Koji Uehara retirement presser

「本日をもちまして、21年間の現役生活を終えたいな、と思います。えー……(涙をぬぐう。約10秒言葉に詰まる)。これまで自分に関わってくれた人、方々に感謝したいと思います。ありがとうございました」

Uehara: “Today, I’m calling an end to my active career of 21 years. I would like to thank those who’ve been on this journey with me.”


-引退を決めた今の胸の内は

上原: まぁ、もうちょっとやりたかったなという、そういう思いです。

–Your feelings today, having decided to retire?

Uehara: “Well, what I think is that I wanted to keep going a little longer.”

-引退を決めてからの心境の変化は

上原 自分が決めた以上、もうユニホームを着ることはないわけですから。気持ちを切り替えていかなければと今は思っています。

–How has your state of mind changed since your decision to retire?

Uehara: “Having made my decision, I won’t be putting on that uniform again. I believe now I need to change my mindset.”

-引退の決断のきっかけは

上原 もう今年で辞めることは最初から決めていたことなんで。3カ月が僕の中では勝負と思っていた。2月、3月、4月と練習する中で、1度も1軍に上がることなく、2軍で試合に投げさせてもらっても、抑えていないという葛藤もありましたし、8月、9月になるとチームが首位争いするという状況の中で、自分がこういう会見をするのは違うという思いがあったので、早く終わろうと思った。

–What was the impetus behind your decision to retire?

Uehara: “I had already decided that I would quit this year, and in my mind I felt three months would be make or break. February, March, April I trained, but was never called up to the top team. And when I was given opportunities to pitch on the farm, even then I couldn’t get guys out. I thought it would be best to do it earlier rather than later. In August or September, with the team embroiled in the pennant race, calling a press conference like this would be quite a different thing from this.”

-心と体のズレはあったか?

上原 手術して、体自体は良い調子というかね、全然投げられる状態ですけど。その状態の中で2軍戦で通用していなかったというのが、自分の中で気持ち的に後ろ向きになったのかなと思ってます。

–Did you feel there was a gap between your mental image and your physical condition?

Uehara: “After surgery (left knee cleaning in October), my physical condition was good and I was able to throw fine. But even in that condition, it didn’t play in the minor league games. In my mind I thought I was going backwards.

-後ろ向きになった瞬間はこれまであったか

上原 何回かありましたけど。来年があるのであれば、もうちょっと頑張ろうと、今年1年やろうという気持ちになりましたけど、来年はもうないというのは自分の中で決めてましたから、うーん、やっぱり気持ちと体がなかなか一致しませんでしたというところですね。

–Have you had that feeling before that you were going backwards?

Uehara: “A number of times. If you have a next year, then you work even harder. This year I was going to compete for a full season, but I had already told myself I didn’t have any more next years. And as one would expect, I found it very hard to keep my body and mind in sync.

-同学年の福浦との対戦もあった。あれもきっかけ?

上原 福浦と対戦できたというのは僕の中で、すごくうれしかったこと。あと西武戦で稼頭央監督の目の前で投げられたのというのは、僕の中ではいい思い出と言ったらおかしいですけど、僕の中でこれでいいのかなと思いましたね。

–Last year you pitched against (Lotte’s) Kazuya Fukuura, who’s the same age as you. Did that trigger anything?

Uehara: “I was so thrilled to be able to face him. I also pitched against Seibu in front of Kazuo Matsui. It may sound strange to say those were good memories, but those things made me really happy.”

-どんな道のりだった

上原 まぁ、ケガばっかりの、中途半端だったかなと思いますね。

–How would you describe the path you took?

Uehara: “Well, it seems like I was always injured, so I think I only went halfway.”

-雑草魂で貫いた姿に感動したファンは多い

上原 手を抜いて投げたことはないですし、今年に限っても、若い選手と一緒に練習しましたし、抜いて練習してたことは自分のなかで一切無かったんで。そういう姿を見て、励みになってくれたらすごくうれしいことですね。

–A lot of fans were inspired by your tough, gritty attitude.

Uehara: “I never cut corners when I pitched. As far as this year, I trained alongside the young players, and never took shortcuts in practice. I’m really happy if others were encouraged by that.”

