The Giants suffered their first loss of the year, in June no less, while Justin Bour gets his first hit after starting his season 0-for-16, while the most highly touted rookie of the season runs into a buzz saw called Hideto Asamura. All that and more from Japan on Wednesday night.
Kuri hands Giants 1st loss
Allen Kuri allowed an unearned run over seven innings, and the Hiroshima Carp beat the Yomiuri Giants 5-1 at Tokyo Dome.
Seiya Suzuki and Kosuke Tanaka each homered off Cristopher Mercedes, who lasted just three innings. Ryosuke Kikuchi, who gave up on finding at major league job before camp started and returned to the Carp, had three hits, including a home run.
BayStars’ bullpen holds on
Takayuki Kajitani, a player whose once electric future has been hampered by frequent injuries, homered to break a 2-2, fifth-inning tie at Yokohama Stadium, and a quartet of DeNA BayStars relievers held the Chunichi Dragons scoreless over the final four innings.
Spencer Patton, coming off a nightmare of a 2019 season, struck out two of the four batters he faced to set up for closer Yasuaki Yamasaki, who recorded his second save in precarious fashion.
After Yohei Oshima’s two-out single, Issei Endo missed the left field fair pole by a foot or two before drawing a walk. Another walk loaded the bases before Dayan Viciedo grounded out to end the game.
Former Giant Suarez stops Tigers
Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Albert Suarez (1-0) allowed an unearned run over six innings at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium to pitch the Yakult Swallows to a 6-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers. Suarez struck out four while allowing two singles. He walked a batter and hit a batter.
No one likes to lose, but there was no mistaking the relief on Justin Bour’s face when he singled in the seventh inning for his first hit since the season started on Friday.
Gunkel gets his feet wet
Tigers right-hander Joe Gunkel (0-1) allowed three runs in four innings on seven hits and two walks. His pitches sank a lot but the Swallows hitters made enough contact on them and it seemed like almost everything they put their bats to found a hole. While some of that was probably just bad luck, it appears Gunkel will need to make some adjustments. It’s a pretty common thing for new pitchers in Japan.
Wakui, Asamura spoil Kawano’s debut
Three days after his 34th birthday, Hideaki Wakui won his first game as a Rakuten Eagle, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out five over seven innings in a 5-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters.
The Eagles trailed rookie Ryusei Kawano 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, when the Fighters walked Jabari Blash with two outs and a man on only for the inning to go south in a hurry.
With one run in and two on, Asamura launched an opposite-field homer off the end of his bat. He only had two hits but the two outs he made were pretty impressive in their own right.
Laird makes Buffalo sushi
Former New York Yankee Brandon Laird hit a three-run, first-inning home run, walked, singled and scored twice to help the Lotte Marines to a 6-4 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Leonys Martin also singled, walked and scored a run for the Marines, who improved to 4-1, while former Cleveland Indians right-hander Frank Herrmann earned his third hold in the four games. The former Eagle is 1-0 in four scoreless outings so far in Chiba.
Hawks beat Lions at their own game
The Seibu Lions are kind of like Japan’s answer to pro wrestling. You can expect a lot of weird things, a lot of blows, a lot of falls. The combination of a historically good offensive and an unhealthy amount of mediocre pitching means no game is ever safe until the ref gives the final count.
The two-time-defending Pacific League champs got a dose of their own medicine on Wednesday in a 9-6 loss to the SoftBank Hawks. Kenta Imamiya tipped the scales with a three-run, sixth-inning homer off a high hanging curve from Tatsuya Imai (0-1) while Seiji Uebayashi went deep with a three-run bomb in the first.
The Lions got four RBIs from two-time home run king Hotaka Yamakawa at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo, and a 2-for-5 night from new leadoff man Corey Spangenberg, but starter Tatsuya Imai surrendered seven runs and that was that.
Live blog: Eagles vs Fighters
For those of you who are curious, you can read a little about these teams in my Japanese pro baseball guide.
Hideaki Wakui retired the Eagles in order in the first, finishing the inning by fanning Kensuke Kondo on three pitches, so that’s an impressive start for the veteran at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park.
It’s the pro debut of Ryusei Kawano*, the Fighters’ top draft pick in 2019 out of the corporate leagues.
The lefty popped up leadoff man Eigoro Mogi on a first-pitch fastball, but Jabari Blash fouled off a 2-2- pitch before walking on seven pitches. He does that a lot. New Eagle Daichi Suzuki flied out to deep right to bring up Hideto Asamura.
Kawano starts him off with a breaking ball in the dirt, and misses with a fastball and then another curve. Asamura takes a fastball right down the pipe for Strike 1, but puts a good swing on a curve from the lefty and pulls it past utility man Toshitake Yokoo at third.
With runners on the corners, and two outs, Kawano gets the tough Hiroaki Shimauchi to ground a high first-pitch fasrball to second for an easy force.
