Tag Archives: Alex Ramirez

NPB 2020 7-2 GAMES AND NEWS

Friday’s announced starting pitchers in NPB.

Fighters overcome Balentien bombs

Rick van den Hurk started for SoftBank and for the second-straight time his former Dutch interational teammate Wladimir Balentien homered twice behind him. Balentien drove in five runs but van den Hurk gave them back in a 9-8 walk-off loss to the Nippon Ham Fighters on Wednesday.

With two outs and two on in the ninth, Yuki James Nomura drove one off the wall to end it. The 20-year-old rookie also made up for a second-inning error with a second-inning home run.

A week after everything worked for him, a lot of van den Hurk’s pitches lacked their usual life as he surrendered five runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings.

That was enough to keep the Hawks in the game, however, as Fighters starter Drew VerHagen allowed six runs, four earned, over 4-1/3 innings. The combination of too many missed locations and too many good swings proved tough to overcome.

A hanging 2-2 changeup to Yuki Yanagita put an extra runner on for Balentien in the first, and with the Netherlands international looking for a second fastball outside, that’s where VerHagen missed, and gave Balentien a little more to celebrate on his 36th birthday as he drove it over the distant center field wall at Sapporo Dome for a three-run shot.

VerHagen appears to have good stuff. His fastball was crisp, and his slider sharp, so it’s probably more of getting a sense of what he needs to do against certain hitters.

Sho nakata homered in the first for the Fighters on a straight 2-2 fastball in the zone. Hawks leadoff hitter Ryuya Kurihara hit a two-run shot in the second for the Hawks after a two-out smash came off the heel of Nomura’s glove at third.

Nomura, who was born in the States, homered in the bottom of the second, and Kensuke Kondo, who walked and scored in the first, delivered a sac fly in the third to make it a 5-4 game. With SoftBank leading 6-5 in the seventh, Balentien homered again, but Fighters prospect Kotaro Kiyomiya matched him with a two-run shot.

Hawks closer Yuito Mori came on in the ninth. Kensuke Kondo, who entered the game tied for the league lead with 10 walks, drew his third of the game, on eight pitches, to open the inning. Tanaka singled.

With two outs and both runners in scoring position, Nomura drove a cutter in the heart of the zone to the wall to end it.

Spangenberg, Mori blast Buffaloes

New Lions leadoff man Corey Spangenberg, homered, tripled, singled, walked and scored three runs, while Tomoya Mori homered and drove in four runs as Seibu overcame an early two-run deficit to beat the Orix Buffaloes 9-5.

Lions reliever Reed Garrett entered in the eighth, having retired the last 13 batters he’d faced, but surrendered back-to-back hits. The right-hander then returned to form by retiring three straight and working his fifth-straight scoreless inning.

Spangenberg may have had a big night at the plate, but his first inning in the field was an adventure. He misplayed the hop on a ball hit in front of him in left. The ball got over his head for a double and then he kicked it to put leadoff runner Yuma Mune on third.

Martin, Inoue pace Marines

The Lotte Marines moved back into first place in the Pacific League with an 8-5 win over the Rakuten Eagles, at Sendai’s Rakuten Semei Park Miyagi. Leonys Martin and Seiya Inoue each homered and drove in three runs for the Marines.

Stefen Romero, who joined the Eagles over the winter, homered to tie it 2-2 in the bottom of the second but starting pitcher Takahiro Shiomi (0-2) surrendered six runs over 4-2/3 innings.

Marines starter Daiki Iwashita (2-0) allowed three runs, two earned, over five innings, while Frank Herrmann and Jay Jackson each worked a scoreless inning out of the Lotte bullpen.

Viciedo, Dragons rock former teammate

Dayan Viciedo belted a three-run homer off former teammate Onelki Garcia (0-2) and Raidel Martinez closed it out as the Chunichi Dragons beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-2 at Nagoya Dome.

“They’re in a bind. They want to get up there and advance runners with sacrifice bunts, but they just don’t have runners.”

–analyst Yutaka Takagi on the Hanshin Tigers’ offensive woes.

Swallows blast Carp

The Yakult Swallows overcame a four-run deficit on the strength of four homers in a 9-5 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Jingu Stadium, with 2019 CL rookie of the year Munetaka Murakami driving in five runs, four on a walk-off grand slam.

Naomichi Nishiura, who had homered to drive in the winning run twice this week, twice tied the game with home runs.

Ramirez’s best intentions prove costly

DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez’s fondness for the intentional walk cost him in a 5-3 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome. Japan’s annual leader in giving away first base put two on intentionally and both scored.

Giants right-hander Toshiki Sakurai (1-0) was punished for a couple of his mistakes, but he was able to mix, locate and execute some nasty curves and splitters, and the BayStars only managed one run off him in eight innings while striking out nine.

Tyler Austin walked, doubled and scored for the BayStars, while lefty Edwin Escobar worked a solid inning of relief for DeNA. Right-hander Spencer Patton, who had been lights out so far this season, got rocked for three runs in the eighth with the help of an intentional walk.

Austin to 1B as Ramirez sidelines Lopez

Tyler Austin, who has been in right-field this season for the Yokohama-based DeNA BayStars, will be at first base on Thursday night for the team’s Central League series finale against the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome, manager Alex Ramirez said before the game according to the Daily Sports.

The story reported Ramirez as saying that Lopez was hitless against Giants starter Toshiki Sakurai in eight at-bats, while outfielder Tomo Otosaka had a good track record at Tokyo Dome.

Austin has gotten his Japan career off to a good start, 13 hits in his first 34 at-bats for DeNA.

With Lopez inactive for the game, the BayStars will have Austin, two-time defending CL home run champ Neftali Soto and relievers Spencer Patton and Edwin Escobar available.

NPB 2020 6-21 live

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Giants sweep Tigers

Angel Sanchez, who went 17-5 last year in KBO for the SK Wyverns, had a rocky start in his NPB debut Sunday, but earned the win as Kazuma Okamoto and Gerardo Parra homered to lift the Yomiuri Giants to a 7-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers and a three-game series sweep at Tokyo Dome for the defending CL champs.

