and Sports, the government ridiculed the CL’s plan, and out of consideration of the energy shortage ordered all the games in eastern Japan through April to be played during the day.

In response, the CL announced a four-day delay to Opening Day, which didn’t satisfy the government, and led to the two leagues both opening on April 12. Lotte Marines veteran Tomoya Satozaki said at the time the clubs could easily have begun play around the first of April, but the Central League owners truculence just aggravated the situation.

Eight years later and we’re on the same kind of threshold.

Pandemics? We’ve got a business to run

Faced with a crisis of enormous proportions, the owners’ first response has been “business as usual.” There has been no talk about supporting the vendors and stadium staff who lost wages for preseason games behind closed doors and no talk about a threshold at which inviting large crowds to ballparks would not endanger public health.

Instead, everything has been about how best to play 143 games – as if a single fan in the country actually cared. You’d think the owners would have learned, but apparently not.

I mean why should they learn when the media reports whatever they say. Owners’ policies can impact the product fans get, so it can be relevant for them, but nobody cares wants to hear budget issues or service time used as excuses for teams choosing to deliver a weaker product.

This last point is often lost on reporters who understand those constraints and want to explain the rationale to fans. There is nothing wrong with explaining how such things work, but it’s one thing to explain service time as the reason a prospect is being kept in the minors until he works through all his adjustment issues, and another to explain that it is best for teams to do that.

I don’t mean to pick on Buster Olney

That’s what occurred to me when listening to Buster Olney on his Baseball Tonight podcast.

When he argued the Rays SHOULD keep a promising minor league pitcher in Triple-A so the team won’t waste his service time in the majors while he is still learning, I thought, “That’s not what’s best for the player or the game. that’s only what’s best for the owners.”

That’s the equivalent we had in Japan all summer when the president of the Olympic organizing committee and the governor of Tokyo both said, “The Tokyo Olympics will start on July 24. There is no chance of any change to that.” Despite being in a coronavirus pandemic, those words were treated here as if these people were stating facts by reporters, editors, and producers who should have known better.

It is that kind of reporting that encourages owners and teams to think that they can make people care about their profit and loss statements, and that’s a disservice to everyone.

NPB unsprung

How does one count where baseball activities sit in relation to the regular season when Opening Day is a moving target? Are we at projected OD1 (March 20) + 7 days or OD3 (April 24) minus 28 days?

Between the coronavirus pandemic AND the sudden postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, the national government’s finger on the trigger of a national emergency, a three-week lock-down. Into that mix, NPB had its first positive tests for coronavirus, three players from the Hanshin Tigers, forcing that entire team to go into self-quarantine.

When the April 24 Opening Day was announced, both the Central and Pacific leagues announced they would suspend their practice games until the middle of April. That may be so, but their minor league clubs are still playing practice games, and many of the CL and PL regulars are taking part.

On Friday, Zach Neal pitched for the Seibu Lions at Seibu’s minor league facility, essentially a back field behind MetLife Dome, in a game against the Lotte Marines, who also threw one of their first-line starters, Ayumu Ishikawa.

But with the news of the Tigers infections, many teams are even suspending their farm team games for the time being.

Sasaki throws 2nd BP

18-year-old flame-thrower Roki Sasaki threw his second live BP of the spring at the Marines’ home park, QVC Marine Stadium in Chiba on Friday and touched 156 kph (96.9 mph) on the radar gun.

“I wasn’t able to command some balls, and I want to increase the number of quality pitches,” he told reporters.

Here’s a video of Sasaki’s effort on Friday.

He was unable to locate his fork ball early on, but in the later stages of the session, he was able to pepper the bottom of the zone with his pitches, including his slider.

“This is a world that doesn’t tolerate poorly executed pitches, so I want to be able to execute as close as I can to 100 percent,” he said.

Matsui gets lit up

Rakuten Eagles lefty Yuki Matsui, who failed to make it as a starter straight out of high school but became a hit as their closer, has been working all spring toward a return to the starting rotation.

