NPB news: April 16, 2023

Baseball in Japan on Sunday was really fun.

Rakuten’s Takayuki Kishi entered his start Sunday in position to reach two milestones, his 2,000th strikeout and 150th win, while Orix showed off its pitching depth in Chiba, where bromance was in the air, and Seibu got a leg up on Nippon Ham with the help from its imports.

In the Central League, Yakult manager Shingo Takatsu faced some tough questions, Yomiuri manager Tatsunori questioned a young pitcher’s attitude, and Hanshin deactivated its closer.

Saturday in MLB was Jackie Robinson day, which is not a thing in Japan except for a handful of players, including Chunichi’s Kenta Bright.

Kenta Bright

Every day is Bright’s Jackie Robinson Day

I didn’t know Dragons outfielder Kenta Bright, their first pick in the 2021 draft, even wore No. 42, but a story published on Saturday’s anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s MLB debut, reminded us that he wears the number to honor Robinson.

When he was first introduced along with his fellow newly signed Dragons draftees, Bright said that his father, who is from Ghana, taught him about Robinson, and the MLB Hall of Famer became one of the youngster’s heroes. Lots of Japanese wear No. 42, but Bright and Masao Kida, currently the Fighters’ minor league manager, are the only two I’m aware of that have worn it to honor Robinson.

Sunday’s games

Carp 7, Swallows 5: At New Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, Yakult’s Hideki Nagaoka capped a five-run three-hit three-walk first inning with a two-run single off Shogo Tamamura. And though Yakult got the leadoff man on in four of the next five innings, they failed to break through. The Carp got a run back in the fourth against rookie Kojiro Yoshimura on a Shogo Akiyama triple and a Ryan McBroom sac fly.

The game unraveled after Yoshimura failed to sacrifice after back-to-back no-out singles in the top of the sixth. Yakult wouldn’t get another base runner, and the rookie left with two outs and the bases loaded and a 5-1 lead in the bottom of the inning. Kosuke Tanaka put reliever Tomoya Hoshi second pitch into the seats to tie it with his second home run, a grand slam.

Kosuke Tanaka’s grand slam off Tomoya Hoshi.

Kaito Kozono tripled and scored on McBroom’s second sacrifice fly, and Shogo Sakakura homered in the eighth.

In his postgame Q&A, Yakult skipper Shingo Takatsu had some good answers to the sometimes over-simplistic questioning.

  • You got leadoff runners on but couldn’t score?
  • Takatsu: “We’re failing to get down bunts and things like that. Right now we’re just not able to get hits easily. The guys are trying different things, but we’re not doing well right now.”
  • You’re losing momentum because of little details like failed sacrifices?
  • Takatsu: “That was a huge bunt for sure. Yesterday the same thing happened. You can’t say that led directly to our losing though, but games can turn on things one doesn’t see. But on the other hand, you have to credit the Carp pitching for not letting us do things our way.”

Dragons 7, Giants 5: At Nagoya Stadium, Chunichi, too, reeled off a big first inning against Yomiuri, but unlike Yakult, managed to hold on to it. Yuki Okabayashi tripled in Yohei Oshima with one out off Yuji Akahoshi (0-2) and scored on a groundout before back-to-back two-out RBI singles from Takuya Kinoshita and Ryuku Tsuchida made it 4-0. Adam Walker’s first homer made it 4-2 in the second. Aristides Aquino doubled and scored on a Takaya Ishikawa infield single.

Dragons-Giants highlights.

After the game, Giants skipper Tatsunori Hara ordered Akahoshi to the minors to make an attitude adjustment.

“He doesn’t look like he’s pitching with confidence,” Hara said. “I guess a star pitcher is kind of like ‘The basis of my game is establishing THIS pitch,’ a kind of brazenness. In that regard he (Akahoshi) is just an individual with a tremendous personality. He’s an outstanding young man, but it’s like, there’s just something of that missing.”

The Giants made it a one-run game in the fifth on Raito Nakayama’s two-run double, but three straight singles to open the home half by Okabayashi, Ishikawa and Seiya Hosokawa set up a two-run Dragons inning.