Sanchez allowed one run, on a leadoff homer to Koji Chikamoto, allowed four walks and four hits, but lasted 5-2/3 innings.

Morishita shines in pro debut for Carp

Masato Morishita, Hiroshima’s top draft pick out of Meiji University, struck out eight in his pro debut against the DeNA BayStars. The righty, who I had a look at in the spring, walked two and gave up four hits in a 104-pitch, seven-inning outing at Yokohama Stadium.

Unfortunately, there was no fairy tale finish in Morishita’s debut as four-straight BayStars batters hit line drives off Tyler Scott in the ninth. Toshiro Miyazaki finishes it off by finding the gap against the drawn-in outfield and two runs scored to end it.

“I believe that our strategy was good but that guy was real good. He has the potential to be an ace pitcher. I was glad they took him out of the game,” DeNA skipper Alex Ramirez said.

BayStars right-hander Kentaro Taira allowed a run over six innings on a walk and five hits, while striking out two.

“It was a great game all the way from the beginning. Taira did a great job from the beginning and the relievers did a great job.”

Yuki Kuniyoshi worked two scoreless innings of relief, and Spencer Patton, who worked the eighth, got the win.

Lions rookie Yoza solid in losing debut

Kaito Yoza allowed three runs over six innings in his first-team for the Seibu Lions, but the bullpen blew up over the final three innings in a 12-2 loss to the Nippon Ham Fighters. Solo homers from Sho Nakata and Taishi Ota gave the visitors an early lead they would never give up.

Mima wins Marines debut

Manabu Mima, who joined Lotte over the winter as a free agent from the Rakuten Eagles, allowed a run while striking out nine in just five innings in the Marines’ 5-1 victory over the SoftBank Hawks.

Seiya Inoue homered in the second off reliever Yuki Tsumori after the Hawks starter, journeyman Akira Niho loaded the bases by hitting Shogo Nakamura in the head. Pitches that strike a batter in or around the head are referred to as “kikenkyu” (dangerous pitches) and call for an automatic ejection for the pitcher.

Former major leaguers Brandon Laird and Leonys Martin reached base before Nakamura was hit and scored as Inoue put the game out of reach early.

June 21 Live blog: Buffaloes vs Eagles

Off to a bit of a slow start on Sunday, folks. Having a look at Orix and Rakuten today, because my favorite Japanese pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is on the mound for the Buffaloes.

Go to NEWEST.

For those of you who are curious, you can read a little about these teams in my Japanese pro baseball guide.

Top 2nd

Yamamoto has consistently the best stuff in Japan, and it looks like he’s put some muscle on his once spindly frame. He struck out the side in order in the first and got a one-run lead in the home half, but two ground balls in the second produced the Eagles’ first hit.

  1. Dangerous Hideto Asamura grounds out softly to 2nd.
  2. Hiroaki Shimauchi gets a grounder through between 1st and 2nd
  3. Former Buffaloe Stefen Romero grounds to short and the enigmatic Ryoichi Adachi starts the inning-ending double play.

Bottom 2nd

Eagles starter Ryota Ishibashi went 8-7 as a rookie last year and was second on the team in innings pitched with 127-1/3 because the club’s two best starters, Takayuki Kishi and Takahiro Norimoto missed time with injuries

Ishibashi’s average fastball velocity last year was 145.2 kph, and he’s a four-seam, cutter, splitter, and two-seam guy, although be aware the two-seam description generally encompasses two distinctly different pitches, a hard running fastball and a two-seam sinking fastball–which is the rarer of the two in Japan.

  1. Kenya Wakatsuki grounds out.
  2. Ryoichi Adachi singles to center.
  3. Shunta Goto singles to right to put runners on the corners for Takahiro Okada.
  4. Okada, who slid home headfirst to score on Keita Nakagawa’s sac fly in the first, singles in the Buffaloes’ second run.
  5. Aderlin Rodriguez looks like a player built for Japan, a smooth compact swing, who makes excellent contact. Ishibashi hangs a forkball and Rodriguez hits it high up the wall in left for an RBI double, Buffaloes 3, Eagles 0.
  6. Rodriguez, however, contributes an out on the bases, thanks to some slick defense by Eagles first baseman Ginji Akaminai. Ginji goes to a knee to stab a ball off the bat of Masataka Yoshida, makes the play at first and then throws behind Rodriguez who is trapped between second and third.

Top 3rd

  1. Akaminai, who wears “Ginji” on his uniform as his registered name, grounds out to second, topping 1-2 splitter.
  2. Catcher Hikaru hits a little comebacker to Yamamoto for the second out.
  3. Ryosuke Tatsumi, the PL’s 2018 rookie of the year swings and misses at a low fastball for another 1-2-3 inning. The thing about Yamamoto is that he has so many quality pitches, that it’s very common to see everyone guessing wrong and getting terrible swings even at mistakes in the zone.

Bottom 3rd

  1. Adam Jones had two hits on Saturday, and put a sweet swing on a straight fastball in the first for a single that contributed to Orix’s first run. Ishibashi gets a generous call on a low pitch from home plate ump Masanobu Suginaga, and Jones goes down looking.
  2. Keita Nakagawa, who had a strong rookie season playing all over the musical chairs game the Buffaloes’ infield resembled last year, flies out to left.
  3. Koji Oshiro, another of those versatile infielders from 2019, grounds out to short.

Top 4th

  1. Eigoro Mogi gets under a high 151-kph fastball and flies out to left.
  2. Daichi Suzuki, the former Marines captain who moved to Sendai as a free agent over the winter, swings under a high 1-2 running fastball to go down swinging.
  3. Jabari Blash, who struck out looking in the first, flails at a beauty of an 0-2 curve.

Bottom 4th

  1. Buffaloes catcher Kenya Wakatsuki launches a hanging first-pitch slider away to the warning track for an opposite-field leadoff double.
  2. Adachi tops an attempted sacrifice bunt in front of the plate, and Ota throws out his opposite number at third.
  3. Akaminai, playing in tight at first base, makes a good play on a little chopper by Goto.
  4. Okada, who raked in the spring and in practice games, pulled a high hanging forkball over Akaminai and down the right-field line for his second double of the game and a 4-0 Buffaloes lead. This is quite a turnaround for Okada, whose career has been in decline for nearly a decade, and who spent most of the 2019 season on the farm after a handful of sloppy at-bats and fielding misplays at first base.
  5. Ishibashi snaps off a nasty curve to send Rodriguez down swinging.

