Ramping up: 15 days to go

A day after NPB talk was dominated by Hayato Sakamoto’s brush with COVID-19, let’s start with Thursday’s updated with some good news about Justin Bour finding his power stroke after a lackluster start in February and March.

The bad news is that Roki Sasaki likely won’t pitch in a game prior to the start of the season on June 19. What’s left is that NPB picked up from Wednesday’s COVID-19 scare without breaking stride.

Bour homers for 3rd-straight game

After four singles in 20 spring at-bats, Bour has homered in each of the Hanshin Tigers’ three June practice games so far. The Tigers beat the Hiroshima Carp 6-0 at Koshien Stadium. Reports in Japanese quoted Bour as saying his feel in the batter’s box has improved with the number of at-bats he’s had.

Thursday’s shot was a liner off the right-field fair pole.

Verhagen makes case for starting job

First-year Nippon Ham Fighters import Drew VerHagen allowed three hits over three scoreless innings against the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium on Wednesday. The Fighters’ rotation was a patchwork situation last season, so any one capable of getting three or four solid innings should be a plus.

VerHagen was handed No. 36 with the Fighters, although he also seems to have a thing for 51, at least when it comes to strikeouts. VerHagen fanned 51 for Toledo in 2018, and 51 more for the Mud Hens in 2019, when he also notched 51 strikeouts with Detroit. He may have gotten carried away in Detroit in 2018 when he outdid himself with 53.

Marines walk back on Sasaki

Flame-throwing 18-year-old Roki Sasaki’s hopes of finally taking the mound in a pro game were put on hold again, when the Lotte Marines rookie was shelved for this month’s practice games on Thursday.

“He has not quite recovered completely from his pitching in a simulated game on May 26, so I think we’re going to pass on using him in the practice games,” Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi said.

In the simulated game, Sasaki, who was clocked at 101.3 mph in a national team workout last year, threw a pair of pitches at 160 kph (99.4 mph).

“He threw 160 but I think it’s possible his body is not able to sustain that at the moment,” pitching coach Masato Yoshii said. “If we push him too much, it could lead to serious injury.”

The Marines entered camp not expecting Sasaki to pitch on the first team, but the ease at which the lanky right-hander can throw nearly 100 mph drew a crowd every time he went to the bullpen.

Giants, infected pair all test negative

A day after positive tests for Hayato Sakamoto and his Yomiuri Giants teammate Takumi Oshir burst NPB’s safe-opening bubble, the big news on Thursday was that both players and 26 others with the team were tested again and all returned negative results.

NPB teams responded to the news of more coronavirus infections with a yawn. Most of the 12 clubs said that they’ve done everything they need to so there was no reason to do more. The Hiroshima Carp announced that all the players in the organization would undergo a PCR test before Opening Day.

Two Yakult Swallows players, 2019 Central League rookie of the year Munetaka Murakami and pitcher Albert Suarez, however, did have PCR tests taken Thursday after feeling unwell and developing fevers.

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