Yuki Matsui and a quartet of relievers turned back the Lotte Marines in a 3-0 victory on Thursday to complete a three-game sweep of their closest Pacific League rivals.
The win lifted Rakuten to within 2-1/2 games of the second-place Marines, who trail the SoftBank Hawks by two games. The Marines remain nine games above .500 despite being outscored this season 344-360.
Matsui was yanked after needing his 114th pitch to notch his 12th strikeout and leave the bases loaded in the fifth inning at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Matsui, who saved 30-plus games in four of the last five seasons, improved to 3-3 as a starter. He gave up five hits and had trouble getting some close calls as he walked four.
Reserve catcher Takahiro Shimotsuma opened the scoring with his first career homer and Eigoro Mogi singled in runs in the third and fifth off Daiki Iwashita (5-6), who also went five for the Marines.
After four homers over the first two games in Sendai, Hideto Asamura failed to reach the seats but reached base three times to contribute to two of the Eagles runs.
Kanji Teraoka worked the sixth for the Eagles, D.J. “Bearded Thunder” Johnson the seventh, Tomohito Sakai the eighth, and Alan Busenitz the ninth, when he earned his 15th save.
It was a tough night for the Marines’ Leonys Martin, who after striking out for the fourth time, was hit by Busenitz in the ninth, raising his Japan-leading hit-by-pitch total to 14, leaving him in pole position to join a fairly large club of imported players who lead their league in being hit with baseballs.
No broom at the inn for Buffaloes
The Orix Buffaloes came within one pitch of sweeping the league-leading SoftBank Hawks on Thursday, only for Akira Nakamura to put a good swing on a hanging 2-1 curve for a game-tying two-run homer as the teams played to a 3-3, 10-inning tie at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
Moments after the Buffaloes took a 3-1 lead against Yutaka Wada in the top of the fifth, Nakamura evened things up. Orix starter Chang Yi, whose cousin Yang Yao-hsun used to pitch for SoftBank, fell behind Nakamura with two outs and a man on in the fifth. The home run was Nakamura’s sixth of the season.
Yurisbel Gracial opened the scoring in the second with his eighth home run, only for Orix’s Aderlin Rodriguez to tie it in the sixth with his fourth homer.
Wada gave away the lead after a scratch single, a wild pitch, a walk. Kenya Wakatsuki doubled beyond the reach of Gracial to make it a 2-1 game. The drawn in infield failed to prevent the runner on third from scoring, but a diving stop by shortstop Taisei Makihara robbed Ryo Ota of a single and Wada was able to get out of the inning trailing by two.
The real highlight of the game was an electric inning by Hawks lefty Livan Moinelo in the eighth. He overpowered Rodriguez on four fastballs. Masataka Yoshida was able to foul off his hard stuff, but was looking fastball and watched helplessly as a 3-2 curve floated through the zone. Steven Moya grounded out on four pitches to end it.
Uehara shuts down Lions
Nippon Ham Fighters lefty Kenta Uehara (1-1) allowed two runs over seven innings while striking out nine in a 12-2 butt kicking of the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome.
Lions right-hander Sho Ito (0-2) allowed four runs over 3-1/3 innings, and reliever Ken Togame was shelled for six runs in 1-1/3 innings.
Adam Jones homered twice, taking a bat to Tetsuya Utsumi’s hopes of winning his first game in two years, by driving in four runs in the Orix Buffaloes’ 5-2 Pacific League victory on Saturday afternoon.
Jones, who homered and drove in all of Orix’s runs on Friday, when they won their first game under acting skipper Satoshi Nakajima, broke open a scoreless pitching duel between the 38-year-old Utsumi (0-1) and unheralded 26-year-old Taiwan right-hander Chang Yi (1-1).
Chang, who went to school in Japan following in the footsteps of his cousin, Yang Dai-kang, joined Orix in 2017 on a non-roster developmental contract. Since he went to school here, he is still known by how the Chinese characters in his Mandarin name are read in Japanese “Cho Yaku.” After a tough start in his season debut nine days before, Chang’s fastball was crisp and hard for the Lions to handle.
The right-hander pitched out of jams in the third and fourth innings, and he left after allowing five hits, a walk and a hit batsman.
“Honestly, I was resigned to giving up runs (in the fourth inning), but even so I was going to fight them,” Chang said.
Nakajima, who has seen a lot of Chang during his time as the Buffaloes’ farm manager said Saturday’s performance is in line with his skill level.
