The word “nagekomi” is a compound of the Japanese verb to throw “nageru” and “komu” which has a slew of meanings that imply doing something completely, intently, thoroughly and continuously–which pretty much captures the spirit of spring training in Japan.
Allen Kuri of the Hiroshima Carp on Thursday threw a 347-pitch bullpen, which the press quickly labeled a team record, breaking a 343-pitch effort of Hiroki Kuroda’s in 2002. I didn’t see that one, but did watch Kuroda throw about 320 in 2005, when Wayne Graczyk drove me down to Nichinan.
Although the highlights of that day were hearing Wayne’s story about how he got to Japan and enjoying the view of the beautiful Miyazaki coastline, Kuroda’s bullpen was something to see. After he’d gotten past 250 pitches, Carp manager Koji Yamamoto stood in the batter’s box and egged his ace on, trying to get him to throw harder.
When I interviewed Kuroda a couple of years later, he said it was his habit to throw one really long bullpen every spring. As bad as the optics are, a lot of pitchers have a history of throwing marathon bullpens while having long healthy careers. Every pitcher’s body is built differently and how players approach long bullpens and their physical condition at the time are likely all factors that are beyond my ability to measure, that’s why Will Carrol @injuryexpert exists.
Kuri, who said he’d thrown 400-pitch bullpens during his time at Asia University, suggesting he’d been mapping out a plan for a “nagekomi” according to Kyodo News (Japanese) recorded Kuri’s comments.
“I’m glad I was able to do a good job of it,” Kuri said. “I had this image in mind of the number of pitches thrown in camp by manager (Shinji) Sasaoka and Kuroda-san, who were both complete-game starting pitchers.”
“The only way to be able to pitch with strength even when fatigued is if you build up muscle memory from throwing a good number of pitches.”
That’s the kind of typical explanation one hears about those bullpens from the old guys, although Sasaoka said Kuri was doing so armed with a more critical approach than he had in his pitching days.
“He wasn’t just throwing. He was thinking while throwing,” Sasaoka told reporters in a Q and A published by Daily Sports. “From his first pitch to his 347th, that was a superb bullpen.”
“It wasn’t just a normal nagekomi. He was thinking and solidifying his mechanics.”
“It’s different from the way guys like me used to think about it. It’s essential to do it the way he went about it. The way I did it and Kuroda did it that may have been old school. But I want to praise people for thinking of different ways to achieve their goals. I don’t think it was harmful.”
Times are changing, but Japan has a long tradition of finding new ways of defending spartan old-school practices, even when the explanations completely defy logic, and reporters who print coaches’ views as knowledge rather than opinions do so at their own risk.
One lackey who wrote for the Nikkan Sports in 2010 was fed a bunch of crap by the Lotte Marines to explain the team’s success the year after they dumped Bobby Valentine, and the reporter printed the nonsense.
He claimed the secret to the Marines’ rebound was pitching — when in fact the pitching and defense was demonstrably worse than under Valentine. Supposedly the key to the pitching “turn-around” was marathon bullpen sessions in camp–which Valentine supposedly banned when he hadn’t. To make matters worse, the pitcher his article cited as being the spring standout after throwing 1,000 pitches in camp, missed most of the season with arm trouble.
Sasaoka may be 100 percent correct, or he may be full of shit. There’s no way of knowing from reading about it in the paper. Kuri’s a great guy, and I’m looking forward to a chance to hear him talk about his planning and thinking this out.
Matsunaka and NabeQ
It’s five days into spring training and so far about the only news is who’s showing up to camp when and who is going to the bullpen and how often.
Before getting into the more routine stuff, I think it’s worth mentioning that Lotte spring coach Nobuhiko Matsunaka felt it was necessary to demonstrate points during BP by stepping in and taking some swings, during which three drives cleared the outfield fence.
This brought to mind one of my favorite Hisanobu Watanabe stories, when he went to Taiwan to coach in 1999 after he finished his NPB career with one season for the Yakult Swallows. Watanabe couldn’t speak Mandarin, so he did a lot of demonstrations. It didn’t take long for his fellow coaches to realize the 33-year-old coach threw harder than any of the pitchers in camp and signed him to a players contract.
Watanabe led the fledgling Taiwan Major League in wins, strikeouts and ERA that season and added three more years to his pro career. Of course, Matsunaka is now 47, and hasn’t been a regular for 12 years, so there’s zero chance anyone’s going to give him a contract, but he admitted it was fun while it lasted.
Last and least
I’m not certain why PL TV’s videos are focused on the Lions’ training camp. It’s certainly not because it’s all that interesting, although the second “gem” of the week from Nango is their No. 7 ball boy, who earned an instant replay while shagging flies during BP.
The good news is that it reminds us that spring training is not ONLY about pain and suffering in the name of playing a game.