Yomiuri Giants owner Toshikazu Yamaguchi said the Central League club will not expand admissions limits in August beyond the current 5,000 the Yomiuri Shimbun reported Monday.
The government had given event promoters the OK to admit up to around half a venue’s capacity from Aug. 1, but on Saturday, the government’s Minister for Economic Revitalization, Yasutoshi Nishimura asked promoters to reconsider in light of recent increases in confirmed COVID-19 infections.
“At this time, infections are increasing and Tokyo is at the center of that,” Yamaguchi said. “In line with government guidance we had aimed to bring in 19,000 more or less, but I can’t imagine doing that soon.”
The same day, Yamaguchi announced a 10 billion yen ($9 million) investment to make Tokyo Dome safer in a world with coronavirus, with the first improvements, more washbasins and women’s toilets to be ready for the park to host fans for the first time this year on July 28.
The Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks announced Monday that their two Cuban outfielders, Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial, have arrived in Fukuoka and have tested negative for the coronavirus.
The pair had been in Cuba this spring to prepare for their nation’s World Baseball Classic qualifiers, and were stranded there after the qualifiers were canceled and exit and entry restrictions imposed.
Eagles’ drop Kishi, Dragons drop Hirata
Following his third poor start of the season, the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles deactivated veteran right-hander Takayuki Kishi on Monday, while the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons have also dropped one of their stars, outfielder Ryosuke Hirata, due to his poor performance.
The 35-year-old Kishi is 1-0 but has allowed 10 runs over 12-1/3 innings. Sports Bull quoted Eagles pitching coach Tomohito Ito as saying, “He really isn’t getting results, so one would think there is a physical issue. He’s a player we absolutely need. Having said that, we’ve only just started, so we want him to diligently get back to where he needs to be and rejoin the team.”
The 32-year-old Hirata, one of the Dragons’ most reliable hitters and consistently one of the CL’s best outfield defenders, was deactivated in the hope that he can regain his batting form with the farm team after starting the season with a .164 batting average in 73 plate appearances.
Rakuten vows to eject cheating fans
On Sunday, the Rakuten Eagles responded to complaints from Seibu Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji that a fan seated behind home plate was shouting where his catcher, Tomoya Mori, was setting up during the home team’s at-bats on Saturday.
Prior to Sunday’s game against the Lions at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, announcements were made and extra security was posted in the stands, Jiji Press reported.
Hiroshi Abei, the Eagles’ director of baseball operations, said, “In order to prevent similar acts from occurring…fans acting in that manner will be removed from the ballpark.”
A similar issue occurred just after Opening Day when games were being played behind closed doors, and players on the field at Jingu Stadium could hear broadcasters talking about where the catchers were setting up.
Even though up to 5,000 fans are being admitted to games, they have been prohibited from speaking loudly, chanting or cheering, so that individuals who do speak up can clearly be heard.
Sixth-inning home runs by Hotaka Yamakawa and Takeya Nakamura lifted the Seibu Lions to a 4-3 win over the Rakuten Eagles on Saturday afternoon.
In a matchup between two pitchers who depend on mixing their pitches and changing speeds, Eagles lefty Takahiro Shiomi (1-3) got away with his early location issues in a 1-2-3 first inning, but Lions starter Wataru Matsumoto (1-2) didn’t.
The Lions’ right-hander surrendered two first-inning home runs, and the Lions trailing 3-0 for the first five innings didn’t catch up until too many pitches in the middle of the strike zone caught up with Shiomi.
Eigoro Mogi got the Pacific League leaders off to a solid start at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
The leadoff man reached the seats on a 2-0 fastball in the heart of the zone. With one out, Jabari Blash singled off a 3-2 cutter that missed up. Matsumoto popped up the toughest hitter in the Eagles lineup, Hideto Asamura, but Hiroaki Shimauchi got a mistake and didn’t miss.
Matsumoto’s first-pitch, an 87 mph fastball in the heart of the zone, was running away from Shimauchi, but the left-handed hitter got all of it and drove it into the right field stands for a 3-0 lead.
Matsumoto got away with another bad miss in the middle of the zone to Stefen Romero, who grounded out to end the inning.
