NPB games, news of June 21, 2019

The SoftBank Hawks moved to within one win of the team’s eighth interleague championship with a come-from-behind win over the Yomiuri Giants, who dropped a game back in the chase with the two clubs playing their final two games at Tokyo Dome on Saturday and Sunday.

With the two leagues splitting Friday’s four games, the PL on Saturday can wrap up the overall interleague win lead for the 14th time in 15 seasons. The PL now leads 51-39, and can own this year’s bragging rights with three more wins.

Of course, interleague is just part of the journey, and it doesn’t really matter which league wins it. Without interleague to brag about, the PL would have to fall back on the Japan Series, which it has only won 11 times over the past 14 seasons.


Hawks 8, Giants 3

At Tokyo Dome, Shuhei Fukuda hit a grand slam off a former teammate and Kodai Senga reached double digits in strikeouts for the first time since April 27.

Senga (7-2) allowed two runs seven hits and four walks over six innings after striking his way out of a no-out, bases-loaded pinch in the second.

Yoshihiro Maru, who drove in all four of the Giants’ runs in Friday’s 4-2 win over Orix had three hits off Senga and scored both runs, one on an RBI single by Giants elder statesman Shinnosuke Abe and the other on his 13th home run.

Giants starter Cristopher Mercedes (5-3) cruised through five innings before giving up Seiji Uebayashi’s leadoff homer in the sixth and back-to-back two-out singles to Cubans Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial.

Rysuke Miyaguni walked the bases loaded and Carp catcher Takuya Kai slid headfirst to beat out an RBI bunt single to tie the game 2-2, and former Hawks side-armer Masahiko Morifuku came in and threw four sliders to the left-handed-hitting Fukuda, who slammed a fat 2-1 pitch way back into the right field stands.

Marines 12, Swallows 3

At Jingu Stadium, both clubs had a first-inning leadoff homer for the 14th time in NPB history as Lotte’s Takashi Ogino went deep off David Buchanan (1-5) and Yakult’s Tetsuto Yamada did the same to Kota Futaki in the bottom of the inning.

Ogino singled in a run in the fourth and doubled in another in the Marines’ seven-run fifth.

Futaki (5-5) twice allowed the Swallows to tie it, in the first on Yamada’s homer and in the second on a pair of singles and a wild pitch. The right-hander allowed three runs on four hits, a walk and a hit batsman, while striking out eight.

Yamada has now homered off of all 11 opposing NPB teams this season, a feat he also accomplished in 2016.

BayStars 3, Eagles 2

At Yokohama Stadium, Yamato Maeda hit his second sayonara double in three days, lifting DeNA over Rakuten.

BayStars’ starter Shota Imanaga struck out 12 over seven innings, but blew his 2-0 lead in the sixth inning on Hiroaki Shimauchi’s leadoff homer, a one-out walk to Jabari Blash and a two-out Zelous Wheeler double.

Eagles lefty Wataru Karashima allowed only two hits through five innings but both cleared the wall in Yokohama. Kazuki Kamizato opened the home half of the first with his sixth home run, while former Mariner Jose Lopez hit shots down the right-field line on consecutive pitches. The First sliced foul, while the second stayed fair for his 13th home run.

Edwin Escobar (3-2) pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn the win after Toshiro Miyazaki battled Rakuten’s Alan Busenitz (1-1) for a one-out walk to set the table for Maeda.

Dragons 4, Fighters 2

At Nagoya Dome, Shuhei Takahashi continued his torrid hitting with a three-run, first-inning homer off Kohei Arihara (8-3), who had not allowed a homer in his first three interleague starts, all wins for the right-hander.

Yuya Yanagi (8-2) allowed a run over seven innings on six hits and a walk, while striking out six. He’s now won five straight starts. Lefty Joely Rodriguez and right-hander Raidel Martinez, each struck out two batters in a scoreless inning to close it out for the Dragons.

