Four teams entered Thursday’s games either perfect or winless in Japan’s young season. We had one huge injury report and a couple of surprises, one of which was not a surprise, that Tsuyoshi Shinjo is a drama queen.
So let’s get to it, shall we?
Hawks 3, Marines 1: At Chiba Marine Stadium, rookie lefty Tomoya Ozeki (1-0) earned the win in his first major league start, allowing a run over 6-1/3 innings to outpitch Lotte’s Manabu Mima as the Hawks started the season 6-0.
“I was able to pitch my kind of game thanks to the help I got from the position players,” Ozeki said. “The best thing was being able to throw strikes more consistently in the later stages and get ahead in counts.”
Asked about the mood on the team, Ozeki said instead that he was happy to be the one not to mess it up.
“I’m really relieved I was able to win, to keep it going” he said.
The Hawks opened the scoring while playing for one run, but getting two against Mima (0-1). A good swing and a sacrifice put leadoff man Masaki Mimori on second. He scored when second baseman Shogo Nakamura, who was shifted into the hole, couldn’t quite get Yuki Yanagita’s grounder up the middle.
Yanagita then did well to score when a flare off the end of Akira Nakamura’s bat landed just fair and bounced away from left fielder Akito Takabe.
Mima struck out five and allowed four hits and two walks over five innings, but could just as easily have held the Hawks scoreless instead of coughing up two runs.
Ozeki, whose fielders erased a pair of leadoff runners on double plays, missed with a first pitch to Adeiny Hechavarria which made it a one-run game with two outs in the fifth. The Marines’ shortstop put his big swing on a hanging two-seamer down the pipe for his first home run of the season.
The Hawks starter, with 23 innings under his belt last year and yet another product of SoftBank’s developmental drafts, struck out five while allowing a run on six hits and no walks over 6-1/3 innings.
Right-hander Yuki Tsumori entered with one out and a runner on, and retired all four batters he faced.
Nakamura set up SoftBank’s third run when he reached for the fourth time on a one-out eighth-inning walk from Yuki Kuniyoshi. Freddy Galvis, who started his season with a come-from-behind Opening Day grand slam, singled the runner to third, and Taisei Makihara’s pinch-hit single brought him home.
Takabe, playing shallow to prevent the runner on second from scoring, did that, cutting him down 7-2 to end the inning. The Marines leadoff man struck against lefty Shinya Kayama to end the home half of the eighth as well.
Instead of Yuito Mori, who saved Tuesday and Wednesday’s wins, new Hawk Katsuki Matayoshi took the mound in the ninth for SoftBank. Shogo Nakamura singled with one out and Brandon Laird flied out to the warning track.
Having pulled No. 5 hitter Toshiya Sato for a pinch-runner, Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi sent journeyman Tsuyoshi Sugano and his career .335 OBP up to hit. The reserve outfielder did his duty as a good swing put runners on first and second.
Rookie pinch-hitter Koki Fukuda got ahead in the count against Matayoshi, but fouled an inside 3-1 pitch that would have been Ball 4 of his leg before missing a high fastball to earn his first PL save.
Kurihara likely out for season
Ryoya Kurihara, the Hawks’ slugging versatile former catcher, will likely be out for the season after damaging his left knee in an outfield collision with center fielder Seiji Uebayashi on Wednesday.
Examined at a hospital in Saga Prefecture, Kurihara reportedly damaged his anterior cruciate ligament as well as his meniscus.
Fighters 6, Lions 2: At Sapporo Dome, Kazuaki Tateno (1-0) allowed two runs over five innings, and four relievers kept Seibu under wraps as Tsuyoshi Shinjo earned his first managing win.
The Fighters opened the scoring with two outs in the second when Daiki Asama put an absolutely sweet swing on a pitch from Kaito Yoza (0-1) after the submariner walked Renato Nunez. It was Nippon Ham’s PL-leading sixth home run.
Go Matsumoto made it 3-0 in the third when he singled, stole second, and scored on a Kensuke Kondo double. Brian O’Grady, who singled in the first for Seibu, made it a one-run game in the fifth. A hit batsman and a Sosuke Genda single put two on with one out, and O’Grady hit a high breaking ball for an opposite-field two-run double.
Tateno pitched his way out of trouble, and the Fighters extended their lead in the home half. Rookie Tatsuki Mizuno tried to bunt his way on after a Ryo Watanabe leadoff single. Yoza’s throw to first baseman Wu Nien-ting arrived at the same time as Wu collided with Mizuno for an error that put runners on the corners. Matsumoto then singled in the Fighters’ fourth run.
Another Matsumoto RBI single and a Kondo sac fly made it 6-4 in the eighth.
Shinjo’s a drama queen
“Behind the bench, it looked like we’d won the league championship,” Shinjo said after the game.
Despite skipping his postgame presser following his fifth straight loss, Shinjo denied being disappointed by the start, while admitting what everyone knows.
“Not at all. I wanted a little more drama,” he said. “That’s because when I lose, I like thinking about how to come back. I’m not such a weak person. I’m going through a lot of adversity.”
