NPB games, news of Aug. 5, 2019

Monday is usually an off day, but the Rakuten Eagles and Lotte Marines played a makeup game.

Marines 8, Eagles 1

At Rakuten Seimei Park, former Lotte closer Yuji Nishino (1-1) won his second straight start, going five scoreless innings and facing 19 batters at the same park where he last started and won on Sept. 30, 2017.

Seiya Inoue opened the scoring with a third-inning leadoff homer against Rakuten’s Shoma Fujihira (0-1), who couldn’t find his control and loaded the bases with no outs in a two-run Lotte fourth.

News

NPB to consider version of Rule 5 Draft

Nippon Professional Baseball’s executive committee and board of directors met on Monday in Tokyo and presented a concrete plan to the teams for the introduction of an active player draft similar in respects to Major League Baseball’s Rule 5 Draft of players not on 40-man rosters.

Atsushi Ihara, NPB’s secretary general, said it is now up to the parties to study the proposal that would allow players on NPB’s 70-man rosters with scant opportunities for playing time to move to other clubs.

Monday’s proposal is for a draft to be held every two years.

Such a draft is something the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association has been pushing for years, in addition to shortened requirements for free agency (currently nine years to qualify for unlimited international filing rights) and player rental, and minor league free agency.

NPB games, news of Aug. 4, 2019

The SoftBank Hawks went into Sapporo on Friday with their Pacific League lead on the line, leading the Nippon Ham Fighters by half a game, but won their first two games, while the Yomiuri Giants dropped two in Yokohama, seeing their lead drop from 3-1/2 games to 1-1/2 over the DeNA BayStars.

Pacific League

Fighters 4, Hawks 3

At Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham used its first true opener of the season, as Mizuki Hori threw a 1-2-3 first before giving way to Bryan Rodriguez (6-2), who got the win after allowing a run over five innings as SoftBank failed to sweep.

Hawks journeyman Akira Niho (1-3) held the Fighters down two times through the batting order but got whacked the third time around. An infield single a one-out hit and a hanging 3-0 two-seamer put the Fighters in front when Haruki Nishikawa drove it to the wall. Two more runs scored and the Fighters’ bullpen overcame a two-run hiccup from middle reliever Naoki Miyanishi.

“I thought he (Niho) was going to hold them to two runs in the inning,” Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo said. “I was too slow to act, so this is on me.”

Although the Fighters have made people notice through manager Hideki Kuriyama’s “short starters,” he hadn’t used a one-inning opener, unless that was his plan for Johnny Barbato’s five-run, one-inning start on May 25.

“I was told it a few days earlier it was only going to be one inning,” Hori said. “It’s been a while since I’ve pitched that well.”

Pro Yakyu News’ Yoshiaki Kanemura, who had been “offended” by the BayStars’ foreign manager batting Japan cleanup hitter Yoshitomo Tsutsugo second, praised Kuriyama’s style.

“If it were any other manager I don’t know,” Kanemura said. “But with Kuriyama, it takes you back to the old days to talk of (unconventional Hall of Fame manager Osamu Mihara’s) ‘Mihara Magic.'”

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Buffaloes 4

At Kyocera Dome, rookie Orix starter Daichi Takeyasu, now facing PL teams for the second time since being acquired as free agent compensation from Hanshin, got beat up for the second-straight week, allowing four runs in three innings in a loss to Seibu and could have easily given up more.

Shogo Akiyama absolutely smashed a leadoff homer in the first, tripled in the tie-breaking run in the seventh and helped save a run by robbing Masataka Yoshida of a one-out double in the ninth with a diving catch. Zach Neal started for Seibu and allowed three runs over five innings, while Kyle Martin worked a scoreless eighth to preserve the Lions’ late lead.

The Lions abandoned the DH in the bottom of the sixth when DH Tomoya Mori had to take over at catcher in place of Masatoshi Okada, who hurt his hand on a play at the plate.

Benches cleared in the second inning when Okada was drilled in the back. Although the Lions catcher took first base without complaint, Seibu first base coach Tomoki Sato began jawing with Orix pitching coach Ikuo Takayama and battery coach Fumihiro Suzuki, who went on to the field to join the discussion.

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 11, Eagles 2

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Lotte right-hander Atsuki Taneichi (6-1) struck out five of the first six batters he faced and 10 total over seven innings in Lotte’s win over Rakuten.

New Marine Leonys Martin went 3-for-4 with a double a run and three RBIs.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

BayStars 3, Giants 2

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA was without middle reliever Spencer Patton, who was deactivated after landing three punches to the door of the home dugout refrigerator on Saturday following a frustrating outing. The BayStars’ bullpen, however, got by, allowing an unearned run over the final for innings to complete a sweep of Yomiuri.

