NPB news: April 2, 2023

Kaima Taira made his first start after asking the team during last winter’s contract negotiations to rescue him from his late relief role, while Yakult’s top draft pick last autumn also made his debut as a starter, while Hanshin’s top pick also made a little noise, as did the Lotte Marines and Hiroshima Carp, who’d been shut out in their first two games, and one of Japan’s two rookie managers got his first win.

Sunday saw Japan firsts for Matt Davidson, David McKinnon and Marwin Gonzalez, and the weird timing to call for a pinch-hitter by a manager other than Tatsunori Hara, so let’s get to it.

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Giants 3, Dragons 2: At Tokyo Dome, Yoshihiro Maru cracked his first home run to break a 2-2 eighth-inning tie, and Taisei Ota, who was unavailable due to “lack of fitness” after the WBC when Yomiuri blew a ninth-inning lead on Opening Day, recorded his first save as the Giants scored without much help from Sho Nakata. After driving in all of the Giants’ five runs in their first two games, Nakata was held to a walk in four plate appearances.

Yoshihiro Maru’s tie-breaking home run.

Seiya Hosokawa, making his first start since joining Chunichi in December’s active player “second-chance” draft, tied it 2-2 in the top of the eighth with an RBI single. Hosokawa spent six frustrating years crushing it on DeNA’s minor league team and never getting more than 83 PAs in the majors.

Swallows 3, Carp 2: At Jingu Stadium, Hiroshima scored its first runs of the season against rookie Kojiro Yoshimura on a first-inning Shogo Akiyama RBI triple and Matt Davidson’s first homer in Japan in the second.

Matt Davidson’s first home run

Yakult came back on Tetsuto Yamada’s first home run in the third.

Tomoya Hoshi (1-0) pitched out of a two-out, two-on eighth-inning jam. Munetaka Murakami then broke the tie. He doubled and then scored when Takayoshi Noma misplayed the ball off the right-field wall for a two-base error. Kazuto Taguchi preserved a one-run lead for the second straight game.

Tetsuto Yamada’s first home run

“Our pitchers are doing their jobs,” new Carp skipper Takahiro Arai said. “It’s still only three games.”

Munetaka Murakami’s double trouble

Eagles 2, Fighters 1: At Kitahiroshima Taxpayers Burden Field, Koki Kitayama (0-1) the Fighters’ closer last year, walked two batters in the seventh with the game tied 1-1, Conner Menez walked two more to force in the go-ahead run, and Yuki Matsui recorded his 199th career save.

Tigers 6, BayStars 2: At Kyocera Dome Osaka, Hiroto Saiki (1-0) allowed a run over 6-1/3 innings while striking out eight as Hanshin improved to 3-0 under Akinobu Okada, managing the team for the first time since he unexpectedly quit after Hanshin’s 2008 playoff exit.

“The manager said, ‘We’ve won two straight and I want you to go the distance,’” Saiki said in the on-field hero interview. “I have to apologize for not getting out of the seventh.”

Shota Morishita’s RBI single

Rookie Shota Morishita singled twice, walked and drove in two runs as the Tigers took a four-run lead. The BayStars scored twice in the seventh, and had the middle of the lineup coming up, but Keita Sano was clipped at the plate trying to score from first on a superb relay throw from shortstop Ryuhei Obata.

Fumihito Haraguchi’s pinch-hit home run

Cancer survivor Fumihito Haraguchi put the game out of reach with a two-run pinch-hit homer in the eighth, smacking the first pitch he saw from hard-throwing Edwin Escobar, although it wasn’t the lefty’s first pitch.

With two outs, Takumu Nakano stole second on a called strike to left-handed-hitting Kaeri Shimada, Okada signaled for Haraguchi to take over.

“It didn’t matter that there was one strike,” Okada said. “I wanted him to swing at the first pitch anyway. I was only waiting on him (Haraguchi) to get ready down behind the dugout. With two strikes, he’s the only guy I had on the bench who could square up Escobar.”

Tigers-BayStars digest

Hawks 5, Marines 3: At Fukuoka Dome, a pair of Samurai Japan players, Takuya Kai and Kensuke Kondo each doubled in two runs in a four-run second inning, while Nao Higashihama (1-0) spun five scoreless innings to stretch the Hawks’ scoreless-innings streak to start the season to a franchise record-equaling 23 innings, as new Lotte skipper Masato Yoshii remained winless.

Lions 4, Buffaloes 1: At Seibu Dome, the young Lions earned rookie manager Kazuo Matsui his first win. Kaima Taira struck out nine while allowing a run over seven innings in his debut as a starter.

Kaima Taira’s first career start highlights

He got a one-run lead from new-import David McKinnon’s sixth-inning homer, but gave up Marwin Gonzalez’s first homer in Japan in the seventh.

David McKinnon’s first home run in Japan
Marwin Gonzalez’s first home run in Japan

Twenty-three-year-old Shunsuke Sato (1-0) retired former Lion MVP Tomoya Mori with the go-ahead run in scoring position to end the eighth. Shohei Suzuki, 24, tripled in two runs off Jacob Waguespack (1-1) in the home half and scored on a wild pitch, and 22-year-old rookie Minato Aoyama bounced back from blowing an Opening Day save opportunity to shut down the Buffaloes in the ninth.

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