NPB news: April 15, 2923

Between the rain and the expected low after Friday’s high of the Roki Sasaki-Yoshinobu Yamamoto showdown, Saturday was a damp day for pro baseball action. It was another rainy day in Hiroshima, while two games under roofs in Hokkaido and Nagoya were played, and for the Hanshin Tigers found themselves in first place.

Sasaki’s sweeper

OK. I never heard of a slider being referred to as a sweeper until Shohei Ohtani struck out Mike Trout with one to end the WBC. But Yu Darvish and Ohtani were busy helping their teammates master it in February and March, and in his first game after he started against Mexico in Japan’s WBC semifinal, Sasaki broke off three of them.

Credit to website CoCoKaraNext for talking about it last week and predicting we’d see more of them, because when Sasaki held Orix to one hit over seven innings and struck out 10 of the first 12 batters he faced, it was instantly a weapon. His fastball so far this year has been a little better than it was a year ago, and his command of the splitter better as well, so it hardly seems fair. But Sasaki had guys swinging out of their shoes on pitches they missed by a foot.

Sasaki and Yamamoto comps

Saturday morning’s news was about MLB comps for Sasaki and Yamamoto as explained by writers covering MLB relaying what they’ve heard from U.S. teams, while mentioning there were scouts from eight MLB teams in Chiba. The way the headline was written, it sounded like the scouts were telling reporters what their comps were.

It’s not like this never happens, but it rarely happens in a public setting where they might be overheard. Instead, it quoted The Los Angeles Times’ Dylan Hernandez as saying an American League general manager had called Sasaki’s fastball the best in the world and better than Jacob DeGrom’s, while Yamamoto’s pitchability was on a par with Zach Greinke.

And since hyperbole was the flavor of the day, Ben Verlander was a necessary source, with Justin’s brother spouting on Friday’s matchup being the greatest in PL history. It might have been, but I doubt Verlander’s qualified to cast that out as fact considering all the great PL pitchers over the past 70 years, while Verlander is probably better positioned to say Sasaki’s on the same level with his brother Justin.

Saturday’s games

Carp 5, Swallows 4: At New Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, one out from preserving his fourth one-run lead of the season and nailing down his fifth save in five tries, new Swallows closer Kazuto Taguchi walked Shota Dobayashi and served up Shogo Akiyama’s first homer of the year, a sayonara walk-off shot.

Ryoma Nishikawa also homered for the Carp, while first baseman Ryan McBroom saved a run by nailing the runner at the plate on a sixth-inning safety squeeze when the Swallows went on to score two runs anyway.

The stupid exaggerated headline of the day was that Yakult’s loss put manager Akinobu Okada’s Tigers in sole possession of first place for the first time in 5,305 days, which is silly because the Tigers were in first place for much of the 2021 season. That headline meant, of course, that the Tigers had not been in first place under Okada, since he last managed the team in 2008.

Giants 6, Dragons 2: At Nagoya Stadium, Foster Griffin (2-1) allowed two runs over 2-1/3 innings to beat Chunichi for the second time this season and extended Yomiuri’s lead to 2-0 with a second-inning sacrifice fly. Takumi Oshiro homered to make it 3-0 in the fourth off Japan WBC teammate Hiroto Takahashi (1-1). Chunichi narrowed the gap to a run, but an error extended the inning and Kazuma Okamoto’s two-out two-run double highlighted a three-run ninth.

Lions 10, Fighters 0: At Kitahiroshima Taxpayers Burden Field, Kona Takahashi (2-0) remains one of those pitchers who has been locked in this spring along with Roki Sasaki and Yakult’s Yasuhiro Ogawa. He walked four but allowed just one hit over seven runs and lowered his ERA to 0.39 over 23 innings.

New Lions David McKinnon and Mark Payton had run scoring hits off Naoyuki Uwasawa (1-1) to make it 3-0 in the fourth, and Uwasawa was allowed to struggle for 43 sixth-inning pitches, only leaving after issuing his second straight bases-loaded walk to the last two hitters in the Lions order.

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