NPB news: April 1, 2023

OK. It’s not ALL NPB news today.

All 12 teams were in action for the first time Saturday afternoon, and after two games, four teams are unbeaten, two teams have yet to score while three players have homered in both of their teams’ games, and one player has driven in all of his team’s runs so far. Also a returning free agent did not get such a warm welcome back.

Away from pro baseball, Yamanashi Gakuin won the 95th high school invitational tournament at Koshien Stadium behind its fourth complete game victory from ace Kengo Hayashi, who started all six of the school’s games. Over 15 days, Hayashi threw 696 pitches – and that’s with the national federation’s pitch limits in place. It was the first time a school from Yamanashi Prefecture had reached a Koshien final.

The school played the tournament’s first game, notable by a player from Sendai’s Tohoku High School being warned by an umpire for doing Lars Nootbaar’s “pepper grinder” salute after reaching on an error.

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In other high school news, Rintaro Suzuki, whose father manages Hanamaki Higashi High School and oversaw the development of both Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani, was celebrated in Japan’s media for breaking the unofficial high school home record with his 117th. It’s a dumb record that includes practice games and only exists to hype headlines. The other news is that Suzuki was left off the national under-18 team.


Hawks 7, Marines 0: At Fukuoka Dome, Marines starter Atsuki Taneuchi struck out the first five batters he faced and struck out 10 over four innings as he pitched out of a pair of bases-loaded jams, and got stuck with the loss. He allowed one run, on Ryoya Kurihara’s second homer, and SoftBank left an impression on Lotte’s bullpen.

The Hawks lost Kurihara last season for all but a handful of April games, ended up tied with Orix for the league lead and finished second because of their better head-to-head record. Kurihara had three hits, a walk, and three RBIs.

The Hawks, of course, lost Kodai Senga to free agency, but on consecutive days got seven scoreless innings from Tomoya Ozeki, ANOTHER Hawk whose career started on a non-roster developmental contract, and seven more on Saturday from Koya Fujii. A reclamation project out of indy ball after being released by Hiroshima, Fujii was the Hawks’ main setup man in 2022, and struck out nine in his starting debut.

Kurihara upheld the Hawks’ tradition of weird on-field hero interviews when asked what was going through his mind before he homered.

“I knew today’s sponsor was Asahi beer, so I wanted to do something. I’m not going to get drunk tonight because we’ve got a game tomorrow. But tomorrow night I want to get blasted.”

— Ryoya Kurihara in Saturday’s post-game hero interview

Buffaloes 6, Lions 2: At Seibu Dome, Orix hammered Dietrich Enns (0-1) for six runs, three earned, on eight hits over three innings, while the Buffaloes’ bullpen served up five scoreless innings.

Keita Nakagawa and Yutaro Sugimoto, the 2021 Pacific League home run leader, combined to score and drive in five runs. Nakagawa doubled twice, walked and singled, while Sugimoto doubled, homered and walked.

Orix last won its first two games of the season in 2010.

Fighters 4, Eagles 3, 10 innings: At Kitahiroshima Taxpayer’s Burden Field, Kotaro Kiyomiya smashed a sayonara single after Yuki James Nomura’s leadoff double. The Eagles tied it in the eighth on Ryosuke Tatsumi’s two-run home run off new-import Conner Menez.

Nippon Ham’s top draft pick, two-way player Kota Yazawa started in right field and went 1-for-3 in his debut with a single.

Giants 2, Dragons 0: At Tokyo Dome, new-import Foster Griffin (1-0) struck out seven over seven innings, while Sho Nakata, who drove in all three Giants runs in Friday’s loss, singled in one run and hit his second home run.

“We saw video of him, but he was better than we thought he would be, with a fastball that had a lot on it.”

–Chunichi Dragons manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami on Giants pitcher Foster Griffin

Both Giants runs came off another longtime PL star, Hideaki Wakui (0-1), who was traded over the winter from Rakuten in exchange for good-hitting infielder Toshiki Abe. Wakui allowed two runs over seven innings. He struck out seven, walked two, hit one and gave up four hits.

Swallows 1, Carp 0: At Jingu Stadium, new-import Dillon Peters matched Hiroshima’s Hiroki Tokoda with six scoreless innings, and Jose Osuna blasted his second home run to break the deadlock in the seventh inning. Taishi Ishiyama (1-0) survived a leadoff single in the seventh to earn the win, setup man, or as they say in Japan “set-upper,” and Noboru Shimizu threw a 1-2-3 eighth.

Kazuto Taguchi, acquired in a March 2021 trade with the Giants for middle infielder Taishi Hiraooka, continued to pay dividends with a 1-2-3 ninth against the top of the Carp order to convert the team’s first save opportunity since closer Scott McGough moved to MLB over the winter.

Tigers 6, BayStars 5, 12 innings: At Osaka Dome, Koji Chikamoto went 3-for-5 with two walks, and was forced to flash his speed to stay dry after he singled home Kento Itohara with two outs to win it in the 12th inning off Yasuaki Yamasaki (0-1).

The DeNA closer who signed a long-term contract over the winter rather than pursue his prior ambition of moving to MLB, threw some of the best fastballs I’ve seen from him in years, but he missed up with one on 2-2 to Chikamoto and the Tigers leadoff man put a hell of a swing on it, lining it over center to end the game.

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