-「トリプル100」の記録はどう受け止める。

上原 それに関しては、中途半端かなと。どのポジションで全うしたわけでなく。中途半端に先発、中継ぎ、抑えとやっちゃったかなと思います。

— How is your triple-100 accomplishment received? (100 wins, 100 holds, 100 saves)

Uehara: “In regards to that, it’s kind of a mediocre achievement. I didn’t really succeed at any one thing. It’s mediocrity as a starter, as a middle reliever and as a closer.”

-野球を終えたこれからどうする

上原 正直、まだ何も考えてないです。明日からどうしようかなぁという感じです。

–Going forward, what comes after baseball?

Uehara: “Honestly, I haven’t thought of anything. I have a feeling that from tomorrow I’ll ask myself what I should do.”

-チームへのメッセージを

上原 今、首位争いしている中で、こんなことになって申し訳ないなと思います。でも、本当にチームは良い感じできているので、このままみんな頑張ってほしいなと思います。

–Do you have a message for your team?

Uehara: “Right now, we’re competing for the lead, so I apologize for doing this kind of thing. But having said that, the team has a really good feel to it. I hope they can keep doing well like this.”

NPB games of May 19, 2019

Central League

Carp 5, Tigers 1

At Koshien Stadium, Makoto Aduwa (2-1) did not strike out a batter but allowed four hits and two walks over seven scoreless innings in the Carp’s seventh-straight win.

It was the first time in over seven years that a pitcher had thrown seven or more scoreless innings without a strikeout. The last one was a shutout by Seibu’s Kazuhisa Makita on April 23, 2013 at home against Lotte.

Seiya Suzuki, who leads the CL in all three Triple Crown categories, doubled in two runs in the first, while Ryosuke Kikuchi reached safely five times, scored twice and drove in two runs.

Dragons 5, Giants 4

At Nagoya Dome, seventh-year pro and career minor leaguer Hayato Mizowaki had a career year in one game. Entering the game with two hits and two runs scored from 24 career games, the 25-year-old went 3-for-5 with first career triple, a walk and three runs as the Dragons came from behind to beat Yomiuri.

Dayan Viciedo went 3-for-5 with a two-run, fifth-inning single off Shun Yamaguchi (4-2). Closer Hiroshi “Birdman” Suzuki held onto the lead to record his CL-best 13th save despite surrendering a leadoff homer and two one-out singles.

BayStars 7, Swallows 0

At Jingu Stadium, Haruhiro Hamaguchi (2-1) retired 22 straight batters in between his only two jams of the night in a two-hit shutout that completed DeNA’s three-game sweep of Yakult.

Wladimir Balentien looked at a third strike on a full count with one out and the bases loaded in the ninth, and Tomo Otosaka, a defensive replacement in left, made a good catch to end the game and preserve the shutout.

Pacific League

Lions 9, Buffaloes 2

At Kyocera Dome, Seibu rookie Wataru Matsumoto (1-0) survived a fifth-inning rally to hold on to the lead and win his debut after the Lions stung Orix starter Tyler Eppler (0-2) for three runs over 3-2/3 innings.

The 26-year-old Eppler located his fastball, but was foiled when the Lions hitters put some really good swings on well-executed pitches and didn’t miss his mistakes. His changeup was problematic, but otherwise it was a start he can build on.

The game was less about poor pitching from the Buffaloes starter than about just how tenacious Seibu’s hitters can be.

Hawks 4, Fighters 2, 5 innings, called

At Kagoshima Stadium, the Hawks beat the Fighters in the rain for the second-straight day behind home runs from Cubans Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne, and Keizo Kawashima.

Ariel Miranda (3-2) pitched four innings for the win, but Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo showed no interest in getting his fourth Cuban, lefty Livan Moinelo, into the action. The skipper instead picked starter Shota Takeda to come in and record his first save.

Eagles 10, Marines 5

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Rakuten came from behind twice after the Marines got home runs from Daichi Suzuki in the first and Brandon Laird in the third and fifth. Former Marine star Toshiaki Imae singled in the tying run in the sixth, against Lotte starter Ayumu Ishikawa, who allowed five runs in six innings.

With the score tied, Lotte lefty Takahiro Matsunaga (1-2) came in, and after getting two outs on 10 pitches surrendered his first runs since April 14 on back-to-back home runs by Hideto Asamura and Zelous Wheeler.

Eagles starter Yuya Fukui repeatedly gave the Marines opportunities, walking four batters in three innings, but Lotte wasn’t taking charity. In the end the Marines bullpen crumpled, while five Rakuten relievers allowed a run on two hits and a walk over the final five innings.