Top 5th

  1. Not a great fastball, but Asamura doesn’t get a great swing on it and pops up down the left field line.
  2. An easy fly to lefty by Shimauchi and Yamamoto appears to be operating on cruise control.
  3. He works carefully to Romero, who ends a good 6-pitch at-bat by fouling out.

Bottom 5th

Rookie right-hander Taisei Tsurusaki on the mound for the Eagles after Ishibashi gives up four runs in four innings. Tsurusaki is making his debut against the middle of the Buffaloes lineup. He looks to have a repeatable delivery, comes over the top and keeps his hand on top of the ball.

  1. Yoshida, one of the best hitters in the PL, swings at a huge 12-6 curve before taking a cutter on the outside corner for Strike 3.
  2. Jones provides less of a challenge, grounding a first-pitch fastball away to second.
  3. Nakagawa walks on seven pitches and steals second easily.
  4. Oshiro walks on 6 pitches.
  5. Wakatsuki flies out off the handle, and the rookie survives without any damage done.

Top 6th

  1. Nice at-bat by Ginji, but he tips a 2-2 shoot into Wakatsuki’s glove for Strike 3.
  2. Backup catcher Ayatsugu Yamashita batting for his catching partner Ota and grounds out easily to first.
  3. Yamamoto is toying with Tatsumi, going after the corners with his hard stuff while getting three strikes with his curve. Tatsumi goes down swinging at one low out of the zone.
Thanks for that Jason. A Yamamoto curve is not fair to pinch-hitters.

Bottom 6th

Veteran lefty Wataru Karashima on the mound for the Eagles. He had a serviceable year in the rotation last season, going 9-6 in 117-1/3 innings. He is in middle relief this year with closer Yuki Matsui moving back into the rotation. He’s basically a fastball, slider, curve change guy.

  1. I love watching Ginji Akaminai play first base. He is everywhere on everything, and knows where to look and when to throw. Another good play opens the first as he throws out Adachi to open the seventh.
  2. Goto flies out to left.
  3. Okada’s confidence is dialed up to “11” now after floundering for several seasons. He is balanced at the plate and ready to attack EVERYTHING. He walks to bring up Rodriguez.
  4. And Rodriguez, short to the ball on an inside pitch and pulls it down the line in left for a double. Okada to third.
  5. Okada, a small guy with a quiet stance in the left-handed batters box, doesn’t look like he should be dangerous, but he has serious power and plate discipline. Not this time though, as Karashima gets him to ground to short.

Top 7th

Don’t remember when the PL started the innovation of playing the visiting team’s Lucky Seventh song on the stadium speakers, but it is a nice touch, since no matter what park you’re at in the top flight there will be at least five or six hundred fans on the visitor’s side of the outfield waving their flags and cheering on their guys.

With no fans in the stands, the Kyocera Dome scoreboard was showing Eagles fans cheering from home on streaming video while, the Eagles song, what Casey McGehee called the “Igloo song,” plays.

  1. Mogi grounds out to open the visitors’ seventh.
  2. Suzuki misses a 3-2 inside fastball for Yamamoto’s 10th strikeout.
  3. Blash grounds one up the middle for an infield single.
  4. Asamura miss-hits a cutter to short for an easy out.

Bottom 7th

Tomohiro Anraku, who made a name for himself in high school with his brutal pitch counts, comes in to pitch the seventh for the Eagles.

  1. Jones looks at two fastballs low and away before grounding out to second.
  2. Nakagawa lined a pitch to short right center, and nearly got caught out thinking it would get through when Tatsumi cut it off in center.
  3. Pinch runner for Nakagawa at first, and Yuya Oda swipes second. Oshiro flies out to center but not deep enough to send Oda to third.
  4. Wakatsuki grounds out and we’re going to the 8th with the Eagles trailing 4-0.

Top 8th

  1. Shimauchi flies out to first on the second pitch.
  2. Romero flies out to second on the second pitch.
  3. Yasuhito Uchida, batting for Ginji, who may have twisted something when he miss-stepped making that play to open the seventh, rips a single to right.
  4. Yamashita his what they call a “bonda” in Japanese, an easy out, on a grounder to second.

That’s 94 pitches for Yamamoto and with a four-run lead, he won’t be back. Thirty years ago, I guarantee, he’d be getting ready for the ninth. Back then, there was no good excuse for lifting a starter who was leading. “How can you take him out? It’s a close game” or “How can you take him out with that big lead.” You name it, there was an excuse for it.

Bottom 8th

Anraku, the Eagles’ top draft pick in 2014, is back for the ninth.

  1. Adachi lines out.
  2. Goto fouls off two, two-strike pitches before striking out swinging in an eight-pitch at-bat.
  3. Anraku finally makes Okada look like the guy who could possibly be lost at the plate as he hesitates on a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner for Strike 3.

Return to TOP

Top 9th

United States international closer Brandon Dickson on in the ninth. He was a productive starter for the Buffaloes for six seasons, but last year, with no one else to turn to, he was thrust into the closer’s role, where he’s been dynamite. He finished 2019 as the closer for Team USA in the Premier 12.

  1. Pinch-hitter Kazuya Fujita flies out to left.
  2. Mogi grounds out to second.
  3. Suzuki fouls off a tough two-strike fastball on the outside corner. Takes a ball low for 2-2, and puts a good swing on a fastball but lines it straight to Goto in center for the Buffs’ first win of the season.

Final score: Buffaloes 4, Eagles 0

Camping World: Feb. 16, 2020 – Tyler Austin 2 to the 2nd power

DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez loves to be unconventional, and he also knows enough that the way to be unconventional in Japan is to make up conventional bullshit explanations reporters can then regurgitate as suitable explanations for unorthodox behavior.