BayStars starter Shota Imanaga (10-5) allowed a run over five innings, and his teammates scored a pair of runs on groundouts. Yasuaki Yamasaki earned his 25th save as DeNA closed to within half a game of the Giants.

Carp 10, Tigers 5

At Mazda Stadium, Alejandro Mejia capped a five-run first inning with a three-run home run as Hiroshima blew out Hanshin to move within

Swallows 7, Dragons 2

At Jingu Stadium, rookie Munetaka Murakami and Norichika Aoki homered for Yakult, while funky leg-kicking lefty Keiji Takahashi (3-4) struck out seven while allowing two runs over six innings in Yakult’s win over Chunichi.

NPB games, news of Aug. 3, 2019

I’ve been working on an analysis of DeNA’s using their pitchers to bat eighth — which a colleague of mine who works in broadcast media said pitching coach Daisuke Miura is opposed to. It’s been maddeningly tricky, and I’m probably going to have to use a run expectancy table to sum up the net gains and losses.

Saturday was Round 2 of the two leagues’ top-of-the-table clashes.

Pacific League

Hawks 6, Fighters 3

At Sappporo Dome, SoftBank won its sixth straight game at Nippon Ham’s home park behind Cuban lefty Ariel Miranda (5-3), while Chihiro Kaneko (4-6) gave up four runs in the first — his first runs allowed in over a month.

As expected, Hawks skipper Kimiyasu Kudo used closer Yuito Mori with a five-run lead in the ninth, when he allowed two runs. Mori didn’t pitch on Friday and with Monday off. It was probably a useful way to keep him involved.

Game highlights can be found HERE.

Buffaloes 4, Lions 1

At Kyocera Dome, Orix’s Yoshinobu Yamamoto (6-4) showed why he’s one of Japan’s best pitchers this season, with razor-sharp command of his fastball and cutter giving the Seibu hitters fits.

If that weren’t enough, the right-hander seemed able to snap off nasty curves and throw some impressive splitters just to keep the Lions from sitting on either the four-seamer or cutter. The 20-year-old Yamamoto gave up a couple of hits to open the ninth, when he lost his shutout bid, but Brandon Dickson came on and recorded his 10th save with a pair of strikeouts.

Yamamoto, who struck out 10, lowered his ERA to 1.84. In 24-1/3 innings against Seibu this season, he has allowed two runs, one earned.

“He has to be the best pitcher in the league right now,” Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji said. “Since if you go by ERA, you figure you’re not going to score more than two runs off him.”

Steven Moya, acquired in a July trade with the Chunichi Dragons, opened the scoring in the first with the third of three-straight one-out singles. He gave his hero interview in English.

Game highlights can be found HERE.

Marines 0, Eagles 0, 12 innings

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Lotte loaded the bases three times — the last time with one out in the 11th inning — and Rakuten juiced the bags twice before their futile night was put out of its misery by rules ending all games after 12 innings.

In the fifth inning, Eagles second baseman Hideto Asamura, whose strength is his offense, flashed some LEATHER.

Central League

BayStars 6, Giants 5

At Yokohama Stadium, Yomiuri came back from a 5-0 deficit on a three-run Kazuma Okamoto home run and a two-run double from Hayato Sakamoto, only to lose it on a passed ball by rookie catcher Yukinori Kishida, who had come off the bench to make his first-team debut.

Sakamoto began the day tied with DeNA’s Neftali Soto for the CL RBI lead with 71, but Soto finished the game with 75 after a first-inning sacrifice fly and a third-inning, three-run home run.

BayStars lefty Kenta Ishida struck out eight over six innings, and was never really in trouble. He allowed the Giants to tie it when pinch hitter Shingo Ishikawa reached on a “furinige” (literally “swinging and escaping” on an uncaught swinging third strike). After a two-out walk, Ishida threw a high-straight 1-1 fastball to Okamoto, who lined launched it into the stands in left for his 18th home run.

Post-game Rami-chan

DeNA skipper Alex Ramirez might not watch the game more intensely than any other manager, but nobody looks more intense than he does on the bench. Here’s his post-game interview:

“You can tell they are the No. 1 team in the league. They never give up. It was hard at the end. We were able to come back and win the game, but man those last three innings were very tough.”

“He (Ishida) did a tremendous job right from the beginning until the end. Of course, he gave up that three-run home run, but he did a really good job.”