Tigers 5, Lions 3

At Koshien Stadium, Deunte Heath inherited a no-out, two-on predicament in the seventh inning and struck out three but not before he’d loaded the bases with a walk and hit Ryutaro Umeno to force in the go-ahead run.

Kento Itohara, who singled to open the seventh and scored the go-ahead run, singled in an insurance run in the ninth, while Rafael Dolis worked a 1-2-3 ninth to record his 14th save.

Buffaloes 5, Carp 4

At Mazda Stadium, with both team’s closers sitting on the farm team due to lack of effectiveness, Orix won a battle of understudies against Hiroshima.

With Geronimo Franzua (5-3) on the mound, rookie Kaito Kozono’s error allowed the tying run to reach with one out in the ninth, and Masataka Yoshida followed with his 12th homer of the season.

Carp lefty Kyle Regnault survived a game of Russian roulette in the eighth, when he loaded the bases with one out, and another first-year import, Tyler Eppler (3-2) worked a scoreless eighth for the Buffaloes.

Brandon Dickson earned his second save in two opportunities to wrap it up for Orix.


Matsuzaka goes 6 in 3rd rehab game

Daisuke Matsuzaka inched closer toward pitching for the Chunichi Dragons’ top team after his throwing 108 pitches in a six-inning rehab start on Friday at Nagoya Stadium. Here’s the Sankei Sports story.

The 38-year-old, who suffered right shoulder inflammation in February when a fan gave him a high five, was pitching for the third time this year.

Fans lined up early to see Matsuzaka, who allowed two runs on seven hits with two strikeouts with his fastball maxing out 139 KPH (86.4 MPH). The right-hander was NPB’s comeback player of the year in 2018, when he went 6-4 after pitching in just one game the previous three seasons when he was with the SoftBank Hawks.

Giants on track to acquire D’Backs’ De La Rosa

According to Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic, right-hander Rubby De La Rosa is headed to Japan to play for the Yomiuri Giants.

A year ago, the Giants appeared solid in the bullpen with Arquimedes Caminero as their closer and bulldog Scott Mathieson as their principle set up guy. But Mathieson had season-ending knee surgery in August and Caminero struggled. This year, Mathieson was slowed by a bacterial infection and only recently returned to the first team, when he suffered a minor adductor muscle strain.

Ryan Cook was expected to close, but the right-hander has felt discomfort in his surgically repaired right elbow. He returned to action this past week.

The Giants have not won a Central League pennant since 2014 — equaling the franchise record for consecutive seasons without a pennant.

NPB games, news of June 20, 2019

The Pacific League added another four wins to its interleague


Giants 4, Buffaloes 2

At Tokyo Dome, Yoshihiro Maru proved to be the two-out kiss of death for the Orix Buffaloes on Thursday, belting a two-out, two-run, game-tying, opposite-field homer to tie it in the sixth inning, and a two-out, two-strike, two-run triple to break the tie in the bottom of the eighth.

Buffaloes shorstop Koji Oshiro opened the scoring with a two-out, two-run, fifth-inning triple off 25-year-old Giants right-hander Toshiki Sakurai, who had allowed just one run in winning his previous two starts.

Sakurai struck out 10 but lost the strike zone after getting ahead of light-hitting Shuhei Fukuda 0-2. After a seven-pitch walk, Oshiro made Sakurai pay for his lapse.

Orix right-hander Kohei “K” Suzuki (1-3) faced just one batter over the minimum through five innings, but surrendered a leadoff pinch-hit single to Yasuhiro Yamamoto, but couldn’t get out of trouble with two outs against Maru, whose 12th homer of the season landed just inside the left-field foul pole.

Suzuki retired the next six batters but walked Yoshiyuki Kamei and Hayato Sakamoto with two outs in the eighth and Maru put the Giants in front with a two-run triple.

Kota Nakagawa saved his ninth game despite allowing a pair of one-out singles.

Hawks 6, Swallows 5

At Jingu Stadium, Seiichi Uchikawa went 4-for-5 with two home runs, and Nobuhiro Matsuda singled in two runs as SoftBank overcame three home runs by Yakult.

