NPB games, news of July 8, 2019

By John E. Gibson
Guest Writer

The Tohoku Rakuten Eagles have lost the wind beneath their wings, and their fall from the top of the Pacific League standings continued Monday night in Yamagata Prefecture.

Orix used a Koji Oshiro sacrifice fly in the third inning, a two-out Yuma Mune RBI single in the seventh and seven scoreless innings from Taishi Yamaoka to send Rakuten to its 10th consecutive loss in a 2-0 decision.

Rakuten was leading the Pacific League when the skid started and is now at 39-39 and in fourth.

Yamaoka (6-2) fanned seven while holding the Eagles to one hit and one walk, and new closer Brandon Dickson tossed a perfect ninth for his sixth save as the Buffaloes won a close game at Kirayaka Stadium.

The skid is one shy of Rakuten’s franchise-worst mark, set in the team’s inaugural 2005 season.

The Buffaloes scored in the fourth when Ryoichi Adachi ran around catcher Kengo Horiuchi’s attempted tag on Oshiro’s fly to right. A replay request failed to overturn the call.

Steven Moya’s one-out single in the seventh opened the door for an insurance run. Keita Nakagawa forced the pinch runner at second, but stole second, and scored on Mune’s single.

Rakuten’s Zelous Wheeler got tossed in the eighth for arguing a strike call on a check-swing, perhaps showing the growing frustration amid the losing streak.

The Eagles will look to get a boost on Tuesday, when right-hander Takahiro Norimoto is slated to make his first start of the season.

The game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 5, Marines 3

Sho Nakata slugged a pair of two-run homers for Nippon Ham and Kenshi Sugiya added a solo shot to back Hiroshi Urano (2-1), who went five strong innings for the victory over Lotte at Zozo Marine Stadium.

The game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 8 Lions 7, 12 innings

Pinch-hitter Ryoya Kurihara of SoftBank hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to end a marathon battle against Seibu at Tokyo Dome in which both teams’ closers blew ninth-inning saves to send the game into extra innings.

Down to their last strike with a runner on in the ninth, Tomoya Mori hit a two-run homer to the opposite field off rookie Hiroshi Kaino, taking advantage of the shortest power allies in Japan. Lions closer Tatsushi Masuda returned the favor in the home half, surrendering a liner into the stands from Seiji Uebayashi to tie it.

The game highlights are HERE.

Dragons 3, Carp 2

Daisuke Yamai, at 41 NPB’s oldest pitcher, helped push Hiroshima’s skid to a season-worst nine games as Chunchi topped the Carp at Nagoya Dome.
Yamai (3-3) limited the Carp to a run on two hits with four walks and two strikeouts over 6.1 innings, and Zoilo Almonte, Dayan Viciedo, and Yota Kyoda all knocked in runs for the Dragons.

“I may be 41, but I don’t feel like I’m 41. I intend to keep plugging away, so please cheer for me,” Yamai said after his first win over the Carp in nine years.

Swallows 5 BayStars 3

Taishi Hirooka capped a four-run second inning with a two-run blast, and Hiroki Yamada (1-0) earned his first win in two seasons as Yakult topped Yokohama DeNA at Jingu Stadium.

Yakult’s bullpen allowed just two singles over the final 3-2/3 innings to close out the win with David Huff and Scott McGough working 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth, respectively. McGough, who hasn’t allowed a run in 14 straight games, recorded his third save.

Giants 4, Tigers 3

Yang Dai-kang’s tiebreaking RBI h9t in the eighth was the difference as Yomiuri outlasted Hanshin at Koshien Stadium.

Closer Kota Nakagawa came in to pitch a scoreless eighth, while Scott Mathieson, in his second game back from an adductor strain, worked around a pair of two-out walks in the ninth to earn his first save of the season.

The game highlights are HERE.

The short and long of Hideki Kuriyama

–By Jim Allen

After two straight days of two-inning “short starters,” manager Hideki Kuriyama got five innings of one-run ball from Urano in a more-conventional start.

As John Gibson (@JBWPodcast) and I mentioned this week on the podcast, figuring out manager Hideki Kuriyama’s pitching staff usage would require some serious elbow grease. Urano was making his second start of the season after allowing two runs over two innings the previous Sunday. It was a short outing, but was it one of Kuriyama’s typical two-inning short starts? I have no idea. Until then, Urano had only been used as a middle reliever this season.

Even when he took the mound for the first time in a week, Urano was only allowed to throw 67 pitches. He wasn’t dominating, and one key to Kuriyama’s pitching staff jigsaw puzzle may well be Urano’s batter-faced total: 18. It could be that Kuriyama only expects his second-tier starters to go through the opposing lineup twice.

NPB games, news of July 7, 2019

NPB’s two long winning streaks came to a halt on Sunday, with as the two league leaders each suffered their first losses in July

Buffaloes 5, Hawks 2

Orix’s Chris Marrero blasted a three-run double to cap a five-run eighth inning after SoftBank starter Yuki Matsumoto dominated for 7-2/3 innings. The right-hander retired 22 of the first 25 batters he faced before walking Shunta Gota and allowing a two-out single to Yuma Mune.

Hawks center fielder Go Kamamoto came within a hair of snaring Shuhei Fukuda’s sinking liner and ending the inning, but it fell for a game-tying double. With two outs and the bases loaded, Marrero drilled a mistake to the track, and Brandon Dickson pitched a scoreless ninth for his fifth save.

The game highlights are HERE.

Marines 8, Lions 2

With Lotte wearing their Hawaiian-shirt jerseys, lefty Seiya Dohi (1-0) repeatedly pitched out of trouble as Seibu racked up 10 hits and six walks but managed just two runs.