Luis Okoye, who like Hosokawa moved to a new club this year via NPB’s inaugural active-player “second-chance” draft, hit his second homer as a Giant to make it 7-5 in the seventh. The Giants loaded the bases with two outs against Tatsuya Shimizu in the eighth but failed to score, and paid the price for that in the ninth in a 1-2-3 save by Raidel Martinez, his fourth.

The loss made Hara’s team the first in franchise history to lose 10 of its first 15 games.

BayStars 2, Tigers 1: At Yokohama Stadium, Shugo Maki hit a two-run first-inning homer off Hiroto Saiki (1-1), and Kentaro Taira (2-0) struck out 10 over six innings. The 27-year-old Taira, who was acquired by DeNA in 2017 as part of the free agent compensation package from Yomiuri for signing Shun Yamaguchi, allowed two hits, including Yusuke Oyama’s fourth home run, and walked none.  Yasuaki Yamasaki earned his third save for the BayStars.

The Tigers also deactivated their closer, Japan WBC reliever Atsuki Yuasa, and said his body was “tight” and that he was suffering some “fatigue.”

Lions 6, Fighters 2: At Kitahiroshima Taxpayers Burden Field, lefty Dietrich Enns (1-2), our guest on this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, struck out eight over six scoreless innings, and new imports David McKinnon and Mark Payton gave Seibu the lead for good in the second inning against Kenta Uehara (0-2). McKinnnon tripled and scored on a sac fly by Payton, a childhood teammate of Enns in Illinois.

Wu Nien-ting singled in Aito Takeda in the third, and the Lions pulled away late after surviving a seventh-inning scare while allowing just one run. Wu walked and scored in the eighth, and Seibu scored three ninth-inning runs without the help of an RBI.

Chusei Mannami hit his third home run for the Fighters in the ninth.

Buffaloes 2, Marines 1: Chiba Marine Stadium, Orix Buffaloes manager Satoshi Nakajima, having used up ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto in his marquee duel with Japan WBC teammate Roki Sasaki on Friday, reached into his deep bag of pitchers and threw Japan lefty Hiroya Miyagi (2-0) at the Marines.

Miyagi allowed a run over 7-2/3 innings, when he left two on for hard-throwing Japan teammate Yuki Udagawa to strike out Koki Yamaguchi. Former Diamondbacks and Mariners reliever Yoshihisa Hirano then closed out the win for his third save.

“I was watching that superb game along with everyone else,” Miyagi said. “I picked up a few things from watching those two great pitchers and made use of some of it today.”

“Before the game in the dugout, Udagawa told me, ‘I’ve got your back today,’ and that reassured me.”

Yuma Tongu‘s home run.

Trailing 1-0 in the fourth, Orix’s Elmore “3:10 to Yuma” Leonard Gang took over. Yuma Tongu, who had three of the Buffaloes’ five hits, homered to tie it before Yuma Mune singled in the go-ahead run to chase Atsuki Taneichi (1-1) in the fifth.

Yuma Mune’s RBI single.

In case you missed all the photos of Roki Sasaki and Miyagi being buddy buddy during the WBC, you can see the cuteness here before Sunday’s game.

Sasaki came over to the Orix side to say hi to the three Orix pitchers who played for Japan, Soichiro Yamazaki, Yuki Udagawa and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Sasaki then drops them like a bad habit the instant Miyagi shows up. They’re like puppies.

Roki Sasaki and friend.

Hawks 6, Eagles 3: At Miyagi Stadium, Takayuki Kishi recorded his 2,000th career strikeout and left with a 3-2 lead after the sixth inning only foreTaisei Makihara to reach against Rakuten’s third pitcher, Naoto Nishiguchi (0-2) on a dropped third strike before Akira Nakamura put the Hawks ahead with his first home run.

Makihara forced in a run in the ninth when he took one for the team before Nakamura drove in the Hawks’ sixth run with a sac fly. The Hawks’ Opening Day starter, lefty Tomohisa Ozeki, who entered the game having allowed one run on seven hits over 15-1/3 innings, surrendered three before leaving in the sixth.

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