Tag Archives: Chunichi Dragons

NPB 2020 7-4 GAMES AND NEWS

Sunday’s announced starting pitchers in NPB.

Wada gets assist from Fighters in 1st win

Former Cub Tsuyoshi Wada took a no-hitter into the seventh and ended up with his first win of the season as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 8-3 at Sapporo Dome.

The 39-year-old lefty frequently missed in the zone, but the Fighters only hit two balls hard off him through six, both drives straight to Hawks outfielders. Instead of playing “see the ball, hit the ball” against a pitcher whose fastball sat at 85 miles per hour, they guessed and watched and looked and waited.

Wada’s changeup was first rate, and it was if the Fighters were waiting for him to throw it up in the zone, something he refused to do. Instead, whenever they got a fastball up they either watched it, missed it or miss-hit it. He surrendered his first hit to Kensuke Kondo to open the seventh.

The Fighters’ most patient hitter had taken strike after strike in the zone in his first two at-bats, and should have been rung up on a low 0-2 changeup. But umpires are umpires the world over, Kondo got a second life and pulled an inside 1-2 fastball between first and second for a single.

In the seventh, the Fighters changed tactics and began taking easy swings at mistakes in the zone. They loaded the bases with three no-out singles and Wada was gone.

“They are professional hitters. It wasn’t a matter of if they would get a hit, but when,” Wada said.

The Hawks opened the scoring in the first, when Kenta Imamiya homered with one out and none on against Takayuki Kato (0-1). Imamiya, on Friday moved into a tie for seventh all-time in career sacrifice hits with 300. Three straight hits, including a Wladimir Balentien double gave the Hawks the lead for good.

Here are the game highlights:

Kishi wins season debut

The Rakuten Eagles won a seven-inning rain-shortened 3-1 game over the Lotte Marines at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi. Takayuki Kishi (1-0) allowed a first-inning run over five innings in his season debut by pitching out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth.

Former Padre Kazuhisa Makita worked a scoreless sixth, and former Dodger JT Chargois pitched the seventh to earn his first save in Japan.

Here are the game highlights:

Yoshida homer lifts Buffaloes over Lions

Masataka Yoshida’s third home run of the season, a two-run shot in the eighth inning, brought the Orix Buffaloes from a run down and lifted them to a 4-3 win over the defending Pacific League champion Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.

Buffaloes starter Daiki Tajima (1-0) had one brush with trouble and it cost him in a three-run fourth, capped by Takeya Nakamura’s two-run double. Aderlin Rodriguez’s fifth-inning solo homer made it a 3-1 game in the fifth and Tajima left after seven.

A one-out walk, a wild pickoff throw and an RBI single by Koji Oshiro made it a 3-2 game before Yoshida homered with two outs.

Tyler Higgins worked the eighth for Orix and Brandon Dickson closed in the ninth to record his first save of the season.

Maru drives in 6 as Giants whip Dragons

Yoshihiro Maru homered twice and added an RBI double as the Yomiuri Giants beat the Chunichi Dragons 7-3 at Tokyo Dome.

Hayato Sakamoto walked twice, homered, singled and scored three runs, while Gerardo Parra doubled twice and singled.

Marte, Bour rip as Tigers gut Carp

Jefry Marte hit a two-run first-inning home run off Carp ace Daichi Osera (2-1) in a 9-3 Hanshin Tigers win over the Hiroshima Carp at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Justin Bour had three hits for the Tigers and a sacrifice fly, while starting pitcher Yuta Iwasada (1-1) allowed three runs over six innings to earn the win.

Osera, who entered the game having opened the season with back-to-back complete-game victories, allowed five runs on eight hits over four innings. Osera failed to score or drive in a run on Saturday, but did single in his only at-bat, raising his average to .625.

Marte did not return to third base in the bottom of the third inning after complaining of tightness in his left calf.

Martinez 1st import to catch in 20 years

A day after being called up, 24-year-old Cuban catcher Ariel Martinez saw his first duty behind the plate on Saturday. Coming on as a sixth-inning pinch-hitter, Martinez walked, scored and stayed in to catch.