“A couple of runs we got, a two-base hit, a sacrifice fly, bringing the guy in. Small things like that, small baseball, that’s what wins games and that’s what we were able to do today.”

“It’s not going to be any easier for tomorrow’s game. We’ve got to continue and stay focused and come back ready to win tomorrow.”

The announcer, of course had to add an NPB public service announcement: “You heard the manager reconfirm that small baseball wins games. And now to the highlights…”

Tigers 4, Carp 1

At Mazda Stadium, Yuki Nishi (5-7) allowed a run over five innings, rookie Koji Chikamoto broke a 1-1 tie with his eighth home run, and Kyuji Fujikawa saved his fourth straight game as Hanshin kept Hiroshima from moving to within two games of the CL lead.

The four saves are the most for the former Cub since he saved 24 in 2012, the 39-year-old’s last in Japan before Tommy John surgery.

Dragons

At Jingu Stadium, Nobumasa Fukuda homered for the second-straight day, tying it with a third-inning, two-run home run and leading Chunichi’s comeback against Yakult.

Tetsuto Yamada hit his 26th home run for Yakult, while rookie Munetaka Murakami hit his 22nd.

NPB games, news of Aug. 2, 2019

The top two teams in each league as of Aug. 1, met for the start of three-game series on Friday at the home park of the second-place team. With Kodai Senga pitching for the Hawks in Sapporo and Tomoyuki Sugano going for the Giants in Yokohama, it made for an entertaining start to the weekend.

Central League

BayStars 4, Giants 2

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA’s Kentaro Taira took his 138 kph (85.7 mph) side-arm fastball, a screwball a slider and kept the ball in or below the bottom of the strike zone to outpitch Yomiuri ace Tomoyuki Sugano (8-5).

Taira said teammates Neftali Soto and Jose “El Chamo” Lopez both promised to get hits for him, and in a sixth inning set up by a series of fat pitches from Sugano, Soto tied it with a line double before Lopez had to work for a hit, going down to get a decent slider and lofting it into right center for a two-run double.

Carp 7, Tigers 0

At Mazda Stadium, Xavier Batista hit a grand slam with his 25th home run of the season, and Daichi Osera (8-6) threw a five-hitter as third-place Hiroshima beat Hanshin to move within three games of the Giants.

Dragons 5, Swallows 4

At Jingu Stadium, Yota Kyoda drove in the winning run with a squeeze as Chunichi beat Yakult’s current closer, Scott McGough (4-2) in a game that saw five home runs.

Wladimir Balentien hit his 22nd of the season for the Swallows, giving Japan’s single-season record holder 277 home runs in NPB, tying him for fifth all-time among foreign hitters alongside former Minnesota Twins farmhand Greg “Boomer” Wells.

Pacific League

Hawks 2, Fighters 0

At Sapporo Dome, Kodai Senga (10-4) walked five but allowed just two hits, while striking out eight to post his first shutout of the season as SoftBank held off Nippon Ham.

Fighters right-hander Toshihiro Sugiura, who has been bouncing back and forth between the minors and the big club, making starts every two weeks or so and looking bad doing so, had his best game of the year, striking out five over five scoreless innings.

Alfredo Despaigne broke the scoreless deadlock in the sixth off Mizuki Hori, who had been dropped out of his short starter role after surrendering 13 runs over his last two starts.

Senga improved to 7-0 in his career at Sapporo Dome.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 5, Marines 2

At Rakuten Seimei Park, 1.69-meter right-hander Manabu Mima (7-3) allowed one unearned run over six innings, and Rakuten skipper Yosuke Hiraishi got a chance to use his closer for a save in the ninth against Lotte.

A Shogo Nakamura leadoff homer in the top of the ninth made it a three-run game, and Takashi Ogino’s two-out single created a save situation. Hiraishi trotted out Japan’s save leader just to prove he could, and lefty Yuki Matsui struck out Leonys Martin on seven pitches to earn his Japan-best 29th save.

Game highlights are HERE.

Buffaloes 9, Lions 8

At Kyocera Dome, Steven Moya drove in three runs as Orix beat Seibu–the second-straight night the Lions lost by a run after scoring eight-plus.

Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji juggled his lineup, dropping No. 2 hitter Sosuke Genda to the No. 9 spot, and batting catcher Tomoya Mori third, from where he homered twice and drove in five runs.

Game highlights are HERE.

News

Former Tigers, Buffaloes infielder Kamada dies

Minoru Kamada, who played 1,482 games, mostly at second base for the Tigers and Kintetsu Buffaloes and is best known for introducing the infielder’s backward toss to Japan, has died at the age of 80.