Yakult twice came from behind on two-run homers. Trailing 1-0 in the second, 19-year-old rookie Munetaka Murakami hit his 19th homer of the season off lefty Kotaro Otake (4-2).

The Hawks scored twice off former teammate Hiroki Yamada, who gave up an Uchikawa solo homer in the first and a one-out Uchikawa single in the fifth before getting yanked. Right-handed reliever Yugo Umeno came in and threw gasoline on the flames, giving up hits to all four batters he faced.

Tetsuto Yamada, however, tied it in the bottom of the inning with his 17th homer only for Uchikawa to answer with a two-run shot in the top of the sixth.

Hawks rookie Hiroshi Kaino, who blew his first career save attempt on Tuesday in his role as stand in while the Hawks are without closers Dennis Sarfate and Yuito Mori, retired the Swallows in order in the ninth.

Young Sluggers

1986Kazuhiro KiyoharaSeibu Lions1847131
1987Kazuhiro KiyoharaSeibu Lions1953629
1953Yasumitsu ToyodaNishitetsu Lions1843927
2019Munetaka MurakamiYakult Swallows1928219
1954Yasumitsu ToyodaNishitetsu Lions1958318
2015Tomoya MoriSeibu Lions1953117
1985Takayuki MurakamiKintetsu Buffaloes1945316
1967Taira FujitaHanshin Tigers1956116
1955Kihachi EnomotoMainichi Orions1859216
1988Yukio TanakaNippon Ham Fighters1954316
Most home runs in a season prior to age-20 season

The most interesting thing about this table is their positions. Only three of the players here Munetaka Murakami, Kiyohara and Enomoto) showed their early power as first basemen. Mori was a DH, who has since become Seibu’s regular catcher. All the others were shortstops.

Toyoda and Enomoto are in the hall of fame. Kiyohara deserves to be in on the basis of his playing career and may still make it — he’s off the ballot since no one thinks he’d get enough votes after his drug conviction to survive a single ballot. Fujita’s hall of fame credentials are impeccable but he is one of two guys who are out because they had toxic relationships with the media. Kiyohara nearly falls into this category, and if he is never elected that will be the reason.

Fighters 8, BayStars 4

At Yokohama Stadium, Kenshi Sugiya broke a 4-4, seventh-inning tie with a pinch-hit home run off former teammate Edwin Escobar (2-2) as Nippon Ham beat DeNA.

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo accounted for most of the BayStars’ offense with an RBI double in the first and a solo homer in the third, but the Fighters tied it in the sixth on a solo homer by Kotaro Kiyomiya.

Lions 2, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, former Athletics right-hander Zach Neal (2-1), activated for the first time since April 23 following poor results in his first four starts, allowed a run on four hits and a hit batsman over five innings to earn the win as Seibu beat Chunichi.

Hotaka Yamakawa broke the ice in the second inning against the oldest pitcher in NPB, 41-year-old Daisuke Yamai (2-3), with his 27th home run. PL batting leader Tomoya Mori followed with an infield single, was doubled to third by Takeya Nakamura and scored on a ground out.

Kyle Martin continued his strong June by striking out three over two scoreless innings, while Katsunori Hirai worked the eighth and Tatsyshi Masuda the ninth for his 12th save.

Eagles 3, Tigers 2

At Koshien Stadium, Osaka native Ryota Ishibashi (4-3) pitched at the iconic Kansai ballpark for the first time as a pro, allowing two runs over seven-plus innings and scoring the winning run against Hanshin.

Ishibashi left the mound with two on and no outs in the seventh but a pair of relievers shut the door. Koji Aoyama retired Tigers cleanup hitter Yusuke Oyama to end the inning with the bases loaded.

Closer Yuki Matsui recorded his 23rd save, ending it when he retired Jefry Marte swinging when he tried to check his swing on a 3-2 pitch with the tying runner on base.