After the Lions left the bases loaded in the top of the inning, the Marines rallied for four in a bizarre inning. A wind-assisted error, a walk, a sacrifice, and a throwing error by pitcher Wataru Matsumoto made it 2-1. A walk and a double made it 3-1, and a throwing error by center fielder Shogo Akiyama capped the inning.

The game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 6, Eagles 3

After “short starter” Takayuki Kato allowed a run in two innings and Bryan Rodriguez allowed two runs over three frames, the Nippon Ham Fighters bullpen allowed just two runners over four scoreless innings as the visitors came from behind to hand Rakuten its ninth straight loss. The losing streak is the Eagles’ longest in two years.

The game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 6, Giants 4

DeNA came from a run down in the sixth by scoring four times off rookie Yomiuri right-hander Takuya Kuwahara (0-1) who suffered the loss in relief. Hikaru Ito, traded to the BayStars last summer from Orix, capped the four-run inning with his second home run in two days.

“I was too big a hurry to throw strikes and that was that,” Kuwahara said.

The loss snapped Yomiuri’s seven-game win streak.

Venezuelan left-hander Sammy Solis, signed from the BayStars’ developmental roster in June, allowed a run in the eighth inning in his first-team debut. While the Giants’ Scott Mathieson faced two batters in the ninth as he returned from an injury layoff.

The game highlights are HERE.

Dragons 7, Swallows 1

Chunichi’s Yuya Yanagi (9-2) struck out eight and scattered eight hits over eight innings to overcome Tetsuto Yamada’s leadoff homer in the first. Yakult starter Hirotoshi Takanashi (4-5) blew the game up in a 10-man, six-run first inning.

Tigers 1, Carp 0

Lefty Haruto Takahashi (2-2) struck out nine over eight innings and Rafael Dolis threw a 1-2-3 ninth to record his 18th save.

Hiroshima rookie Hiroki Tokoda (5-5) allowed a run over seven innings, taking the tough loss after Yusuke Oyama doubled in Yoshio Itoi in the seventh inning.

The loss was the Carp’s

The game highlights are HERE.

News

Tigers complete Solarte signing

The Hanshin Tigers have completed their acquisition of 32-year-old utility infielder Yangervis Solarte on a one-year contract worth a reported 50 million yen.

Tigers skipper Akihiro Yano said, “Our expectations for him are primarily with his bat. His being able to switch hit will give us more lineup options.”

Eagles, Giants swap players

The Yomiuri Giants sent 23-year-old outfielder Ren Wada to the Rakuten Eagles on Sunday for 23-year-old right-hander Yuri Furukawa.

Wada was the Giants’ second pick in the 2014 draft and led the Eastern League in home runs and RBIs last year.

NPB games, news of July 6, 2019

Saturday was a day for rearranging the standings in both leagues, as the Hiroshima Carp dropped out of second place in the Central League with their seventh-straight loss, and the Rakuten Eagles vacated the Pacific League’s runner-up position with their eighth-straight defeat.

Fighters 1, Eagles 0

The Fighters broke the scoreless tie in the top of the ninth with a run off Eagles closer Yuki Matsui (1-4). It was the first time since May 15, 2016 that the lefty had lost two straight games.

A day after returning from an injury layoff and earning his 13th save, Ryo Akiyoshi remained in the Nippon Ham Fighters’ bullpen after they took a 1-0 lead into the bottom of the ninth inning in Sendai.

Naoya Ishikawa, who’d been Akiyoshi’s understudy while he was rehabbing, came on and survived a couple of mistakes to earn his fourth save.

The game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 6, Buffaloes 5

SoftBank’s understudy closer, rookie Hiroshi Kaino, pitched out of two-out, two-on jam in the ninth to save his sixth game in the absence of closers Dennis Sarfate and Yuito Mori.

The Hawks came from behind on a pair of eighth-inning mistakes. Third baseman Ryoichi Adachi — once a promising shortstop who lost his spot there through illness and a baffling inability to make routine plays — let a grounder get past him to open the inning.

With one on and one out, Tyler Eppler (4-3) threw a first-pitch mistake to Nobuhiro Matsuda, who overturned a 5-4 deficit with his 19th homer of the season.

The game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Marines 0

Shogo Akiyama led off the game with a home run and added an RBI double, while Seibu right-hander Keisuke Honda allowed four leadoff hitters to reach but did not allow a run over 7-1/3 innings.

Hideaki Wakui (3-5) didn’t pitch half badly, three earned runs over six innings, and had done OK for three-straight games, but is 0-1 over that stretch.

The game highlights are HERE.

Giants 4, BayStars 3

Yomiuri’s Cristopher Mercedes (6-4) got a first-inning lead and only had to pitch out of trouble twice over seven scoreless innings before the BayStars fought back with three home runs off three different relievers to make it close.

The game highlights are HERE.

Tigers 8, Carp 5

Hanshin shelled Makoto Aduwa (2-4) for six runs over four innings, with Kento Itohara breaking a 3-3 tie in the third with a three-run home run, and the trio of Kyuji Fujikawa, Pierce Johnson and Rafael Dolis working a scoreless inning apiece to close out Hiroshima.

The game highlights are HERE.

Swallows 3, Dragons 1

It was the Masanori Ishikawa show at Nagoya Dome, as the 39-year-old lefty allowed a run on six hits and no walks over seven innings and squeezed home the winning run in the fifth inning to improve to 3-5.

NPB games, news of July 5, 2019

It’s streaky week in NPB, as the SoftBank Hawks and Yomiuri Giants keep winning as if they just might wrap up their pennants before the all-star break, while the Hiroshima Carp are mired in their longest losing streak in years and the Rakuten Eagles lost their seventh straight.

In a departure from the way I’ve been doing this, I’m wheeling out one episode from Friday’s games to give people a taste for Japanese ball.