Yamakawa hanging around
The good news for the Lions was that after hurting himself running the bases on Wednesday, slugging first baseman Hotaka Yamakawa was not deactivated Thursday, although he was not among the 26 players made available for the game.
Eagles 1, Buffaloes 0: At Osaka Dome, Rakuten broke the ice in the ninth inning off Orix closer Yoshihisa Hirano (0-1) to complete a three-game sweep of the defending Pacific League champions.
Rakuten starter Ryota Takinaka got out of jail in the first inning, striking out 2021 PL home run champ Ryutaro Sugimoto on a hanging 3-2 curveball with two on and one out and then getting an easy out against Breyvic Valera.
Takinaka lucked out again in the second when another hit by Yuma Mune and another walk by Masataka Yoshida brought Sugimoto up with two on and one out. This time, the slugger hammered a high fastball but lined out to left as Mune was doubled off to end the inning.
After seven scoreless innings from lefty Sachiya Yamasaki and one from new import Jesse Biddle, Hiroaki Shimauchi doubled off the wall in center and scored on Ginji Akamine’s one-out pinch single.
Yuki Matsui worked around a two-out walk to earn his second save. Naoto Nishiguchi (1-0) pitched a 1-2-3 eighth to earn the win.
Carp 3, Tigers 2: At Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, new Hiroshima import Ryan McBroom doubled and scored one run and double in another as the Carp came from behind to improve to 6-0. Hanshin set a franchise record by losing their first six games.
Tigers starter Takumi Akiyama walked the first batter he faced but got a line-out double play, while his own good fielding denied Takashi Uemoto a one-out bunt single in the third as he faced the minimum through four.
The Tigers loaded the bases with one out in the second on singles by Yusuke Oyama, Takumu Nakano, and Ryutaro Umeno against lefty Shogo Tamamura, who allowed two runs over five innings. A run scored when the Carp failed to complete a spectacular double play on pitcher Takumi Akiyama’s slow chopper.
A Koji Chikamoto bunt single and a two-out Teruaki Sato double made it 2-0 in the fifth. But the Carp tied it in the home half on McBroom’s leadoff double, a one-out Shogo Sakakura single, and a groundout. Uemoto then lined a hanging curve to left for an RBI single.
Uemoto tried to score from first on Koki Uegusa’s two-out double but was thrown out at the plate. After reliever Atsuya Horie worked a scoreless sixth, Ryosuke Kikuchi singled and scored from second on a double when left fielder Mel Rojas Jr appeared to lose McBroom’s high fly to the warning track and overran it.
That marked the end for Akiyama, who allowed three runs on six hits and a walk over 5-2/3 innings.
Sotaro Shimauchi and former closer Shota Nakazaki each gave the Carp a scoreless inning before closer Ryoji Kuribayashi locked down his second save.
Giants 6, Swallows 3: At Jingu Stadium, Yomiuri right-hander Kenshin Hotta (1-0), the team’s first draft pick in 2019, threw six scoreless innings in his major league debut after having Tommy John surgery after the 2020 season.
Swallows starter Juri Hara retired the first 10 batters before a walk to Hayato Sakamoto and back-to-back Gregory Polanco and Kazuma Okamoto singles opened the scoring in the fourth inning.
Hotta then preserved his lead by getting Munetaka Murakami to hit into a double play after walking two with one out in the fourth.
Naoki Yoshikawa opened Yomiuri’s sixth with a single, and Hara firmly planted one foot on a banana peel. He fell behind 3-0 to Sakamoto and Polanco before walking both on 3-2 pitches to load the bases with no outs.
The Swallows’ pitcher made a super play to get the force at home for the first out, struck out Sho Nakata for the second, but Yoshihiro Maru grounded a two-run single up the middle.
Yakult got what appeared to be a consolation run in the eighth, on an error and Yasutaka Shiomi’s third hit, an RBI double. This would have been big had the Giants not sent nine men to the plate in a three-run ninth. The Swallows, who issued the fewest walks in NPB last year, have issued 21 in six games.
Thyago Vieira, tasked with preserving the five-run lead, left after walking two and surrendering a two-run Domingo Santa home run.
BayStars 1, Dragons 0: At Nagoya Dome, Shugo Maki singled in the ninth and scored the game’s first run from third against Chunichi closer Raidel Martinez, when Yamato Maeda beat the throw to first to stay out of an inning-ending double play.
Lefty Haruhiro Hamaguchi (1-0) scattered six hits and a walk while striking out seven over eight innings for the BayStars, while closer Yasuaki Yamasaki delivered a 1-2-3 ninth for his second save in two nights.
Lefty Daiki Matsuba came out after allowing back-to-back one-out sixth-inning singles, but the Dragons bullpen got the scoreless game to the ninth.
Friday’s starting pitchers
Eagles vs Hawks: Miyagi Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Marines vs Lions: Chiba Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Buffaloes vs Fighters: Osaka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Giants vs Tigers: Tokyo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Swallows vs BayStars: Jingu Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Dragons vs Carp: Nagoya Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 3/31/2022
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 4/10