Rakuten leadoff man Eigoro Mogi singled in each of his first four at-bats. He drove in two runs in the fifth to tie it 2-2, and singled with two outs in the seventh so Hiroaki Shimauchi could break the tie with an RBI single off Tigers starter Haruto Takahashi (1-2). The stocky Ishibashi chugged around the bases from second to just beat the tag and give himself the lead.

The Eagles wasted a scoring chance in the eighth with a base-running mix-up that turned a grounder with runners on second and third into an inning-ending double play.

Carp 7, Marines 6

At Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima catcher Tsubasa Aizawa homered, doubled and singled in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth to lift the Carp to a walk-off win over Lotte, which fought back from a 6-0 sixth-inning deficit.

Geronimo Franzua (5-2) allowed an unearned run in the ninth on two hits and a walk to blow the save opportunity, but collected the win after the Carp ended a string of outstanding results by Brandon Mann (0-2) in the home half. The lefty walked the bases loaded with two outs, and Aizawa hit a first-pitch slider to win it.

The Carp sat regular shortstop Kosuke Tanaka and started highly touted rookie Kaito Kozono in his place. Kozono, who was selected as the first-round draft pick by four teams last autumn, singled in his first at-bat to open the home half of the first. He went 1-for-5 with two strikeouts.

Kozono was batting .189 in 185 at-bats in the Western League.


Eagles’ Norimoto hits 150 kph in 1st rehab game

Rakuten Eagles right-hander Takahiro Norimoto threw over 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) per hour on consecutive pitches Thursday in his three-inning rehab stint in a minor league game at Rakuten Seimei Park in Sendai.

Norimoto, who had surgery to clean out his right elbow in March, struck out four over three innings against the Yomiuri Giants’ Eastern League farm club.

“That I was able to pitch properly is everything,” Norimoto said. “I was pumped up. I’m about 60 percent of what I’m capable of.”

The 28-year-old Norimoto, who set an NPB record by striking out 10-plus batters in eight consecutive starts in the first half of the 2017 season, is expected to remain with the Eagles’ EL farm club for a few more weeks before being activated around the time of the all-star break.

NPB games, news of June 19, 2019

The Pacific League won four of Wednesday’s six interleague games by a margin of 34 runs to 22 as the three-time defending Central League champion Hiroshima Carp clinched a losing record against the PL for the second straight season.

Elsewhere, longtime Buffaloes starter Brandon Dickson saves the day as Orix holds on to beat the Giants on the road, while Japan’s all-time interleague big bopper Takeya Nakamura takes the Chunichi Dragons to the woodshed in a game where there was controversy over a sacrifice bunt.


Marines 6, Carp 3

At Mazda Stadium, Brandon Laird hit his 20th home run, one of four solo shots Lotte hit off Daichi Osera (6-4) as rookie right-hander Daiki Iwashita (3-1) went seven-plus innings for the win over Hiroshima.

Osera lacked consistent command of his cutter and allowed six runs, four earned, on eight hits over six-plus innings. He struck out four.

“The life on my fastball was not that bad but my location was off to guys who make their living hitting fastballs,” Osera said.

Iwashita, too, had trouble with his big out pitch, the splitter, but made up for it by locating his fastball. The rookie allowed three runs on five hits and a walk, while striking out five. Yuki Karakawa and Naoya Masuda each retired three batters to end it.

Buffaloes 4, Giants 3

At Tokyo Dome, Brandon Dickson got two-time reigning CL MVP Yoshihiro Maru to fly out with the tying run on third base and record his first pro save in 11 years as Orix held on to beat Yomiuri.

Moments after the Giants tied the game on a two-run, seventh-inning, pinch-hit home run by Hiroyuki Nakajima, who had just been called up that day, Yuya Oda broke the 3-3 tie in the top of the eighth with a sacrifice fly. Oda also doubled in a run in the Buffaloes’ two-run fourth.

Reliever Ryan Cook (0-2), pitching for the first time since being being deactivated on April 23 with discomfort in his right elbow, loaded the bases on two singles and a walk, setting up Oda for a sacrifice fly.

