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.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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