Some may remember my saying that Lotte started the season in a competition with Seibu to see who would be the last NPB team to sacrifice. After seven sacrifices through their first 24 games, the Marines’ two sacrifice bunts on Sunday give them 21 through their last 23.

The Marines are also the only team to have a position player to sacrifice with a position player with one out. Manager Tadahito Iguchi has now done this with his catcher’s three times.

In other news

  • Dragons right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka began throwing batting practice for the first time since hurting his right shoulder performing “fan service” during spring training in Okinawa in February. He threw 35 pitches and got a positive evaluation from farm team pitching coach Ken Kadokura.
  • Hisashi Iwakuma returned to the bullpen at the Giants’ minor league facility for 40 pitches. It was his third session this past week.

Iwakuma progressing in rehab

Hisashi Iwakuma, back in Japan for the first time since 2011, threw his third bullpen in a week on Sunday at the Yomiuri Giants’ minor league facility in Kawasaki, across the river from Tokyo.

The 38-year-old threw 40 pitches but not at full strength as he was focusing on his mechanics after having shoulder trouble in February. Iwakuma had shoulder surgery in September 2017

“I feel strong enough so I wanted to see how it felt throwing with a little less effort. My feel for my pitching form largely matched how I was throwing,” he said. “I think I’m moving forward, and now I need to take the next step.”

Iwakuma threw his first bullpen since camp on May 14.

You can see the original Japanese language Nikkan Sports report HERE.

International team work

On May 4, the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions and the National League’s New York Mets became the latest to dip into an international partnership that people often see as being one-sided, with benefits accruing mostly to the Japanese team.

Seeing the baseball world from both sides

There are precious few people with first-hand knowledge of how front offices work in both Japan and the major leagues, and one of those, Randy Smith spoke recently about the potential that awaits MLB clubs who want to expand their horizons in Japan and think outside the box.

Currently wearing two hats, as senior advisor to Nippon Ham Fighters general manager Hiroshi Yoshimura and as an international scout for the Texas Rangers, Smith spoke by phone from Sapporo about the two clubs’ working relationship and what can be learned through cooperation.

“It depends on the two groups,” Smith, a former general manager with both the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres, said recently by phone from Sapporo. “What do the parties want to get out of it?”

Things, he said, have come a long way since the tie-ups largely meant MLB scouts would have someone to help them with their itineraries in Japan.

The Fighters and Rangers

“The relationship the Fighters have with the Rangers is unique because of the two organizations’ thought processes.”

The product is a relationship (between Yoshimura and Rangers GM Jon Daniels) in which both sides are open to learning lessons. While Japanese teams are considered to be far behind their MLB counterparts in analytics, Smith said the Rangers are open to the possibility they might learn something in Japan from Nippon Ham.

“It’s about asking questions. And that goes back to the people who are involved,” Smith said, adding that some MLB innovations originated in Japan.

“Some of the stuff they do, MLB may not say where it came from. But the massage, and some of the medical stuff that’s done now, came from here.”

“The Fighters are one of the more analytical clubs here. You can see that from the way they treat their foreign players.”

Smith cited the team’s handling of third baseman Brandon Laird as an example of the Fighters’ advanced understanding. In 2015, Laird struggled to hit for average in his debut season. But the club stuck with him, gave him the opportunity to make adjustments when many other Japanese teams would have banished him to the farm club for good.

Changing awareness of NPB’s quality

It’s become obvious over the past 10 years that open-minded adaptable can expand and develop their skills in Japan and often increase their value in the MLB labor market.

“In the past, if you came to Japan as a player, your career was considered over,” Smith said. “But now because we have good information and access to modern technology we know more. Guys come, learn the split, or pick up something.”

He said that his extended time in Japan has opened his eyes to things he hadn’t seen before, when he was focused on high-impact target players and failed to take stock of the forest surrounding those prize trees.

“I used to come over, and I’m seeing the targets,” Smith said. “The last three years, I’m watching everybody in the PL, seeing the depth. It’s been educational for me. There’s a lot of pitching depth, more than people realize.”

Smith said that while Japanese players have been able to take part in instructional leagues in the States, the exchange agreements that once saw NPB clubs sending youngsters to Single-A ball to experience another side to the game are unlikely to make a comeback.