Kamada first saw major leaguers flipping the ball to their double play partners when he visited major league spring camps in Florida with the Tigers in the early 1960s, but said it took him four years of practice to get the hang of it.

A story goes that he rarely tried it in games because he disliked the media so much and said that if he were to make one mistake doing it the Tigers beat writers would never let him forget it.

When he moved to the Buffaloes in 1967, legendary manager Osamu Mihara instructed him not to do it. One story goes that Mihara, a former infielder said it would cause problems with the team’s other infielders, who were not that skilled. In response to that, Kamada famously said, “That’s the other infielder’s problem, and has nothing to do with me.”

NPB game, news of Aug. 1

Pacific League

Hawks 11, Lions 10

At MetLife Dome, SoftBank salvaged their second-straight series finale, avoiding a sweep at the hands of Seibu thanks to a pair of two-run Alfredo Despaigne home runs. Despaigne went 4-for-5 with three runs.

A night after the Lions and Hawks played just the third game at MetLife Dome this season in which neither team scored more than two runs, the two teams played the season’s second in game in which both teams scored at least 10. The Hawks won that one, too, 12-11 over the Eagles on May 3 in Fukuoka.

Lions rookie Ryusei Sato, Seibu’s seventh draft pick last autumn out of university started at third base, and went 3-for-5 with two doubles and four RBIs. Ernesto Mejia went 2-for-3 with a two-run double and a sac fly for the Lions.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 3, Fighters 1

At Sapporo Dome, Eigoro Mogi tripled and scored the game’s first run and singled in the tie-breaking run as Rakuten got past Nippon Ham’s best starting pitcher Kohei Arihara (11-5).

Mogi scored on a Hideto Asamura single. Asamura’s 23rd home run provided a ninth-inning insurance run. Arihara allowed two runs on five hits and a walk over seven innings, while striking out seven.

Yoshinao Kamata started for Rakuten and allowed a run over three innings in his second-straight abbreviated start. Wataru Karashima (7-5) scattered three hits and three walks over three scoreless innings and pitched out of a pair of one-out, bases-loaded pickles to get the win for the Eagles. Frank Herrmann led a trio of scoreless innings out of the visitors’ bullpen with Yuki Matsui earning his Japan-high 28th save.

Eagles manager Yosuke Hiraishi took a page out of Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama’s book by using two starters instead of one. Kamata is coming off elbow and shoulder surgery last year, while Karashima was given a lighter outing to give him a break.

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 7, Buffaloes 6, 12 innings

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Leonys Martin homered for the third time in six Japan games and drew a bases-loaded walk in the 12th to lift Lotte over Orix. Martin, who went 3-for-6 with two runs scored, also has two assists from right field for the Marines.

Masataka Yoshida scored three runs for the Buffaloes, while Yuma Mune and Stefen Romero each drove in two. Brandon Laird went 0-for-2 and came out of the game in the third inning at the instruction of umpire Koichi Nagai after they debated the location of the 3-2 pitch Laird had looked at.

Mike Bolsinger started and allowed two runs over five innings for the Marines.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Swallows 4, BayStars 2

At Yokohama Stadium, Yakult lefty Hiroki Yamada (4-0) beat DeNA, going six innings for the first time in three years. He’s now won four-straight starts for the second time in his career and the first time since 2012.

Yamada’s last six-inning start came with the SoftBank Hawks on June 7, 2016 against the BayStars in Fukuoka.

Swallows rookie Munetaka Murakami hit his 21st home run, tying the game 1-1 in the second.

Carp 8, Giants 2

At Tokyo Dome, Yusuke Nomura (5-3) overcame two shaky innings to post his second straight win, allowing a run over six innings as Hiroshima came from behind to beat league-leading Yomiuri and pull within four games of the Giants.

Ryuhei Matsuyama was about two steps two slow to rob two Giants of first-inning RBI doubles. The rotund slugger made a leaping grab in the left-center gap to rob Hayato Sakamoto, but came a step short of keeping Yoshihiro Maru’s fly from dropping at the foul line.

If Matsuyama had anything to make up for, he did so in the fourth, when he tied the game with the fourth home run of his injury-hit season.

Alejandro Mejia went 3-for-3, his second double igniting Hiroshima’s four-run seventh, when Giants starter Cristopher Mercedes (6-6) from the game.

Game highlights are HERE.

Tigers 3, Dragons 2

At Koshien Stadium, Shintaro Fujinami made his belated first-team debut. The lanky right-hander, whose career has been plagued by an inability to throw strikes, walked six and hit two in his 4-1/3 innings on the mound, but allowed just one run in Hanshin’s win over Chunichi.

