NPB news: March 30, 2024

Orix’s imports put on a show Saturday, and someone will have to tell preseason batting champ, Ryuki Watarai that pitchers are now actually trying to get him out in the regular season, because the rookie remains unstoppable at the top of the BayStars’ batting order.

Saturday’s games

Buffaloes 2, Hawks 0: At Osaka UFO Dome, Venezuelan newcomer Anderson Espinoza walked four but struck out three, and got Hotaka Yamakawa to hit into a pair of double plays over six scoreless innings.

Espinoza left with a 2-0 lead after compatriot Leo Cedeno blasted his first homer of the season, fulfilling a pre-game promise to his compatriot.

“Espinoza appeared to be nervous, understandably so, in his first Japan start, which made me a little nervous, too. But he got better as he went along,” manager Satoshi Nakajima said.

Livan Moinelo cruised through four innings, retiring the first 12 batters on 40 pitches. To open the fifth, he threw a fastball that didn’t get enough of the zone for a called 0-2 strike three against Yuma Tongu, who then singled. With one out and one on, Moinelo threw a 2-0 fastball to Cedeno, whose fly cleared the wall in right-center.

The home run accounted for the only two Orix runners to cross second base. When asked if Cedeno had delivered in the Buffaloes’ only chance, Nakajima said, “We didn’t even have a single chance.”

Moinelo, making his first career start in Japan after seven seasons in the SoftBank bullpen, went eight innings in the complete-game loss, snapping the Hawks’ 10-game opening series win streak going back to 2021.

Three scoreless innings from the Buffaloes bullpen wrapped it up, although Atsuya Kogita, new import Andres Machado and old veteran Yoshihisa Hirano each brought the tying run to the plate.

“They put up zeroes,” Nakajima said. “That’s the important thing.”

Machado struck out three of the four batters he faced, and said afterward, he just wanted to throw strikes to get out of the inning quickly. He hit 162 kilometers (101 miles) per hour on the radar gun.

“I think our stadium’s radar gun is a little buggy,” Nakajima joked after the pitch was the fastest recorded in franchise history.

Hirano’s save was his 243rd in Japan, tying him for fourth all-time with Kyuji Fujikawa. Hirano also had eight saves in MLB, while Fujikawa had two.

BayStars 6, Carp 1: At Yokohama Stadium, Ryuki Watarai, who hit a game-tying three-run homer in his pro debut Friday, had a bigger second game. He bounced back from getting hit in the head with a pitch by stealing a base and scoring in the first, singling and scoring in the second, belting a two-run homer in the fourth, doubling in the sixth and singling in the eighth.

DeNA manufactured a first-inning run off third-year lefty Takumi Kurihara, who drilled Watarai in the shoulder with his third pitch of the game and received an automatic ejection.

Watarai returned to duty, stole second, took third on a grounder and scored the o open the first. Watarai hit the deck, sought treatment, returned, stole second, took third on a groundout and came home on a Shugo Maki single.

Starting pitcher Kentaro Taira’s second-inning RBI single made it 2-0. Watarai singled and both scored, Tyler Austin doubling in the pitcher and Watarai scoring on a ground out. The pitcher singled and scored his second run in the fourth, while only allowing a walk through the first six innings.

Taira lost his shutout bid with two outs in the ninth, but secured his 20th victory with DeNA since arriving as compensation for Yomiuri’s free agent signing of Shun Yamaguchi, who won 27 games as a Giant.

Giants 6, Tigers 0: At Tokyo Ugly Dome, the Giants’ two biggest run producers last season, Kazuma Okamoto and Hayato Sakamoto broke a sixth-inning scoreless tie. Takayuki Kajitani, Friday’s hero, drew a leadoff walk before Okamoto and Sakamoto hit back-to-back home runs.

Foster Griffin allowed two walks and six hits over 6-1/3 innings. He left with the tying run at the plate in a 3-0 game but the Giants’ bullpen, a target for repeated blame from former manager Tatsunori Hara last year, retired eight straight to complete the whitewash.

Lions 8, Eagles 2: At Miyagi Stadium, Seibu’s Shuta Tonosaki tied it 2-2 in the third, and Jesús Aguilar doubled in two off second-year right-hander Kosei Soji. Franchy Cordero doubled in the game’s first run, and singled and scored the tying run in the third.

Swallows 1, Dragons 1: At Jingu “Tokyo’s Sacrifice to Corporate Greed and Governmental Malfeasance” Stadium, Chunichi starter Hideaki Wakui became the 24th pitcher to strike out 2,000 batters in Japan when he fanned 2022 Triple-Crown slugger Munetaka Murakami in the fourth inning.

The Dragons opened the scoring for the second straight day. Christian Rodriguez singled to lead off the third and scored on Mikiya Tanaka’s two-out RBI single against Yakult’s Koshiro Yoshimura, who allowed one run over seven innings while striking out 10.

Norichika Aoki’s eighth-inning pinch-hit single set up the tying run to score on Jose Osuna’s second hit of the game.

Marines 3, Fighters 0: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Neftali Soto opened his Pacific League account with an ice-breaking two-run double off Takayuki Kato in the fourth, and made it 3-0 when he plated Takashi Ogino for the second time in the game with a sac fly.

Atsuki Taneichi struck out eight while allowing two hits and three walks over six scoreless innings.

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