In so doing, he became the first imported player to catch in an NPB game since former Australian big leaguer Dave “Dingo” Nillson caught in one game for the Dragons in 2020. Prior to that, Mike Diaz caught 21 games for the Lotte Orions from 1990 to 1991.

Martinez, who joined Chunichi as a non-roster developmental signing in 2018, was signed to a standard contract this past week and added to the Dragons’ 70-man roster. He looked good behind the plate and threw out the first runner who tried to steal against him.

Swallows walk the walk

The Yakult Swallows overcame home runs by Neftali Soto and Jose Lopez by drawing seven walks in a 10-8 win over the DeNA BayStars, who outhit the Swallows 15-6.

Soto had four hits, including two homers, but Naomichi Nishiura and Norichika Aoki each hit two-run shots for the Swallows. Nishimura, who had lost his shortstop job to Alcides Escobar, has grabbed it back by hitting four homers in four games.

Swallows closer Taishi Ishiyama entered the ninth with a four-run lead but allowed two runs on Soto’s third home run of the year.

NPB 2020 7-3 GAMES AND NEWS

Saturday’s announced starting pitchers in NPB.

Sugano outduels Ono with 1-hitter

Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano struck out 11, while allowing one hit in a 5-0 shutout of the Chunichi Dragons on Friday at Tokyo Dome.

Sugano (2-0) walked two and hit a batter, while Ono (0-2) allowed two runs, one earned, while striking out 10 over seven innings. Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto broke up the scoreless game in the sixth inning with a solo homer.

Dayan Viciedo, who broke up Sugano’s no-hit bid with a seventh-inning double, ended the game by grounding out to second.

Ariel Martinez, a 24-year-old Cuban catcher who was activated on Friday after a hot streak in the Western League, struck out in the eighth as a pinch-hitter in his first-team debut.

Balentien makes Arihara pay

Wladimir Balentien broke a 1-1 tie at Sapporo Dome with a two-run home run, his third in two games, off Kohei Arihara (0-3) in the SoftBank Hawks’4-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Coming to the plate after Yuki Yanagita singled in the tying run, Balentien extended his arms on a lazy first-pitch slider and drove it well past the wall in center for his fifth home run of the season.

In the eighth, Balentien didn’t reach the seats, but he did double off the dome’s ceiling. The ball that was headed out was deflected downward and bounced in front of and over left fielder Kensuke Kondo.

Cuba’s Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn the save.

Imamiya reaches sacrificial milestone

Although Hawks shortstop Kenta Imamiya has developed medium-range power, he’s still a shortstop and still expected to sacrifice like he did when he needed to cement his role on the team by bunting all the time.

On Friday, his sixth-inning sacrifice put a runner in scoring position, from where Yanagita singled him home. The 300th career sacrifice hit ties him for sixth all-time with former Nankai Hawks and Kintetsu Buffaloes star Hiromasa Arai.

Norimoto survives scrape for 3rd win

Takahiro Norimoto (3-0) got his pitching hand in the way of a fourth-inning batted ball but returned to the field after treatment and gutted it out for 6-2/3 innings to earn the victory in the Rakuten Eagles’ 3-1 win over the Lotte Marines.

The Marines tied it in the fourth on a passed ball, but home runs from Ryosuke Tatsumi and Hiroaki Shimauchi off Marines right-hander Ayumu Ishikawa (0-1) made the difference at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.

With two outs and the tying runs on in the seventh JT Chargois retired Lotte leadoff man Takashi Ogino to preserve the lead, and Alan Busenitz struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth. Kohei Morihara worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.

Lions salvage tie with Buffaloes

Takeya Nakamura homered and had a solid defensive game at third base as the Seibu Lions overcame a three-run, sixth-inning deficit at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo in their game against the Orix Buffaloes that was called a 4-4 tie after 10 innings.

Adam Jones tied the game 1-1 in the sixth with an RBI single and scored on Takahiro Okada’s monstrous home run off Lions starter Zach Neal. But Nakamura homered to open the sixth against former closer Hirotoshi Masui, and Sosuke Genda completed the comeback with a two-run single.

By taking Neal off the hook for the loss, the Lions preserved his chance to win 13 straight decisions.

