NPB news: March 29, 2024

Japan swung into action with its major league openers Friday, with the Chunichi Dragons drawing first blood. Having finished last in scoring the past three seasons, the Dragons got a first-inning run off Cy Sneed at Jingu Stadium to set off the season’s first run-scoring celebration.

Friday’s games

Giants 4, Tigers 0: At Tokyo Ugly Dome, the Giants’ 35-year-old Takayuki Kajitani robbed Shota Morishita of an ice-breaking third-inning double with a diving catch and started an inning-ending double play before belting a two-run homer in the fifth that made it 3-0. Shosei Togo pitched six innings to win his first career Opening Day and give new skipper Shinnosuke Abe a perfect record.

Giants closer Taisei Ota, who was hurt in the first week of spring training and pitched in just two exhibitions, struck out three of the four batters he faced in the ninth.

BayStars 4, Carp 3: At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA eclipsed its franchise single-game attendance figure with an Opening Day crowd of 33,312, eight more than the previous mark set Aug. 10, and they got a show from rookie Ryuki Watarai. He became the franchise’s first player to open his pro career with a major league homer on Opening Day with a game-tying three-run shot in his second at-bat.

The joint No. 1 pick in last year’s draft out of the corporate leagues, Watarai is just the 10th outfielder taken in the first six picks of the draft who wasn’t coming out of high school. Four of those guys had Hall of Fame-caliber careers, while two more were very productive and three were total busts.

Hawks 3, Buffaloes 1: At Osaka UFO Dome, Hotaka Yamakawa, who joined SoftBank as a free agent after being suspended for most of the 2023 season by Seibu after allegations into sexual assault, broke a 1-1 tie with a leadoff homer against fellow Okinawan, lefty Hiroya Miyagi.

Lions 1, Eagles 0: At Miyagi Stadium, Tatsuya Imai struck out 11 over seven inningsbecame the Lions’ first Opening Day starting pitcher to strike out 10 batters since Hideaki “Me and Darvish” Wakui fanned 11 in 2010. Hiroshi Kaino, received as free-agent compensation for Yamakawa, and Albert Abreu each worked an inning of relief with Abreu saving his first NPB game.

Shuta Tonosaki, who for about six years has been locked in a battle with Rakuten’s Hideto Asamura and Lotte’s Shogo Nakamura for second base supremacy in the Pacific League, will have a clear shot this year with his two rivals having moved to third base, where he ended up with an RBI triple that drove in the game’s only run in the eighth inning off lefty starter Takahisa Hayakawa.

Swallows 7, Dragons 4: At demolition-threatened historic Jingu Stadium, Shuhei Takahashi and Sho Nakata each drove in two runs, as Chunichi took the lead three times but the bullpen blew up the game in a five-run eighth.

The Dragons’ problematic defense cost them the lead in the eighth. An error put the leadoff runner on to score on Domingo Santana’s second RBI of the game, and veteran Haruki Nishikawa, drove in three runs to open his first Central League season after 12 in the PL. His eighth-inning triple made it 7-3.

Closer Kazuto Taguchi struggled in the ninth, loading the bases with no outs before Nakata hit a drive to the wall in left center, that Nishikawa caught before slamming into the wall. The ball popped out of his glove when he hit the turf, but was caught by center fielder Yasutaka Shiomi, robbing Nakata of a two-run double.

Yakult’s Tetsuto Yamada came out of game after he hurt a leg sliding into third on a heads-up second-inning base-running play and left the game “walking awkwardly.”

Fighters 4, Marines 1: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Hiromi Ito struck out nine over six innings and Franmil Reyes opened his NPB account with an infield single and a solo homer that made it 4-0 in the seventh.

Ito became the first Fighters Opening Day starting pitcher to win since some guy named Shohei Ohtani did it nine years ago.

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