A lot happened in Japan on Saturday.
We’ve been waiting for Japan’s fifth no-hit shutout since June, and we got it, although offense hasn’t really reverted to the dead-ball levels when there were also five in 1940. This one was by a guy who was the 55th overall pick in MLB’s 2015 draft, Cody Ponce, a veteran of 20 MLB games.
I’m guessing that was Ponce’s first no-hitter as a pro. In the other league, Patrick Kivlehan, the 131st player taken in MLB’s 2012 draft, who has 10 MLB home runs on his ledger, now has three in Japan, and said it was the first time in his life he’d ever hit three in one game. He had a lot of company as the new Yakult Swallow didn’t even account for half the souvenirs his team left in the outfield seats at Yokohama Stadium.
We also had the first career shutout by a former rookie of the year, and two straight winning starts for a couple of big-name pitchers, so let’s get to it all shall we?
Fighters 2, Hawks 0: At Sapporo Dome, Ponce (3-4) needed 113 pitches, when working with rookie catcher Yudai Yoshikawa for the first time, made good use of his two-seamer to keep the Hawks from getting the barrel on the ball. His fielders robbed SoftBank of three singles. Light-hitting veteran utility outfielder Fumikazu Kimura singled in one run off Shota Takeda (2-1) and Chusei Mannami, who made one of the big defensive plays in center field in the top of the second, homered in the bottom of the inning to complete the scoring.
Ponce said some neat stuff, and you can read about it at Kyodo News. If you’re curious what the Japanese media wrote about it, the headline of one Sankei Sports story reads: “No-hit pitcher Ponce is good at cooking and makes steak and avocado toast,” which sounds like the intro for a contestant on the Dating Game.
With this game the Hawks and Fighters have each had one of their pitchers throw a no-hitter and be no-hit. No team has done both since the Fighters managed that feat in 1985. Ponce became the first import to throw one since Yakult’s Rick Guttormson no-hit the Rakuten Eagles in 2006.
No-hitters then and now
As for how common no-hitters have been, Japan is still a long way away from where it was in 1940, when the league batting average was .206 and there were five no-hitters in 469 games. There’s been 1,392 games this year.
With a .240 average in the PL, no-hitters are generally about half as likely to occur as in 1940, and about a third as likely in the CL, where the league average is .249 this year. By the way, there hasn’t been a league average as low as the PLs in Japan since 1973, so this is a pretty weird season.
Eagles 11, Marines 3: At Chiba Marine Stadium, Masahiro Tanaka (8-9) won his second straight start, he allowed three runs over seven innings, but didn’t give up a run until he was leading 9-0 in the bottom of the fourth. The Eagles shelled lefty Enny Romero (8-8) for five runs, four earned in 3-1/3 innings, and it went downhill from there.
Buffaloes 6, Lions 0: At Osaka Dome, 2021 PL rookie of the year Hiroya Miyagi (9-6) threw a four-hitter for his first career shutout. He struck out just three without issuing a walk. Masahiro Nishino doubled and scored in the first on Yuma Mune’s fourth home run, off Kaito Yoza (9-6), and Masataka Yoshida capped a three-run fifth with a two-run double.
Swallows 16, BayStars 4: At Yokohama Stadium, Kivlehan put his manager in old fart jeopardy by hitting three home runs, with former players questioning Shingo Takatsu’s small-ball credentials by having the nerve to put a guy who might hit three homers in a game in the No. 2 spot.
Kivlehan tied it 1-1 with his first homer. With one out and a runner on second, and down in the count 2-0 to Munetaka Murakami, the BayStars opted to walk him, which didn’t work out since he came around to score on a two-run single by 20-year-old rookie catcher Soma Uchiyama.
Kivlehan went 4-for-5 was hit by a pitch, scored four runs and drove in three, but Murakami went 5-for-5 scored four and drove in four and hit his 48th home run. Jose Osuna, Domingo Santana and Uchiyama also went deep for the Swallows, who moved six games in front of DeNA.
It was fun listening to former Swallow Ryota Igarashi try to explain how you pitch to Murakami, and he did his best, “You just try to avoid giving up the home run. You try to make good pitches that stay out of the heart of the zone and if he gets a hit or you walk him, you live with it.”
Murakami is now on pace to hit 59.8 home runs this year, which probably won’t happen.
Tigers 5, Dragons 1: At Nagoya Dome, Shintaro Fujinami, who I’ll argue is still a big name if not a particularly big pitcher other than his 1.94-meter height, won his second straight start to improve to 2-2, but he’s allowed five runs in his last 27-1/3 innings and took a loss when he struck out 10 and gave up one run over seven innings on Aug. 13.
Mel Rojas Jr., Yusuke Oyama, and Yasuhiro Yamamoto each singled in a run in the first off Shinnosuke Ogasawara (6-6), who struck out eight and allowed no more runs through six innings, with novice pitcher Akira Neo coughing up two runs in the eighth inning when he walked a bunch of guys.
Carp 6, Giants 4: At Hiroshima Citizens Stadium, Minoru Omori tripled and broke a 4-4 tie on Ryosuke Kikuchi’s eighth-inning single off Ian Krol (1-1), who allowed another run on an error in the inning.
Sho Nakata put Yomiuri ahead against Carp starter Atsushi Endo with a two-run fourth-inning homer after Shogo Sakakura homered for Hiroshima in the second. Ryoma Nishikawa’s leadoff homer tied it for the Carp in the bottom of the fourth, when Ryan McBroom doubled and scored the go-ahead run.
Rookie Carp catcher Masaya Yano made it 4-2 in the fifth with a solo homer, but the Giants re-tied it on Kazuma Okamoto’s two-run eighth-inning single off reliever Ryuya Matsumoto. After Kikuchi gave the hosts the lead, Ryoji Kurihara closed it out in the ninth with his 25th save.
Sunday’s starting pitchers
Fighters vs Hawks: Sapporo Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT
Marines vs Eagles: Chiba Marine Stadium 4 pm, 3 am EDT
Buffaloes vs Lions: Osaka Dome 1 pm, 12 midnight EDT
BayStars vs Swallows: Yokohama Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Dragons vs Tigers: Nagoya Dome 2 pm, 1 am EDT
Carp vs Giants: Hiroshima Citizen’s Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT
Active roster moves 8/27/2022
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 9/6