Old farts and bunts

Sometimes Hall of Fame manager Tatsunori Hara just has to let his inner self out, and we saw that on Friday night in the series opener between the Giants and DeNA BayStars, won by the Giants 8-4 at home run-friendly Tokyo Dome.

With a one-run lead in hand, no outs, runners on first and second, and prize free agent slugger Yoshihiro Maru at the plate, Hara had him bunting. This caused the analyst on the NTV broadcast, Hara’s former teammate Kiyoshi Nakahata, to drool all over himself in praise for the one-run tactic.

Nothing gets Japanese old fart baseball people more excited than having a power hitter sacrifice, and Nakahata stepped up to the plate and showed his mettle.

“That’s really Hara baseball there, trying to get that next run,” Nakahata blubbered. “Just superb managing. He’s always thinking about the greatest way to apply pressure on an opponent.”

“(Young slugger Kazuma) Okamoto is batting fourth, and he’s still looking around, learning his role. Having Maru sacrifice sends a big message to him.”

Announcer: “Last year, this year, Maru has no sacrifices.”

Nakahata: “Coach Motoki at third is giving him the sign. It completely changes your attitude when you are asked to sacrifice. Being diligent in (obeying the bunt sign) teaches everyone what is important in the game.”

Announcer: “Okamoto is on deck. Watching Maru taking this sacrifice bunt really serious.”

Nakahata: “He (Okamoto) is getting the message.”

Announcer: “Hara will bunt with his middle-of-the-order guys.”

Nakahata: “He’ll even sacrifice with two outs.”

Then, when Maru fouled off a second bunt, Nakahata pulled out the old analyst’s favorite line, “Bunting is really hard. Anyone watching will see this. It’s the hardest thing you can do. “

This sentiment is immediately forgotten whenever a batter fails to get a sacrifice down and the broadcasters treat the player as if he is lazy and incompetent.

Maru then put an easy swing on a fastball from lefty Shota Imanaga and belted it over the left field wall for an opposite-field home run.

“This is the Giants’ way of winning, by bunting. Kamei did it with no outs, and now the No. 3 batter, Maru. It really is effective,” Nakahata said.

“By bunting early, Hara was sending a message to his team that this is really an important game. In order to win, you have to teach the players what is important.”

Afterward, Maru said, “I definitely need to work on my bunting. I was doing that because that was the sign they gave me and it was a chance to seize the initiative, so… I think I was able to make up for it (my failure to bunt) in the end.”

The game’s highlights are HERE.

Elsehwere, the Carp managed just four hits in a 3-1 loss to the Hanshin Tigers at Koshien Stadium, where two straight bunt singles — on balls misplayed by the Carp infield — opened the door for a tie-breaking two-run sixth inning. Jefry Marte tied it 1-1 for the Tigers with a solo homer in the fifth.

In the Pacific League, the Hawks smacked around one of this season’s most impressive starters, Orix Buffaloes right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto (4-4) in a four-run fourth inning en route to a 6-2 win in Kobe.

The game’s highlights are HERE.

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Seibu Lions starter Tatsuya Imai (5-7) left the mound with one out and two on in the eighth, and three runs scored in the inning with relievers on the mound in a 4-2 loss to the Lotte Marines.

The game’s highlights are HERE.

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Kohei Arihara (9-4) struck out 11 over seven scoreless innings, Sho Nakata hit a two-run homer, and closer Ryo Akiyoshi returned from injury to strike out three batters in the ninth and nail down his 13th save as the Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-2.

The game’s highlights are HERE.

News

Norimoto takes himself out of major league picture

The Rakuten Eagles revealed Friday that right-hander Takahiro Norimoto, who has been rated highly by major league scouts as much for his aggressive approach as his fastball and splitter, has agreed to a seven-year contract extension that will keep him in Sendai until he turns 35 after the 2025 season.

The deal was reportedly agreed to in March, when Norimoto, who had previously said he’d hoped to be posted after the 2019 season, abruptly said he wanted to remain in Japan in 2020 in order to pitch in next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Stewart throws 1st BP for Hawks ahead of farm debut

New SoftBank Hawks acquisition Carter Stewart on Friday threw his first batting practice since joining the club last month, and is slated to pitch in his first game in Japan next week.

The 19-year-old right-hander, who was the eighth player chosen in MLB’s 2018 June draft, faced veteran outfielder Akira Nakamura, 18-year-old, first-year outfielder Shun Mizutani and three developmental squad players, trying out all his pitches a 30-pitch tuneup at the Hawks farm complex in Chikugo, Fukuoka Prefecture.

The Nikkan Sports story is HERE.

Stewart said it was great facing the 29-year-old Nakamura, a longtime Hawks regular who is currently on a rehab assignment, and said he was able to throw at about 85 to 90 percent of full strength.

“With his high release point it was really hard to hit him,” said Mizutani, who also appeared unfamiliar with American-style curves, which don’t appear to “pop” out of the pitcher’s hand as much as they do in Japan.

Hawks rehabilitation coach Kazumi Saito, a former Sawamura Award winner, said, “I think he hit 140 kph (87 mph) today. His mechanics are loose and powerful, so he’s pretty hard to hit, and his fastball, curve and slider were all on.”

Stewart’s first game is set for next Tuesday at the Hawks’ minor league park, Tamahome Stadium in Chikugo against corporate league side Mitsubishi Motors Kyushu. He is expected to work two innings and throw about 40 pitches.

Life in NPB’s results lane

On Friday, the Sankei Sports did their duty in reporting for the Hanshin Tigers by declaring that Jefry Marte is the team’s scapegoat.

The paper “reported” that the Hanshin Tigers need to get Yangervis Solarte signed and in uniform as soon as possible because Marte “has come to a complete stop.”