“You saw what he does well,” Nakajima said. “He had late life on his fastball and attacked hitters. He had an elbow issue that delayed him getting to this point, but he’s going to contribute.”
Never a flame-thrower, Utsumi long thrived on precision and movement, getting foul strikes and soft contact. He retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced. With one out in the fourth, Buffaloes slugger Masataka Yoshida miss-hit a fastball and chopped it through the infield for a one-out single, Orix’s first hit.
Utsumi nearly got himself out of trouble, but instead set himself up for a fall. He fielded a one-hop comebacker but his uncatchable throw to second spoiled any chance for an out, let alone a double play. Utsumi’s next throw also missed by the smallest of margins, a first-pitch changeup to Jones just above the knees, that he lofted over the left-field wall.
“I just wanted in that situation to get a ball up and drive the runner in and I was fortunate enough to drive the ball out of the ballpark,” Jones said.
Seibu’s Takeya Nakamura, a six-time PL home run champ, hit his sixth of the year in the top of the sixth off reliever Keisuke Sawada.
Jones struck again in the sixth. With two outs and none on, Utsumi missed up just a little with a slider and Jones lined it into the second deck.
“The second one, that was a little more fun. I tried to be aggressive and not let the pitcher get ahead with a strike and just try to be aggressive in the zone. And I didn’t miss it at all,” Jones said.
After three home runs and seven RBIs in two games following a slow start to the season, Jones was asked the obligatory question about whether he was seeing the ball better or not.
‘I’ve been seeing the ball the same,” Jones said. “I am just trying to play the game the way I know how to play.”
“Our pitchers were terrific. Cho battled his butt off and gave us a great opportunity to win the game. And when the opportunity arose to drive some runners in, we did a good job.”
“Home runs are always fun to hit. The bench was going crazy. There’s been a lot of energy the last couple of days. We want to continue to play the game hard and have fun.”
The Lions added a run in the seventh against lefty Nobuyoshi Yamada, forcing setup man Tyler Higgins into the game with two outs and two on to preserve Orix’s lead. Nakamura lined a shot over short, but Koji Oshiro leaped to make a catch, end the inning and save at least a run.
After Higgins worked a scoreless eighth, defensive substitute Yuya Oda doubled in the Buffaloes’ fifth run. Oda, who made a big catch in the ninth on Friday, made another big play on Saturday.
After a Tomoya Mori single to lead off against closer Brandon Dickson, Hotaka Yamakawa drilled a liner to left that Oda short. Mori assumed the ball would be caught and was retreating to first when Oda forced him at second for 7-4 force. A double play followed and it was over.
It was a decent start for Utsumi, if not a winning one for the former ace of the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants. Utsumi joined Seibu after the 2018 season as part of the compensation package for the Giants signing free agent catcher Ginjiro Sumitani. The loss saw Utsumi’s career record against Orix to 2-3 with the previous four games coming in interleague play.
Ironically, Utsumi’s PL debut came against Orix, who drafted him first in 2000 out of high school. Utsumi turned them down out of desire to play for his grandfather’s old team, the Giants. After three seasons in corporate league ball, he turned pro with the Giants.
Yanagita puts on show against Marines
Yuki Yanagita hit a mammoth two-run homer to open the scoring and doubled in the tie-breaking run as the SoftBank Hawks moved back into a tie for first place in the Pacific League with the Lotte Marines, who they beat 3-2.
The camera’s at Zozo Marine Stadium were not prepared for the lunar launch trajectory of Yanagita’s 17th home run, and viewers on TV could only see it drop down and strike the top of the center-field fence, ostensibly after hitting high up on the scoreboard.
Akira Nakamura slashed a leadoff single in the eighth against Frank Herrmann (3-1) for his third hit of the game. Yanagita followed by finding the gap in left center for an RBI double.
Imamiya could be out for up to 2 months
SoftBank Hawks shortstop Kenta Imamiya is expected to miss between six to eight weeks due to a left calf injury. The club announced Saturday that an MRI revealed damage to the soleus muscle in his left leg.
Imamiya, a two-time Best Nine shortstop with five Golden Gloves, complained of pain in the leg on Aug. 19.
Arihara sharp again for Fighters
Nippon Ham Fighters ace Kohei Arihara (3-5) produced his second-straight solid start, allowing a run over six innings, while Sho Nakata homered and drove in three runs in a 5-1 over the Rakuten Eagles at Sapporo Dome.
Arihara gave up six singles and a walk while striking out six, and he quickly had three runs to work with after his teammates opened the scoring in the bottom of the first off Takahiro Shiomi (3-4).