On Sunday, new BayStars import Tyler Austin batted second in the team’s preseason opener against the Yomiuri Giants in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture. On Saturday, Ramirez explained he liked to have good hitters bat second, not because they were good hitters and putting lame guys who can bunt second is dumb, but rather because a power hitter there will see more fastballs after the leadoff man reaches base.

Tyler Austin’s 1st swing

Of course, when your leadoff hitter is Kazuki Kamizato, career OBP .319, that’s kind of weak, but you get the point. In Japan, unorthodox behavior is only acceptable if it is wrapped in some kind of bullshit cover-your-ass excuse that won’t suggest that the orthodox ways are dumb.

Ramirez catches flak for batting his pitchers eighth, which makes perfect sense, and last year was roasted for batting new Tampa Bay Ray Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, the national team cleanup hitter, second. It was, one talking head on Fuji TV’s Pro Yakyu News said, “An insult to Japanese baseball,” and that one could do it in a DH league, “as the Angels do with Mike Trout, but not in the Central League,” because well, you can’t.

Tyler Austin off to an auspicious start in NPB’s preseason

Austin homered in each of his first two spring at-bats, both with no one on base and then singled in his third, again after Kamizato failed to reach.

Batting 2nd: Lip Service

My favorite story about paying lip service to Japan’s cultural craving for punchless No.2 hitting defensive specialists was that of Hall of Famer Rikuo Nemoto, as manager of the Daiei Hawks in 1994, batted slugging outfielder Kazunori Yamamoto second. Yamamoto bunted once in 509 plate appearances.

Nemoto, who is in the Hall of Fame for his role as the architect of three dynasties — often through somewhat shady dealings to secure amateur talent, forestalled criticism by saying he had no punchless glove guys to bat second, so he just had to bite his lip and make do.

What happened was the perennial doormats’ best season in 18 years. The Hawks were fourth, with a .5348 winning percentage behind the Orix Blue Wave (Ichiro Suzuki‘s breakout season) and Kintetsu Buffaloes (Hideo Nomo) who tied for second at .5354

Of course, everyone knew Nemoto was full of shit, but it’s OK to be full of shit as long as you don’t imply that others who do dumb shit because dogma demands it are morons. OK, the late great Katsuya Nomura did that frequently when it suited his purposes, but for most mere mortals, like former BayStars manager Hiroshi Gondo, calling orthodoxy into question will get you fired.

Baby shark school

One of the other non-game highlights was Gerardo Parra instructing veteran Yomiuri Giants outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei on the proper hand technique for “Baby Shark.”

Moore throws 1st pen for Hawks

New SoftBank Hawks import Matt Moore threw a 53-pitch bullpen on Sunday, his first since the start of spring training on Feb. 1, and left manager Kimiyasu Kudo suitably impressed, according to Fullcount.

The Hawks may be without 2019 rookie of the year, Rei Takahashi, at the start of the season due to a left-hamstring issue, and so could be in need of another starter to take his place.

Tuffy Rhodes: On being himself

On Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2019, one of Japanese baseball’s all-time greats, Tuffy Rhodes, remained gathering dust in the middle of the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame players division voting results, omitted by more than 70 percent of the voters.

I spoke with Rhodes a year ago after Craig Calcattera wrote about Rhodes’ Hall of Fame slog. Craig’s story sparked a small amount of outrage among Japanese fans. I expected to catch up with him in Phoenix last March and then write the interview but we never connected. Tuffy’s not a hermit, but he moves at his pace.

Here’s the second part of our interview — about how Tuffy Rhodes grew in Japan and stayed true to his fiery self.

In 13 Japanese seasons, Rhodes’ 464 home runs are 13th most all time. He is 20th in career walks, 24th in runs. He led his league in an offensive category 18 times. Every position player to lead in more than 15 is in the Hall of Fame except for Rhodes, and Ichiro Suzuki and Nobuhiko Matsunaka — who are not yet eligible.

“If it wasn’t for Tuffy, I would have been another statistic, most likely, of a spoiled American who wasn’t willing to change and adapt…He did more than people know for both cultures.”

former NPB veteran Jeremy Powell

After the 2003 season, his second with 50-plus home runs, Rhodes failed to reach a deal with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. After eight one-year contracts, he wanted a multiyear deal, and they refused.

“I was battling with Kintetsu,” Rhodes said. “The Giants had offered me a contract. I didn’t ask Kintetsu to match the contract, just match the years. It was the first time I was going to get a two-year deal, and that’s all I wanted Kintetsu to do. They had never given a foreigner a two-year-deal, so I went with the Giants. Then I found out that the reason why was because they were selling the team.”

In the spring of 2004, just months after he joined the Giants, the Buffaloes’ parent company, the Kinki Nippon Railroad, announced it was going out of the baseball business and would pursue a merger with another Pacific League club that was struggling financially, the Orix BlueWave.

The news that NPB, a two-league, 12-team setup since 1958 was in danger of becoming an unwieldy 11 teams, sent shockwaves through the establishment. Teams began looking for merger partners so that a single 10-team league could be formed with the Lotte Marines and Daiei Hawks the most likely marriage.

When the players and fans asked to be involved in the process, they were told to mind their own beeswax and the resulting strike and strife ended with old-fashioned owners learning the hard way that they couldn’t just make up rules on the fly without concern for others. But instead of being with his longtime teammates as his club played out the string on the road to extinction, Rhodes joined a super team the Giants were building in Tokyo.

“I went to the Giants and it was too late,” Rhodes said. “I loved being in Osaka. I was very comfortable where I was. I was all Osaka, Kansai-jin all the way. It’s totally different. The trains in Tokyo are silent. In Osaka, they’re talking, they’re louder. It’s totally different. The women voice their opinion more aggressively on the phone then the women in Tokyo.”

Being with the Giants meant following lots and lots of rules and being in the spotlight all the time. Although he led the Central League in home runs, the Giants were unraveling under new manager Tsuneo Horiuchi. In 2005, the chaos achieved maximum volume as Horiuchi fueded publicly with popular first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara and it became every man for himself.

On April 26, with no outs and a runner on first after an error in a 5-5 game, Rhodes, playing center, gave up on a ball in the gap, allowing a tie-breaking double by Alex Ramirez. In the obligatory postgame meeting, coach Sumio Hirota picked out Rhodes and said the 7-5 loss was entirely his fault.