He also said that there is virtually no chance an MLB team could take advantage of NPB’s universe to season young players, although he agreed such a program would have its benefits.

“A lot can be gained from playing here,” he said. “Playing in Japan is a great way to develop a hitter.”

NPB games of May 18, 2019

Central League

Giants 5, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, Yomiuri’s Alex Guerrero hit a two-run home run against his former team the day after being reactivated, and Christopher Mercedes (4-2) threw seven scoreless innings. Chunichi’s Yuya Yanagi (3-2) allowed five runs in six innings.

Dayan Viciedo doubled in the Dragons’ only run in the eighth inning.

Carp 4, Tigers 0

At Koshien Stadium, Hiroshima’s Ryoma Nishikawa opened the scoring against Hanshin’s Randy Messenger (2-4) with a three-run, first-inning home run, while Kris Johnson (3-3) threw six shutout innings for the third straight game.

The win was the Carp’s sixth straight.

BayStars 11, Swallows 6

At Jingu Stadium, Toshiro Miyazaki went 3-for-4 with a walk and his fifth-inning RBI double off Ryota Igarashi broke a 3-3 tie before DeNA completely dismantled Yakult’s bullpen.

Neftali Soto hit his 12th homer for the BayStars, while Wladimir Balentien hit his ninth for the Swallows, off Edwin Escobar, and his first since missing two weeks due to upper body issues.

Pacific League

Hawks 2, Fighters 1

At Kumamoto, Kodai Senga (5-0) struck out nine en route to winning his fifth straight start. Nearly six years to the day after he won his first pro victory in the same hilltop park, Senga gave up the lead in the fourth, when Kensuke Kondo doubled and scored on a Wang Po-jung single.

Fighters starter Naoyuki Uwasawa (3-2) pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the fourth as the rain began pouring down at Fujisakidai Stadium.

After an hour rain delay, Senga returned to the mound in the top of the fifth, struck out the side, and his teammates took the lead thanks to a couple of mistakes by the Fighters defense.

Kondo in left tried to throw out Go Kamamoto at the plate on a one-out Kenta Imamiya single, but his throw got past catcher Yushi Shimizu. Uwasawa was on the spot backing up the play, but Shimizu took himself out of the play by also giving chase, leaving the lights on but no one at home. Imamiya took second on the error, went to third on a wild pitch and scored the go-ahead run on an Alfredo Despaigne sacrifice fly.

Eagles 6, Marines 4

At Zozo Marine Stadium, a throwing error by Lotte second baseman Shogo Nakamura opened the door to a four-run eighth inning, wasting a strong start from Mike Bolsinger.

Reliever Yuki Karakawa made good pitches after the error but surrendered an RBI double to Kazuya Fujita. The right-hander battled until he hung a 2-2 breaking ball to Hideto Asamura. The 2018 PL RBI leader tied it with his 10th home run. Hiroaki Shimauchi put a good swing on a decent 2-2 forkball and drove it out for his fourth home run.

Buffaloes 2, Lions 1

At Kyocera Dome, Kohei “K” Suzuki (1-1) struck out six over 5-2/3 innings, and Orix came from behind on two fourth-inning unearned runs against Seibu’s Tatsuya Imai. Four Buffaloes relievers held the Lions to a lone single the rest of the way.

Imae (4-4) allowed four hits, two walks, and a hit batsman, while striking out five over seven innings. Suzuki walked five and hit a batter, but allowed just three hits, including a first-inning RBI double to Osaka native Tomoya Mori.

Hirotoshi Masui recorded his NPB-best 13th save.

In other news

  • Eagles right-hander Takayuki Kishi, out since hurting his left hamstring on Opening Day, is expected to return to action on May 24 against the Orix Buffaloes.
  • Yoshinori Sato, who has spent much of his pro career “on the road to recovery” with the Yakult Swallows, is now reportedly on the road to recovery with Rakuten after touching 151 kph in two scoreless innings for the Eagles’ farm team.
  • Lip service to dogma department Yakult rookie Munetaka Murakami on his team-leading 11th home run, a three-run shot: “We were trailing by three runs, so I was just trying to keep the rally going for the guys behind me (Yakult’s underpowered 7th, 8th and 9th spots).”

NPB games of Friday, May 17, 2019

Central League


Giants 4, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, right-hander Akiyoshi Katsuno (0-1) evaded what would have been a slobber fest from the media by not beating the Yomiuri Giants in his pro debut. The 21-year-old held the Giants to a hit through five innings before loading the bases with one out in a three-run sixth.