It’s been a rocky road so far, and on Friday his warm-up outing he allowed six runs in one inning.

“I had mediocre stuff,” he said. “Being a starter is tough.”

April 24 Opening Day is madness

Tokyo Disneyland may be closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, but Fantasyland is operating at full capacity in the halls of government and in the offices of Nippon Professional Baseball.

For three months, the Japanese government has been in full-fledged denial about how the spread of the new coronavirus might affect its staging of the Olympics. Schools were requested to close for all of March, and promoters of large events were asked to either cancel them, postpone or hold them behind closed doors, but the official insistence that everything would be alright and the Olympics would not need to be rescheduled has delivered a powerfully mixed message.

Through the weekend, the official message from the government and Olympic organizers has been that nothing would prevent the games from going forward as scheduled from July 24. This message was often delivered as: “We will take every measure to ensure the health and safety of the athletes and the fans, but the games will go on no matter what.”

On Monday, with the Olympics all but certain to be postponed until at least next year, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike, who a few weeks ago asserted that there was no chance the games would be canceled or postponed, spoke of a possible lockdown in Tokyo for the first time if things get worse.

Yet, while Tokyo began talking about emergency measures on Monday, NPB and Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, announced it was time to restart their seasons in April with NPB planning to pack fans into its parks from April 24.

Obviously, this is not because Japan has the coronavirus outbreak under control since that is very much in doubt. Rather the reason seems to be NPB’s desire to get fans into the parks for a full slate of 143 games. On March 23, NPB announced it had run various simulations and decided that April 24 was the last day that a full schedule could be played. So now, “voila” there’s our new Opening Day.

NPB’s announcement on Monday sounds more like the old Olympic mantra: “We’ll do everything to ensure the safety of the players and the fans, but it’s our business and we’re going to play our games.”

So even if cramming 30,000 fans and a few thousand stadium employees onto public transit and into close quarters during a pandemic is a really bad idea, well 143 games is kind of important to us and our fans want us to play so there.

Although the government has asked companies to have employees work from home and midday trains in Tokyo are less crowded than usual, morning rush hour still sees people crammed together in rolling virus incubators.

People were warned this past week not to assemble in parks across the country for spring tradition of having picnics and drinking sessions under the cherry blossoms, but parks filled up nonetheless.

On Sunday, the promoter of a mixed-martial-arts event outside Tokyo defied government requests to put the event on hold and opened it up to 6,500 fans.

Many are encouraged by the fact that Japan has not buckled under the weight of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t still happen.

Japan’s infection rate has been slower than that of western European nations or the United States. And relative to those nations, Japan has acted quickly, but there’s also been a sense that the government is not giving us the whole truth. One can apply for being tested in Tokyo if they meet the following conditions.

  • In the past two weeks they have come into contact with an infected person, or traveled in an area with infections.
  • Pregnant women, senior citizens and those with underlying health conditions who have experienced cold-like symptoms, a fever of 37.5 C or higher, extreme fatigue or difficulty breathing for around two days.
  • A member of the general population experiencing the above conditions for four days or more.

Those satisfying the pre-conditions can then call and ask about being tested. It’s almost as if the government didn’t want to know the truth, lest the image of control was revealed to be just a facade.

There is a concern that many infected people with mild symptoms or none at all are circulating freely, encouraged by Japan’s officially low infection rate, and that the country is a viral bomb awaiting a trigger to go off.

And now with schools set to reopen soon, and pro baseball and soccer aiming to pack people into stadiums again, it looks like that trigger is being prepared.

Tumbling Dice, K?

More than a year removed from his comeback player of the year season with the Chunichi Dragons, 39-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound at MetLife Dome, where 21 years earlier he got his pro start with the Seibu Lions.

Entering his sixth season in Japan since the SoftBank Hawks lured him away from MLB, Matsuzaka is a shadow of the pitcher who was called the “monster” when he turned pro out of Yokohama High School. His basic repertoire is now a fastball, a cutter, and a change — a forkball this year.

