Thursday was one busy day in Japanese pro baseball, starting with a controversial signing of a player with a dark past, the monthly award announcements and a timely return from injury for one of Japan’s biggest stars.
So let’s get started.
Marines confess to signing Osuna
The Lotte Marines on Thursday confessed to signing Roberto Osuna, who received a 75-day suspension from MLB in accordance with its and the MLBPA’s domestic violence protocols. Osuna was charged with domestic violence, but was not tried since the woman who accused him, and with whom he has a child, left Canada and could not be compelled to testify.
Neither the Blue Jays nor the player’s union contested MLB’s suspension, which if they believed his innocence would have been par for that course.
If Osuna is making amends by accepting responsibility for his acts and going out of his way to be a better human being, then more power to him on his path of redemption.
I’m a big believer in second chances, provided they are earned, and not just because the person being handed the chance can throw a fastball better than 99.99 percent of the male population. Perhaps we can get some insight into this from the comments on the Marines’ website.
Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi said on the team website, “He’s a pitcher with a solid track record. On top of a fastball that exceeds 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) per hour, and an assortment of breaking pitches, he has good command and can be relied upon. I hope he can join the team as soon as possible and contribute to winning the championship.”
Ok. Maybe not.
Osuna said, “I’m grateful to be able to pitch for the Chiba Lotte Marines. I can’t wait to pitch in front of Japan’s fans. I will do my best for the team so we can win the Pacific League and Japan Series championship.”
Sounds like the talk of a team and a player keen on using amnesia as an alternate to meaningful redemption.
Sugano scratched, Sakamoto back
Tomoyuki Sugano was scratched from his scheduled start and hastily deactivated Thursday after developing a fever. He was dropped according to this year’s COVID provisions that allow teams to reactivate players as soon as their declared COVID free.
The Giants, also deactivated pitcher Matt Shoemaker and called up their captain, shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who’s been out since April, reliever Thyago Vieira and rookie pitcher Yuji Akahoshi who was assigned to start against Seibu in Sugano’s absence.
Aaron Wilkerson became the first Hanshin imported starter to win one a pitcher of the month award since Randy Messenger (for March and April 2018), and the first Tigers pitcher since Masashi Ito won last season’s final award.
As John E. Gibson pointed out on this week’s podcast, Wilkerson and DeNA’s Shinichi Onuki had virtually identical resumes for May with 3-1 records, one a 1.04 ERA in 26 innings with 18 strikeouts, the other 1.07 in 25-1/3 with 26 strikeouts. I’m not convinced one was better than the other, but one has to win. I also liked the effort from Swallows reliever Ryuta Konno, but that’s just me, and relievers rarely get picked unless no starter wins more than two with fewer than two losses.
The other three awards were more or less no-brainers. Shugo Maki has led the CL in OPS since Day 1. He had the individual batting results to make him the CL’s best hitter for March and April, but lacked the runs scored and RBIs the selectors want.
This time the team stats came as expected and he led the league with 25 RBIs and a .720 slugging average, tied for the lead with eight doubles, was second in average (.329) and home runs (8). As John said, “He’s playing like he’s still mad he didn’t win the 2021 Rookie of the Year Award.”
Naoyuki Uwasawa was a deserving first-time winner after going 4-0 with a 0.58 ERA and 23 strikeouts over 31 innings. Roki Sasaki and his 0.80 FIP may well have been better, but he didn’t have the wins, and that’s the way it goes with this award. Uwasawa’s fielders had a .835 DER behind him, second best in the PL, Sasaki a .638, third worst.
Hotaka Yamakawa won his sixth hitter of the month award and his first since 2019. He led the PL with nine home runs and a.692 slugging average. SoftBank’s Taisei Makihara, who was second in slugging average, was also a close second in OBP (.679), went 5-0 as a base stealer. His teammate, Hawks shortstop Kenta Imamiya, was nearly as good. If the award was for the best player, than either of those two would have been easy choices over Yamakawa, but they lacked the team stats, runs and RBIs, so probably had zero chance.
Mind you, seven years ago, there is no way Yamakawa would have won, because then the selectors would have seen Makihara’s .453 batting average and stopped looking for anyone else.
Swallows 2, Buffaloes 1: At Osaka Dome, 42-year-old lefty Masahiro Ishikawa (3-3) was in good form over five innings to outduel another old guy, 37-year-old Hirotoshi Masui (0-1) in the right-hander’s season debut.
Ishikawa’s 180th career win was his record 27th in interleague, with manager Shingo Tatsukawa calling the lefty and his 19-year-old batterymate, “a game of father-and-son catch.”
The Swallows did their best to torpedo their early scoring chances but still took a 2-0 second-inning lead after Munetaka Murakami was caught stealing for the second out. Former Buffalo Tomotaka Sakaguchi, called up to make his season debut, restarted the inning with a walk. Rookie catcher Soma Uchiyama doubled him in and scored on a Nobuyuki Okumura single.
Kotaro Yamasaki was caught stealing in the Swallows’ scoreless third, and Murakami brought up his caught-stealing brace after leading off the fourth with an infield single, wasting Sakaguchi’s subsequent two-out double to the warning track.
The Buffaloes finally got something going against Ishikawa in the fourth. Yutaro Sugimoto singled with one out, Joe McCarthy was hit by a 75 mph slider and Torai Fushimi’s RBI flare single. Masui snuffed out a potential Swallows rally in the fifth, but the Buffaloes were unable to to put up much resistance against the Yakult pen.