“Me? What about the pitchers?” Rhodes said afterward.

Rhodes picked up the diminutive coach and pinned him to a wall. Afterward, he told reporters in Japanese that the Giants sucked and they could write what they liked. Things got worse. He tore his right rotator cuff in August and that ended his time with the Giants.

“I was just learning how not to let it get the best of me,” he said. “The cameras were in your face. I played to win and I played hard. It got to the point where I didn’t feel appreciated and I let it get the best of me.”

The competitive spirit that pushed him to do the annual one-hour batting practices in spring training with Kintetsu — at first to show he could do it and later to excel — did at times overcome his better nature, like the time Hayato Aoki of the Seibu Lions hit his teammate Norihiro Nakamura. Rhodes was on first base and blindsided the pitcher for not observing Japan’s custom of tipping your cap to the batter you’ve hit with a pitch.

“I popped him good,” Rhodes said. “I got suspended one game. He didn’t tip his cap. He would not tip his cap. That set me off because you’re supposed to tip your cap and show respect unless you did it on purpose. And Nori is my buddy.”

That was Tuffy, fierce on the field and protective of his teammates — even when it was a message they didn’t want to hear. When new pitcher Jeremy Powell had had enough after another run-in with Buffaloes pitching coach Shigeru Hayashi, Powell was ready to grab the next flight home.

“If it wasn’t for Tuffy, I would have been another statistic, most likely, of a spoiled American who wasn’t willing to change and adapt…He did more than people know for both cultures,” said Powell, who ended up pitching over 1,000 innings in NPB and winning 69 games and is now the Miami Marlins’ Triple-A pitching coach.

The lesson Rhodes imparted was this: “Respect that this is their game, but that you can learn from it and thrive.”

“I went to Japan with an open mind,” Rhodes said of his transformation. “Like a newborn baby. I was like whatever happens, happens. I’m not going to worry about anything in America. I’m going to live my life as an American in Japan. I’m going to learn the culture.”

“Our program, we had to go into the gym and do something. So right prior to that, I started working out, started a regimen every day. I felt myself getting bigger and stronger. My diet got a lot better. I started getting faster, stronger, leaner. Going to Japan changed my life in so many ways.”

That started in camp, where unlike in America there are days off but the practice days themselves can be unending. And at Kintetsu, the foreign players were kept later in the day then at most clubs.

“The two-a-days. Oh my goodness, yes. Those were the worst,” said Rhodes, who also struggled in the team’s spring facility because it was surrounded by conifers that shifted his allergy to cedar pollen into overdrive.

“You had to do everything in the morning, from every drill on defense that had to do with infield or outfield positions four hours. Then lunch, and after lunch you’d hit for another three hours, as a team in your groups. That would surprise you. In America, spring training, the first week or so, you’re out of there by noon, 1 O’clock at the latest. Here, you’re just getting started and you’re getting back to your room at 5:30, 6 O’clock at night.”

“Some years, I came later to camp, like the 15th of February, but my regimen was the same. I hit one hour by myself like everyone else, and I’d hit one hour by myself the week before the season started. Sasaki kantoku, (coach Takao) Ise-san, they really taught me how to play baseball in Japan. They were awesome. I had some great coaches.”

They might have taught him the fundamentals, but the spirit was all Tuffy, and what people remember now is it getting out of hand, like the shoving match he had with veteran Rakuten Eagles slugger Takeshi Miyazaki, or punching out Lotte catcher Tomoya Satozaki on July 17, 2007.

Orix teammate Greg LaRocca, who went on to set an NPB record that year by getting hit 28 times in 2007, had been plunked for the second time in two days in Chiba. In his next at-bat, LaRocca took matters into his own hands and fiery Tuffy came out.

“LaRocca hit a groundball to first base his next (Pitcher Naoyuki) Shimizu is covering first base,” Rhodes said. “LaRocca kind of gave him a cheap shot. I don’t know if he stepped on him, kind of like an elbow to the back, because they collided and pushed him down and all heck breaks loose.”

“Who’s batting next? Me. First pitch, inside. Shimizu’s a pretty damn good pitcher. He’s got some pretty good stuff. So I looked back at Satozaki and said to him in Japanese, ‘Remember, I’m not LaRocca.’ He’s down there. I kicked my dirt. I did not kick dirt on him. Then he stands up and says in Japanese, ‘Rhodes, I’m not scared of you.’”

“I thought, ‘That’s it,’ and I popped him right in the mouth. He’s lucky the umpire got hold of me from behind because I had him on the ground and I was going to punch him.”

Tuffy had his seventh 40-home run season in 2008 but broke a finger in May 2009, played in a career-low 84 games (with a .985 OPS). But the sides couldn’t agree on a contract for 2010.

No further calls came until he was asked to be a player-coach in 2015 for the Toyama Thunderbirds of the independent BC League. They wanted him back for 2016 but he was closing a deal on his home in Arizona and things didn’t fall into place.

Although he seems unconcerned about whether he’ll get into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame, you get the sense that is one thing that would bring him back to Japan.

But there is another way we might see Rhodes back here where he became Tuffy to a nation of baseball fans and his record eight ejections are just part of his big picture.

“I would love to coach in Japan. That’s the only goal that I want,” he said.

Alex Ramirez, the flexible manager

DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, like pretty much any ballplayer you talk to, has a huge bag of cliches and simple rules to explain how to prepare for and play baseball games in the form of expressions “you always want to…” or “you never…”

But when you get past the superficial sound bites that come from being a former big leaguer, you get a guy who is always on the lookout for the next thing that might work.

On Sunday, Ramirez said he was open to using a reliever to break the first-inning ice for his starting pitchers as “openers.” If so, he would be Japan’s second manager to opt for that kind of a role following Nippon Ham’s Hideki Kuriyama.

Ramirez has long been used to getting flack in Japan. A lot of foreign players took exception to his choreographed home run celebrations that the fans loved, often saying, “If you don’t do that back home, don’t do that here.” To which Ramirez was fond of answering: “In case you hadn’t noticed we’re in Japan, not ‘back home.'”

