The Rakuten Eagles will make a concrete offer this week to their former ace, Masahiro Tanaka, Sankei Sports reported Tuesday, citing a source.
According to Sanspo, the sides have spoken repeatedly and while major league teams have expressed interest in the former Yankee, the Eagles appear to be the leading contender to land the 32-year-old free agent, who last pitched for them in 2013.
The news comes just six days before the Eagles begin spring training in Okinawa.
Tanaka, who won 28 consecutive regular-season decisions from 2012 to the end of the 2013 season, often trains at the Sendai-based Pacific League club’s facilities.
The 2021 season will be an emotional one for the Eagles, coming 10 years after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan and killed nearly 15,899 with over 2,500 still listed as missing. The Eagles’ home park was seriously damaged in the earthquake, while the following tsunami triggered a nuclear disaster.
Although Japan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic has been better than that in the U.S., Japan has yet to even approve any vaccines, and much of the country is once more in a state of emergency. Imported players who do not currently possess Japanese residence permits are currently unable to enter the country.
Wednesday’s news from NPB was about the format of the upcoming season, and updates about what players might be delayed due to coronavirus travel restrictions. One manager, however, said some teams were being unfairly treated because new players were unable to travel.
Rakuten Eagles General Manager Kazuhisa Ishii, who this year will also manage the Pacific League club on the field, said he asked what was up with new players according to Sankei Sports.
New work visas are not being issued and only players holding residence cards are being allowed back into Japan at the moment.
The Eagles non-tendered productive outfielders Stefen Romero and Jabari Blash, and relievers J.T. Chargois and D.J. Johnson, and have since signed lefty Adam Conley and infielder Brandon Dixon. While returning relievers Sung Chia-hao and Allan Busenitz are able to return, the new signings are not.
“If we had known it was going to be like this we would have been better off keeping more of the players who were already here,” Ishii said.
Players arriving now, such as the Yomiuri Giants’ Angel Sanchez, who came Thursday, will have to quarantine for two weeks, and will mean missing the start of spring training on Feb. 1, one of the dates the media treats like life-or-death deadlines.
When it appeared Daisuke Matsuzaka would be unable to return to Japan from his offseason training base in the States, the stories were “Matsuzaka to miss the start of camp!” only to be followed by next day’s news that he was already in country and sports editors the length of the country must have imagined that the nation was going to breath a collective sigh of relief.
Managers and coaches put a lot of effort into the training programs for camp, which essentially lasts three to four weeks and is not to be confused with the preseason exhibition season or “open games” which begin in the final days of February.
The other life-or-death day of course is Opening Day, and this used to be treated by most teams as if they got extra credit for opening the season with a win. Years ago at the Yomiuri, John E. Gibson and I were instructed to translate the Japanese paper’s copy ahead of the Mariners and Oakland A’s Opening series at Tokyo Dome.
One of the Yomiuri Shimbun stories had the line: “Ichiro will try hard to have a good game on Opening Day, since how a player does on Opening Day is a barometer of how his season will go.”
This is probably a little extreme but it pretty typical of the mindless drivel written about Opening Day in the Japanese press. Managers used to parrot it, too, but recently have bowed to logic, that it’s nice to be ready on Day 1, but that one game is still just one game.
Then again, maybe it’s not just Japan. Maybe hyperbola is in baseball’s DNA. But the start of camp is also a respite from the news about who and how players will be arriving in camp.
The middle of January is filled with news about which players will be in first-team spring training camp and who will be reporting to the minor league camp on Feb. 1.
Two of last year’s most highly touted young pitchers, Roki Sasaki of the Marines and Yasunobu Okugawa of the Swallows will report to first-team camp, while young Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami will be with the first team after a bout with coronavirus although on a separate training menu.
It’s enough to make one long for stories about how many balls in a player’s first BP go over the fence.
Lions reach agreement with Dermody
The PL’s Seibu Lions announced Thursday that 30-year-old former Chicago Cub lefty Matt Dermody has agreed to sign a contract, although nothing was announced other than that he’ll wear No. 98.