Taichi Ishiyama allowed two singles in the seventh, but Kazuto Taguchi continued Yuma Mune’s nightmare night against soft-tossing lefties by striking him out to end the inning.
The back of the Swallows bullpen got a night off ahead of the upcoming series in Fukuoka, with A.J. Cole working a scoreless eighth and Ryuta Konno working a 1-2-3 ninth for his first career save.
Hawks 4, Tigers 0: At Fukuoka Dome, Colin Rea (4-3) struck out six while giving up five singles and a walk, and Alfredo Despaigne reached base four times, contributing to three of the Hawks’ runs and capped the scoring with a massive home run.
Two walks from Aaron Wilkerson (4-3) helped hand the Hawks a first-inning run, another in the third allowed Taisei Makihara to score on a Yurisbel Gracial RBI single. Makihara, perhaps feeling he’d been robbed in the hitter of the month voting singled in Masaki Mimori in the fourth, and Despaigne reached base for the third straight time with a fifth-inning solo homer, his second.
When players drive in runs or do something extremely noteworthy, their team’s PR staff spring into action to grab flash quotes to relay to the writers in the press box. Desapaigne’s quotes, however, were forwarded after being translated by captain Nobuhiro Matsuda rather than the team’s Spanish language interpreter.
“I was satisfied that I could drive the ball all the way up in the stands to the Gate 27 entrance.”
Giants 4, Lions 3: At Seibu Dome, Yomiuri captain Hayato Sakamoto returned from a knee ligament injury suffered April 30 with three hits in his first game back. He singled in Noaki Yoshikawa to open the scoring in the third off rookie Chihiro Sumida (1-7).
Giants rookie Yuji Akahoshi (3-3) stepped in for ailing ace Tomoyuki Sugano and allowed an unearned run on five walks and two hits over five innings.
Yoshikawa singled to open the fifth and broke a 1-1 tie after a wild pitch and a single by Kazuma Okamoto, who scored after singles by Sakamoto and Zelous Wheeler, who returned this series for his first action since April 16.
Wheeler’s two-out seventh-inning double off Keisuke Honda set up Soichiro Tateoka’s RBI single to make it 4-1.
Wu Nien-ting’s third home run, off Nobutaka Imamura, opened the Lions’ eighth, while Brian O’Grady homered with one out in the ninth, his fifth, off rookie closer Taisei Ota, who saved his 21st game.
Marines 2, Dragons 0: At Chiba Marine Stadium, former Dragons lefty Enny Romero (4-4) threw eight scoreless innings against his former team, striking out five while walking one giving up five singles. Naoya Masuda recorded his 13th save.
Koki Yamaguchi homered in his second straight game, leading off the second against Takahiro Matsuba (3-2) with his second. Singles by Brandon Laird, Yamaguchi and Takashi Ogino made it 2-0 in the seventh.
Eagles 4, Carp 1: At Miyagi Stadium, Takayuki Kishi (5-2) allowed six hits and a walk over seven innings, while rookie Atsuki Muto drove in three runs for Rakuten.
Singles by Ginji Akaminai, Daichi Suzuki and Ginjiro Sumitani set up Muto to break the ice with a one-out sacrifice fly and a Haruki Nishikawa RBI single as the Eagles took a 2-0 fourth-inning lead. An Akiminai leadoff single and a Ryosuke Tatsumi walk set the table for the rookie to ice the win in the eighth with an RBI triple.
Sung Chia-hao allowed a ninth-inning run on three singles and handed the ball to Yuki Matsui with two outs and the tying run at the plate. Matsui struck out Takayoshi Noma to end it and earn his 16th save.
BayStars 4, Fighters 2: At Sapporo Dome, rookie Fighters lefty Haruka Nemoto let the BayStars take the lead on fourth-inning singles by Taiki Sekine, rookie Tatsuo Ebina and Toshiro Miyazaki, but left the bases loaded. The Fighters took the lead in the home half against lefty Haruhiro Hamaguchi on Shingo Usami and Kotaro Kiyomiya doubles and a Kazuari Ishii sac fly before Arismendy Alcantara doubled in the go-ahead run.
The visitors tied it 2-2 in the fifth on Masayuki Kuwahara’s first home run of the season.
Hamaguchi came out after a two-out walk put two on in the seventh, but Edwin Escobar (2-0) got out of the inning, and the BayStars scored twice in the eighth off Taisho Tamai (0-1) on an Ebina double and RBI singles by Shugo Maki and Miyazaki.
Hiromu Ise worked a scoreless eighth for the BayStars and Yasuaki Yamasaki closed it out in the ninth for his 10th save.
Friday’s starting pitchers
Fighters vs Dragons: Sapporo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Naoyuki Uwasawa (4-4, 3.21) vs Yudai Ono (3-5, 2.87)
Eagles vs Giants: Miyagi Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Masaru Fujii (1-1, 2.53) vs Shosei Togo (6-3, 2.88)
Lions vs Carp: Seibu Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Kona Takahashi (4-5, 2.06) vs Yusuke Nomura (-)
Marines vs BayStars: Chiba Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Kazuya Ojima (0-5, 2.67) vs Shinichi Onuki (4-2, 2.41)
Buffaloes vs Tigers: Osaka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Sachiya Yamasaki (2-4, 2.87) vs Koyo Aoyagi (6-1, 0.98)
Hawks vs Swallows: Fukuoka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Kodai Senga (4-2, 1.60) vs Yasuhiro Ogawa (3-3, 2.34)
Active roster moves 6/9/2022
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 6/19