In 2018, Matsuzaka went 6-4 with a 3.74 ERA in Japan’s best pitcher’s park, Nagoya Dome, largely because he didn’t give up a lot of home runs and got more than his share of big outs after letting lots of runners on base.

Matsuzaka’s game is locating the fastball, getting hitters to miss-hit the cutter and sometimes swing and miss at the change. On Sunday, he also threw a decent slider and curve.

But 14 years and two days after he became a national hero for the second time in his baseball career by beating Cuba in San Diego to win the 2006 World Baseball Classic final and earn tournament MVP honors, Matsuzaka had no command to speak of.

He allowed four runs over five innings, and caught breaks when most of his mistakes were not hammered. He said recently he needs to work on the cutter, and he missed badly with most of the 24 I tracked. He couldn’t locate his fastball, or the change. The slider and curve were his best pitches.

The Lions, who in 2018 became the second league champion in NPB history to have the league’s worst ERA, repeated the feat a year ago.

Matsuzaka knows what he’s doing, and knows when to challenge hitters in the zone, but if he’s constantly behind in counts and can’t throw strikes, he might be too much of a burden even for the Lions’ powerful offense to carry.

Here’s a link to the Pacific League TV game highlights.

Reporting in a viral age

Colleagues from both sides of the Pacific had somethings to say about U.S. sports leagues closing their clubhouses to the media, ostensibly because of the coronavirus outbreak and not because Justin Verlander is angry with everyone.

Welcome to the club

Accredited media members in the U.S. are accustomed to getting structured access to the visiting and home clubhouses before and after games. They also ostensibly get pre-game access to the manager, and postgame press conferences with the home team manager and sometimes a player.

I’ve only covered a dozen or major league games in the States — including spring training — so that is more of a tourists’ impression rather than the word of real experience.

This is where the reporters get to interact on a frank level with players, and since I’m not a U.S. beat writer, I can’t speak of the value of talking to players in their sanctuary as opposed to on the field and in the dugout or on their way out of the clubhouse.

But it’s got to hurt reporters, suddenly having one of the key pillars of their daily reporting routine removed from the table.

The view from Japan

Baseball writers in Japan don’t get clubhouse access, period. We get what each team gives us in the time and fashion they choose to do so. Some managers speak to the media before games, some don’t. Everyone talks after games in a manner of their choosing.

Dan Orlowitz, who primarily writes about soccer in Japan, tweeted the following:

Wishing that were so in NPB

International baseball events in Japan, the Japan Rugby Top League and Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, all have scheduled press conferences and mixed zones, where players have to run the media gauntlet, NPB does things its way.

Pro baseball teams don’t generally offer wifi or LAN access, there is with the exception of Seibu’s MetLife Dome, no free coffee, and for damned sure they don’t have any structured methods for press access.

Because there is no clubhouse access in NPB, the first thing a reporter covering a team on the road has to do is find out where in that ballpark that team chooses to have its media availability. When Hiromitsu Ochiai managed the Chunichi Dragons, he didn’t stop to talk to reporters. They had to quiz him as he walked to the team bus, and sometimes he would stop at the bus.

Many managers, including most in the Central League, don’t have pregame media availability. For those guys, you can only hope they choose to listen to you as they walk by to take up their station behind the batting cage or on their way off the field.

Most teams now have manager availability after losses, something that didn’t used to be the case. Teams will make a player or two available after games at spots and times of their choosing. If the guy you want to talk to about the game isn’t on the list, then you have to wait for him to come out of the clubhouse and talk before he gets to the garage or gets on the visiting team bus.

NPB planning on delayed openers: Report

Japan’s Nikkan Sports reported Sunday citing a source in reporting Nippon Professional Baseball is taking the logical precaution of making plans for a delayed start to the regular season.

Despite the yet uncontrolled spread of the new coronavirus in Japan and around the world, NPB’s regular season is still scheduled to go ahead as originally planned before full crowds on March 20 — a week earlier than normal to allow for a Tokyo Olympic break. NPB’s Plan B, according to the report, would see the season start at the end of April.