Sho Nakata opens the inning and the scoring by barreling up a decent high fastball from Wakui and driving it well over the fence in left center. Wakui went up high with a fastball on 0-2, and then brought it down a bit where Nakata could get it.
Ryo Watanabe grounded out before Wakui dodged a bullet. The right-hander got a tough call on a 2-2 changeup away to Kotaro Kiyomiya, and then hung a slider down the middle that the 21-year-old hammered to deep right, where Stefen Romero made the catch. Wakui then got Yokoo to wave at a 1-2 fastball away, and we go to the bottom of the second.
Bottom of 2nd
Kawano walks Romero to open the second. If he can stay healthy, this guy is going to be a tremendous acquisition. He gave Orix his best, but just suffered from one injury after another.
But Yasuhito Uchida grounds a first-pitch fastball to short, where Kazunari Ishii starts an easy double play. Kawano gets ahead of catcher Hikaru Ota 0-2 but loses him by missing low out of the zone. The rookie ends the inning when Ryosuke Tatsumi hammers a 3-2 slider, but Kiyomiya makes a nice grab behind the first base bag.
That’s 39 pitches for the rookie. Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama is perhaps the most iconoclastic in Japan at running his starting rotation, so there’s no telling how long he’ll stick with the kid.
Top of 3rd
Ishii grounds to second to open the Fighters third, as Wakui starts it against the last two hitters in the Nippon Ham order. A nice pick at third by Daichi Suzuki on a ball hit by catcher Yushi Shimizu and there’s two down.
Major league aspirant Haruki Nishikawa, who fouled out to open the game, does better this time, smacking a high 1-0 fastball to the gap for a double. Wakui then misses badly with a changeup inside to the right-handed-hitting Taishi Ota, and he muscles it over third for an RBI single. Fighters lead 2-0. Kondo goes down swinging for the second time to end the inning.
Kawano strikes out Mogi swinging with a high fastball, the rookie’s first career K. Blash grounds out and Suzuki hits a can of corn to right for Kawano’s easiest inning yet.
Nakata goes down swinging on a 3-2 curve, Watanabe hits an easy fly to right and Kiyomiya holds up on a fat-looking 3-2 fastball up and takes first on a walk. Yokoo shows some good discipline, but he can’t do anything with the pitches Wakui puts in the zone, and flies out to second.
Can Asamura hit or can he hit. Nice first-pitch slider at the bottom of the zone, but he was on it only for his liner to get within range of Nishikawa in left, who slides to make the grab. Shimauchi grounds a fastball to short this time for the second out, before Romero accidentaly beats the Fighters shift with a single up the middle.
The Fighters, who began aggressively shifting last year, had Watanabe pulled right behind the bag against the right-handed-hitting Romero who got jammed on an inside fastball with the ball rolling to the right field side of the second base bag. Kawano then jammed Uchida with another fastball inside and the inning’s over with a dinky liner to Kiyomiya at first.
Wakui is by no means overpowering, but his fastball has a little zip on it, and he’s mixing his pitches, keeping guys off barrels, and more importantly going after guys. Tatsumi in center has to make a long run for the second out, but it’s an easy 1-2-3 inning for the veteran.
Kawano will go at least five unless he runs into serious trouble here. He dispatches Ota with a fastball flied out to center, but walks the No. 9 hitter Tatsumi and danger lurks. Mogi fouls out well down the left field line, but Tatsumi tags up and takes second.
Kawano’s been starting most guys off with a slider for a while, but misses with a first-pitch fastball away to Blash. The rookie is definitely trying to keep his misses down, as he misses low. The Fighters decide to put Blash on, and after a chat with pitching coach Masao Kida, Kawano faces the lefty Suzuki.
Tatsumi steals third on the first pitch without a throw. Kawano hangs a 1-1 slider, and Suzuki slams it up the middle. Fighters 2, Eagles 1, with Blash cruising into third and Asamura in the driver’s seat.
Asamura miss-hits a 1-2 fastball away off the end of the bat and that puppy carries over the fence for a two-run homer. Eagles 4, Fighters 2.
Shimauchi flies out to end the inning, but damn Asamura is a hitter.
Wakui might not have much tonight, but he’s more or less locating his fastball, and he’s dictating the pace. He starts the sixth with easy outs against a couple of tough hitters, Ota and Kondo, who grounds out after two-straight punch-outs. Nakata, who missed a curve the last time up for Strike 3, looks at a fastball and down he goes.
Kazutomo Iguchi on the mound for the Fighters to face Romero. Kawano’s line: 4 runs over 5 innings on 5 walks (1 intentional), 4 hits and 1strikeout.
Romero is retired on a sharp play be Yokoo at third. But Uchida launches a liner to left, and Kondo cuts it off to hold him to a single. The Eagles’ top draft pick, Hiroto Kobukata is on to pinch run, and Ota bunts him to second.