Had he won, Katsuno likely would have been bombarded after the game with questions like, “How does it feel to earn your first win against a team like the Giants. Isn’t it like a dream come true? Does anything in your life match this unbelievable accomplishment?”

Instead, Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto spoiled the rookie’s debut with a fluke one-out, two-run double on a grounder that looked like an easy out until it struck the third-base bag and hopped into left field.

Giants starter Taylor Jungmann (3-0) singled to lead off the sixth and scored the game’s first run. He struck out six, walked three, hit a batter and gave up three hits in five-plus innings to earn the win.

Kyosuke Takagi got one out and Samuel Adames two to prevent the Dragons from coming back in the sixth after Jungmann loaded the bases on two walks and a hit batsman. Hirokazu Sawamura was activated that day and recorded his first save in over two years.a

BayStars 4, Swallows 3

At Jingu Stadium, Yakult leadoff man Tomotaka Sakaguchi went 0-for-4 as he returned to action for the first time since March 29, and DeNA hit Yakult starter Yasuhiro Ogawa (1-5) for three straight RBI doubles in the third inning — the first a shallow fly lost in the lights by right fielder Yuhei Takai.

Neftali Soto and Jose Lopez each drove in a run for the BayStars, who got a quality start from Shota Imanaga (5-1). The lefty scattered three walks and seven hits, allowing three runs, two earned, over 6-1/3 innings to win his fourth straight decision and his third straight start.

Spencer Patton inherited a one-out, first-and-third jam in the seventh and pitched out of it for the BayStars, and lefty Edwin Escobar worked a scoreless eighth.

Ogawa locked it down after Lopez’s fourth-inning solo home run, retiring the last 12 batters he faced, while David Huff struck out three in a scoreless eighth and Ryota Igarashi worked around two ninth-inning walks, but the Swallows were unable to push across either of the runners who reached against BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki in the ninth.

Carp 10, Tigers 2

At Koshien Stadium, the Hiroshima Carp overturned a 2-1 deficit against Yuki Nishi (1-3) in the eighth on a one-out walk and three-straight singles.

A trio of Carp relievers kept the game close after rookie Hiroki Tokoda surrendered the lead on back-to-back, one-out RBI singles in the sixth. Kyle Regnault stranded two runners, while Allen Kuri (1-3) and Geronimo Franzua each delivered a scoreless inning before the visitors blew the game open in the ninth.

Former Chicago Cubs farmhand Xavier Batista went 4-for-5, scored two runs and drove in two, while Ryosuke Kikuchi and catcher Tsubasa Aizawa each drove in three runs.

With the game still scoreless in the fourth, Ryoma Nishikawa‘s soft liner to center fell in for an RBI single and Hanshin rookie Koji Chikamoto nearly threw out Batista at home.

Chikamoto entered the day tied for the NPB lead in outfield assists:

Note: Every player has played 30 or more games, except for Yanagita, who has been out injured after his ninth game.

The Marines, Buffaloes and Lions each have nine outfield assists. The Fighters and Swallows bring up the rear with one each.

Pacific League

Marines 6, Eagles 1

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Kota Futaki (4-2) struck out nine over seven scoreless innings, while Lotte widened a 2-0 lead with four runs in the seventh on Daichi Suzuki‘s grand slam off Rakuten starter Manabu Mima (2-3).

Zelous Wheeler‘s eighth-inning RBI single prevented the Eagles from being shut out for the second straight night. Brandon Laird hit his 14th homer to make it 2-0 in the second.

Lions 7, Buffaloes 5

At Kyocera Dome, Tomoya Mori‘s 10th-inning sacrifice fly broke a 5-5 tie after Orix twice came from behind to tie it against Seibu. Masataka Yoshida‘s two-run homer in the third tied it 3-3 against Lions starter Shinsaburo Tawata, only for Hotaka Yamakawa to belt his 19th of the year in the fifth.

Chris Marrero‘s first home run of the season, a two-run shot in the seventh retied it. Orix loaded the bases with one out in the eighth against Katsunori Hirai but failed to score.

Sosuke Genda scored the winning run by doubling to open the 10th, going to third on a wild pitch and then coming home on Mori’s sac fly.