Haruki Nishikawa’s single, the third straight to open the inning, made it 1-0, and Nakata followed with a two-run double. Shiomi allowed four runs over five innings, and Nakata hit his Japan-best 20th home run in the fifth.
Dragons rookie Rodriguez blots out ‘Stars
Cuban rookie Yariel Rodriguez improved to 2-0 in three impressive starts for the Chunichi Dragons, who beat the DeNA BayStars 5-0 at Nagoya Dome.
Rodriguez allowed two singles and two walks over six innings, while striking out just three batters over six innings. The 23-year-old, who is eligible for the Rookie of the Year Award, has now allowed three runs over 19-1/3 innings.
Dragons captain Shuhei Takahashi opened the scoring in the first against DeNA rookie Kosuke Sakaguchi (0-1) with a one-out bases-loaded single. Takahashi added a two-run home run in the fifth.
Osera goes 8 as Carp walk past Giants
Hiroshima Carp ace Daichi Osera (5-2) allowed two runs over eight innings in a 10-4 win over the Yomiuri Giants, who issued nine walks in the game at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Osera allowed former Carp teammate Yoshihiro Maru to tie it 1-1 in the second with his 12th home run.
But Giants starter Seishu Hatake (0-3) didn’t survive the third inning. He opened it by walking Osera, and by the time the dust had settled, six runs were in and 12 batters had come to the plate.
Israel Mota, who the Giants signed this year from their developmental roster, had his first hit in Japan, a two-run ninth-inning home run.
Tigers survive Swallows ambush
Robert Suarez got Norichika Aoki to fly out with two on and two outs in the ninth to nail down his ninth save as the Hanshin Tigers held on to beat the Yakult Swallows 7-5 at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Aoki, whose eighth-inning grand slam brought the Swallows within two runs. Facing Suarez, he did his best to elevate a low 1-0 pitch but his high fly to center was held up by a stiff wind and died at the warning track along with the Swallows’ chances of a come-from-behind win.
Yusuke Oyama belted a three-run first-inning homer off Matt Koch (0-1), who allowed six runs over four innings in his Japan debut for the Swallows.
Tigers starter Yuki Nishi (4-3) allowed a run over seven innings and doubled in a run in Hanshin’s three-run fourth inning only for relievers Yuya Nakao and Yuta Iwasada to let the hosts get back in the game.
Setup man Joe Gunkel allowed a hit and a walk before getting the final out in the inning and turning it over to Suarez in the ninth.
Kotaro Otake made a lot out of a little on Thursday as his low-velocity deliveries frustrated hitters and helped earn him the win in his belated season debut as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Orix Buffaloes 3-1 to remain in a tie for first place in the Pacific League.
Otake, who has been with the minor league squad since feeling stiffness in his left elbow in camp and was 4-0 in the Western League, allowed five hits and a walk while striking out three over 5-2/3 innings. Although it was an impressive effort, Otake got off to a rocky start.
In the first inning, he challenged leadoff hitter Tatsuya Yamaashi with a 1-0 fastball down the pipe. But it wasn’t a very good one, and the light-hitting reserve showed what a professional hitter can do when giving a cookie, driving it well back in PayPay Dome’s left-field stands for his third career home run.
But otherwise, the Buffaloes hitters struggled to time Otake’s speeds: slow, slower, and molasses, as he mixed his 136-kph (84.5 mph) fastball with a two-seamer, a changeup and a curve. His occasional high misses didn’t hurt him as much as they perhaps changed batters’ eye levels. The end result was a lot of soft contact. Orix didn’t hit anything reasonably hard until Jones doubled with two outs in the fourth.
The Hawks wasted two walks in the first inning against Taiwanese right-hander Chang Yi but made up for it in the second. Kenta Imamiya led off with his fifth home run, Takuya Kai walked with one out and scored on leadoff man Ukyo Shuto’s two-out triple. Akira Nakamura singled and scored an insurance run in the fifth after a Ryoya Kurihara single and a Kenji Akashi double.
Chang (0-1) allowed six hits and three walks over his five innings. The right-hander, a cousin of NPB veterans Yang Dai-kang and Yang Yao-hsun, was taken by the Buffaloes in the first round of the 2016 developmental draft out of Japan University of Economics.
Otake issued his only walk of the game in the sixth and after retiring slugging left-handed hitters Masataka Yoshida and Takahiro Okada, was pulled for a righty with Jones coming to the plate. Arata Shiino got out of the inning on five pitches, and Yugo Bando, Livan Moinelo and Yuito Mori finished up with a scoreless inning each. Mori earned his 12th save.
