NPB news: Feb. 23, 2023

Japanese baseball fans may still be masked, but their voices are now being heard, bringing back an important part of the pre-pandemic vibe. Meanwhile, we’ve got a Samurai Japan update and something new from Tsuyoshi Shinjo.

So let’s get to it, shall we?

Sasaki, Yamamoto to start against Hawks

Roki Sasaki has been named to start Saturday’s first WBC warm-up game for Japan against the SoftBank Hawks, while Yoshinobu Yamamoto to start on Sunday. They’re now on the same bullpen days along with two of manager Hideki Kuriyama’s three left-handed starters, Shota Imanaga and Keiji Takahashi, who will likely be the first long relievers out of the pen after the starters hit their pitch limit.

It is now looking like Sasaki will make his WBC debut against the Czech Republic on March 11, the 12th anniversary of the day he lost his father, two of his grandparents and his home in the tsunami that ravaged much of northeastern Japan’s Pacific coast.

The team has also revealed that Shohei Ohtani will not be used in relief, which makes perfect sense with the Ohtani rule allowing him to stay in the game as DH after he leaves the mound, while Yu Darvish will be Japan’s fourth starter, while the Central League’s 2022 strikeout leader, Shosei Togo, is apparently headed toward a bullpen role. That leaves lefty Hiroya Miyagi and right-handers Hiromi Ito and Hiroto Takahashi as Japan’s likely backup starters or long relievers.

The Japan pitching looks like it will be Darvish to take on China on March 9, with Ohtani facing arch-rival South Korea the following day, with Darvish making his second start in the March 16 quarterfinal against, most likely, either Cuba or the Netherlands, who will be without Kenley Jensen until the semifinals in Miami.

Fans cheer new preseason

Vocal cheering, officially banned at Japanese ballparks since fans were allowed to return to stadiums in July 2020, nearly a month after the delayed-start of the first pandemic-hit season, has returned at camps this spring, and returned to games on Thursday, when the Yakult Swallows and Yomiuri Giants played the year’s first official preseason exhibition.

In Miyazaki, the SoftBank Hawks hosted the Cuban national team ahead of the upcoming World Baseball Classic, and former Hawk Alfredo Despaigne received a serenade from the home crowd cheering clubs.

It feels like coming home.


When you hire Tsuyoshi Shinjo, you get more than a manager, you get a uniform designer. This week the Nippon Ham Fighters revealed that the team will wear his uniforms for five games in May, two against the Lotte Marines and three against the Seibu Lions.

A replica uniform shirt from the team store will set you back 10,000 yen (about $75) or 14,000 yen depending on whether you want a name and number on it, while a cap will cost you 3,800 yen (about $25).

Unfortunately, there’s no word on whether the bowling pants will be for sale or not. My colleague asked if players will be required to wear sunglasses. I told him they would be optional.

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