Ikuhiro Kiyota was suspended indefinitely by the Lotte Marines of Japan’s Pacific League on Friday after he was fingered by a weekly magazine as the culprit behind the Pacific League club’s coronavirus cluster last September, Nikkan Sports reported.
The Marines issued the suspension a week after the magazine “Friday” published a photo of the 34-year-old outfielder dining out in Sapporo in violation of the team’s coronavirus protocols.
Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido has been one of the nation’s coronavirus hotspots. Pitcher Daiki Iwashita tested positive after the Marines returned from a road trip to play the Nippon Ham Fighters. Although no one admitted breaking the rules, a total of 14 players — including Kiyota — tested positive for the virus, forcing the club to call up a large number of reserves from the farm in order to field a team.
Kiyota is now prohibited from joining the team for spring training, starting from Feb. 1, while Naoki Matsumoto, the club’s head of baseball operations received a severe warning for failing to adequately prevent adult professional athletes from breaking the rules.
The Marines finished second last season in the PL despite the disruption caused by the coronavirus cluster within the organization, but it may be a while before we here Kiyota’s ear-worm “oenka.”
Nippon Professional Baseball Commissioner Atsushi Saito said Tuesday Japan’s two top-tier leagues are considering playing more than their current 143-game schedule after 2021 in order to make up for the losses incurred in the coronavirus-hit 2020 season, the Nikkan Sports reported.
“One thing we can consider is related to the number of games. We now have 143, but if we increase the number of games, we can increase revenue.”
–NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito
Saito said preparations are in the works for combatting the coronavirus this year, when Japan is set to host the Summer Olympics, and even next, and said he’s heard that some players would be on board with an expanded schedule.
Saito didn’t say why NPB didn’t consider MLB’s scorched-earth model of firing scouts, coaches and minor leaguers.
NPB’s coronavirus response mirrored the stance of Japan’s central government. In February 2020, when the virus was considered a threat to holding the the Olympics on schedule, preseason games were held behind closed doors and NPB mimicked the government by first saying the season would start on schedule and then repeatedly announcing new starting dates.
All that changed on March 24, the day Japan bowed to the obvious, that a July-August 2020 Tokyo Olympics were impossible when the IOC said it was a no-go.
No longer needing the illusion that Tokyo would be safe to host the Olympics from July, Japan’s infection count jumped by a factor of eight, and the fiction that pro baseball’s season would begin in April was abandoned.
The government soon announced its first state of emergency, and when it was lifted in May, NPB announced its June 13 Opening Day behind closed doors for a 120-game season with no all-star break or interleague play. Teams were allowed to admit up to 5,000 fans from July 10.
Teams were permitted to admit roughly half their venues’ attendance from the start of September.
Japan is now on the verge of announcing another state of emergency with infection rates hitting record levels. The government is also restricting entry to non-resident foreign nationals following the emergence of new strains of the coronavirus, and there is concern about the ability of players to travel here in time for the start of Spring Training on Feb. 1.
On Monday, the Orix Buffaloes announced that infielder Steven Moya arrived in Japan on Sunday in order to avoid any entry hassle. This year, he will be competing for playing time with both Adam Jones and returning slugger Stefen Romero, who had a productive 2020 season with the Rakuten Eagles.
Wataru Matsumoto (6-6) and four relievers held the SoftBank Hawks to a run on hour hits and no walks in the Seibu Lions’ 3-1 Pacific League win at MetLife Dome on Sunday to move to within 1-1/2 games of the second-place Lotte Marines, who came from behind to tie the Eagles 3-3.
Shunsuke Kasaya (4-4) walked four and hit one, and three of those five free passes scored as the Hawks saw their six-game win streak end. The Hawks jumped out to 1-0 lead after Taisei Makihara’s leadoff double.
Takumi Kurihara singled in the tying run in the first for the Lions and contributed to Seibu’s third-inning go-ahead run with his second single. Takeya Nakamura drove in Seibu’s final runs, with a hard-hit ball the Hawks did well to get an out on and a double.