Eagles keep pace with win over Lions
Rookie Hiroto Kobukata reached base four times and scored three runs for the Rakuten Eagles in their 7-4 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo. The win kept the Eagles tied with the Hawks for the PL lead.
Former closer Yuki Matsui allowed three runs on six hits over three innings. He left the game with a 4-3 lead and right-hander Tomohito Sakai retired all six batters he faced over two innings to earn the win. Ryosuke Tatsumi broke a 1-1 tie in the third with his fifth home run, a leadoff shot off Lions rookie Kaito Yoza (2-4).
Yoza allowed four runs over 2-1/3 innings as the Lions needed eight pitchers to get them through the night.
J.T. Chargois worked a scoreless eighth for Rakuten, while submarine right-hander Kazuhisa Makita worked the ninth to earn his first save in Japan since he saved three in 2015 for the Lions.
Marines power past Fighters
Leonys Martin’s fifth home run in six games was one of three solo shot the Lotte Marines hit in a three-run fifth en route to overcoming a five-run deficit in their 8-5 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
After Tsuyoshi Sugano doubled home Seiya Inoue with the tying run in the sixth, Martin reached on an error in the seventh and scored the go-ahead run.
The Marines comeback made a winner out of Jose Flores (1-1). The 31-year-old right-hander from Venezuela spent 10 years in the minors with the Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants. The Marines acquired him from the Toyama Thunderbirds of Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge League.
Giants bang, bloop their way to comeback win
Yoshiyuki Kamei’s ninth-inning pinch-hit single lifted the Yomiuri Giants to a 4-3 walk-off win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
Lefty Cristopher Mercedes allowed three doubles and a walk in a three-run first, and spent his remaining five innings on the mound pitching with me on base but allowing no more runs.
The Giants closed within a run on back-to-back two-out solo homers in the fourth inning from Yoshihiro Maru and Hiroyuki Nakajima. The hosts tied it in the fifth on a two-out bloop RBI single by cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto. Swallows right-hander Hirotoshi Takanashi allowed three runs over six innings, and two relievers kept it tied until right-hander Yuma Oshita (0-1) allowed a leadoff single.
After a stolen base, Kamei pinch hit and got enough of the first pitch thrown by Scott McGough to hit a fly into shallow center that won it.
ToSpo pandering to the populists
There’s always some writer somewhere who’ll put a populist or racist spin on something they probably don’t understand. The Tokyo Sports used to have a pretty sordid reputation for writing the most loathsome stuff and one writer of theirs seems keen to resurrect that image when he wrote a story titled “Manager Hara spills the real truth behind Parra’s substitution.”
Hara pulled Gerardo Parra out of the game during the top of the sixth inning, and Tokyo Sports would like us to think because he was solely because he wasn’t hustling on a foul fly that dropped safely.
The manager said, “You saw what happened. It looked he was favoring his leg,” although the Tokyo Sports neglected to mention that last bit. Instead, it implied Parra was fit because no trainer came out and didn’t look hurt. They then reminded readers of the time when a Japanese star was not hustling and was sent home by Hara, implying that was the reason here.
The real truth is the thing that story wasn’t interested in when a pile of made-up shit made a better headline.
Yamada rejoins Swallows
Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada was activated on Thursday and practiced as usual with the team before their game against the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome, according to the Nikkan Sports.
He was deactivated on July 27, ostensibly due to lack of upper body fitness, whatever that means.
Despaigne, Gracial to start on farm
Big-hitting Cubans Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial practiced with the Hawks Western League farm team on Thursday, and are scheduled to play in Friday’s home WL game against the Hiroshima Carp, the Nishinihon Sports reports.
The pair had gone to Cuba train with the national team in March ahead of World Baseball Classic qualifying. After qualifying was canceled, they were unable to travel to Japan until Havana’s airport re-opened for international travel in July.
The two arrived in Japan last month despite Japan’s ban on foreign nationals entering the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. After they completed quarantine they were to train with the farm team until minor league operations were suspended after infections were discovered at the minor league facility. Instead, they traveled to Sendai last week and trained with the first team.
Tigers drop Fujikawa
The Hanshin Tigers have deactivated 40-year-old reliever Kyuji Fujikawa. According to the Hochi Shimbun, the move was made due to the dreaded “lack of upper body fitness” although the article specified the afflicted area to be the right side of his upper body.