As a manager, he has been criticized for batting his pitchers eighth, something which makes a ton of sense.

Having a batter who reaches base bat ninth means fewer RBIs from the No. 8 spot in exchange for more no-out, runner-on-base situations for the top of the order — something that will help you score a few extra runs a year.

Last year, when Ramirez had his best hitter, and Japan’s cleanup hitter, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo bat second, the old farts screamed, calling it an insult to Tsutsugo and Japan.

Last year, I tracked how each team’s starting pitchers did before and after facing their 19th batter in a game. Last season, when bullpen games were becoming very common, the BayStars were second-fewest in NPB with only 55 games in which a starter faced 19-plus batters, but it didn’t really help them.

From the 19th batter on in those 55 games, BayStars opponents had a .382 OBP, the 10th worst in NPB, and a .511 slugging average, worst of all 12 teams. The Fighters were the flip side of that. The pitchers who were allowed to go past 18 batters were really good, posting a .250 OBP and .196 SLUG.

Mind you, the Hiroshima Carp had 125 games in which their starters went through the opposing order more than two times while being nearly as good as the Fighters starters in those situations. But the Carp rotation — which led NPB with a .469 quality start percentage, was deep and the Fighters’ wasn’t.

The BayStars young starting corps has the chance to be an elite group, but Ramirez isn’t going to turn a blind eye to the possibility that using openers as part of a well-thought-out plan could help. Like the Fighters, the BayStars have a solid analytics team, and it would be no surprise to see DeNA improve their pitching and defense next season just because of Ramirez’s willingness to fly in the face of ignorant criticism and try the next thing.

Another argument for Rhodes

Rhodes won one MVP award, hit 464 home runs, drove in 1,269, scored 1,000, stole 87 bases. He led his league in home runs four times, in runs twice and in RBIs three times. He won seven Best Nine Awards but no Gold Gloves.

In a recent post, I used career value to compare Rhodes to other candidates and players. This time I’m going to look at career accomplishments, his honors, career totals and individual titles.

How do his accomplishments match up against the all-time greats?

Pretty well.

Rhodes is 13th in NPB career home runs. How many of the 20 players with 400-plus home runs are in the Hall of Fame?

One is active, one is not yet eligible, four (Rhodes, Hiroki Kokubo, Takeshi Yamasaki and Norihiro Nakamura) are currently on the players ballot, one (Koichi Tabuchi) is on the experts ballot. One (Kazuhiro Kiyohara) is not on the ballot because of his drug conviction, while Masahiro Doi somehow slipped through the cracks. The other 11 are all in.

Rhodes is 21st all-time in RBIs. How many of the 24 with 1,200-plus are in the Hall?

Thirteen are currently in the Hall, while four others have gotten past the players division without being elected — one of whom is now on the experts ballot. Two are not yet eligible, while five are currently on the players ballot: Rhodes, Nakamura, Kokubo, Yamasaki and Alex Ramirez.

Rhodes is 24th in runs scored. Of the 23 players with more runs, how many are in the Hall?

One, Michihiro Ogasawara, is not yet eligible, while three have been passed over. Rhodes and Takuro Ishii are on the players ballot, while Isao Shibata is on the experts ballot. Sixteen of the 24 are in.

Rhodes is a four-time home run champ. How many three-time winners are in?

Five of the 11 three-time champs are in, while two of the remaining six are on the experts ballot. Koji Yamamoto is the other four-time champ and he is in. Ever eligible player with five or more home run titles is in the Hall.

Nine players who have been eligible for Hall of Fame induction have led their league in RBIs exactly three times like Rhodes.

In addition to Rhodes, two are on the experts ballot, while one has been passed over. Five are currently in the Hall of Fame.

Tuffy was the Pacific League’s 2001 MVP. How many on the players division ballot had more?

Three. In addition to Rhodes, Kenji Jojima won one, and Alex Ramirez won two. The only former two-time MVP who isn’t in the Hall of Fame is Yutaka Enatsu, who was busted for drugs. That’s a good sign for Ramirez as well as future candidates Yu Darvish, Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Michihiro Ogasawara. One MVP award is just another accomplishment.

Rhodes won seven Best Nine Awards.

Six of the 13 seven-time winners are in the Hall. Two are on the experts ballot. Four have been passed over.

Rhodes led his league in an offensive category 18 times. How many of the 19 players who have led in 16 or more categories are in the Hall?

So far, 19 players have done this. Two, Nobuhiko Matsunaka (17) and Ichiro Suzuki (1.5 gazillion), are not yet eligible. Rhodes is the only player who has ever been eligible for the Hall of Fame who has yet to be elected.

Adjusting for career length

Because Rhodes played only 14 seasons, it might be worth some time comparing him to what each of Japan’s best players produced in the 14-season span in which he had the most plate appearances. Rhodes had 7,340 career plate appearances. The most of any player in any 14-year stretch was Tomoaki Kanemoto’s 8,470 so we’re talking about a reasonably level playing field.

After Kazuyoshi Tatsunami was elected to the Hall a year ago, the next two position players ranked in order of the percentage of ballots they were on, were shortstops Masahiro Kawai and Shinya Miyamoto. During their best 14 seasons, the pair’s combined win shares for those 28 seasons: 290.8. Rhodes’ total for his Japan career was 298.

Both Kawai and Miyamoto were good players, and Miyamoto was a good player for a long, long time. But anyone who thinks they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, while Tuffy Rhodes doesn’t, needs to account for his or her lack of judgement.

In that group, Rhodes ranks 18th in win shares, third in home runs with 406 behind Sadaharu Oh’s 653 and Katsuya Nomura’s 466, eighth in RBIs with 1,275, 10th in runs scored, ninth in walks.

Rhodes never won a Golden Glove, but he did play center field for most of his career in Japan and few of the players who rank ahead of him had a ton of defensive value with the exception of Nomura.

The kotatsu league: Tigers sign minor league righty Gunkel

A day after they concluded a contract for 2020 with lefty Onelki Garcia, the Hanshin Tigers announced they have added Miami Marlins minor league right-hander Joe Gunkel.