“What can we do, we put runners on base,” mused Tigers manager Akihiro Yano after Marte went 0-for-4 with runners on, three times with a man in scoring position in the Tigers’ 7-2 loss on Thursday to the DeNA BayStars.

“I’m sure he goes up to the plate with that focus. He has the desire. We just need a little more production.”

With two outs in the first and a runner on second, Marte took a borderline third strike on a 3-2 pitch. In the third, with the game tied 2-2, Marte miss-hit a high 0-1 fastball and lined out to strand a runner at second.

With two on and two outs in the fifth and the Tigers trailing 3-2, Marte swung and missed at two nasty splitters from rookie Shinichi Onuki.

Marte basically swung at strikes and didn’t swing out of the zone, but because he failed three times in a row. But here’s the kicker, had he hit bullets to shortstop three straight times, he also would be considered a failure.

That’s because once a player gets beyond the three true outcomes of a strikeout, a walk or a home run, the only measure of success is what happens after the ball is in play and out of the batter’s hands. Players who do everything they can to get themselves out but still reach base on fluke hits are heroes. Guys who line out are failures.

The scapegoat machine

Going 0-for-4 is evidence of a lack of ability or effort when your team or its beat writers are looking for a scapegoat, and finding scapegoats is a big part of a Hanshin Tigers beat writer’s job.

Marte’s never had 400 plate appearances in one season at any level above Double-A. Japanese pitching is different. If it were easy, so many hitters wouldn’t fail here right off the bat.

Matt Murton, who was beloved in his first season with the Tigers in 2010, later became fodder for the Tigers’ scapegoat machine, as he talked about in March 2019.

NPB games, news of July 4, 2019

The SoftBank Hawks served up a Cuban sandwich to the Rakuten Eagles, completing a sweep of their closest Pacific League rivals thanks to big nights from Cubans Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne.

Gracial homered and drove in six runs in Tuesday’s opener and sandwiched Despaigne’s grand slam on Wednesday with a two-homer, five-RBI night to back Kodai Senga in Thursday’s finale as the Hawks won their seventh straight.

Pacific League

Hawks 6, Eagles 3

At Yafuoku Dome, Yurisbel Gracial drove in five runs, and Kodai Senga (9-2) allowed two runs over seven innings on short rest as SoftBank completed a three-game sweep of Rakuten that left the Eagles five games out in second place.

Jabari Blash homered and doubled and scored both of Rakuten’s runs against Senga, who struck out 10. Working on five days rest for the second time this season, Senga was clinging to a one-run lead in the sixth, when he allowed a leadoff single to Hideto Asamura.

With one out and Asamura on second, he threw two good cutters on the outer border of the zone to get to 2-2 against Blash. With everyone in the park knowing a splitter was coming, he nearly bounced one but Blash couldn’t hold up and was called out. After a two-out walk, Senga sent Zelous Wheeler down on strikes — with the help of two borderline calls on the outside corner.

“I couldn’t allow a run there, so I was completely going for strikeouts there,” Senga said. “It worked out well.”

With two on in the bottom of the sixth, and Gracial coming up, the Eagles went to the pen so he would not go 3-for-3 against starter Wataru Karashima (5-4). The lefty came out for right-hander Koji Aoyama, who missed up in the zone, and Gracial hit it just over the inner wall in left.

See game highlights HERE.

Lions 8, Fighters 2

At Sapporo Dome, Mitsuo Yoshikawa, pitching for Nippon Ham for the first time since 2016 following his trade from Yomiuri last week, allowed three runs on three hits and three walks over 2-1/3 innings.

Shuta Tonosaki and Takeya Nakamura did most of the damage for the Lions, each driving in three with a third-inning triple, and a seventh-inning double, respectively.

“(Tonosaki) really did a great job,” Seibu skipper Hatsuhiko Tsuji said. “He really has a knack for hitting breaking pitches right from the start of the at-bat.”

And Yoshikawa admitted he didn’t make it hard on him.

“I left the middle relievers to shoulder too big of a burden,” said Yoshikawa, the PL’s 2012 MVP. “I missed badly with a first-pitch changeup and that ruined everything.”

Zach Neal (3-1) struck out five over six scoreless innings to win his second straight start.

“This ain’t the time to be looking back at things,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said. “There are simply so many things we need to do.”

See game highlights HERE.

Buffaloes 4, Marines 2

At Kyocera Dome, Masataka Yoshida had a pair of RBI singles, and Shuhei Fukuda broke a 2-2 tie with a fifth-inning RBI triple as Orix beat Lotte.

Rookie Marines lefty Kazuya Ojima (0-2) allowed four runs over six innings to remain winless in his two-game career.

Buffaloes right-hander Brandon Dickson, threw a scoreless ninth, his sixthstraight appearance without allowing a run, to record his fourth save.

See game highlights HERE.

Central League

Giants 5, Dragons 3

At Tokyo Dome, Hayato Sakamoto broke open the scoring with his 24th home run, a second-inning grand slam off lefty Enny Romero (1-2), who walked five of the first 10 batters he faced.

Neither team scored in the first thanks to a pair of inning-ending, bases-loaded double plays

Nobutaka Imamura (2-1), who singled and scored on Sakamoto’s homer, got the win after allowing three runs over six innings, and three relievers pitched in with one scoreless inning apiece with Kota Nakagawa striking out two in the ninth en route to his 11th save.

See game highlights HERE.

Swallows 7, Carp 2

At Mazda Stadium, 22-year-old Yakult rookie Shota Nakayama hit a three-run home run to keep 20-year-old Munetaka Murakami from gabbing all the headlines and seal a three-game sweep of Hiroshima.

A day after Murakami hit a game-breaking grand slam, Nakayama, the Swallows’ second draft pick last year, hit his fourth home run in his 44th at-bat. With one out in the third and the Swallows leading 2-1 after Norichika Aoki’s two-run single, Murakami took Kris Johnson (6-4) deep to the opposite field.