In other news

  • Rakuten Eagles right-hander Takayuki Kishi threw seven scoreless innings in his second rehab start since being hurt on Opening Day.
  • A day after Orix Buffaloes first baseman Takahiro Okada completed a farcical defensive night by letting a grounder go through his legs, he was sent down to the farm team. Asked about the player who 10 years ago was considered the Buffaloes’ future, manager Norifumi Nishimura said, “I can’t use him the way he is.”
  • Chunichi Dragons OF Ryosuke Hirata is expected to miss four to six weeks with a muscle strain in his left calf. He will be deactivated on Saturday.
  • Norichika Aoki’s fourth-inning home run was the 100th of his NPB career.

Dice-K apologizes for golf

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has been rehabbing since a fan injured him with an overzealous high five during spring training in February, apologized on Friday for playing golf the day before.

The Chunichi Dragons indicated Thursday that the former Boston Red Sox and New York Mets pitcher would face a penalty for breaking team rules, which got his former Japan teammate Yu Darvish up in arms about Japanese baseball’s repressive customs.

“I made trouble through my careless acts,” Matsuzaka told reporters at Nagoya Stadium, where he rejoined the Dragons farm team after a trip to the Tokyo area for treatment.

The team prohibits players from playing golf on practice days, even though Matsuzaka was not scheduled to join his teammates in their practice over 200 miles away in Nagoya.

On Monday, Matsuzaka threw his first bullpen since February, and was slated this week to throw batting practice. “I need to refocus and concentrate on baseball,” he said.

“I will give my best effort so I can contribute to the team as soon as possible.”

Injured and rehabbing players in Japan are expected to be monk-like in their devotion to “returning to the team as soon as possible.” And clubs typically do not make such players available for interviews regardless of their actual availability.

Yu Darvish hit out at the custom on Twitter.

“Of course, it would be no good if he lied to the team and skipped out on his treatment to play golf, but nobody was writing that. But playing golf either before or after his treatment is no big deal. Simply put, the restrictions placed on injured players in Japan are oppressive.”

Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish via Twitter on the subject of rehabbing pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka being punished for playing golf.

NPB games of Thursday, May 16, 2019

Central League

Dragons 3, BayStars 2

At Yokohama Stadium, Enny Romero (3-3) scattered two walks and three hits over seven innings to get the win. Joely Rodriguez worked a scoreless eighth, but Chunichi closer Hiroshi Suzuki survived an anxious ninth to record his 12th save.

The loss was last-place DeNA’s eighth in their last 10 games, although the team got seven innings from rookie right-hander Shinichi Onuki (2-2). It was the fourth tough loss for a BayStars starter this season (game score greater than 50), tying the Yakult Swallows and Hanshin Tigers for most in NPB.

Pacific League

Hawks 5, Lions 1

At Yafuoku Dome, submarine rookie Rei Takahashi (5-0) outdueled lefty Daiki Enokida (1-1) over eight innings behind three RBIs from Cuba’s Yurisbel Gracial. Takahashi struck out three, raising his season total to 18 from 38 innings.

Takahashi entered the game with 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched, the fourth lowest among pitchers with 30-plus innings, but he’s the only one under 5.0 with more than two wins.

NPB’s lowest (through May 15) are:

  1. Makoto Aduwa, Carp 4.35
  2. Minoru Iwata, Tigers 4.60
  3. Ayumu Ishikawa, Marines 4.67
  4. Rei Takahashi, Hawks 4.80
  5. Shinsaburo Tawata, Lions 4.89

Fighters 2, Eagles 0

At Tokyo Dome, Takayuki Kato allowed a hit and two walks over five innings and four relievers held host Rakuten to a walk and a hit the rest of the way. The Eagles wasted seven good innings from lefty Wataru Karashima (3-1).

Marines 9, Buffaloes 2

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Atsuki Taneichi (3-0), a 20-year-old right-hander, allowed two runs, one earned, over six innings to win his third straight start since he was plucked out of a middle relief role on April 29.

Orix entered the game allowing the fourth lowest percentage of runners on base on balls in play (.300) behind the Fighters (.294), the Eagles (.298) and Dragons (.299) and just ahead of the Hawks, imploded in the sixth inning. Very much as we discussed in this week’s podcast, the Buffaloes were impressive in a three-error, four-run inning.

With the game tied 2-2, a dropped fly ball was followed by a single. All were safe on a grounder to second when shortstop Koji Oshiro failed to catch the throw from his teammate.