Tyler Higgins and Brandon Dickson each worked scoreless innings in relief for the Buffaloes, with Dickson pitching out of a one-out bases-loaded jam by striking out Nakamura and getting Wu Nien-ting to fly to the warning track.

For the second-straight night new Lion Reed Garret pitched out of trouble after allowing two hits. He had some help from catcher Tomoya Mori, who cut down a would-be base stealer with a tremendous throw.

Dragons call up catcher Martinez

The Central League’s Chunichi Dragons activated Cuban catcher Ariel Martinez on Friday according to the Chunichi Sports. The team signed the 24-year-old on Wednesday after acquiring him in 2018 as a non-roster developmental player.

The move was made because 31-year-old left fielder Zolio Almonte was deactivated due to concerns about his fitness. In his two-plus seasons in Japan, Almonte has a .369 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging average despite playing at one of Japan’s toughest home run parks.

Martinez, who cracked his second Western League home run on Thursday, has four from 11 minor league and practice games this year. He becomes the first imported player registered as a catcher since Australian Dave Nillson, who caught in one game in 2000 for the Dragons.

In three WL games, Martinez is 5-for-9 with a double, two home runs and two walks. He has yet to strike out.

Martinez caught on June 24, when he accounted for the only run off Carter Stewart Jr, with a solo home run and again on Thursday, when he homered in an 8-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Nagoya Stadium.

Carp drop reliever Scott

The Hiroshima Carp deactivated right-handed first-year import Taylor Scott on Friday, the day after he surrendered four runs in a 9-5 walk-off loss to the Yakult Swallows.

Scott (0-2) has faced 22 hitters, while allowing 10 hits and three walks. He’s allowed one home run, Thursday’s game-winning grand slam off the bat of Munetaka Murakami.

Catching and quality control in Japan

This is the first in a short series about catchers in Japanese pro baseball and how teams see them. This installment concludes with a list of five catchers with the longest careers in Japan despite being terrible professional hitters — compared to other catchers.

Although I was bashing people this week on Twitter about making broad generalizations about Japanese baseball after someone said major league players would hit a billion home runs if they played their games in Japan because the parks here are so small. But sometimes forming a hypothesis starts with a general statement.

Today’s question, posed by Australian Scott Musgrave, who used to blog about the Nagoya-based Chunichi Dragons, was do Japanese teams favor offense or defense when selecting a catcher?

My gut response was the latter, having seen a number of promising hitting prospects’ careers stall because they were not up to the high minimum standards expected of catchers in Japan.

Tune into the Japan Baseball Weekly podcast HERE.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer was not nearly so easy. After spending way too much time looking at the careers of Japan’s professional catchers since the end of World War II, I will say, the first preference is for defense but that teams generally settle on the best option available, and sometimes beggars can’t be choosers.

I believe the preference for defense comes from social pressure within Japan to eliminate mistakes. More Japanese baseball men than I can remember have told me that Japanese baseball is not about winning, but about avoiding defeat, and a belief that a lack of mistakes is the hallmark of excellence.

In the 1980s, the era of “Japan as No. 1” one popular narrative driven by Japan’s propagandists and allies was that Japan was obsessed with quality, to the point that some argued it was virtually part of their physical DNA, if not part of their cultural genetic makeup. Japan succeeded because it cared. There is some kernel of truth to that, in as much as Japan’s artisan heritage still runs fairly strong and honest-to-goodness craftsmen are not hard to find, but a cultural obsession with quality? Give me a break.

After about 10 years here, the truth finally hit me: What was being passed off as some kind of shared Japanese altruistic belief in the sacred value quality was actually the byproduct of a national obsession with not being caught making mistakes. I’ve written about this here and there over the years, but the general point is this: People advance in Japanese society by leapfrogging colleagues whose mistakes have been revealed.

Twentyfive years ago, when I worked as an English teacher at Pepsicola Japan, one of my students was overjoyed to find a tiny barely noticeable printing flaw in packaging material for our new bottled water brand. That mistake, he said, would be worth tens of thousands of dollars in discounts from the supplier. Quality control in Japan is more about mistake control and mistake spotting.