All of NPB’s preseason games since Feb. 29, however, have been played behind closed doors. On Monday, NPB is to meet with Japan’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, for a second time, when they will hear expert opinions.

The J-League was the first major sports body in Japan to act, suspending all play between Feb. 25 and March 15, but is also planning an alternative restart to the season in April.

The prime minister last month asked for all elementary, junior high and high schools to close through the end of spring vacation in early April, the start of Japan’s new school year. A number of companies have introduced “telework” from home by employees. Advertising giant Dentsu ordered such a move when someone in its Tokyo main office was diagnosed as having the pneumonia-causing virus.

The Dentsu headquarters building in Tokyo’s Shiodome-Shimbashi business district has forced eateries that served Dentsu staff to shorten hours or temporarily shut their doors.

On Sunday, the Japan Sumo Association will hold a tournament behind closed doors for the first time in history, when the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament in Osaka begins its 15-day run in Osaka.

The first of Japan’s two major high school baseball tournaments, the national invitational is scheduled to start on March 19 at historic Koshien Stadium outside Osaka, but the National High School Federation has put off a decision whether to cancel or hold the event behind closed doors.

Perhaps the biggest focus in Japan right now is the fate of the 2020 Olympics, slated to open on July 24 in Tokyo. Organizers have been scrambling to downsize pre-Olympic events, but the government and the organizing committee have rejected any talk that a change to the main event is being considered, which is probably the most transparent lie in the history of transparent lies.

Open and shut: March 7, 2020 – Welcome to Japan, Joe Gunkel

New Hanshin Tigers right-hander Joe Gunkel started Saturday’s preseason game against the Nippon Ham Fighters at Koshien Stadium, and allowed seven runs in four innings. Despite the ugly totals it was anything but an ugly outing for the 28-year-old who pitched in the minors for the Red Sox, Orioles, Dodgers and Marlins.

Gunkel put a couple of floating sliders on a tee, and got a lesson in what left-handed hitters in Japan will do to two-seamers when they are not trying to crush the ball, but by and large it was entertaining.

A lesson in pitching to Japanese left-handed hitters.

From his low 3/4 slot, Gunkel had a lot of horizontal movement on a 91.3 mph two-seamer that he mercilessly jammed right-handed hitters with, and even got one batter looking on a backdoor two-seamer.

His slider was inconsistent in quality and command, as was his four-seamer, but he threw a splitter that really dropped and got him swinging strikes, and he is quick to the plate.

He got burned on ground balls that found holes, a couple of jam shots and a fly to deep center on a mistake pitch that carried out of the unusually windless park. He also struck out six.

Gunkel has a lot to work with, and he has a great catcher in Ryutaro Umeno to help him over a couple of minor rough spots. Hopefully, he’ll learn to use his arsenal quickly enough to keep up with the adjustments opposing hitters will make so that he doesn’t hit a prolonged rough patch. That’s because imported Tigers pitchers who have major rough patches learn more than they want to know about the Western League and get released.

Austin, Soto go back to back

Taylor Austin hit his fourth home run of the spring for the DeNA BayStars on Saturday, while two-time defending Central League home run champion Neftali Soto followed him with his first. Get a look on Austin’s face after Soto’s home run.

When I saw they both came off SoftBank Hawks journeyman Ryoma Matsuda, who gives up a fair number of home runs, I wasn’t too surprised, but compared to some of the really fat pitches Austin crushed earlier in the preseason, it was a straight fastball but not a cookie.

The Hawks opened with Nao Higashihama, who’s been named their Opening Day starter, and he looked ready to go, although he did get away with a hanging curve to Soto up in the zone that the right-handed-hitting slugger pulled foul. Matsuda had less luck with his fat pitch.

Patton’s back

The BayStars got an inning of work from Spencer Patton, who ended a frustrating season by breaking his hand against a refrigerator door. I commented to a colleague that he didn’t pitch well last season, but looking at his sharp performance on Saturday and his numbers from Delta Graphs the past three seasons, nothing really stands out.