Marines come back to tie Eagles
The Lotte Marines’ Ikuhiro Kiyota hit a two-run first-inning home run and singled in the seventh to set up the tying run and complete the scoring in a 3-3 10-inning tie against the fourth-place Rakuten Eagles at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Kazuhisa Makita took over for the Eagles in the seventh with one out and two on. He walked Seiya Inoue to load the bases and surrendered Hisanori Yasuda’s game-tying single before pitching out of trouble.
Yuki Matsui took the mound in the ninth for the Eagles and prevented a loss by throwing two scoreless innings.
Nomura, Arihihara beat Buffaloes
Kohei Arihara (8-9) allowed a run in five innings and Yuki James Nomura drove in four runs with a single and a triple to pace the Nippon Ham Fighters to a 7-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sapporo Dome.
Twenty-one-year-old Orix starter Hitomi Honda (0-1) gave up seven runs, three earned, in four innings in his pro debut.
BayStars win 2nd virus test
For the second straight day, the DeNA BayStars threw open the doors to Yokohama Stadium as 24,537 on Friday and 27,850 on Saturday became the first normal-sized crowds to watch a sporting event in Japan since February. Although asked to refrain from cheering and chanting, the home fans got to witness their team come from behind in a 6-5 walk-off win over the Hanshin Tigers.
The stadium is scheduled to be the main venue for softball and baseball when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics start in July 2021.
Just think. The rest of the world can put 2020 behind them when January arrives, but Tokyo will still be advertising “Tokyo 2020” on banners all over the metropolis through much of 2021 to remind of this shit storm of a year—at least until the whole thing is canceled and those banners go the way of the money wasted to secure this fiasco in the first place.
In keeping with the spirit of the occasion, in which people were crammed together to test the effectiveness of removing social distance, the Tigers showed that they could load the bases and not pose a threat to the BayStars, juicing the bags in the fifth, eighth and ninth without a run to show for it.
Otherwise, Neftali Soto, who likely won’t win a third straight CL home run title, hit his 23rd and 24th, closer Kazuki Mishima (2-1) earned the win for the hosts and Takayuki Kajitani singled in the game-winner off Jon Edwards (0-1).
Jerry Sands doubled twice and drove in a run for the Tigers, and Jefry Marte singled in a run in the Tigers’ four-run seventh.
Giants scrape past Swallows
Seishu Hatake (4-4) threw a three-hitter for his first career shutout and Albert Suarez (4-4) allowed an unearned run in five innings to take the loss in the Yomiuri Giants’ 2-1 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
Rookie right-hander Masato Morishita (10-3) pitched out of a couple of tight spots to go eight innings in the Hiroshima Carp’s 3-0 win at Nagoya Dome over the Chunichi Dragons. Geronimo Franzua finished up for his 18th save.
Dragons starter Yuya Yanagi (5-7) allowed three runs, two earned, while striking out 11 over 6-2/3 innings to take the loss.
Active roster moves 11/1/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/11
SoftBank Hawks Opening Day starter Nao Higashihama (7-1) allowed a run over eight innings in a 5-1 win over the Lotte Marines on Saturday at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome that kept his team atop the Pacific League standings.
The win was SoftBank’s fifth in16 tries this season against their nemeses, who pulled into a virtual tie with a 3-1 win on Friday.
Higashihama gave up three hits and three walks while striking out eight. Rookie Kazuki Sugiyama pitched around a pair of one-out singles in the ninth to close it out.
Keizo Kawashima opened SoftBank’s account in the second with a one-out single off rookie lefty Toshiya Nakamura (2-5). He scored on a Nobuhiro Matsuda double, and Ryoya Kurihara capped the inning with his 14th home run.
The Marines changed pitchers in the third, with rookie Takuro Furuya making his first-team debut. The right-hander issued a one-out walk to Akira Nakamura. A wild pitch and a Yuki Yanagita single made it 4-0.
A base-running out by Matsuda allowed Furuya to work around a single and three straight walks in the fourth. The Marines got their lone run in the sixth on a Kenji Nishimaki double and a Kyota Fujiwara single. Both were called up Tuesday, when the Marines switched out 11 players following a series of coronavirus infections.
Yurisbel Gracial completed the scoring in the seventh with his ninth home run.
