The 2022 Eiji Sawamura Award was announced on Monday, but not without the former ace pitchers making up the committee stepping up to their critical annual task of berating today’s pitchers for not showing the grit and determination they themselves had shown back in the day.
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Yoshinobu Yamamoto was an easy choice to win his second straight award as Japan’s premier starting pitcher, but no Sawamura announcement is complete without directing disparaging remarks at the current crop of pitchers.
Aside from the general comments directed at the entire pitching profession, the committee, as it tends to do, took aim at a big name young pitcher to “motivate him.” This year, their target was 20-year-old Roki Sasaki.
Without Choji Murata, who was arrested on Sept. 23 on suspicion of assaulting security personnel at Haneda Airport and who recently withdrew from the committee, the remaining members stepped up admirably to fill the gap left by their longtime curmudgeon in chief.
In a year when offense plunged, committee chairman Tsuneo Horiuchi said, “Even then, pitchers did not win games.”
“They’re getting paid a ton of money, so I think everyone in the world would agree they should pitch a little more and put up bigger numbers. At a time when they can deliver the best possible performance, what’s keeping them idle for a week at a time between starts?”
Before they were finished, the panel turned on Sasaki, who was given stretches away from the starting rotation because his team, the Lotte Marines, have been carefully monitoring his ability to recover from the inflammation built up in his starts.
Never mind that, the guys said, because they were great pitchers and they know what they’re talking about, unlike the team that’s actually doing the hard work and has a responsibility to do more than just spew to the media.
“He had that tremendous game, striking out 13 straight batters in a perfect game, but he’s being wasted,” Masaji Hiramatsu said.
“Had he stayed in the rotation the whole year, throwing seven or eight innings a game, he could have surpassed Yamamoto as the winner of this award.”
Horiuchi said, “There’s no mistaking he’s a great pitcher, but he doesn’t pitch enough. He has too much time off between his starts.”
Hisashi Yamada suggested that the way for Sasaki to get better was to rack up the innings while he is young.
“He is at the best age to build up his body and sharpen his skills. He has to do it now.”