The one outlier is his win probability. He gave up an unusual number of hits in the most volatile moments. How much of that is down to bad luck and bad timing, I don’t know. An old fart uninterested in analytics might say he lacked the “will to win,” but I am going to go with really crappy timing and luck.

I am unaware of his contract situation, but a lot of teams would have been cautious about bringing Patton back. The BayStars do a good job with analytics, and I assume they want him around because they see the intrinsic quality and because he’s a good teammate. That stuff matters.

IOC to fun-sucking virus: Hold my beer

With the new coronavirus capturing headlines around the world and causing nerves in Tokyo ahead of this summer’s Olympics, the International Olympic Committee moved on Friday to reclaim the spotlight from the contagion.

No fun allowed at torch relay

Local organizers in Tokyo fired the first shot in the campaign to put the virus in its place by reminding spectators at the torch relay that no video they might shoot after standing in the cold waiting for the runners to pass can be uploaded to social media so their friends can see it.

“That would be too much fun,” an organizing spokesman said. “It simply can’t be permitted according to the IOC rules.”

Because of the outbreak, organizers have considered downsizing the relay, a treasured living heirloom of the Olympic movement from Nazi Germany.

The rules are ostensibly to protect broadcast rights, the spokesman said.

“You think we’re going to let people have a good time at our sponsors’ expense? You want to do that? Go film the virus. It doesn’t have any sponsors to worry about.”

NPB preseason open and shut

Nippon Professional Baseball on Wednesday said it would hold all 72 of its remaining preseason games — called “Open” Games in Japanese — behind closed doors in a measure to restrict the spread of the new coronavirus. Also affected were minor league preseason “instructional” games.

According to worldometers, there were 172 confirmed cases of the virus in Japan, and concern is growing about the possibility that the outbreak will affect this summer’s Olympics.

The Japanese government has issued a report saying the next two weeks will be critical in slowing the spread of the pneumonia-causing virus. The move comes on the same day that Japan Rugby’s Top League postponed 16 games over two weekends, and the nation’s pro soccer establishment, the J-League, suspended all games until March 15.

Later that day, the Yomiuri Giants announced their two preseason games on Feb. 29 and March 1 at Tokyo Dome would be played without fans. The Giants have been urging other teams hosting their preseason games to also bar fans.

Because of this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, Nippon Professional Baseball has scheduled a break from July 21 — the day after the final All-Star game, and Aug. 13. The season was scheduled to open a week early, on March 20, with Japan Series Game 7 now slated for Nov. 15.

In 2011, the season started on April 12, two weeks later than scheduled. Two Pacific League parks, in Sendai and Chiba, suffered damage from the March 11 earthquake, while transportation, water and electricity were disrupted in many parts of eastern Japan.

Because none of the Central League parks were affected by the quake, that league, led by the Giants, wanted to push ahead with its plan to open the season in March, but the public outrage that followed the CL owners’ lack of sympathy forced them to wait two weeks.

The Giants being a leader in this issue is seen by some as the organization having learned its lesson from 2011, but I’m skeptical.

Having said that, this swift action is a nice change from the dithering and obfuscation after the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown that hit the 2011 season. No official game had ever been closed to the public before, so this is a pretty weighty step for a body that has been absurdly bad at making decisions.

The teams are hopeful to get started on March 20, but what the situation will be like then is unpredictable.

The preseason runs until March 15, while the two minor leagues, the Western and Eastern leagues, open on March 13 and 14, respectively.

Camping World: Feb. 22, 2020 – Let the games begin

This is the one week of the year where Japanese baseball looks like that in the majors. Teams are in camp and playing preseason games. Very often the games played until the final week of February are “practice” games, where rules can be bent to suit the needs of the managers. But once the “open season” begins, those games’ stats are recorded.

On Saturday, eight teams were in action, with most of the attention focused on the BayStars – Eagles game because Rakuten southpaw Yuki Matsui started in line with new manager Hajime Miki’s plan to move him out of the closer’s role. The other player of interest was the Eagles’ top draft pick, 24-year-old shortstop Hiroto Kobukata.