Arihara throws 1st shutout
Nippon Ham Fighters ace Kohei Arihara (6-8) did everything right in his six-hitter except get Pacific League batting leader Masataka Yoshida out in a 4-0 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sapporo Dome.
Yoshida went 3-for-4 with a double to raise his average to .354, but his teammates couldn’t solve the right-handed Arihara.
“Their hitters came in ready to swing at the first pitch and I used that to my advantage,” said Arihara, who walked two and struck out six.
Buffaloes right-hander Taisuke Yamaoka (2-4) allowed three runs over six innings on six hits, a walk and a hit batsman but got zero run support for the second straight outing. He gave up a one-out solo homer to Ryo Watanabe in the second and two more runs in the sixth before making his exit.
“I was the one who allowed the first run. And that was the ballgame,” said Yamaoka.
Hatake silences Dragons
Yomiuri Giants right-hander Seishu Hatake extended a pre-game moment of silence at Nagoya Dome, muting the Chunichi Dragons’ offense for seven innings in a 7-1 win.
With the home team wearing the No. 88 of late Dragons manager and Hall of Fame second baseman Morimichi Takagi, who passed away in January, a moment of silence was observed in his memory.
Hatake (3-3) overcame an awkward start as he worked seven scoreless innings after allowing five this and three walks. Dragons starter Yariel Rodriguez (2-4) kept the Giants in check until the wheels fell off in a four-run fifth.
Rodriguez, who had impressed in his first two outings this season against the Giants, allowed a second-inning run on a Yoshihiro Maru single and a Zelous Wheeler double.
The right-hander struck out the side in the third and fourth before Wheeler singled to open the fifth. Wheeler was caught stealing for the second out on a busted run-and-hit, but Gerardo Parra followed with the first of five straight hits.
Wheeler homered in the sixth, while Zoilo Almonte cashed in the Dragons’ only run with an eighth-inning RBI single.
Austin, Soto overpower Tigers
Tyler Austin hit his 16th home run and Neftali Soto continued to climb back into the home race with his 20th and 21st homers as the DeNA BayStars overcame an early two-run deficit to beat the Hanshin Tigers 5-3 at Koshien Stadium.
Tigers starter Joe Gunkel (1-4) allowed four runs, three earned, on nine hits over six innings. He struck out four without a walk.
Austin homered in the third and Soto went deep in the fourth to make it a 2-2 game. Hanshin’s Yusuke Oyama singled in his second run of the game in the bottom of the fourth to retake the lead for the Tigers. Austin re-tied it in the fifth with an RBI single, Soto homered in the sixth and Austin singled in another run in the seventh.
Rookie Hiromu Ise (1-0), the BayStars’ third pick last autumn, struck out two in two perfect innings to earn his first career win. Spencer Patton and Edwin Escobar followed with one scoreless inning apiece before Kazuki Mishima earned his 13th save.
Jon Edwards allowed one run in an inning of relief for the Tigers.
Rookie Morishita dodges bullets for 8th win
The Hiroshima Carp’s top pick in last year’s draft, Masato Morishita extricated from a pair of bases-loaded predicaments to go six innings in a 3-0 victory over the Yakult Swallows at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Morishita (8-3) allowed four hits, issued three walks and hit a batter while striking out eight. Koki Ugusa, the Carp’s second pick last autumn, had two hits, driving in two in the fifth with a high chopper over the head of the shortstop.
“It’s not like we didn’t have an approach planned for him (Morishita),” Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu said. “We just didn’t do a very good job of executing it.”
Tsuji slams decision to start in rain
Seibu Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji was not in a forgiving mood on Saturday when Daiki Enokida, called up to bolster his depleted starting rotation, needed to throw 75 pitches against the Rakuten Eagles in a game that began in the rain Sendai and was called after three innings.
The game is to be replayed on Tuesday, putting Tsuji in a bind.
“This is a problem, because we simply don’t have the pitchers,” Tsuji said.
The game started in a steady rain, with water standing in pools.
“Common sense would tell you we couldn’t play baseball in that,” Tsuji said.
Active roster moves 10/10/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/20