Kuriyama tip toes through Japan’s history minefield

Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama scratched the surface of baseball history on Wednesday with his 527th victory with the Nippon Ham Fighters.

In the Nikkan Sports online edition for May 8, Daisuke Yamashita used Kuriyama’s achievement to provide some insight into history’s web as he moved past Hall of Fame manager Shigeru Mizuhara as No. 2 in career wins with the franchise.

The original story in Japanese is HERE.

While Yamashita does a good job of explaining Kuriyama’s appreciation of Mizuhara’s legacy, the whole exercise represents another example of Japan’s difficult relationship with history and tradition.

In itself, Kuriyama’s achievement is akin to passing Babe Ruth on the Red Sox’s all-time home run list, because Mizuhara is better known as the man who laid the foundation’s for the most successful period in the history of the Yomiuri Giants.

The franchise that from 1954 to 1972 was known as the Toei Flyers, whose principle owner was the Toei movie studio, was taken over by Nippon Ham in 1974.

Mizuhara quit the Giants after Yomiuri’s founder, Matsutaro Shoriki said the skipper had brought shame on the Giants in 1960 for losing the Central League pennant after five-straight championships. Extra credit to you if that sentence summons an image of former Giants owner Tsuneo Watanabe and Hall of Fame manager Tatsunori Hara.

Unlike Hara, who waited for a second chance with Yomiuri, Mizuhara jumped to the Pacific League’s flyers in 1961, managed them to their second consecutive runner-up finish before winning the franchise’s first title the following year.

To return to the present, Kuriyama spoke of Mizuhara and his great rival, Osamu Mihara, who never managed the franchise, but who was the team’s first president under Nippon Ham in 1974. Mihara had been supplanted as Giants manager by Mizuhara, and who – after building the Nishitetsu Lions into a PL powerhouse – sparked Mizuhara’s Yomiuri exodus in 1960 by winning the CL pennant with the unheralded Taiyo Whales.

“They were baseball’s founding fathers. I think of them together, Mr. Mihara and Mr. Mizuhara, as belonging to that one era,” Yamashita quoted Kuriyama as saying after Wednesday’s 1-0 win over the Orix Buffaloes.

According to Yamashita, Kuriyama, a lover of history, spent time over the offseason reading Japanese classic history texts, the “Kojiki” and the “Nihon Shoki.”

“Pretty much everything that happens is something someone has experienced in the past. Things really don’t change that much. I’m going looking in those texts,” Kuriyama has said according to Yamashita.

The best part of the story is that while the word “history” is often dragged out as a tired excuse for doing something unimaginative, Kuriyama has shown he is not terribly interested in defending old ways. The same man who conceived of – or at least takes credit for – the idea that Shohei Ohtani might both hit and pitch, is this season adopting extreme defensive shifts and experimenting with different starting pitching and relieving assignments.

In referencing both Mihara and Mizuhara, Kuriyama both speaks to his own nature while still paying his respects to Japanese baseball’s creed that eliminating negatives equals a positive.

Mizuhara, an unrelenting perfectionist, in ways represents the popular notion that zero defects is perfection, while Mihara, a brash innovator, represents, I think, more of Kuriyama’s true nature as someone who strives to be an early adaptor on the cutting edge.

It’s a difficult balance to strike in Japan, because innovation carries the possibility of an implied criticism of how things were done before by the game’s greats.

Less-established innovators who fail to pay lip service to their esteemed predecessors by kissing dogma’s ass, often end up being cast out for their trouble. The trick is to do things differently, while making excuses for it, and not appearing to be too proud about having coming up with something different and giving everyone else credit. So far, it’s been working for Kuriyama.

Furuya 1st NPB lefty to hit 100 mph

Yuto Furuya became the first left-handed pitcher in Japan to touch 100 miles per hour on Sunday for the SoftBank Hawks’ third-tier club in a game against the Shikoku Island League’s Kagawa Olive Guyners.

The 20-year-old, the Hawks’ second-round draft pick in 2016, has yet to play for the Pacific League club. He was called up last season — only to be diagnosed with a circulatory issue in his left arm.

Other than his health, the story of his pro career so far has been his inability to throw strikes. In three minor league seasons through May 5, Furuya — a cousin of Lotte Marines lefty Takuya Furuya — has walked 66 batters in 88 innings, while striking out 61 in 88 innings.

writing & research on Japanese baseball

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