Tatsumi reaches on an infield single. Runners on the corners with two outs for Mogi, who battles but grounds out.
–Defensive change: Kobukata, who ran for the first baseman Uchida, stays in to play short. Mogi moves to third, Suzuki goes across to first.
Kobukata wastes no time in showing off his glove. Diving to his left to snag a one-hop smash and throw out Watanabe to open the inning. Kyomiya flies out to Mogi at third, and if Yokoo hits it to Suzuki at first, the Eagles will have a defensive substitution trifecta.
But Yokoo finally puts a good swing on a changeup in the zone and lines it to center for a single. Yuya Taniguguchi bats for the Ishii and fouls out to third.
Iguchi still in for the Fighters, and a 3-2 slider to Blash is hit off the end of the bat for a deep fly to left. Suzuki gets jammed and lines out, while Iguchi shatters Asamura’s bat he still drives it to deep center.
Right-hander ALAN BUSENITZ in for Wakui. The 34-year-old leaves after an impressive night. His line: 2 runs over 7 innings, on 1 walk, four hits and five strikeouts.
Busenitz needs just nine pitches to take the Fighters out of the eighth inning and everything is going right for the Eagles.
Rookie Kenya Suzuki* — of the funky delivery — surrenders a hustling one-out double to Romero, who leaves for a pinch runner. Yokoo can’t make a circus catch on a smash by Ota down the third base line and he doubles in Kobukata. Eagles 5, Fighters 2.
Kohei Morihara in for the three-run save here in the ninth. He’s got Kondo, Nakata and Watanabe due up.
Kondo lines an 0-2 pitch to left for the first out. A fly out to left center, and Kobukata fields a one-hopper at short and makes the throw to first to end it as the Eagles improve to 4-1.
Final score: Eagles 5, Fighters 2
Here are the announced starting pitchers in Nippon Professional Baseball for June 24.
Eagles vs Fighters: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 6 pm, 5 am EDT
This is a battle of the ages as 34-year-old Hideaki Wakui takes the mound for the first time with his new team, the Eagles, against perhaps the top pitching prospect of last autumn’s NPB draft, 22-year-old lefty Ryusei Kawano.
Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Imai, the Lions’ first pick in the 2016 draft, turned pro out of high school. He threw 135-1/3 innings last season, when he walked 72 batters, the second-highest total in Japan, topped only by Kodai Senga’s 75 — although the Hawks’ ace led both leagues with 180-1/3 innings pitched.
Among pitchers with 90-plus innings, he was fourth in his percentage of pitches outside the zone, and couldn’t get batters to chase and gave up more than his share of hard contact. About half of his pitches so far have been four-seam fastball (146 kph avg velocity), with sliders next and curves and changeups rounding out his mix through 2019. He’s had his best results with the slider and change. Like most pitchers the question will be whether he can locate his fastball often enough.
Ishikawa appeared in two regular season games after coming back from a right hamstring injury in the spring that was followed by a right-knee injury. He’s a fastball, curve, slider guy, with a couple of different curves, and an occasional splitter.
A 28-year-old, Ishikawa worked his way up from a non-roster developmental contract like ace Kodai Senga and starting catcher Takuya Kai. In 2018, when he threw 127-1/3 innings, the right-hander’s hard-contact percentage was sixth-lowest in Japan among pitchers with 90-plus innings. Even without a single dominant pitch, Ishikawa attacks the zone but misses barrels.
Marines vs Buffaloes: Zozo Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Ojima was Lotte’s third pick in the 2018 draft out of Waseda University. As a rookie in 2019, his mix was a 139 kph fastball with a cutter and splitter. He didn’t work in the zone and walked a lot of batters, but was around the NPB average in strikeout percentage despite missing fewer bats than almost anyone in NPB.
Kohei “K” Suzuki
Known in Japanese as “K-Suzuki” a play on teammate Takahiro Okada’s registered name “T-Okada.” The right-hander was Orix’s secon pick in the 2017 draft, and needed something to distinguish him from minor league infielder Kohei Suzuki, thus the “K”.
Despite the moniker, Suzuki was below the team average in strikeouts and above average in walks. He’s a fastball (145.1 kph in 2019), slider guy with an occasional curve and split. The split and the fastball had the best results in 2019. In 102-2/3 innings in 2019, he was in the zone more than the league average, and was had the second lowest ground/fly ratio in Japan among pitchers with 90-plus innings, although his home run rate on fly balls was just ordinary.
Giants vs Carp: Tokyo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT
BayStars vs Dragons: Yokohama Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Swallows vs Tigers: Jingu Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Albert Suarez, the 30-year-old brother of Hanshin’s Robert Suarez, appeared in just four games last season for Yakult. He’ll face Joe Gunkel, who will be making his Japan debut.