“Well, nobody’s perfect,” Tigers manger Akihiro Yano said. “The bottom line was he allowed just one run. He got a great ovation from the crowd, and I’m sure that meant a lot to him. I expect he’ll take heart from that, and work things out.”

Game highlights are HERE.

Ramichanalytics Part I

When it comes to making use of analytics, DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez may not be on the cutting edge, but he does his homework. He may not know lots of percentages but he does pay rigorous attention to his splits and other parts of the game, and that’s more than a lot of managers can say.

Although I missed out on asking him about his “Put the cleanup hitter in the No. 2 hole magic trick,” he is still using his pitchers to bat eighth again, and I was curious if he was aware of one rationale for putting your worst hitter eighth.

To cut to the chase, Tango, Lichtman, and Dolphin concluded that flipping a position player into the No. 9 spot and having the pitcher bat eighth can increase an average lineup’s production over a 162-game season by 2.47 runs per season. Not much, but not zero. The idea is that the No. 9 hitter does more than just create outs with runners on base ahead of him from the bottom of the order. He also gets on base for the 1-2-3 hitters, something most pitchers not named Shohei Ohtani are really, really bad at doing.

Nobody in professional baseball has used his pitchers to bat eighth as much as Ramirez. He originally started the practice in 2017 and used it throughout the 2018 season before abandoning it over the winter. On Wednesday in Yokohama, I asked Ramirez if he was familiar with the analytical advantage of batting the pitcher eighth.

He didn’t answer the question but did explain his rationale for using his pitcher’s in the No. 8 hole, and it has zero to do with the idea of using No. 9 as a “second leadoff hitter.” Instead, it has to do with what happens when the No. 8 hitter comes up with a runner on first base.

“The reason why it has been working, is when I use the pitcher as an eighth hitter and I bunt, I have a chance to score, a better chance to score in that situation (instead of having the No. 8 hitter swing away and leave the pitcher to clean up),” Ramirez said. “But that being said, you need to use somebody who is good batting with runners in scoring position as the ninth hitter. It cannot be just anybody.”

“Sometimes you have to think whether you want to go with a straight No. 8 hitter or have the pitcher in there and have him bunt for the ninth hitter. It depends on the situation.”

NPB games, news of July 31

Pacific League

Lions 2, Hawks 0

At MetLife Dome, Seibu won a pitcher’s duel over SoftBank. In the third game this season at MetLife Dome in which neither team scored more than two runs, Kona Takahashi went six innings, while Kyle Martin, Katsunori Hirai (4-1), and Tatsushi Masuda (15th save) finished up for the Lions.

Robert Suarez, who is being tested out as a starter this season, needed 105 pitches to get through four scoreless innings, and Seibu broke through for two runs in the eighth. Sosuke Genda singled and scored on a booming one-out Hotaka Yamakawa double. Yamakawa was safe on a single when he had no right to be but the Hawks couldn’t make the routine throw and tag.

The win moved the Lions to within four games of the first-place Hawks.

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 4, Eagles 3

At Sapporo Dome, all the action occurred in the first and seventh innings. Rakuten broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh when Zelous Wheeler singled and scored, and Nippon scored three in the home half. The first Fighters run came when Kazuhari Ishii’s RBI double stuck in the right field wall for an “entitle two base” as they say in Japanese baseball English. Three batters later, Yuya Taniguchi’s pinch-hit double broke a 3-3 tie.

Eagles right-hander Takahiro Norimoto (2-2) allowed four runs in 6-1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one. Frank Herrmann surrendered Taniguchi’s double, while Alan Busenitz worked a scoreless eighth for the Eagles.

Former Cleveland Indians pitcher Toru Murata had his best outing of the season, three scoreless innings of relief for Nippon Ham, and Ryo Akiyoshi saved his 18th for the Fighters.

Game highlights are HERE.

Buffaloes 8, Marines 4

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Orix took the lead in the first on an error and a high casual fastball from Hideaki Wakui that pint-sized slugger Masataka Yoshida knocked into the field seats in right-center for his 20th home run. Wakui (3-7) had a “you’re not supposed to swing at those high ones, dude” look.

Orix starter Taisuke Yamaoka (8-3) contributed to what was a night of fat pitches but fared better than Wakui. Being Japan, Orix manager Norifumi Nishimura brought out his closer with a four-run lead in the ninth and Brandon Dickson

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Carp 3, Giants 2

At Tokyo Dome, Hiroshima’s Ryoma Nishikawa led off the game with his second first-inning leadoff homer in two days and his fourth of the month in the win over Yomiuri. Ryosuke Kikuchi followed with another and Kris Johnson (8-6) cruised. The lefty allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven scoreless innings.