Swallows rookie Keiji Takahashi (2-3) won the duel of lefties, holding Hiroshima’s currently anemic offense to two runs over six innings.

“I began to feel they were sitting on my fastball, so from the fourth inning on, I used a lot more breaking pitches and that got me double plays,” said Takahashi.

Ryota Igarashi, pitching for the first time since June 16, loaded the bases with one out in the ninth, forcing Scott McGough to close it out for his first save in Japan.

BayStars 7, Tigers 2

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA’s Neftali Soto broke a 2-2, third-inning tie when he doubled and scored on a Yoshitomo Tsutsugo single off Randy Messenger (3-6) in a win over Hanshin.

BayStars rookie Shinichi Onuki (4-3) allowed two runs, one earned, while striking out six over five innings to earn the win.

News

Eagles’ Imae out with eye issues

The Rakuten Eagles have deactivated veteran infielder Toshiaki Imae due to discomfort in his right eye. He reportedly has been complaining of trouble with the eye since before the start of spring training.

“It’s said his vision is a little blurred,” Eagles manager Yosuke Hiraishi said. “It hasn’t gotten better for some days, so rather than push it when he’s anxious about it, perhaps it’s better for him to go down to the farm, reset and come back when it’s better.”

NPB games, news of July 3

Thirty-eight-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who famously capped his first win under Cubs manager Joe Maddon by telling a TV crew, “I am badass,” continued to be a badass as he outpitched Rakuten’s Takayuki Kishi in a win that left the SoftBank Hawks four games ahead of the second-place Eagles in the PL standings.

Pacific League

Hawks 4, Eagles 1

At Yafuoku Dome, a dream matchup between two veterans making comebacks, SoftBank southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada, and Rakuten right-hander Takayuki Kishi proved to be more than nostalgia with 6-1/2 scoreless innings before Alfredo Despaigne’s seventh-inning grand slam settled it.

Wada, who hadn’t won at home in nearly two years due to shoulder trouble, rarely missed in the heart of the zone and gave the Eagles one good chance. But with two on and one out, he jammed Ryosuke Tatsumi and popped him up on an inside fastball and then got a called third strike on a borderline pitch outside.

Kishi, who was injured on Opening Day, pitched out of one jam after another, was razor sharp with runners in scoring position, but he walked Yurisbel Gracial to load the bases in the seventh with one out. Kishi’s control was not sharp, and he kept missing his locations to Despaigne who didn’t get a great swing on a low fastball over the plate, but still knocked it out to center for his 18th home run.

Wada (2-1), who came out after seven, has struck out 11 over his last 12 innings while walking two and allowing one run to earn his second straight win. It was the same approach as last time, relying heavily on his fastball and changeup, although his fastball appeared to have a little more zip and better location.

As he approached 100 pitches, Wada faced Zelous Wheeler with two outs in the seventh. Wada got to 0-2 with three fastballs and then switched to the change, but missed badly with three straight but never wavered. He stuck with the change but got it in the zone and Wheeler waved at the 3-2 pitch.

“It’s been two years since I’ve won here. Sorry,” Wada said. Kishi is a great pitcher, so I thought it would all come down to allowing a single run or not, so that was my plan, to pitch so I wouldn’t give up the first run.”

“Since my first game back was here (on June 5), my pitches have gotten better and better. Tonight, I followed Takuya (Kai). His pitch calling made everything possible, and in the end, I pitched well.”

Asked what it meant to pitch well for a club that is riddled with injuries this year, Wada looked back on his lost 2018 season.

“Last year, I was one of those injured players. I watched the night games, and when we played in the daytime, I followed on TV while I was doing my rehab. Overall, it was a really hard year, but I expected to come back here. I did that in June, and now as I pitch, I feel so much joy.”

“We have a lot of guys who are hurt right now. They are coming back one by one, and when they do, we’re going to be a strong Hawks team.”

The highlights are HERE.

Marines 12, Buffaloes 6

At Kyocera Dome, Lotte’s hitters barelled up one fastball after another from Orix rookie Yudai Aranishi (1-1) in a seven-run, third inning to take an 8-1 lead.

Mike Bolsinger (2-3) allowed two runs through the first five innings, but left with a blister on his foot after Chris Marrero’s two-run, pinch-hit single in the sixth. Bolsinger was charged with six runs over 5-1/3 innings but earned the win.

Steven Moya homered in his first at-bat as a Buffalo after being traded over the weekend from Chunichi with a game-tying solo blast into the upper deck in the second inning.

The highlights are HERE.

Fighters 5, Lions 3

At Sapporo Dome, Seibu starter Ken Togame (3-3) missed too many locations, dropped a ground ball and Nippon Ham got a couple of lucky bounces in a four-run, fourth inning that blew the game up for food against Nippon Ham.

Five Fighters relievers came in after Toru Murata allowed two runs in three-plus innings, with Naoki Miyanishi, Bryan Rodriguez and Naoya Ishikawa each striking out as they shutout the Lions over the final three innings.

The highlights are HERE.

Central League

Giants 7, Dragons 6

At Tokyo Dome, Yomiuri’s Daiki Masuda laid a sweet sacrifice bunt down the third base line, and third baseman Shuhei Takahashi’s low throw to first bounced and Akihiro Wakabayashi scored the winning run against Chunichi.

Giants closer Kota Nakagawa blew the lead with a first-pitch fastball that Takuya Kinoshita hit out to straight-away left for his third career home run, one that wouldn’t have gone out at any of the other main parks in Japan.

The highlights are HERE.