Shiomi who looked to have conquered his poor location at the end of the first, went back to making dangerous mistakes in the second but again got away with murder. With one out and Tomoya Mori on second from a double. The lefty hung a 2-0 curve in the heart of the zone that Takumi Kuriyama watched for a strike before having a word with himself for the missed opportunity. Kuriyama walked but Shiomi threw three good pitches to Cory Spangenberg to keep the Lions off the board.
The Eagles got a beachhead on the bases in the third with a gritty leadoff walk from Daichi Suzuki, but Matsumoto got out of the inning when Hideto Asamura grounded a tough pitch up the middle to second baseman Shuta Tonosaki, who started a nifty double play with a flip to shortstop Sosuke Genda.
The double play combo set the table for the Lions in the sixth with back-to-back groundball singles.
Genda opened by smacking a high first-pitch splitter between first and second for a single. Tonosaki, who’d made two outs seeing nothing but the lefty’s splitters, fouled off two good ones and took one in the dirt to run the count 2-2. Shiomi switched to inside fastballs and eventually throw one down the middle. Tonosaki didn’t put a good swing on it but a good bounce got it through the infield.
With no outs and runners on the corners, Yamakawa got all of a first-pitch fastball and just missed hitting the park’s left field merry-go-round on a hop with his eighth home run.
Nakamura, who missed a high splitter en route to a 3-2 count, didn’t miss the second one he saw up in the zone. A six-time PL home run champ, Nakamura broke the 3-3 tie with his third home run of the season.
With the lead in hand, Katsunori Hirai came out of the bullpen in the bottom of the sixth and worked around a two-out single. Rookie Tetsu Miyagawa surrendered a one-out double to Mogi, but retired the persistent Suzuki for the second out.
With Blash and Asamura waiting in the wings, Lions skipper Hatsuhiko Tsuji turned the ball over to new import Reed Garrett, who has been rock solid in late relief.
Garrett retired Blash to strand Mogi. His 1-2-3 eighth, and that of closer Tatsushi Masuda closed it out, with Masuda earning his seventh save.
Matsumoto, who ended the Eagles fifth with Suzuki on base by retiring Asamura for the third time, allowed three runs on two walks and six hits.
Shiomi left after 5-2/3 having allowed four runs on nine hits and a walk. He struck out two. J. T. Chargois stranded a runner in the sixth and worked around two seventh-inning walks.
Right-hander Tohomhito Sakai worked the eighth for the Eagles, while former Lion and San Diego Padre submariner Kazuhisa Makita worked a scoreless ninth.
Lions accuse Eagles fans of cheating
Seibu Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji on Saturday discovered another problem related to the coronavirus, an opportunity for fans to give the home team an unfair advantage.
Tsuji told umpires during the Lions’ game in Sendai that someone in the stands was giving away where Lions catcher Tomoya Mori was setting up before pitches during the at-bats of the hometown Rakuten Eagles, the Nikkan Sports reported.
In response, home plate umpire Tetsuo Yamaji issued a warning to fans and the Eagles posted extra security behind home plate. With fans forbidden to shout or cheer and only 5,000 fans allowed into games this month on account of the novel coronavirus pandemic, voices can easily be heard in what otherwise would be a constant wall of sound as each team’s cheering sections blast out chants accompanied by horns and drums.
“The batter can hear that, really,” Tsuji said after the game. “This is no different than sign stealing. I think this is going to be a problem no matter what ballpark you’re at.”
Yanagita’s monster blast boosts Hawks
The SoftBank Hawks earned a tight 2-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes on Saturday after Yuki Yanagita opened the scoring with the most impressive home run of Japan’s young season.
With Hawks right-handerShuta Ishikawa (3-0) and Buffaloes lefty Daiki Tajima locked up in a scoreless pitchers’ duel through five innings, Yanagita broke the tie with two outs in the sixth.
The lefty served up an 86 mph center-cut running fastball that the left-handed hitter leaned into and got all of. The blast hit the light ring where the stadium ceiling meets the roof over the upper deck in right field and dropped to the field.
