NPB news: Feb. 11, 2023

There is a ton of catching up to do today.

One former player died Friday, while another was remembered Saturday. Daisuke Matsuzaka proved he’s got a sense of humor, some Buffaloes pitchers are working out things ahead of the WBC, a company makes a proposal in its bid to start one of NPB’s new minor league franchises, and a pitcher who backed out of having Tommy John surgery is back on the mound.

Better get started.

Satoshi Iriki RIP

Satoshi Iriki, a left-handed pitcher for the Kintetsu Buffaloes, Hiroshima Carp, Yomiuri Giants and Yakult Swallows, with whom he was a key player in their 2001 Japan Series championship season, died Friday in a traffic accident in his hometown of Miyakonojo, Miyagi Prefecture. He was 55.

Iriki turned pro out of the corporate leagues with Kintetsu in 1990, played a half season with Hiroshima in 1996 in a trade for catcher Ryo Yoshimoto. After the Carp were unable to secure the services of his younger brother Yusaku, a top amateur prospect in that autumn’s draft, they traded Iriki back to the Buffaloes for Yoshimoto.

In 1998, Iriki was traded to the Giants, where he became a teammate of his brother’s but was released after the 2020 season. The Swallows signed him, and Iriki responded with the best year of his career, making the All-Star team and going 10-3 in a career-high 129-1/3 innings.

Iriki finished up with one season, 2003, for KBO’s Doosan Bears, before his final season, in Taiwan, with the La New Bears. After baseball, he returned to Miyakonojo, where he worked for his brother-in-law’s home-made bento business.

Swallows have a moment of silence

Saturday marked the second year anniversary of Hall of Fame catcher and manager Katsuya Nomura, who managed the Swallows to three Central League pennants in the 1990s and two Japan Series championships. Yakult skipper Shingo Takatsu was the closer on the two series champs.

Fellow Hall of Famer, Atsuya Furuta, was the league’s standout catcher of the decade and was at the Swallows camp serving as a special coach.

Matsuzaka open to questions

Daisuke Matsuzaka began his four-day stint as a special coach at the Lions’ camp in southernmost Miyazaki Prefecture, by telling the players that since he was only going to be there for a few days, he welcomed questions from anyone.

“I’m a pretty fair hitter, so I’ll give advice in that area, too, if you want it,” joked Matsuzaka joked, who did take part in one all-star home run derby during his career.

Buffaloes pitchers working things out

In Miyazaki City, Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto has simplified his delivery, trading in his left leg raise for a leg swing, and appropriately told Samurai Japan teammate Yuki Udagawa that the secret to getting a feel for the slicker MLB ball being used for the WBC was all in the lower body.

Buffaloes skipper Satoshi Nakajima had some unusually harsh words for Udagawa’s pitches after watching him throw a bullpen with the WBC ball. When the first few days of camp ended before the team took its first day off, Nakajima told the media, “If he keeps going the way he is he’ll be useless.”

Asked about it, Udagawa, a surprise pick for the national team having pitched just 22-1/3 innings in the majors for the Buffaloes, said, “The manager said, ‘What? Are you going to be OK with that ball?’ The WBC ball has troubled me from Day 1.”

“When working out on my own in the afternoon, I got some advice from Yamamoto, who said it’s not the grip, but being conscious of how you use your lower body. When he said that, it all clicked for me. Now I want him (Nakajima) to take another look.”

Takatsu impressed with Okugawa’s progress

If the Yakult Swallows had there way in November, pitcher Yasunobu Okugawa would be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, instead of throwing bullpens in the team’s Miyazaki minor league camp, where he impressed manager Takatsu.

Okugawa opted for a non-invasive procedure after he was diagnosed with a serious elbow sprain last autumn despite the club’s recommendation that he undergo ligament reconstruction surgery. According to Takatsu, the right-hander could throw reasonably hard, if not very smoothly.

“I didn’t think much of his mechanics, but his pitches looked like they had something on them,” Takatsu said. “Now it all depends on what he does going forward, how well he takes the next step.”

Shizuoka minor league franchise proposed

In November, NPB owners approved a project to investigate whether it could add two unaffiliated minor league teams starting with the 2024 season, with the Western and Eastern Leagues each getting a new club, increasing their sizes to six, and eight teams, respectively.

On Saturday, a Tokyo company, the Hayate Group, met with residents of Shizuoka to discuss basing one of the new teams in that city’s ballpark. The company revealed that it will create a baseball operating company in the city this month.

Yukihiro Sugihara, an executive of the group’s core company, Hayate Investment, indicated he wanted to recruit players from Shizuoka Prefecture.

“I want to create a unique team that is unique to Shizuoka. I think the content is attractive enough,” he said.

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