Tigers 4, BayStars 3, 11 innings

At Yokohama Stadium, Koji Chikamoto doubled in the 11th inning, scored the go-ahead run on Kento Itohara’s sac fly, and Rafael Dolis escaped a two-on, no-out jam in the bottom of the inning to record his 15th save as Hanshin came from behind to beat DeNA.

BayStars starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi allowed a run over five innings, but the Tigers tied it against Spencer Patton and Edwin Escobar in the eighth inning.

Swallows 6, Carp 2

At Mazda Stadium, 19-year-old Yakult rookie Munetaka Murakami drove in five runs, four with his 20th home run in a win over struggling Hiroshima.

“I want to keep practicing so I can do better,” said Murakami, who leads the CL with 61 RBIs.

Swallows starter Hayato Terahara (2-1) allowed just two runs over five innings in which he walked four.

Right-hander Casey Lawrence (0-1) made his Japan debut for the Carp after going 3-3 with a 3.25 ERA in 13 Western League games this year. On the farm, he struck out 46 batters in 69-1/3 innings while walking eight. Lawrence allowed six runs over five innings in which he walked four and struck out three.

NPB games, news of July 2, 2019

Tomoyuki Sugano, the winner of the last two Sawamura Awards as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, threw his first shutout of the season to lift the Yomiuri Giants to a four-game lead in the Central League ahead of the Hiroshima Carp, whose offense has continued to struggle.

The Carp, who led the CL in on-base percentage each of the last three seasons, rank fourth this year.

Central League

Swallows 3, Carp 1

At Mazda Stadium, Yakult won the first game of a series for the first time since May 11, as Yasuhiro Ogawa (3-8) struck out six and allowed a run over seven innings to earn the win over Hiroshima.

Shota Nakayama, the Swallows’ second draft pick last autumn, homered for third time in 37 pro at-bats when he helped spoil a second-straight strong start from Allen Kuri (3-4) with a second-inning solo home run. The Carp tied it in the fourth on a Seiya Suzuki walk and singles by Alejandro Mejia and Xavier Batista.

The Swallows, however, took the lead in the sixth on a Norichika Aoki single, a Kuri wild pitch and a two-out error on shortstop Kosuke Tanaka on a ball that missed his glove and went through his legs.

“It may have been an irregular hop, but I had to stop it,” Tanaka said. “I lack sufficient skill.”

“Because Kuri pitched so well, so I need to apologize. Everyone battled so hard without ever giving up but I was unable to maintain a good rhythm. For me to make a mistake like that led to our loss.”

Kuri, who was coming off his first career shutout a week earlier, allowed two runs, one earned, while striking out seven in six innings.

Giants 6, Dragons 0

At Tokyo Dome, Tomoyuki Sugano (8-4) struck out six and got himself out of a one-out, bases-loaded pickle to throw his first shutout of the season in Yomiuri’s win over Chunichi.

Yoshiyuki Kamei led off the first inning with a home run and Christian Villanueva, Hayato Sakamoto and Yoshihiro Maru each homered for the Giants.

The game highlights are HERE.

BayStars 4, Tigers 0

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA rookie Taiga Kamichatani (5-3) struck out eight and walked one over 5-2/3 innings, and nine of the last 10 Hanshin hitters made out against the BayStars bullpen to stretch the Tigers’ scoreless inning streak to 23.

Keita Sano homered and had an RBI double, while Yamato Maeda continued to weave his late-inning magic by singling in two insurance runs in the eighth inning.

Pacific League

Hawks 8, Eagles 6

At Yafuoku Dome, Yurisbel Gracial drove in six runs, including two with an eighth-inning RBI single off Alan Busenitz (1-2) that reclaimed SoftBank’s lead and took Cuban compatriot Livan Moinelo (1-1) off the hook in a see-saw win over Rakuten.

Moinelo blew a 5-4 lead in the top of the eighth by issuing a one-out walk to Jabari Blash and a two-run homer from left-handed-hitting Ginji Akaminai. The Hawks, however, loaded the bases on three singles off Busenitz in the eighth, and Gracial, who blasted his 17th home run in the first inning, singled in two runs.

“It’s not easy to get the hits that win the game for your team, but I’ve been hitting very well, and I’m happy to get six RBIs,” said the 33-year-old Gracial.

Hiroshi Kaino struck out two in the ninth to record his fourth save as understudy for absent frontline closers Dennis Sarfate and Yuito Mori. The rookie has struck out 38 batters in 29-1/3 innings.

The win lifted the Hawks three games clear of the second-place Eagles at the top of the PL standings.

The game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 9, Lions 1

At Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham continued to beat up on Seibu right-hander Kona Takahashi (7-5), who lasted a season-low 2-2/3 innings his last time out against the Fighters.

Takahashi left a lot of pitches up in the zone in the second, the Fighters put good swings on them and the first eight balls in play all went for hits in an eight-run inning.

Catcher Shingo Usami, who joined the Fighters in a four-way trade last week, got his first hits with Nippon Ham, going 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. It was the first three-hit game of his career.

“We’d been losing ever since I got here, so it feels good to win,” he said.

The game highlights are HERE.

Buffaloes 6, Marines 5, 10 innings

At Kyocera Dome, with the score tied 5-5, Orix loaded the bases in both the ninth and 10th innings, with both innings ending on video replays in a win over Lotte.

The first one overturned the call on the field and kept the game alive when Lotte center fielder Takashi Ogino threw a runner out at the plate to end the ninth. The 10th ended when the Marines were unable to get the force at home plate on a grounder to short that was ruled an infield single.

Brandon Laird hit his 22nd home run to leadoff the Marines’ three-run seventh — assisted by two walks and an error by Buffaloes’ first baseman Chris Marrero. However, Marrero’s second homer of the season, a leadoff shot in the bottom of the inning, tied it 5-5 and gave him something to celebrate on his 31st birthday.