Dickson, on the hot seat after the Buffaloes deactivated closer Hirotoshi Masui, issued a leadoff walk to Yang Dai-kang to open the ninth, and with two outs walked Hayato Sakamoto with first base open. The save was Dickson’s first as a pro since he saved a game in the Cardinals’ minor league system in 2008.

Swallows 3, Hawks 2

At Jingu Stadium, Yasuhiro Ogawa (2-8) allowed two runs over seven innings, his best start since his last victory on May 3, as Yakult scored early and held on to beat SoftBank.

Tetsuto Yamada tripled to open the game and scored on a Norichika Aoki single before Wladimir Balentien hit his 14th home run of the season to give Yakult a 3-0, first-inning lead against Robert Suarez (0-3).

Ogawa matched his season-low with four hits. He walked two while equaling his season high of seven strikeouts.

BayStars 7, Fighters 6

At Yokohama Stadium, Yamato Maeda doubled home pinch runner Tomo Otosaka with the winning run in the ninth inning after Jose Lopez led off the inning with his second single of the game as DeNA came from behind to beat Nippon Ham.

Neftali Soto brought the BayStars back from a 4-23 deficit with his 21st home run, a fifth-inning, three-run shot.

BayStars lefty Edwin Escobar (2-1), who first came to Japan with the Fighters in 2017 before being traded that year to DeNA, struck out two to work around a walk and a single in a scoreless ninth and earn the win.

Lions 5, Dragons 2

At Nagoya Dome, career interleague RBI leader Takeya Nakamura tied the game with a two-run homer and broke the 2-2 tie with a two-run, ninth-inning single off Yudai Ono (4-5) as Seibu came from behind to beat Chunichi.

The Dragons’ Shuhei Takahashi led off with a single in the second and a double in the fourth, and was driven in both times by the No. 8 hitter, catcher Takuma Kato, who squeezed in the first run and singled in the second.

Nakamura tied it in the seventh with his 11th home run and his second in two nights. Ono had allowed just an infield single to Nakamura and a walk through six innings, before giving up Shota Sotozaki’s leadoff double in the seventh.

Still on the mound in the ninth, Ono surrendered a Sosuke Genda leadoff single. After a sacrifice, Japan home run leader Hotaka Yamakawa was walked intentionally, and Tomoya Mori walked to load the bases for Nakamura.

The inning had some controversy when Sotozaki sacrificed Genda to second. He bunted the ball straight down onto the plate and it appeared to hit the bat on the rebound.

On the principle that if the sacrifice bunt is no longer sacred then people in Japan ought to quit playing baseball, Dragons skipper Tsuyoshi Yoda was incensed that his request for a video review was refused, and the club has said it will file an objection.

Lions closer Tatsushi Masuda worked around a leadoff walk and an error to record his 11th save.

Eagles 9, Tigers 4

At Koshien Stadium, Rakuten rookie Ryosuke Tatsumi broke a 4-4 tie with a one-out, bases-loaded single in the ninth inning as the Eagles came from behind to beat Hanshin.

The Tigers jumped out in front on Yusuke Oyama’s three-run, first-inning home run.

Jabari Blash homered for the Eagles in the second and singled in a run in the fifth that tied it 4-4. He also opened the ninth with his second walk of the game.


Mathieson deactivated with slight strain

Yomiuri Giants reliever Scott Mathieson was deactivated on Wednesday, a day after he left a game against the Orix Buffaloes with a slight right adductor strain. The 35-year-old, who is coming back from knee surgery and a bacterial infection, has pitched in four games this season. He is expected to make a quick recovery.

Mathieson is in his eighth season with the Giants. He has 53 saves and 169 holds over that stretch and is one of the team’s captains. Last season he was limited to 34 games, his fewest since arriving in Japan in 2012.

Fighters’ Uwasawa, Buffaloes’ Fushimi out for long haul

Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa is out indefinitely since a line drive off the bat of the DeNA BayStars’ Neftali Soto fractured his left kneecap.