When I had my first Jim Allen’s Guide to Japanese Baseball published in 1994, the endpaper was in the wrong location. When I told the woman handling my order, she took nearly $500 off the price of the printing run out of her commission.

The engine that runs Japan is fueled by a desire to avoid errors while gaining an advantage by ruthlessly exploiting those of others, including those of one’s coworkers.

TV broadcasts here often follow an error in the field by zooming in on the head coach in the dugout writing in his little notebook. The head coach is every team’s drill instructor and those camera shots remind viewers that pros cannot get away with mistakes.

Japanese children, I’ve learned recently, are often trained to hit the ball on the ground especially to the left side of the infield because their opponents, other young children, are poor at fielding and likely to make errors.

I don’t know, but I believe that this is the reason that so few second basemen, catchers and shortstops develop into Hall of Fame-caliber players. It’s not that their defense is being undervalued – as I once believed. SoftBank Hawks shortstop Kenta Imamiya has developed into a solid offensive player but said he put his offensive work on the back burner when he was trying to earn a job because any failure to execute defensively could disqualify him.

I now believe the lack of solid hitters up the middle of the diamond is largely due to teams’ unwillingness to accept big hitters who are below-average fielders because going against the grain here looks like a mistake and invites criticism.

A below-average defensive shortstop who is small, fast and a left-handed hitter whose only offensive strength is bunting will get playing time. Take the same defensive skills and pair them with a right-handed hitter with some pop who draws walks but can’t bunt, and you’ve got a guy who will spend more time in the minors because while he may be a more valuable player, he does not look the part.

Other than pitchers, another species altogether, catchers are the best positioned to lose a game by making mistakes. Not only do they have so many responsibilities, but they also need to be in sync with their pitchers.

The late Katsuya Nomura said once as a young catcher, a coach smacked him on the head after a power hitter homered off a curveball, “Don’t you know not to call for a curve against a power hitter?” When another hitter took a fastball deep, the same coach reprimanded him for calling a fastball to a power hitter. Nomura said that even though he was a teenager, he realized the coach didn’t know what he was talking about.

Nate Minchey, now a Yomiuri Giants scout, said about a pitch that ended up in the outfield seats when he was pitching for the Lotte Marines, “The coach got on the catcher, but it’s not like he threw that hanging curveball.”

Itaru Kobayashi, the former Hawks GM, said, “It’s hard for a catcher to make it to the first team if the pitchers don’t feel comfortable working with him.”

Former Dodgers GM Dan Evans once said that any regular catcher in NPB would be above average defensively in the majors, ostensibly because the standards are so high here. Although that’s also a generalization that would come with exceptions, it’s a product of an overly restrictive selection process that eliminates some worthy candidates in the minors and creates a talent shortage in the top flight.

In the second world war, the Imperial Navy’s naval aviation doctrine washed out all but a tiny percentage of flying candidates. While that allowed for a qualitative advantage early in the war, it soon led to severe talent shortages.

While there’s no problem with moving a quality hitter who is a weak defensive catcher to an easier defensive position, especially if he can run, some slow guys who can really hit get cast as catchers who can’t play defense in the minors and never advance or succeed only because, for once in their careers, fortune turns their way.

Sometimes, because teams believe there are no better alternatives, they stick with inferior catchers whose principal strength is their team’s unwillingness to use an untried alternative.

On this week’s Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast I blurted out that while it’s easy for good-field, no-hit catchers to get some playing time they don’t have long careers. But some have, and below we’ll get into the first list of guys who had good careers despite being really, really bad at producing runs.

Good field no hit

Using Bill James’ Win Shares to calculate win shares per 27 batting outs, I found five catchers since the end of the war who played more than one season as the No. 1 catcher after having two seasons in which they made 0.1 Win Share or less per 27 batting outs as a regular. The numeral in brackets is the number of full-time catching seasons after their second “offensive zero” season as a regular.