Brandon Dickson retired the Marines in order in the eighth, and his teammates loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the inning on a double, an intentional walk and an error by Laird at third base. But Marines closer Naoya Masuda struck out a batter and got a fly out to shallow center that Koji Oshiro very nearly scored on.

Tyler Eppler (4-2) worked around a two-out single in the 10th, and earned the win on Oshiro’s one-out RBI infield single.

The game highlights are HERE.

News

Carp send Shimozuru to Eagles

The Hiroshima Carp have agreed on a trade with the Rakuten Eagles that will send 31-year-old minor league outfielder Ko Shimozuru, who made brief but high-impact contributions to the Carp’s pennants in 2016 and 2018, in exchange for 26-year-old minor league infielder Takumi Miyoshi.

NPB games, news of June 30, 2019

Trading places is the theme after the second four-player trade this past week.

Pacific League

Lions 11, Buffaloes 3

At MetLife Dome, Orix outhit Seibu 16-10, but the Buffaloes pitchers issued 10 walks, while Orix had three runners thrown out on the bases.

The Buffaloes-Lions highlights are HERE.

Hawks 4, Fighters 3

At Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama’s frustrated expression has been a feature of this series as his players failed to execute pitches and routine plays and that was the case again on Sunday.

With a 3-2 lead in the eighth, setup man Bryan Rodriguez served up a couple of fat pitches that gave the Hawks a leadoff single, while a misplay in left helped Yurisbel Gracial’s double bring the runner home to tie it.

Rodriguez could have left with the game tied, but shortstop Kazunari Ishii fumbled a grounder to short with the infield in and had to settle for getting the second out at first base as the Hawks took the lead.

HIroshi Uranao gave up two runs in two innings as a “short starter,” the Fighters’ version of an opener, but Chihiro Kaneko made a game of it by allowing a hit and a walk over 3-2/3 scoreless innings.

“Making an excuse wouldn’t change anything,” Kuriyama said. “If we’re shorthanded or whatever it might be, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference. We just have to do our jobs.”

“You put things behind you, whether that’s losing six straight or winning six straight, be prepared and do your job.”

On a last note, I sure hope the term “short starter” doesn’t catch on, because that might mean a clarification was in order every time a more diminutive pitchers was slated to start.

And while we’re on the subject, here are shortest pitchers in NPB this season with more than one start:

PitcherTeam2019 StartsHeight
Manabu MimaEagles13168
Masanori IshikawaSwallows12169
Katsuki AzumaBayStars5170
Yasuhiro OgawaSwallows13171
Kazuto TaguchiGiants2171
Taisuke YamaokaBuffaloes13172
Haruhiro HamaguchiBayStars7173
Wataru KarashimaEagles12174

The Hawks-Fighters highlights are HERE.

Central League

Giants 4, Swallows 3

At Akita’s Komachi Stadium, the Yakult bullpen, which has been relatively solid this season blew a late lead as Yomiuri completed a two-game sweep in their Tohoku series.

Kazuki Kondo gave up three-straight singles to open the eighth as the Giants tied it, and closer Taichi Ishiyama surrendered a two-out single on a 3-2 fastball to veteran Yoshiyuki Kamei and Hayato Sakamoto doubled on the next pitch to put the visitors ahead for good.

Dragons 1, Tigers 0, 11 innings

At Nagoya Dome, Yuya Yanagi struck out 10 without a walk over eight innings, and Chunichi got past Hanshin with a manufactured run in the 11th off closer Rafael Dolis.

A Ryosuke Hirata leadoff walk, a sacrifice, a groundout and a wild pitch handed the Dragons a walk-off win.

Carp 2, BayStars 2, 12 innings

At Yokohama Stadium, Hiroshima’s Geronimo Franzua was unable to protect a 2-1 lead for a two-inning save as Yamato Maeda had yet another late double and scored in the ninth on Keita Sano’s two-out RBI single.

Over the span of six games, Maeda has had a pair of sayonara walk-off doubles and now scored the tying run after doubling with one out in the ninth.

Both of the Carp’s runs came on Alejandro Mejia’s two-run, seventh-inning home run.

News

Buffaloes, Dragons join trade frenzy

The Chunichi Dragons on Sunday sent a trio of players to the Orix Buffaloes in exchange for two players and cash. The deal sent 28-year-old lefty Takahiro Matsuba and 25-year-old reserve outfielder Kengo Takeda to the Dragons in exchange for 31-year-old catcher Masato Matsui, 31-year-old outfielder Yusuke Matsui, and slugging 27-year-old outfielder Steven Moya.

With the Dragons struggling on the mound Raidel Martinez and Joely Rodriguez keep the bullpen above water, and Enny Romero provides innings in the rotation, while last year’s batting champ Dayan Viciedo is holding down the other of Chunichi’s four foreign player slots. That has left Moya to bide his time in the Western League, and the Chunichi deal should open him up for more playing time with Japan’s worst offensive team.

“That Meneses business has happened, and we just don’t have time to go to the States and look for another player,” Orix general manager Junichi Fukura said. “We think Moya’s batting has a strong upside and on top of that he has experience in Japan, so that’s big. We are grateful to Chunichi for their generosity.”

The Buffaloes are without their No. 2 catcher, Torai Fushimi, who suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon during interleague play, while outfielder Stefen Romero is out with an oblique muscle strain and first baseman Joey Meneses has received a one-year doping ban.

Technically, it’s one, four-player trade and a “cash trade” for Moya, because that’s how Japanese baseball does things.

NPB games, news of June 29, 2019

On a rainy day in eastern Japan, all 12 teams were in action for the first time since interleague’s final scheduled day last Sunday. The Swallows hosted the Giants in Akita and in a holdover from the old days, when playing in remote parks often involved uncertain travel connections by train, games played more remote locations often involve an extra day for travel.