In Tokyo, the Orix Buffaloes lost the use of reserve catcher Torai Fushima, who ruptured the Achilles tendon in his left ankle while batting in the top of the ninth inning. He has been replaced on the active roster by 36-year-old catcher Katsuki Yamazaki.

Stewart checks Japanese mounds

For the first time since he completed his signing with the SoftBank Hawks, Carter Stewart threw from a bullpen mound. And though every Japanese media report called it a bullpen session, the catcher was not behind the plate at regulation distance, so it was more like catch from the bullpen mound.

Stewart said he threw at about 65 to 70 percent of full strength, trying out all his pitches at the Hawks’ minor league facility in Chikugo, Fukuoka Prefecture.

From what Stewart said, the mound there sounds like the prototypical Japanese type with a softer landing area and a gentler slope than in the States. Despite that, he said he liked it that way, showing that perhaps he has been receiving lessons in how not to say anything meaningful to reporters.

He is slated for another throwing session this weekend, and said he is eager to pitch to actual hitters, although he added that it would only happen after discussion the matter thoroughly with coaches.

NPB games, news of June 18, 2019

At long last the PL took the lead in runs scored during this season’s interleague action thanks to the Seibu Lions scoring like thy do on occasion in a 16-2 blowout of the Chunichi Dragons. Through Tuesday’s games, the PL leads 40-32, with a 325-320 run advantage.

On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, I said I was confident the CL, which has led interleague play in wins just once, has never led in runs. This is not true. In 2006, the CL went 107-108-1, but led in runs scored 904-841. Other than that, the PL has led in runs scored every season since interleague began in 2005


Marines 6, Carp 2, 11 innings

At Mazda Stadium, Daichi Suzuki, a Golden Glove-winning shortstop whose defense has pushed him into a utility role this year, started his second career game in the outfield, made an impressive play in left field and went 4-for-6 with an RBI double in the Marines’ four-run 11th inning.

Hiroshima closer Shota Nakazaki (2-3), who has been giving up hits and walks at an alarming rate, surrendered three doubles, a single and a walk without recording a strikeout.

Lotte starter Hideaki Wakui allowed two runs, one earned, over six innings, and lefty Brandon Mann worked the seventh to start a string of five straight solid innings from the Marines’ pen.

Mann, who allowed five runs in his two-inning season debut on April 3, has now struck out 14 over 11 scoreless innings innings since he returned to the first team on June 1. During that eight-game stretch, he’s allowed three hits, two walks and a hit batsman.

Giants 4, Buffaloes 3

At Tokyo Dome, Taiwan’s Yang Dai-kang broke a 3-3, eighth-inning tie with an RBI double after Orix blew a chance to take the lead in the top of the inning and 25-year-old Yomiuri closer Kota Nakagawa saved his eighth game since first getting a chance to close on May 23.

Giants starter Nobutaka Imamura allowed an unearned run over six innings, but the Buffaloes tied it against the Giants bullpen in the top of the eighth on a two-run double by Keita Nakagawa, who then ended the inning when he was caught in a rundown between second and third.

Orix’s Tyler Eppler continued to look strong since his return from the farm. In the seventh, he issued a on-out free pass to Japan’s walk machine, Yoshihiro Maru, but struck out the other three batters he faced. Since returning to the first-team mound on June 4, he’s 2-0 with five strikeouts, a hit and two walks over four scoreless innings.

Hawks 6, Swallows 4

At Jingu Stadium, Yuki Matsumoto (1-1) pitched better than his line of three runs on five hits over six innings as SoftBank beat Yakult while holding closer tryouts with Yuito Mori unlikely to return before the all-star break.

Matsumoto struck out five without a walk. His two straight throwing errors allowed Yakult to tie it 1-1 in the third. After Nobuhiro Matsuda’s second homer made it 3-1 in the fourth, the Swallows’ tied it 3-3 in the fifth thanks to three straight soft-contact hits.

