Roki Sasaki

NPB news: Sept. 14, 2022

Japan was able to take a breather Wednesday after Tuesday’s Murakami-mania, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a few comments by Japan’s all-time home run king, Sadaharu Oh.

There were just four games, none involving Yakult or Japan’s new home run god, but Roki Sasaki pitched for the first time in two weeks, and I’ve got a little present for his fans, the Seibu Lions and SoftBank Hawks continued their struggle for Pacific League supremacy, while two of the three teams now fighting over the Central League’s final playoff spot, the Hanshin Tigers and Hiroshima Carp slugged it out.

Oh amazed by Murakami

Sadaharu Oh finished with 868 career home runs and who produced far more than his share of the very best seasons in Japanese pro baseball history, turned pro out of high school, where he’d been a slugging side-armed pitcher, got off to a slow start and feared being run out of pro baseball before he refined a style that eliminated a hitch in his swing.

“This is just his fifth season,” said Oh of Munetaka Murakami. “I think it’s simply amazing that a fifth-year pro can hit the ball that hard.”

Oh himself made his home run breakthrough when he hit 38 as a 22-year-old in 1962, his fourth pro season. In 1963, he hit 40, the same year Katsuya Nomura hit 52 in the PL for the Hawks. Oh then set his record of 55 in 1964.

“It’s a matter of hitting the ball when you are able to do so,” Oh said. “I suspect Murakami thinks that way, too. Everybody thinks (his hitting this many) is just amazing, but that in itself is not really so special. He’s been doing this all year, so it’s no wonder to him. And because it’s not a mystery, I suspect he can just keep on hitting one after another. If you’re worked up or overawed, you can’t do it.”

Being able to hit like that, is the secret, but even then, hitting 50 or more, which Oh did three times, is something he was in no hurry to downplay.

“Hitting 50 or more is a big deal,” he said. “You have to keep it up the whole season, spring, summer, autumn, when there’s no way that you can maintain the same physical condition every day. These days, your opponents have so much data, and they’re studying it. There’s also more specialization, so you’re not facing the same pitcher four times in a game, and there are also specialized left-handed relievers to deal with.”

“That’s why hitting huge numbers of home runs is harder now then it was in my time.”

“To do what he does, decreasing the number of times he gets jammed when he’s off balance and still hitting the ball well, at his age is absolutely astounding.”

Oh leads Japanese baseball in career home runs at each age from 26 on, but until this season, the career leader at each year of age from 19 to 25 had been Kazuhiro Kiyohara. Murakami is now the Age 22 leader and is closing on the record for players before their 23rd birthday.

The games:

Dragons 3, BayStars 2: At Nagoya Dome, Toshiro Miyazaki’s two-run second-inning home run off Takahiro Matsuba brought DeNA back from a 1-0 deficit. Masaki Ishigaki homered to tie it for the Dragons in the fifth off Fernando Romero (5-8). The Dragons took the lead via the sacrifice bunt in the sixth.

After a leadoff walk and a Dayan Viciedo single, pinch-hitter Shohei Kato advanced the runners with a sacrifice. To set up a double play opportunity against catcher Takuya Kinoshita, the BayStars intentionally walked the bases loaded and new pitcher Shingo Hirata walked in the go-ahead run on four pitches.

Yariel Rodriguez and Raidel Martinez worked the final two innings for Chunichi with Martinez getting his 34th save.

Tigers 6, Carp 5: At Koshien Stadium, third-place Hanshin came from behind three times to increase their margin over the fourth-place Yomiuri Giants to 1-1/2 games. Catcher Ryutaro Umeno doubled and scored to tie it 3-3 in the fifth, tripled in two runs in the sixth to put the Tigers ahead for good and scored on a Jefry Marte sac fly.

Hiroshima starter Masato Morishita (10-8) was charged with six runs over 5-1/3 innings. Kyle Keller (2-2) allowed Hiroshima to take the lead in the sixth on Ryan McBroom’s second RBI double of the game, but picked up the win. Suguru Iwazaki earned his 26th save and his first since Aug. 5.

Hawks 6, Lions 1: At Fukuoka Dome, Alfredo Despaigne’s first-inning double off rookie Chihiro Sumida (1-10) opened the flood gates in a five-run first. Taisei Makihara, who went 4-for-4, brought home another run with an infield single. Sumida settled down to go seven innings, but Seibu could only manage one run on eight hits off Shuta Ishikawa (6-9), who struck out seven while walking just one over 6-2/3 innings.

The win moved SoftBank two games clear of the second-place Orix Buffaloes and three games ahead of the Lions, who lead the fourth-place Rakuten Eagles by half a game.

Marines 8, Fighters 1: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Roki Sasaki (9-4), who skipped his last turn in the rotation when Lotte determined he had not recovered sufficiently from his eight-inning Sept. 2 start, allowed a first-inning home run but little else over five innings before leaving as planned. He threw 58 pitches, allowed four hits and struck out six without allowing a walk.

His fastball command was good but his stuff did not look as good as it did the last time out, and the Fighters were able to get some good swings on it, including the one for the leadoff homer in the first by light-hitting defensive outfielder Fumikazu Kimura.

Side-armer Kenya Suzuki (1-1) stranded five runners over four scoreless innings, but a leadoff walk and an infield single in the fifth set the table for a four-run inning. Shogo Nakamura’s sac fly tied it, Seiya Inoue put Lotte in front with a two-out RBI single and Hisanori Yasuda capped the rally with a two-run double. The Marines added four more, one earned, in the fifth.

Roki Sasaki in a box

Here’s a breakdown of Sasaki’s pitches with the average Runs Created with every pitch thrown, the rate of swings that miss bats, and the rate of taken pitches called strikes.

PitchRCTotalMiss rateCalled rate
Data through Sept. 14, 2022

Sasaki’s fastball this season, in terms of improving counts against hitters and final results, is the best of any thrown 600 times or more this season. If we lower that to a 400-pitch minimum, it’s eighth best — and the second best among starting pitchers. Teammate Manabu Mima’s (average velocity 89.4 mph) has been better.

The forkball is second best behind Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s, third if we count Matt Shoemaker’s split-fingered change, although Kodai Senga’s misses the most bats of any pitch in Japan.

The slider is a good out pitch and batters have trouble putting it in play, but he can’t command it very well, and has yet to throw it in three-ball counts.

Thursday’s starting pitchers

Eagles vs Hawks: Miyagi Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Wataru Karashima (5-3, 3.42) vs Tsuyoshi Wada (5-4, 3.00)

Marines vs Lions: Chiba Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Manabu Mima (7-6, 3.18) vs Katsunori Hirai (6-7, 2.54)

Buffaloes vs Fighters: Osaka Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Taisuke Yamaoka (6-7, 2.28) vs Haruka Nemoto (2-3, 2.47)

Active roster moves 9/14/2022

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 9/24

Central League


TigersIF38Ryuhei Obata


SwallowsP70Reiji Kozawa
SwallowsOF23Norichika Aoki

Pacific League


HawksP25Seigi Tanaka


BuffaloesIF3Ryoichi Adachi
LionsP26Takeru Sasaki

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