Saturday’s highlight was an inside-the-park home run. By their nature, these are fluke plays, but I doubt you’ve seen one like this and it proved to be the decisive play of the game.

Pacific League

Hawks 5, Fighters 4

At Sapporo Dome, Nippon Ham’s understudy closer, Naoya Ishikawa, came within one strike of nailing down his third save. But Seiji Uebayashi followed Seiichi Uchikawa’s two-out, two-strike single with a strange home run in SoftBank’s come-from-behind win.

With one out, Fighters right fielder Taishi Ota robbed Nobuhiro Matsuda of a one-out single only for Uchikawa to lob 1-2 pitch off the end of his bat into right for a single. Then a little craziness ensued as Uebayashi’s drive bounced on the top of the wall and stayed in play, forcing him to speed up as he rounded third for a half-trotting, inside-the-park homer.

Here’s a clip of Seiji Uebayashi’s game winning inside-the-parker.

“With two outs, I had to be looking for extra-bases,” Uebayashi said. “I didn’t think I could hit a home run there, but I’m happy I did.”

“I wasn’t certain it went over, but (when I got around second coach (Arihito) Muramatsu was frantically waving me in, so half-way through I had to run for real.”

Fighters starter Toshihiro Sugiura, looked sharp through four innings, and Ryo Watanabe overturned a 1-0 deficit with a three-run, fourth-inning homer after Hawks starter Kotaro Otake walked a batter and surrendered a flare single off the end of Wang Po-jung’s bat.

Remember the line in Bull Durham, where Tim Robbins said a guy hit a pitch, “like he knew I was going to throw a fastball”? That’s what Ryo Watanabe’s home run looked like. The Fighters’ 1.78-meter second baseman stayed back on a first pitch curveball on the outside part of the plate and leaned into it, driving it out to distant left center.

Manager Hideki Kuriyama pulled Sugiura after two hard-hit balls to open the fifth, but reliever Kazutomo Iguchi hit a batter and missed with a high 1-0 fastball that was smoked for a two-run, game-tying single.

The Fighters retook the lead on a leadoff double in the fifth, a drag-bunt sacrifice and a sacrifice fly by Ota. After using four pitchers to get through the fifth inning, Kuriyama, who appeared to be practicing his scowl for most of the game needed four more to get his team within one strike of a victory.

The game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 2, Marines 2, 6 innings, rain

At Rakuten Seimei Park, the Rakuten Eagles hit a pair of leadoff home runs, but stranded seven runners over five innings before their game with Lotte was called due to rain.

For the life of me, I don’t understand Japan’s aversion to suspended games. In a country that deals with high school pitching marathons in the blistering heat of summer, one would think they could suspend those games, but perhaps that would violate some unwritten rule that says if you start a game today, you have to finish it today.

For years, the high school federation’s answer has been to take games that go past a certain number of innings and, wait for it, replay them from the start — ostensibly to spare the pitchers’ arms, when so often it is the same guy who just threw 12 innings who will have to start from scratch.

The game highlights are HERE.

Lions 7, Buffaloes 0

At MetLife Dome, Lions starter Keisuke Honda located his little 140-kph fastball and his changeup well, and was spared when the Buffaloes failed to do much with his mistakes as he struck out five and walked two over six scoreless innings.

Buffaloes starter Tsubasa Sakakibara, looking to throw his 11th straight quality start, gave up two runs in the first before striking out cleanup hitter Hotaka Yamakawa with no outs and a runner on third and getting an inning-ending double play.

Chris Marrero, who had been cooling his heels on the Buffaloes’ farm team since the start of June drove a hanging changeup foul before striking out in his first at-bat and drilled a hanging slider for an out in his second, but was hitless.

The game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Giants 6, Swallows 2

At Akita’s Komachi Stadium, Shun Yamaguchi pitched seven scoreless innings i in Yomiuri’s win over Yakult, making him the 353rd pitcher to reach 1,000 innings pitched.

Yamaguchi dueled veteran Swallows lefty Masanori Ishikawa through six innings. Ishikawa left trailing 2-0, only for the bullpen to cough up three more runs in the seventh.

Dragons 6, Tigers 1

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi lefty Yudai Ono allowed a run on eight hits over seven innings, while striking out five and walking none, while Hanshin side-armer Koyo Aoyagi gave up five runs in the second inning.

Joely Rodriguez pitched out of a one-out, two-on jam in the eighth and Raidel Martinez struck out the side in order in the ninth to close it out.

Dragons catcher Takuma Kato drilled a 2-1 fastball down the line for a one-out, second-inning, bases-loaded double that plated the first two runs in a five-run inning off Aoyagi.

BayStars 2, Carp 1, 10 innings

At Yokohama Stadium, Toshiro Miyazaki’s two-out, bases-loaded single lifted DeNA past Hiroshima to its third straight win. The loss left the Carp 2-1/2 games back of the Giants in second place.

News

Tigers’ Fujinami appears ready for return

In what was billed as his final tuneup before returning to the first team, Hanshin Tigers right-hander Shintaro Fujinami allowed a run over eight innings and touched 154 kph on Saturday in a Western League game against the Hiroshima Carp at Mazda Stadium. He allowed four hits, while striking out eight and walking one.

The Sankei Sports story is HERE.

Blash out of action after Japan-high 10th plunking

Jabari Blash was held out of the Eagles’ lineup on Saturday after being hit by a pitch on the right arm on Friday by Eagles closer Naoya Masuda in the ninth inning. He was removed for a pinch runner.

Blash is leading the team with 19 home runs and 57 RBIs. He has been by pitches 10 times to lead the PL in that category. Chunichi’s Dayan Viciedo leads the CL with 10.

writing & research on Japanese baseball

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