Alex Guerrero belted a two-run home run for the Giants and came within a hair of tying it in the eighth when he lined into a double play with a runner on third. Geronimo Franzua who came on to face him finished up and got five outs and his sixth save.

Old fart bunt alert

The Pro Yakyu News cast couldn’t help from drooling a little bit when Giants manager Tatsunori Hara ordered young cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto to sacrifice with no outs and a runner on second while trailing by a run in the eighth inning.

Mitsuru Manaka: “Even though the Giants lost, about the eighth inning Yomiuri Giants manager Hara demonstrated his persistence by ordering Okamoto to bunt.”

Masaki Saito: “He was aiming to have a runner on third with one out.”

Manaka: “Manager Hara is willing to bunt isn’t he?”

??? : “In order to win, to get this game, he’ll really play small ball.”

Manaka: “Tomorrow is Game 3. I can’t wait. Wow. What a tenacious sacrifice.”

When I first started writing sabermetric guides to Japanese baseball 25 years ago, this stuff absolutely drove me nuts, and then it was nonstop. Now it’s only once a day or so, and I’ve built up something of an immunity.

Game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 4, Swallows 3

At Yokohama Stadium, Toshiro Miyazaki’s one-out, bases-loaded single in the ninth broke a 3-3 tie and lifted DeNA past Yakult after the Swallows tied it in the eighth on a two-run Tetsuto Yamada home run.

BayStars starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi didn’t figure in the decision but was sharp, allowing a run over six innings.

The win moved the BayStars to within 3-1/2 games of the league-leading Giants.

Dragons 3, Tigers 2

At Koshien Stadium, 19-year-old Chunichi right-hander Takumi Yamamoto (1-1) allowed a run over six innings to earn his first pro win. Zoilo Almonte and Dayan Viciedo combined for five of the Dragons’ 11 hits against Hanshin.

The 1.67-meter (5’6″) Yamamoto said he hopes his first win is an inspiration to others.

“I don’t want to finish second best to pitchers who are bigger than me,” said Yamamoto. “This is just one win, but it means I faced up to it (the challenge). I think this may mean something to young kids playing ball, and maybe inspire them.”

Game highlights are HERE.

NPB games, news of July 30, 2019

Central League

Giants 8, Carp 5

At Tokyo Dome, Emailin Montilla, the latest product of Hiroshima’s Dominican Academy, made his NPB debut, allowing three runs, two earned, in 2-1/3 innings as the Carp’s nine-game losing streak crashed to a halt.

The lefty was unlucky on some first-inning groundballs, but a basketful of fat third-inning pitches resulted in three line drives, with Alex Guerrero just settling for a two-run double when his drive struck high off the wall in left. Giants starter Shun Yamaguchi (11-2) cruised for most of the game until four runs on a pair of eighth-inning homers.

Rubby De La Rosa struck out two in a scoreless ninth for his first save in Japan.

Giants manager Tatsunori Hara became the 11th manager in NPB history with 1,000 wins and the third Giants skipper after Tetsuharu Kawakami and Shigeo Nagashima.

Game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 6, Swallows 2

At Yokohama Stadium, rookie Taiga Kamichatani (6-3) became the first DeNA rookie to win six-straight decisions, allowing two runs on Tetsuto Yamada home run. He gave up a walk and three hits in the win over Yakult.

With the game tied 2-2 in the fifth, Neftali Soto and Jose Lopez each singled in a run as the BayStars took the lead for good.

Tigers 7, Dragons 6

At Koshien Stadium, Yangervis Solarte was impactful, winning the game with a sayonara two-run homer, his second two-run shot in a game that also saw his defense at short contribute to a two-run sixth inning.

He went 4-for-4 and even as the announcers are bemoaning his defense, they can’t stop talking about him non stop.

Pacific League

Eagles 2, Fighters 0

At Sapporo Dome, Rakuten rookie Hayato Yuge (1-0) threw a two-hit shutout in his second pro start and a pair of mid-season acquisitions, Ren Wada and Ko Shimazuru, accounted for both his team’s runs against Nippon Ham.

Mitsuo Yoshikawa (0-2) was given the medium start (two trips through the batting order) for Nippon Ham but allowed two runs over four innings and the Fighters managed just two hits and a walk off of the rookie, who kept them off the barrel as he located and surprised hitters with a nice little cutter.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Hawks 2

At MetLife Dome, Seibu’s Tatsuya Imai (6-8) allowed two runs over six innings to capture a pitchers’ duel against SoftBank’s Rei Takahashi (9-3), who allowed three over six.

