There was only one game scheduled on Thursday, the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, as the Rakuten Eagles, based in the heart of the disaster area, beat the Lotte Marine 8-5 in an otherwise unremarkable game in Shizuoka.
Let the kids play
More eyes were focused on this weekend’s games, when highly-touted right-hander Roki Sasaki is expected to pitch for the Marines on Friday in his first game as a pro, against the Chunichi Dragons, where another player who has yet to a darn thing as a pro was getting all excited.
Akira Neo, a highly touted prospect who has produced no offensive numbers worth talking about in two minor league seasons since Chunichi took him in the first round out of high school, called it a dream matchup, Sponichi Annex reports.
“I’ve only seen him on TV, but he is a special pitcher,” said Neo. “I want to swing well and hit whatever he throws.”
Hawks get help
Elsewhere, the SoftBank Hawks are anticipating the return of three of their biggest offensive producers, manager Kimiyasu Kudo said, according to Hochi Shimbun.
Cubans Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial are slated to join first team for the first time this spring, while Yuki Yanagita returns from the team’s rehab group.
Giants sign 2 Dominican amateurs
The Yomiuri Giants have made their signings of 16-year-old shortstop Jose De la Cruz and outfielder Julian Tima to their developmental roster. The Giants tried out the Dominican youngsters from the Moreno Academy in November 2019 and again in March 2020, full-count reports.
According to ESPN’s Enrique Rojas on Feb. 23, the Giants paid Tima a $675,000 signing bonus, and lured the shortstop De la Cruz with a $500,000 offer.
NPB’s developmental contracts will require the Giants to add the youngsters to their 70-man roster by Nov. 31, 2023 or release them. But even at the extreme bottom end of Nippon Professional Baseball, developmental players will earn $21,000 a year — more than Triple-A players who have not been added to an MLB 40-man roster.
Yuki Yanagita has scary power. When he connects, the ball can go a long way to any field. This wasn’t one of those, but rather what happens sometimes when he is fooled. In the spring he hit an opposite field home run when he was fooled by a breaking pitch off balance and with his top hand off the bat.
On Tuesday, he did it again with a three-run shot that powered the SoftBank Hawks to an 8-7 win over the Orix Buffaloes. Here’s the home run. Anyone see a guy fooled on a swing so much that his helmet came off? Anyone ever seen such a swing produce a home run? You have now.
Yanagita hit two home runs and was seen in the dugout cheering up second baseman 22-year-old infielder Hikaru Kawase, whose two sixth-inning errors opened the door for six unearned Orix runs off ace Kodai Senga (4-1).
Asked what he told the youngster in the hero interview, Yanagita said, “I told him, it’s not your fault. It was Senga’s. Just come out tomorrow play baseball like you know you can.”
Orix ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto allowed five runs in five innings, while Akira Nakamura homered for the Hawks, and Takahiro Okada hit a grand slam for the Buffaloes.
Marines Mima, Martin destroy Fighters
Free agent acquisition Manabu Mima (3-2) allowed a run in five innings, and Leonys Martin hit a three-run home run, his fifth homer in four games to lift the Lotte Marines to a 3-1 victory over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Naoyuki Uwasawa (2-2) allowed three runs on four walks and three hits over six innings.
Kobukata saves the day for Eagles
Rakuten rookie Hiroto Kobukata brought the Rakuten Eagles from behind with a two-run seventh-inning double and doubled in another run in the ninth in their 7-5 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.
Ernesto Mejia, a one-time home run champ relegated to reserve status since the ascendance of first baseman Hotaka Yamakawa, started in place of Yamakawa on Tuesday and turned back the clock.
The 34-year-old Mejia hit two home runs, doubled, drove in three runs and made a couple of terrific plays at first. His first homer gave the Lions a 4-3lead in the fifth, but Kobukata doubled in two with two outs in the seventh to put Rakuten ahead for good.
Note: The original story had the Lions winning 7-5.
Tigers’ Garcia, Sands eclipse BayStars
Lefty Onelki Garcia (1-4) allowed a run over seven innings, and Jerry Sands drove in a pair of big runs for the Hanshin Tigers in their 9-2 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium.
Garcia allowed four hits and walked four while striking out seven. With the game tied 1-1 in the sixth, Sands delivered an RBI double to break the tie and scored on Ryutaro Umeno’s double.
Leadoff man Koji Chikamoto opened the game with a double and scored the first of his three runs on a sacrifice fly by Sands.
Fukutani, Takahashi lift Dragons over Carp
Right-hander Koji Fukutani (1-1) allowed a run over 5-2/3 innings, and captain Shuhei Takahashi opened the scoring with his second home run of the season, a two-run fourth-inning blast off Yusuke Nomura (2-1) in the Chunichi Dragons’ 8-1 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Although the game was already a rout by the ninth inning, the Dragons had more than just two runs to celebrate in the final frame when Akira Neo, the Dragons’ top draft pick in 2018, had his first hit in the top flight after starting his career 0-for-17 with nine strikeouts.