With a two-run cushion thanks to homers from Yurisbel Gracial and Masayoshi Tsukada, the Hawks sent rookie Hiroshi Kaino to the mound to try and nail down his first save. The right-hander, with 30 strikeouts from his first 23-2/3 innings, allowed a run on three walks and a hit. Lefty middle reliever Shinya Kayama, retired the only batter he faced in the ninth for his first career save.

Lions 16, Dragons 2

At Nagoya Dome, Hotaka Yamakawa homered for the first time since June 6, hitting his Japan-best 26th home run as Seibu matched its season high in run production against Chunichi.

The Lions’ Tatsuya Imai (5-5) allowed both runs while striking out six over six innings.

BayStars 3, Fighters 0

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA side-armer Kentaro Taira (1-1) allowed three hits and a walk over 6-2/3 innings, while striking out five to earn the win over Nippon Ham.

Neftali Soto opened the scoring with his 20th home run, a fourth-inning solo shot and sent Fighters starter Naoyuki Uwasawa (5-3) out of the game on a stretcher after he drilled him on the left knee.

Eagles 5, Tigers 3

At Kurashiki Muscat Stadium, Zelous Wheeler, playing in his fifth NPB season, became Rakuten’s first foreign player to hit 100 home runs with a two-run shot in the win over Hanshin. Wheeler went 2-for-2 with a walk and a sacrifice fly that broke a 3-3, eighth-inning tie.

The Eagles’ Frank Herrmann (4-2) struck out two batters in an inning for the third straight game and earned the win in relief.


Hawks’ Yangita focusing on returning to batter’s box.

The Nikkan Sports reported Tuesday that Yuki Yanagita, who suffered a muscle tear behind his left knee on April 7, may see minor league rehab action before this month ends.

The Hawks’ star center fielder took batting practice on Saturday and Sunday, and was able to drive the ball but is unable to run at full speed or play in the outfield. On Sunday, he took about 50 swings but reported some discomfort.

The Hawks are also without outfielder Akira Nakamura due to lower-back issues. Nakamura had only just returned to the lineup after being diagnosed with an autonomic nerve disorder in March. Left fielder Yurisbel Gracial, who also missed the start of the season, will be gone for much of July to compete with Cuba’s national team.

Shortstop Kenta Imamiya is playing but is dealing with pain in his left hamstring.

Mathieson out

Giants reliever Scott Mathieson left Tuesday’s game against the Orix Buffaloes at Tokyo Dome with some concern over his hip. The 35-year-old right-hander only recently made his season debut after suffering from a bacterial infection in December — when he was recovering from left knee surgery he had performed in August.

Fair Trade Commission fires warning

According to a report by Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, the impositions sports teams place on athletes moving to other clubs may violate Japan’s anti-monopoly law.

The article referred to Japan’s New Years Corporate Ekiden distance relay race, where runners who switch teams without permission, can be banned from the competition indefinitely. Still, it could have ramifications for baseball in Japan, where the players union is fighting for shorter free agency windows.

Currently, players must amass nine years of first-team service time before they are able to file for international free agency. But unlike the major leagues, where the free agent system was won by the players, in Japan it was handed down to them by the Yomiuri Giants, so that club could scoop up available veteran talent.

Japan’s reserve system was established when the Japan Baseball Federation was established in the 1930s as a league for the Giants to compete with, and unlike MLB, which has enjoyed considerable protection from anti-trust legislation as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in Federal Baseball Club v. National League, Japan has no such basis for anti-trust exemption.

While the Fair Trade Commission recognized that teams incur costs to develop athletes, there is nothing to stop Japanese sports bodies from adopting rules that are standard outside the United States’ 19th-century ownership model. Outside of the U.S. and outside of baseball, athletes sign contracts for specific terms, and transfers before those terms expire can be negotiated between players AND teams.

But even if the FTC did pursue action, one should remember that the districting for Japan’s lower house elections have been considered unconstitutional for decades, and the government has not so much as twitched a muscle in response.

writing & research on Japanese baseball