The Lions speed and batting made the difference as Shuta Tonosaki set up the tying run with a stolen base, scored on a Tomoya Mori single. A Takeya Nakamura double and a Takumi Kuriyama single plated the go-ahead run and set up an insurance run and Seibu never looked back. A couple of errors by SoftBank sealed it in a two-run seventh.

Alfredo Despaigne came out of the game after striking out in the second inning. He’d complained of not feeling well before the game.

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 4, Buffaloes 1

At Zozo Marine Stadium, right-hander Daiki Iwashita (5-3) didn’t allow a hit through 5-1/3 innings and Lotte held on behind a solo homer and RBI double from Leonys Martin to beat last-place Orix.

For the second straight game, the Buffaloes lost their first-inning leadoff runner on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.

Daichi Suzuki singled in Lotte’s two other runs. In the on-field hero interview, Martin said in Japanese, “I’ll do my best, too!’

Game highlights are HERE.

News

RIP Loek van Mil

The details are still not clear, but former Netherlands international closer and Rakuten Eagles reliever Loek van Mil has died, apparently in a fatal accident in Europe.

We spoke a few times and he talked about going back to university when offers to play baseball stopped coming. They may not have been the offers he was looking for, but he kept taking them.

My favorite Loek moment came in San Francisco on the morning after the Netherlands and Japan were eliminated from the 2013 World Baseball Classic. The wife and I were walking to a lunch meeting with friends, and we walked passed the players’ hotel. There, mostly Japanese fans were waiting out on the street for players to make an appearance, when Loek came out, all 7 feet, infinity of him.

He was flustered because he didn’t know where he had to go do catch his bust to get to minor league spring training and he was late. Although he protested that he had no time, Loek patiently had his picture taken with a dozen or so Japanese baseball fans there on the street at Union Square.

By the time they left him alone, panic was in Loek’s eyes but he just sucked it up and went in search of the bus

NPB games, news of July 28, 2019

The league leaders fired warning shots over the bows of their pursuers on Sunday as both the Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks and the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants won lopsided games to avoid being swept at home.

Central League

Giants 16, Tigers 4

At Tokyo Dome, Alex Guerrero and Ginjiro Sumitani each hit grand slams for Yomiuri as right-hander Toshiki Sakurai (5-1) watched as his teammates overturned a 1-0 first-inning deficit with seven runs in the bottom of the first.

Sakurai struck out six while allowing three runs over seven innings.

Former Chicago Cub Kosuke Fukudome homered for the Tigers, becoming the 42nd player in Japan to score 1,000 runs.

Game highlights are HERE.

Dragons 4, BayStars 2

At Nagoya Dome, two streaks were snapped as lefty Kotaro Kasahara (3-1), in his second start back from a three-month injury layoff, allowed two runs over six innings.

Three of Chunichi’s runs came on sacrifice flies, as did one of DeNA’s — when the BayStars loaded the bases in the sixth with no outs. Neftali Soto, last year’s CL home run leader drove in that run and also hit his 27th home run.

The Dragons’ win snapped an eight-game losing streak, while the BayStars had pushed into second place on the back of a seven-game win streak.

Carp 12, Swallows 5

At Jingu Stadium, Allen Kuri (5-5) allowed two runs over seven innings, while 19-year-old rookie Kaito Kozono went 3-for-4 with a homer, a walk, two runs and two RBIs as Hiroshima smashed Yakult.

The Carp’s eight-game win streak is now their second-longest of the season and ties the SoftBank Hawks for NPB’s second longest.

Pacific League

Hawks 9, Buffaloes 2

At Yafuoku Dome, SoftBank’s Cuban lefty Ariel Miranda (4-3) won for the first time since May 19 with six shutout innings, while Orix’s Daichi Takeyasu suffered his first career defeat. The rookie, who was acquired as free agent compensation from the Hanshin Tigers, fell to 2-1 after surrendering seven runs on seven hits and a walk over two-plus innings.

After the game, Orix manager Norifumi Nishimura blamed Takeyasu’s lack of control and the inability to bunt in the top of the first after the leadoff man reached as the key factors in the loss. This led me to do some quick research HERE.

Seiichi Uchikawa, one of two players to win batting championships in each league, had his 350th career double in the first inning. he’s fourth among active players. The others are Kosuke Fukudome (389), Kazuya Fukuura (388), and Shinnosuke Abe (353).

