BayStars 5, Hawks 4
At Yafuoku Dome, NPB’s two pitchers of the month for May, Kodai Senga and Shota Imanaga took center stage, and the for two-plus innings, the game developed as the highly anticipated pitchers’ duel one would expect.
Light-hitting glove man Tatsuhiro Shibata broke the ice with his fifth career home run to put Imanaga in charge. But the BayStars lefty threw that advantage away when he left a slider over the plate to Nobuhiro Machida. The Hawks captain launched it 20 rows deep into the left-field stands to get Senga back on even footing with a 1-1 tie after five.
But Senga did little with his fresh start as the BayStars loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth before Soto smashed an opposite-field shot into the stands in right for his 19th home run of the season.
Toshiro Miyazaki opened the inning by lining Senga’s first pitch to left. After a chopper got through the infield, Senga brushed Jose Lopez with a pitch. The right-hander got a strikeout moments after Keita Sano missed a grand slam foul by a meter or so.
Senga tried to go outside with an 0-1 fastball to Soto, but missed up and over the plate. The right-handed-hitting slugger extended his arms and sent it screaming out to right field, this time just fair.
But if the Hawks were going to let the BayStars run them over, they weren’t showing it. Catcher Takuya Kai took Imanaga deep to lead off the bottom with the sixth. With two outs in the seventh, Matsuda homered off Imanaga again.
Senga (6-2) gave up five runs on six hits, three walks and a hit batsman while striking out seven, and the Hawks bullpen kept the visitors off the board after he left.
Imanaga (7-3) must be really tired of facing Matsuda after five hits and four home runs in seven career at-bats (including a few from the 2017 Japan Series). The lefty allowed three runs on four hits. He struck out nine without issuing a walk.
Lefty Edwin Escobar allowed a run on a walk and a double in the eighth, when right-hander Spencer Patton came in to prevent the tying run from scoring. Closer Yasuaki Yamasaki worked around a leadoff walk in the ninth to record his 13th save.
Fighters 5, Giants 4
At Sapporo Dome, Wang Po-Jung broke a 3-3 tie with his first homer at his home park and his third since moving to Japan over the winter.
Kohei Arihara (8-2) allowed three runs over eight innings, while striking out nine. Bryan Rodriguez, playing in his second Japanese season, earned his first save. That came about because second baseman Ryo Watanabe ranged far to his right on a grounder up the middle and throw out veteran Shinnosuke Abe leading off the Giants ninth. Rodriguez gave up a run on two doubles but also recorded two strikeouts to end it.
Giants lefty Kyosuke Takagi (2-1), who did not play in 2016 and 2017 when his career was interrupted after he admitted to betting on baseball, earned the first loss of his 165-game pro career.
Several Giants players were involved in gambling on Japanese pro baseball games, but Takagi, the only player of any quality among them, was the only one for whom reinstatement was considered — ostensibly to urge other gamblers to come forward and confess, which none did.
Eagles 11, Carp 2
At Rakuten Seimei Park, Zelous Wheeler and Jabari Blash each had one of Rakuten’s seven homers as the Eagles whacked Hiroshima’s rookie of the year candidate, Hiroki Tokoda (5-4) for seven runs in 1-2/3 innings.
Lions 11, Swallows 1
At MetLife Dome, Yakut’s David Buchanan (1-4) allowed 11 runs over five innings, while Seibu’s Kona Takahashi (7-4) allowed nine hits and struck out seven over the distance.
Lions third baseman Takeya Nakamura hit his second grand slam of the season, extending his Japan record for career slams to 18, while Swallows infielder Taishi Hirooka avoided setting a record for most at-bats without a hit to start a season, by getting a hit in his 41st at-bat.
Dragons 4, Marines 1
At Zozo Marine Stadium, the two starting pitchers combined for 23 strikeouts, while Shuhei Takahashi, the CL’s player of the month for May, singled in a fourth-inning run and homered off Lotte starter Kota Futaki (4-5) in the ninth inning.
The Marines’ Brandon Laird hit his 150th career home run, off Dragons starter Yuya Yanagi (7-2). The 25-year-old righty struck out 13 over the distance.
Buffaloes 6, Tigers 4
At Kyocera Dome, Hanshin right-hander Yuki Nishi (3-6) limited his former team to a two-run, first-inning Stefan Romero home run over seven innings, but gave up three straight hits to open the eighth and took the loss.
Tyler Eppler (1-2) pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the eighth to earn his first win in Japan, while former Angel Jefry Marte drove in two runs for the Tigers.
Matsuzaka getting closer to (another) comeback
Daisuke Matsuzaka, the 38-year-old right-hander who was NPB’s comeback player of the year for 2018, is moving closer to returning to the Chunichi Dragons’ first team after allowing one run over four innings in a minor league start on Friday, the Nikkan Sports has reported.
“I’m now a guy who tries to get weak contact on breaking balls, and that’s what I was able to do from the start, the former Red Sox and Mets pitcher said.
Last season, Matsuzaka, seeing his first regular action since he was with the Mets in 2014, went 6-4 in 11 starts with a 3.74 ERA and was named to the Central League’s all-star team.
In February, he injured his right shoulder when he received a high five from a fan at the Dragons’ spring training base in Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture.
Uebayashi rejoins injury-plagued Hawks
Right fielder Seiji Uebayashi, 23, who was deactivated on May 10 after suffering a fracture in his right hand, was activated Friday by the SoftBank Hawks according to the Nikkan Sports.
He had been expected to finish this week with the Western League farm team, but his hand has apparently healed completely. He’s played in three games in the WL, and recently returned from South Korea where he was playing with the Hawks’ third team.
The Hawks outfield has been stretched to the limits this season, when the club opened without left fielder Yurisbel Gracial. Center fielder Yuki Yanagita has been out since early April and is not expected back before the end of July.
Veteran reserve outfielders Akira Nakamura and Yuya Hasegawa have only played in nine games between them.
Fighters eye June 23 for Yoshida’s 2nd start
After winning his first pro start on Tuesday against the Hiroshima Carp, the Nippon Ham Fighters are now looking at June 23 for Kosei Yoshida‘s encore performance, the Nikkan Sports reported Friday. The 18-year-old right-hander is currently deactivated, and the timing of his start will depend on his condition.
The pitcher is currently working out with the team for this weekend’s three-game series at home against the Yomiuri Giants.
Fighters GM Hiroshi Yoshimura said Friday the team would take Yoshida along for its road trip that starts Friday in Yokohama and moves to Nagoya on Tuesday for a three-game set against the Chunichi Dragons.
If Yoshida wins his next start, he’ll be the seventh pitcher to win his first two pro games straight out of high school and the first Fighters pitcher to manage the feat since Yu Darvish in 2005.