The 27-year-old comes out of the Marlins organization. In four Triple-A seasons, Gunkel posted a 3.77 ERA. He struck out 6.23 batters per nine innings while walking 1.19 and allowing a little more than one home run per nine.

In a statement released by the Tigers, Gunkel said he was excited to be playing in Japan after hearing how good Japanese baseball was from former teammate and Yakult Swallows reliever Scott McGough.

Japanese-only free agency needs a 2nd look

Number magazine’s website “Number Web” posed an interesting question that speaks to the heart of one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s paradoxes — how come teams losing top foreign stars to another NPB club cannot receive compensation?

The answer is of course that foreign-registered players, unlike Japanese, cannot be reserved unless they agree to a contract for the following season. They are in essence free agents the minute their contractual obligation to a team ends. The Number Web article uses Wladimir Balentien‘s impending move to the three-time Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks as an example because — according to NPB’s silliest rule — he has acquired the right to file for free agency.

Thus, one could argue that the Yakult Swallows, for whom he played nine seasons, are losing a free agent but receiving zip in return. But using Balentien as an example is ridiculous. What about Onelki Garcia? He went 13-9 for the Chunichi Dragons in 2018 on a one-year deal and then decided to split to the Hanshin Tigers when Chunichi wanted to re-sign him.

Heck, the Yomiuri Giants’ back-to-back 2008 and 2009 pennants were built on the backs of stealing players the Swallows had scouted and signed. Pitchers Seth Greisinger went 30-15 over those two seasons, while Dicky Gonzalez was 15-2 in 2009 — the year he moved to Yomiuri from Yakult. Left fielder Alex Ramirez moved four stops down the Chuo Line to Tokyo Dome and won back-to-back Central League MVP Awards.

The Swallows response to the talent drain was to begin offering lucrative long-term contracts, starting with Balentien, reliever Tony Barnette and outfielder Lastings Milledge. The latter deal didn’t pan out, but the contracts for Balentien and Barnette were instrumental in Yakult’s 2015 pennant.

Free agency was the baby of the Yomiuri Giants — a plan for Japan’s most prestigious team to snap up as much previously unavailable talent as possible. But this winter, Giants Hall of Fame manager Tatsunori Hara has railed against compensation that annually costs his club a player here and a player there.

Since the Giants are the biggest talent poachers in NPB, they would likely dig in their heels at the thought of having to shell out even more for foreign talent just because it’s easier to get Japan-ready talent from the Swallows than it is to actually find it yourself.

Love in his heart and fight on his mind

Escobar
Edwin Escobar said his job is about love, respect, and confidence.

On Monday, I made it out to Yokohama to talk with DeNA BayStars lefty Edwin Escobar. In his third NPB season, Escobar was misfiring with the Nippon Ham Fighters, whom he joined after the start of spring training in 2017. He joined the Central League’s BayStars midway through the season, where he teamed up with another native of Venezuela, manager Alex Cabrera.

Since then Escobar, who pitched in 25 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2016, has hit his stride in Yokohama as one of Ramirez’s favorite relief options in the seventh and eighth inning.

In the first stage of the CL playoffs, Escobar was hammered and took the loss in Game 1 on Saturday, but saved the day on Sunday, when he preserved a one-run lead in the seventh inning after coming on with two on and one out.

In our chat, Escobar talks about the process of coming back from a bad outing and how he prepares in the bullpen. I hope you enjoy it.

BayStars pitch Edwin Escobar prior to Game 3 of 2019 CLCS first stage at Yokohama Stadium.

NPB games, news of Oct. 7, 2019

And it’s on to the final stages in each league as the PL’s third-place club, the Rakuten Eagles, and the CL’s second-place DeNA BayStars seeing their seasons end.

Each league’s Climax Series final stage starts on Wednesday in the Kanto area at the home of the league champs, the CL’s Yomiuri Giants and the PL’s Seibu Lions, who enter the ostensibly best-of-seven, six-game series with a one-win advantage. For the second-straight day, both playoff games finished with the same score.

Tigers 2, BayStars 1

At Yokohama Stadium, Hanshin advanced to the final stage for the first time since 2014, when their 39-year-old closer Kyuji Fujikawa recorded a two-out save in a steady rain to end the season for manager Alex Ramirez’s DeNA BayStars.

For the second time in the series, the Tigers scored the winning run off lefty reliever Edwin Escobar again, although it was a tougher slog then in Game 1, when Escobar said, “that wasn’t me on the mound.”

—Here’s my chat with Escobar prior to Game 3.

With the game tied 1-1 in the eighth, a hit batsman, a stolen base by pinch-runner Kai Ueda, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly put Hanshin in front after former closer Rafael Dolis pitched out of a one-out, bases-loaded pickle in the seventh.

“I’d decided I was going to take off on the first pitch,” Ueda said. “I was out yesterday (trying to steal), but you want to get them back after they get you.”

Thirty-nine-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa, who in the second half has been reprising his role as Hanshin closer he held down pre-Tommy John and MLB from 2007 to 2012, retired the BayStars in order in the eighth. Pitching more than an inning for the second time this season, Fujikawa struck out captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, walked cleanup hitter and former Mariner Jose Lopez, before getting an infield fly.

After asking the ground crew to repair the mound due to the rain, Fujikawa faced Sunday’s sayonara hero, Tomo Otosaka, who was unable to replicate his two-run pinch-hit homer that won Game 2, tapping back to the mound.

Here’s my recent interview with Fujikawa for Kyodo News.

The two-inning save was the seventh of Fujikawa’s career and his first since Sept. 7, 2010.

“It was a very good game, all the way to the end We tried our best all the way with our best guys out there. Nothing to be ashamed of,” manager Ramirez said.

“We like to thank the fans for all their support. It couldn’t have been better. We did our best and they did their best. It was like a family. From now it’s only going to get better.”

The Tigers now head to Tokyo Dome, where they swept the league champion Giants in the 2014 final stage to advance to the Japan Series.

The game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 2, Eagles 1

At Yafuoku Dome, Seiichi Uchikawa drove in both runs for SoftBank in its first-stage-clinching victory over Rakuten, whose run came on Hideto Asamura’s fourth home run of the three-game series.