The Hawks scored an insurance run against Tajima in the seventh before Buffaloes catcher Kenya Wakatsuki homered off submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi in the bottom of the inning.
Orix’s Tyler Higgins worked a scoreless ninth, but Hawks closer Yuito Mori retired the heart of the Buffaloes order 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning to record his fourth save.
Marines overcome lapses to crush Fighters
Right-hander Atsuki Taneichi surrendered two solo home runs, but those proved to be the only two points of light in an otherwise dark day for the Nippon Ham Fighters in a 5-2 loss to the Lotte Marines at Sapporo Dome.
The visitors took a one-run lead in the first. Takashi Ogino reached on a leadoff infield single, went to third on an errant pickoff throw from Fighters lefty Takayuki Kato and scored on a Ikuhiro Kiyota double.
Toshitake Yoko and Ryo Watanabe hit second-inning home runs for the Fighters, and Kato pitched out of a one-out jam in the third, but that proved to be the end of the Nippon Ham highlight reel.
A leadoff single in the third gave the Fighters an opportunity to pad their lead against Taneichi. Instead, their final hit of the game set up the first of three double plays they would ground into.
Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama went to his second pitcher, former Cleveland Indians farm hand Toru Murata (0-1), but the right-hander was ineffective.
A hit batsman, a Shogo Nakamura double and a sac fly from Hisanori Yasuda tied it. After a one-out walk, reserve catcher Tomoya Kakinuma doubled in two runs. Yasuda added a seventh-inning homer to complete the scoring.
Taneichi (2-1) allowed three hits and two walks while striking out three over seven innings. Frank Herrmann worked the eighth for the Marines, while Naoya Masuda earned his eighth save.
Giants’ Sanchez stops BayStars
Angel Sanchez (3-2) spun eight easy scoreless innings before allowing two runs in the ninth in the Yomiuri Giants’ 4-2 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium.
No-out singles in the second by a rejuvenated Hiroyuki Nakajima and Zelous Wheeler set the table for a three-run inning against BayStars lefty Shota Imanaga (2-2) .
Lefty Kota Nakagawa, who saved 16 games last season as the Giants’ closer before the acquisition of Rubby De La Rosa, worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth to record his first save.
Nishi goes distance to slay Dragons
Yuki Nishi (2-1), who since 2017 has had the worst average run support among any Japanese starting pitcher, threw five scoreless innings before suddenly presented with an eight-run lead, promptly allowed three.
The right-hander struck out seven over the distance and drove in a run with a squeeze in the Tigers’ 8-3 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien Stadium.
Nishi: ‘A player’s got to play’
Pitcher Yuki Nishi was as they say, “as motivated as ever” on Saturday, three days after one of Japan’s scandal-filled weekly magazines published an account of his extramarital indulgences with a Tigers fan in Mie Prefecture while Japan was in a state of emergency, Kyodo News reported in Japanese.
“At this critical time, I became a nuisance,” he said in his postgame hero interview at Koshien Stadium. “I think I need to make it up through my play.”
The Tigers have one of the largest followings in Japanese baseball.
What dreams are made of
One year, former captain Takashi Toritani was punished for inviting a female fan to his room during spring training. The team criticized him for not upholding his responsibility “to give hopes and dreams to the fans.”
Former Tigers coach Tom O’Malley said of the incident, “I was in the next room. He sounded like he was busy giving at least one fan a whole night’s worth of hopes and dreams.”
Ogawa improves to 4-0 with win over Carp
Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa allowed two runs over six innings to earn his Central League-best fourth win as the Yakult Swallows beat the Hiroshima Carp 9-4 at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Ogawa (4-0) scattered seven hits, two walks and a hit batsman while striking out four and singled in a run that briefly gave the Swallows a 2-1 lead in the second.
Yakult took the lead for good in the fifth. Tetsuto Yamada, back in the lineup for the first time in four days, doubled with one out in the fifth. Walks by Norichika Aoki and Munetaka Murakami, who scored twice and drove in three, loaded the bases.
Naoki Nishiura and Alcides Escobar followed with back-to-back RBI singles that put Yakult up 5-2.