Game highlights are HERE.

Marines 4, Eagles 3

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Seiya Inoue walked three times, scored twice himself and contributed to the winning run by drawing a leadoff walk in the ninth. Pinch-runner Hiromi Oka stole second, was sacrificed to third and scored on an Ikuhiro Kiyota’s sac fly as Lotte beat Rakuten.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 8, Fighters 7, 10 innings

At MetLife Dome, Seibu closer Tatsushi Masuda surrendered a three-run, game-tying homer in the ninth to Kensuke Kondo, but Fumikazu Kimura singled in the 10th and scored from first base on a throwing error by Nippon Ham shortstop Takuya Nakashima.

Lions starter Zach Neal appeared set for the win having allowed three runs over seven innings while striking out seven, while Deunte Heath (1-2) did get the decision after striking out two in a 1-2-3 10th.

Japan home run leader Hotaka Yamakawa, one of the Lions who didn’t go deep in Saturday’s six-home run loss to Nippon Ham, hit his 31st homer and drove in four runs for the Lions.

Game highlights are HERE.

Scoring 1 run for your starter

One thing I love about Orix Buffaloes manager Norifumi Nishimura is his willingness to speak his mind. Of course, as one of Japan’s principle advocates of the sacrifice bunt, that means ascribing all kinds of benefits to the tactic.

Nishimura attributed Orix’s 9-2 loss to the SoftBank Hawks on Sunday to:

  • His starting pitcher repeatedly throwing pitches that were easy to hit
  • His No. 2 hitter failing to sacrifice after his leadoff man reached in the 1st inning.

Mind you, his starting pitcher, rookie Daichi Takeyasu had been fairly sharp in his four previous starts. But still, Nishimura is asserting that getting the runner to scoring position with one out could have prevented the ass-whipping that was to follow.

Is it reasonable to assume that a visiting pitcher would do better if he entered the bottom of the first with the one-run lead Nishimura lives to play for?

Here’s a quick study from the available data including recent starting pitchers, and how they performed on the road in those games when they went to the mound in the first inning of games that were either scoreless or 1-0. Included only those in which I have a record of them with a minimum of 50 innings as a starter in games that were 1-0 after the top of the first.

NameIP 1-0 startsERA 1-0 startsERA 0-0 startsWin Pct 0-0 startsWin Pct 1-0 startsERA Diff .
Randy Messenger664.093.200.5000.3750.89
Kenshin Kawakami54 1/34.143.700.5600.7500.44
Takayuki Kishi107 1/32.932.540.5830.6150.39
Kazuhisa Ishii93 2/34.043.660.3670.4440.38
Hideaki Wakui142 1/34.053.770.4950.4740.28
Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi89 1/34.844.570.4040.3330.27
Atsushi Nomi1504.143.870.4780.4500.27
Tetsuya Utsumi151 1/33.513.540.4420.450-0.03
Kan Otake124 2/33.543.610.3860.625-0.07
Koji Uehara122 2/33.083.190.5160.600-0.11
Masanori Ishikawa152 2/33.483.680.3880.619-0.20
Shunsuke Watanabe99 2/33.794.040.4260.500-0.25
Kenichi Nakata104 2/33.614.030.3730.692-0.42
Yoshihisa Naruse118 1/33.423.910.3750.571-0.49
Toshiya Sugiuchi196 2/32.613.200.4940.684-0.59
Kenta Maeda1452.112.710.4460.688-0.60
Hisashi Iwakuma742.433.070.5920.625-0.64
Fumiya Nishiguchi1053.604.300.4260.769-0.70
Daisuke Miura1842.843.540.3410.647-0.70
Masahiro Yamamoto1243.824.670.4070.667-0.85
Hiroki Kuroda1202.333.330.4760.786-1.00
Yasutomo Kubo952.564.130.4510.857-1.57
Tsuyoshi Wada188 1/31.963.680.5140.941-1.72
Naoyuki Shimizu86 2/33.225.110.4030.818-1.89
Pitchers performances in starts as visitors in games started with 1-0 lead or 0-0 lead.

It seems from this data that it might be a good idea to get your pitcher a 1-0 lead in the first inning if you can. Having said that, I think I can see why Randy Messenger‘s teammates have infamously scored so few runs for him: He has done better when they don’t.

So Nishimura’s assertion that one run could have changed everything is probably not as ridiculous as it first sounds. And if your starting pitcher was Tsuyoshi Wada — at least back in the day before he had Tommy John surgery, why the heck wouldn’t you sacrifice in the top of the first if you had a chance?

writing & research on Japanese baseball

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