Uchikawa, one of only two players to lead both of Japan’s leagues in batting average and the first player in his prime to move from the Central League to the Pacific, further cemented his legacy as the key player in the Hawks’ second dynasty in Fukuoka.

The 37-year-old tied it 1-1 when he followed two-out singles from Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial with one of his own. He led off the seventh with a homer off Sung Chia-hao.

Side-armer Rei Takahashi got the win after allowing a run on four hits, two walks, and a hit batsman through 5-1/3 innings. With one out and two on in the sixth, reliever Jumpei Takahashi got Jabari Blash to ground into a double play to keep the game tied.

The next stop for the Hawks will be MetLIfe Dome. The Hawks are aiming to win three-straight Japan Series for the first time in franchise history. The Hawks won back-to-back series in 2014 and 2015 in addition to their past two years.

The game highlights are HERE.

Ramirez to stay, Tsutsugo ‘tsu go’

The last two years, there have been reports about the future of manager Alex Ramirez’s tenure as skipper of the Central League’s DeNA BayStars, but according to various reports, the team has decided to extend the former big leaguer’s stay in Yokohama after the franchise’s second-place finish. The club hadn’t finished that high since its 1998 CL and Japan Series championship.

Next season will be Ramirez’s fifth with the club, although a Japanese citizen, he is

The team’s chief executive also said that left fielder and team captain Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will be allowed to move to a major league club via the posting system.

There’s a brief look at Tsutsugo on my “Guess who’s coming to dinner” page.

“We’ve spoken at length about it (after the end of the regular season), and I’d like to let him realize the dream he’s held since he was little,” said Kazuaki Mihara, the club’s official representative to NPB.

Fighters skipper Kuriyama agrees to 1-year extension

Hideki Kuriyama, who reportedly told the Nippon Ham Fighters he’d like to step down after finishing below .500 for the second time in three years and watching his club collapse after pulling within a half-game of the Pacific League lead, has agreed to a one-year extension through next season.

The 58-year former outfielder, TV analyst and university lecturer, won the PL pennant in 2012, his rookie managing year, and captured the league and Japan Series championships in 2016 — when Shohei Ohtani was named the PL’s MVP, Best Pitcher, and Best Designated Hitter. Kuriyama has said it was his idea to offer Ohtani a chance to both hit and pitch as a pro.

This season, he adopted the use of a “short starter” a pitcher who would go through the opposing lineup either once or twice, and also experimented with various shifts, most noticeably against Orix Buffaloes left-handed slugger Masataka Yoshida. In the second half, he further experimented with an opener, using reliever Mizuki Hori successfully in that role.

When a team source revealed Kuriyama had informed the team he wished to step down, the same source said the team did not consider the team’s poor results a reflection of his managing effort.

The Fighters went into the season with most of their foreign-player capital invested in pitchers, but the quartet of Nick Martinez, Bryan Rodriguez, Johnny Barbato, and Justin Hancock pitched a total of 130-1/3 innings.

Giants meet with high school star Sasaki

Officials of the Yomiuri Giants spent 30 minutes on Monday meeting with hard-throwing right-hander Roki Sasaki, laying out their development plans as they try to encourage the youngster to sign away the next nine-plus years of his baseball life to a club that will not allow him to move to the major leagues.

NPB games, news of Oct. 5, 2019

Playoff baseball is underway in Japan, or rather the unfortunately named Climax Series — which represents the climax of nothing — is underway.

The rules are relatively simple. The home team wins all series that are tied. The first stage is a best-of-three set, with each league’s second-place team hosting all games against the third-place team. The final stage is a best-of-seven series in which the league champions host every game and begin with a one-win advantage.

On Saturday, both hosts lost meaning they are one loss or two 12-inning ties away from elimination.

Tigers 8, BayStars 7

At Yokohama Stadium, DeNA hosted its first Climax Series games, the format having started in 2007 and both times the BayStars have reached the postseason since then, they have finished third and had to play all their games on the road.

The BayStars, managed by former major leaguer Alex Ramirez, opted not to bring closer Yasuaki Yamasaki in with two outs in the eighth inning. Fumiya Hojo, who had hit a three-run homer in the seventh off Edwin Escobar, tripled in two runs off Yuki Kuniyoshi to put Hanshin up for good.

Kenta Ishida, who had been coming out of the bullpen for much of the second half, started and went four innings before ace southpaw Shota Imanaga pitched two innings for the BayStars. Edison Barrios inherited a 7-1 lead. He surrendered a one-out double and an RBI pinch-hit single from rookie Seiya Kinami.

Escobar took over and gave up an infield single before Hojo took him deep, hammering a high straight fastball well back into the left field stands.

In the eighth, Kuniyoshi left a lazy cutter up in the zone and with the outfield playing in as Japanese teams do to prevent the runner from second scoring on a single, Hojo’s little liner just got over center fielder Kazuki Kamizato’s head for a triple.

“It was a very good game up until that point (when Barrios entered). ” Ramirez said. “Unfortunately, 7-1 until that point, and then Barrios and Escobar gave up a couple for runs. They kept the momentum and kept coming back.”

“I think there was no regret about how I used the pitchers today. That happens. They hit and sometimes they don’t hit. That’s part of the game.”

“To win two more games, we have to win tomorrow. So first tomorrow and we have to just focus on the next game and win tomorrow.”

Tomorrow will see Haruhiro Hamaguchi start for the BayStars against Koyo Aoyagi.

The Tigers’ seven-game win streak is their longest of the year.

Game highlights are HERE.

Eagles 5, Hawks 3

At Yafuoka Dome, Takahiro Norimoto outpitched Kodai Senga and Rakuten regained the lead on its fourth solo homer of the game and manufactured an insurance run in the ninth with the help of some defensive mistakes by SoftBank.

In the third postseason series between the two clubs, the Eagles have yet to lose either a Game 1 or 2, which could prove problematic for the Hawks if that trend continues on Sunday.

Rick van den Hurk has been announced as the Hawks’ Game 2 starter, while Manabu Mima is set to start for the Eagles.

Game highlights are HERE.