The Swallows – Carp game saw Hiroshima’s first pick, Meji University right-hander Masato Morishita and Yakult’s second pick, Japan Sport Science University right-hander Daiki Yoshida.

Morishita’s debut

Morishita looks much as he did last year as an amateur, a right-hander who balances about three seconds on his back leg before going to the plate. The one difference appears to be his arm slot. He had been high 3/4 in college, but was nearly 12-6 in the first inning. Ostensibly, he’d been tasked with making some adjustments in his previous bullpen session, and one wonders whether his arm slot was part of that. From the second inning it looked closer to what it had been in college and his command was spot on.

He allowed two runs in the first, basically because of his command. Few of the balls had anything coming off the bat, and his slider was particularly sharp.

Not “real” baseball

If one needs proof that these games are meaningless, one can look at Morishita’s not being ejected in the first inning for a “dangerous pitch.” A curve slipped out of his hand and traced an eephus arc before striking Alcides Escobar on the top of his helmet. Had this been a regular season game, the umpires would have been compelled to eject him for hitting a batter in the head.

Escobar “suits” Japanese ball

Escobar, the Swallows’ new shortstop, was praised as a good fit for Japanese baseball by the crew broadcasting the game, ostensibly because of what he can’t do. Other than his size, the 33-year-old Venezuelan fits Japan’s cookie-cutter image of a middle infielder: Plays good defense, runs and bunts well, while not being able to hit for power or reach base.

Goodness gracious.

One crowded infield

New Carp manager Shinji Sasaoka is trying out lots of combinations in his infield. He brought in second-year shortstop Kaito Kozono to play second, and the 2018 No. 1 pick did a reasonable impression of Ryosuke Kikuchi with the glove with a good charge toward the mound and a sharp throw to first across his body.

Former Yankees and Padres utility man Jose Pirela, who has impressed with the bat in camp, was tried out at third. Having spent most of his time with the Yankees and Padres at second base and in left field. He has good hands, it looked from this game like third base might be a challenge for his arm strength.

Nice start for Yoshida

While the Swallows’ top draft pick, high school star Yoshinobu Okugawa was throwing his first bullpen of the spring hundreds of miles away in Yakult’s minor league camp after hurting his arm in January, second-round pick Yoshida had two innings in the spotlight.

The 1.75-meter Yoshida has a super smooth delivery that looks like it was modeled on Tomoyuki Sugano’s although he doesn’t look like he’s trying to throw the ball through a wall like Sugano sometimes does. Yoshida, who has been used as the setup guy for the national collegiate team, has an above-average fastball with some hop to it, and showed a decent changeup and a slider, neither of which he commanded nearly as well as his four-seam fastball.

He located the fastball and missed some barrels with the change and retired all six batters he faced.

Matsui goes back to starting line

Yuki Matsui, who came to national prominence in high school for being able to survive extraordinarily high pitch counts, failed as a starter in his 2014 rookie season. That year he walked 67 batters in 116 innings, but was reincarnated as a closer the following season.

His English NPB page is HERE.

Matsui looked fairly uncomfortable, threw a lot of straight fastballs, missed his locations. He faced 18 batters and surrendered a pile of hard-hit balls while walking two batters and hitting one.

He did throw a number of quality sliders, and those kept the day from being a complete disaster.

Mirror, mirror

Yesterday, I filled out a scouting report on Eagles second pick Fumiya Kurokawa. A muscular second baseman, Kurokawa resembles current Eagles second baseman Hideto Asamura. Kobukata, the top draft pick, is a small left-handed hitting shortstop like Rakuten’s incumbent at the position, Eigoro Mogi.

Kobukata started and had three hits, all ground balls pulled through the right side of the infield. He looked OK with the glove. I don’t know if it’s a Japanese thing but like Kurokawa, Kobukata takes an extra step to set his feet before he throws. When he does cut loose, however, he has a gun with some good carry.

The other news from that game was the absence of new BayStars import Tyler Austin, who has been smoking hot all spring, due to stiffness in his right elbow.