  1. Ginjiro Sumitani (7). After 13 seasons for the Seibu Lions and spending 2019 with the Yomiuri Giants, Sumitani, currently owns the best career in Japanese history for a catcher with virtually no offensive value. Sumitani demonstrated he could catch at the pro level straight out of high school and by hitting two home runs in a single game as a rookie – in tiny Kitakyushu Stadium – held out promise Sumitani might someday turn into a hitter. An above-average defensive catcher for most of his career, through his first 11 seasons he’d amassed a total of 0.3 win shares on the offensive side. Ironically, his offensive production has improved since turning 29, while his defense appears to have slipped. He’s won two Golden Gloves.
  2. Takeo Yoshizawa (6). Chunichi’s No. 1 from 1958 to 1961, when his run-ins with first-year manager Wataru Nonin saw him traded to the Kintetsu Buffaloes for the next season. In 1959, Yoshizawa set a CL record by failing to record a hit in 47 straight at-bats, since tied by Chunichi second baseman Masahiro Araki in 2016. He was the No. 1 catcher for the Buffaloes for four seasons, during which time the club finished last three times and fourth once. Yoshizawa died of a stroke at the age of 38.
  3. Akihiko Oya (4). Yakult’s main catcher from his rookie year in 1970 until 1980, Oya won six Golden Gloves and two Best Nine Awards. He had below-average defensive metrics as a youngster but could hit a little. Those two quickly switched, and defense became his strength from his fourth year as a pro.
  4. Masahiko Mori (7). The Yomiuri Giants’ No. 1 catcher from 1959 to 1972 is in the Hall of Fame with the help of his managing career, although he did win eight Best Nine Awards. Japan’s Golden Glove Awards were first handed out in 1972, when Mori was 35, and he didn’t win one. He was not a total disaster as a hitter, but like most catchers of his era, wildly inconsistent, mostly — I’m guessing here — due to frequent injuries that were not severe enough to keep him out of the lineup. He played seven full seasons after his second season as an offensive zero and had five sub-standard batting years in his long career.
  5. Kazuhiro Yamakura (5). The Giants’ No. 1 from 1980 to 1987, Yamakura was the CL’s MVP in 1987, when he had a career year at the plate at the age of 31 – his final year as a regular. Yamakura won three Golden Gloves and three Best Nines. About league average defensively according to Win Shares, Yamakura had a good year at the plate in his first year as a regular and then did little until his MVP season.

Having looked at Mori’s career, I’m pretty certain he doesn’t belong there, and I would love to talk to him about it. I’ve ripped into his published opinions – primarily in his role as Japan’s greatest living apologist for the sacrifice bunt — quite a lot, but the one time we spoke briefly I found him to be a charming gentleman.

Next: The other guys.

Tumbling Dice, K?

More than a year removed from his comeback player of the year season with the Chunichi Dragons, 39-year-old Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound at MetLife Dome, where 21 years earlier he got his pro start with the Seibu Lions.

Entering his sixth season in Japan since the SoftBank Hawks lured him away from MLB, Matsuzaka is a shadow of the pitcher who was called the “monster” when he turned pro out of Yokohama High School. His basic repertoire is now a fastball, a cutter, and a change — a forkball this year.

In 2018, Matsuzaka went 6-4 with a 3.74 ERA in Japan’s best pitcher’s park, Nagoya Dome, largely because he didn’t give up a lot of home runs and got more than his share of big outs after letting lots of runners on base.

Matsuzaka’s game is locating the fastball, getting hitters to miss-hit the cutter and sometimes swing and miss at the change. On Sunday, he also threw a decent slider and curve.

But 14 years and two days after he became a national hero for the second time in his baseball career by beating Cuba in San Diego to win the 2006 World Baseball Classic final and earn tournament MVP honors, Matsuzaka had no command to speak of.

He allowed four runs over five innings, and caught breaks when most of his mistakes were not hammered. He said recently he needs to work on the cutter, and he missed badly with most of the 24 I tracked. He couldn’t locate his fastball, or the change. The slider and curve were his best pitches.

The Lions, who in 2018 became the second league champion in NPB history to have the league’s worst ERA, repeated the feat a year ago.

Matsuzaka knows what he’s doing, and knows when to challenge hitters in the zone, but if he’s constantly behind in counts and can’t throw strikes, he might be too much of a burden even for the Lions’ powerful offense to carry.