Fujikawa, who converted every save opportunity he faced after being restored to the closer’s role last summer for the first time in seven seasons, has been largely ineffective this year. He was deactivated on July 12 due to right shoulder fitness.
I may have a new favorite player, Taiwan right-hander Chang Yi, a cousin of current Giants outfielder Yang Dai-kang. Taken by Orix as an outfielder out of the Japan University of Economics in the first round of the 2016 developmental draft, the Buffaloes asked him to begin pitching practice a year ago and like his cousin Yang Yao-hsun, Chang converted from the outfield to the mound.
Chang struck out 33 batters this spring in 41-1/3 Western League innings and was signed to a standard contract on May 2. The 25-year-old pitched twice in relief before making his starting debut on Thursday on a rainy night in Asahikawa, Hokkaido.
There, he retired the first 12 Fighters he faced before Kensuke Kondo singled into left under the glove of shortstop Ryoichi Adachi. After five scoreless innings, Kotaro Kiyomiya homered off him. Chang finished allowing two hits, no walks and one run, while striking out six.
“I was able to concentrate on each batter and one pitcher at a time,” said Chang, who had good command of his fastball, curve and splitter.
“On the farm, it also happened that I’d give up hits in the sixth inning, so I didn’t let it bother me and just pitched. I was (more) nervous when I pitched before in middle relief. Of course, I was nervous here, but I was able to focus on executing my pitches and enjoying myself.”
Asked whether Hokkaido — where his cousin Yang Dai-kang played for many years would be special to him, Chang said, “Yes. I am so lucky I followed my cousin to Japan.”
Buffaloes 5, Fighters 2
At Asahikawa Starffin Stadium, Stefen Romero opened the scoring in the first with an RBI single led off the fourth with a home run before Steven Moya followed with his fifth since joining Orix in July as the Buffaloes completed a three-game sweep of Nippon Ham behind Chang Yi’s marvelous starting debut.
At Zozo Marine Stadium, Kenta Imamiya hit the second of three SoftBank home runs, a three-run, pinch-hit shot that overturned a 3-1 deficit in a win over Lotte that prevented a three-game sweep in Chiba.
At Omiya Stadium, Hideto Asamura drove in two runs in regulation, and had two extra-inning sacrifice flies as Rakuten scored four 11th-inning runs on four walks, an error, a hit batsman and a sac fly to beat Seibu, which twice came from behind to tie it.
Kyle Martin (2-5) took the loss in the painful 11th inning, while 39-year-old Yuya Kubo earned the win in relief.
At Mazda Stadium, Xavier Batista surpassed last year’s career high in home runs with his 26th, a three-run shot, and Yusuke Nomura (6-3) won his third-straight start since returning from the farm on July 25 as Hiroshima closed to within a half-game of second-place DeNA.
Giants 3, Dragons 3, 12 innings
At Nagoya Dome, Zoilo Almonte drove in all three Chunichi runs with a two-out, sixth-inning single, and a two-out, eighth-inning double, and neither team managed to score after that in a game that was called after 12 innings. Kazuma Okamoto hit a two-run homer for Yomiuri, his 19th of the season.
Tigers 5, Swallows 3
At Jingu Stadium, Yakult’s Hiroki Yamada (4-1) failed to pitch out of his second jam of the game, allowing three runs, two earned, in the fifth inning as the 31-year-old failed to notch the first five-start winning streak of his career as Hanshin came from behind.
Rookie Koji Chikamoto put the game out of reach in the ninth inning with a two-run home run, and Kyuji Fujikawa struck out three batters after surrendering a leadoff homer in the bottom of the inning to record his fifth straight save.
BayStars likely lose Miyazaki for season
The DeNA BayStars deactivated third baseman and 2017 CL batting champion and two-time Best Nine-winning third baseman Toshiro Miyazaki on Thursday with a broken hamate bone in his left wrist that will require surgery and likely keep him from returning this season.
Miyazaki struggled out of the gate this season. He’s currently batting .279 for the season, but .320 since May 1. Last week, he said he was flying open too quickly and unable to stay back on break pitches like usual. In the middle of April, he turned to the trackman and video data and discovered his head was a few centimeters farther forward than it had been, throwing his swing off balance.
Igarashi pitches in 900th top-level game
Forty-year-old Yakult Swallows reliever Ryota Igarashi pitched in the 900th game of his career on Thursday — a total that includes 83 in the major leagues, mostly spent with the New York Mets.
He’s the third Japanese pitcher with 900 games under his belt, after one Hall of Fame lefty, Masaichi Kaneda, and one future Hall of Fame lefty, Hitoki Iwase.