Fujinami takes Swallows back to school
Tigers 2, Swallows 0
At Koshien Stadium, Hanshin Tigers righty Shintaro Fujinami (2-0) gave the Yakult Swallows a blast from the past, homering at spacious Koshien Stadium for the first time since he was a high schooler playing there in Japan’s prestigious national invitational and national championships.
The two-run blast, the third of Fujinami’s career, sealed a battle between youth and age, velocity and finesse that could easily have gone to 41-year-old lefty Masanori Ishikawa (0-1) in his season debut.
Ishikawa walked and beat out an infield single and owned rookie Teruaki Sato, needing six pitches to strike the young slugger out twice.
Fujinami allowed three hits and three walks while hitting two batters, but was yanked with two on and two outs in the sixth after plunking Yasutaka Shiomi. A quartet of relievers finished what Fujinami started with Robert Suarez earning his fourth save.
Giants 7, BayStars 0
At Yokohama Stadium, Yomiuri ace Tomoyuki Sugano (1-1) located his fastball well as he manhandled the DeNA BayStars from the mound and contributed to the offense by singling and scoring a sixth-inning insurance run.
Lefty Yuya Sakamoto, DeNA’s second pick in 2019, allowed three runs over five innings in his season debut. Sakamoto, who went 4-1 with a 5.67 ERA last season in 10 starts, threw some good pitches, but his command was inconsistent and the Giants put good swings on pitches in the zone.
The Giants’ top two hitters, Seiya Matsubara and Hayato Sakamoto, playing in an NPB record 1,778th game at shortstop, set the table with no-out singles and Kazuma Okamoto broke the ice with a two-run double. Sakamoto homered to lead off the fifth, although the BayStars’ Sakamoto ended the inning without further damage and the bases jammed with Giants.
Sugano reached on a one-out infield single in the sixth and scored on former BayStar Takayuki Kajitani’s two-run double, a flare that dropped and rolled away from the DeNA fielders.
Carp 7, Dragons 3
At Nagoya’s Vantelin Dome, Ryosuke Kikuchi ended Hiroshima’s scoreless streak at 31 innings and one pitch, hitting the second delivery from Chunichi lefty Taiki Matsuba (0-2) out for a leadoff home run.
Atsushi Endo, making his season debut for the Carp after some weak results in the Western League (15 runs in 1-2/3 innings), made a wild pickoff throw with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the first and the Carp were back to Square 1.
Seiya Suzuki’s fourth home run, a three-run shot, put Hiroshima back on top but the Dragons answered with two in the fourth, when manager Shinji Sasaoka ran out of patience with his starter. With a two-run lead in the fifth, 22-year-old rookie lefty Daisuke Moriura came out of the pen with the bases loaded to retire 43-year-old pinch-hitter to end the Dragons’ last threat.
OK, Moriura took a smash off his body that bounced to the catcher who threw Fukudome out, but it looks good in the box score.
Lions 2, Hawks 1
At MetLife Dome, Tomoya Mori, the Seibu Lions’ 2019 PL MVP reached base four times and decided a pitchers’ duel with a sixth-inning home run in a battle between Opening Day starters, hammering a 2-1 fastball down the pipe from Shuta Ishikawa (1-2) out to right for his third home run.
Kona Takahashi (3-0) was coming off a poor start against Lotte last week when he gave up four runs on five walks over six innings. He retired the first two batters he faced before Yurisbel Gracial took him deep for his second home run.
Rookie Lions leadoff man Gakuto Wakabayashi tied it in the home half, with some help from Gracial. Thinking Wakabayashi’s deep fly was going out, the Hawks’ left fielder stopped short of the wall only for the ball to strike off the padding and roll away from him. The Lions bunted the rookie to third from where he scored on a wild pitch.
Still, that didn’t stop Ishikawa from getting some blame for it, that allowing the first run demonstrated a lack of sufficient will power on his part.
Kaima Taira, the 2020 PL rookie of the year worked around a pinch-hit leadoff single in the eighth before Tatsushi Masuda nailed down his sixth save with a game-ending double play.
Eagles 4, Fighters 1
At Tokyo Dome, a week after going full contact mode with one K over eight innings in his previous start, Rakuten Eagles right-hander Hideaki Wakui’s strikeout train resumed normal service with 10 strikeouts over seven innings. Drew VerHagen, who went 8-6 with a 3.22 ERA in his 2020 debut season, had a kind of cold opening, making a three-inning start in his season debut after no spring training and no tune-ups with the farm team.
VerHagen allowed a run over three innings, as the Fighters temporarily jumped back into the short starter routine that was their M.O. in 2019. Ryusei Kawano, who has been really ineffective in his starts this season, was, however, in his element. The second-year side-arm lefty struck out four of the nine batters he faced over three perfect innings.
The Eagles tied the game 1-1 in the third on back-to-back two-out doubles by Hiroto Kobukata and Hiroaki Shimauchi. In keeping with the Fighters’ flash back night at their former home park, Mizuki Hori (1-1), Nippon Ham’s ace opener from 2019, made an appearance, but the seventh inning was not as kind to him as first innings used to be. He surrendered back-to-back leadoff doubles to Daichi Suzuki and rookie Fumiya Kurokawa, who untied the score for good.
Kobukata tripled and scored in the eighth on a Shimauchi sac fly, and Suzuki led off the ninth with a single and scored his second run to make it 4-1. Lefty closer Yuki Matsui closed the door with two on in the bottom of the ninth to earn his fourth save.
Buffaloes 3, Marines 3
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, the Orix Buffaloes wasted an outstanding start from Taisuke Yamaoka, who struck out nine over seven scoreless innings, when rookie reliever Taisei Urushihara surrendered a three-run eighth-inning home run to Hisanori Yasuda.
The home run took Kota Futaki, the Marines’ Opening Day starter off the hook after he allowed three runs, one earned, over seven innings. The unearned runs came in the seventh after Yasuda fumbled a grounder at third to open the inning.
Yasuhiro Tanaka pitched out of trouble in the bottom of the eighth, while the Buffaloes’ Tyler Higgins and Lotte closer Naoya Masuda shut the doors to ensure a share of the points – or rather a non-event, since ties count for nothing.