Here’s a link to the Pacific League TV game highlights.

Open and shut: March 3, 2020 – Sarfate returns to Fukuoka mound

Dennis Sarfate returned to the mound in Fukuoka on Tuesday for the first time in nearly two years. In one of five preseason games (“Open sen” in Japanese) played Tuesday — all behind closed doors — the Hawks took on the Yakult Swallows in an interesting contest.

Here are the game highlights, courtesy of PL TV.

As he has in the videos he’s been posting to social media that past year or so, Sarfate looked comfortable throwing although was nowhere near regular season velocity, touching 143 kilometers per hour compared to his average fastball velocity in 2017 of 153.3. He allowed a single and got two flyouts.

Rick van den Hurk threw 3-2/3 innings for the Hawks, and looked ready for Opening Day, with his fastball touching 150 kph, and good command of all his pitches. Van den Hurk pitched in just three games last year during the regular season.

Swallows starter Hirotoshi Takanashi also looked ready for Opening Day with generally good movement and command of his fastball. Although he was a little inconsistent and a little lucky, he threw five solid innings.

Peoples makes spring debut

New import Michael Peoples made his preseason debut with the DeNA BayStars, allowing three runs over three innings in which he gave up a home run, walked a batter and hit a batter against the Rakuten Eagles in Shizuoka.

Tyler Austin resumed his hit parade with a double and a single in three at-bats, raising his spring exhibition average to .615 with three homers and three triples in 15 plate appearances. The Eagles’ Jabari Blash hit his second homer of the spring.

Lions’ Takahashi goes 5 strong

Kona Takhashi, who for an instant had been in the running to start the Seibu Lions’ opener according to manager Hajime Tsuji, struck out six over five scoreless innings against the Chunichi Dragons.

Daisuke Yamai, who at the age of 41 is trying to secure some starts this season, showed he has more work to do. He walked three while allowing four runs over two innings of relief.

Open and shut: NPB goes under cover

I’m calling this spring’s preseason stories “Open and shut” since a main theme so far is 72 exhibitions scheduled to be played behind closed doors as Japanese companies are being asked to curtail large gatherings in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Sands opens with pair

Hanshin Tigers newcomer Jerry Sands blasted two of his team’s five solo home runs in a 5-4 win over the SoftBank Hawks on Saturday. The Tigers got three scoreless innings from their Opening Day starter, Yuki Nishi, and another scoreless frame from former Hawk Kenichi Nakata.

Yusuke Oyama, who is fighting to secure the starting third base job for Hanshin, also homered twice, while 2016 rookie of the year Shun Takayama homered to continue his comeback spring effort. Hawks starter Nao Higashihama allowed four solo homer, all off breaking pitches.

Matsui goes 5 in Eagles restart

Yuki Matsui, making the shift from closer, started and went five innings for the Rakuten Eagles in a 4-2 win over the Lotte Marines. J.T. Chargois and Alan Busenitz worked scoreless innings in relief for the Eagles, while former Eagle Frank Herrman and former Carp Jay Jackson each worked an inning for Lotte.

The PL clubs exchanged a host of players over the winter via free agency and other deals with. Herrmann, (Opening Day starter) Manabu Mima, and a pair of young minor leaguers, infielder Kenji Nishimaki and pitcher Fumiya Ono joined Lotte. Going the other way were Lotte’s former captain, infielder Daichi Suzuki, veteran right-hander Hideaki Wakui and pitcher Tomohito Sakai.

Buffs, Fighters show off season openers

The Orix Buffaloes’ Taisuke Yamaoka worked five scoreless innings, while the Nippon Ham Fighters’ Kohei Arihara allowed a run in three as the two teams went with their Opening Day starters. Orix newcomer Tyler Higgens worked a scoreless inning of relief.

Orix first baseman Takahiro Okada, who was exiled to the minors for the duration of the season after letting a routine grounder go through his legs last summer, homered in his first at-bat.

Viciedo blasts off

Dayan Viciedo homered and singled in his home preseason debut at a silent Nagoya Dome, while new Carp pitcher DJ Johnson allowed a run in one inning of work.