Tag Archives: Daisuke Matsuzaka

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.

Dice-K rolls back to Seibu

Another non-surprise this week was the Seibu Lions’ Tuesday announcement that the clulb had signed free agent right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka, who returns to his old stomping grounds at the Lions’ MetLife Dome just outside Tokyo.

The Kyodo News English language story is HERE.

After spending his final two seasons in the big leagues with the New York Mets as a long reliever and occasional starter, Matsuzaka joined the SoftBank Hawks in 2015, but his body broke down soon after making his preseason debut at historic Koshien Stadium. He ended up pitching one game in 2016 as a test to see if he would be useful in the postseason and allowed five runs, two earned, in one inning.

When his three-year contract with SoftBank expired, he left under peculiar circumstances. The Hawks released him but apparently wanted to give him a significantly lower salary than it had taken to lure him away from the majors three years before.

The reason for that speculation is that only one team, the Chunichi Dragons, gave him a tryout. This is kind of an old story in NPB, and I’m uncertain why, but the Dragons are the go-to team for players that other NPB clubs would like to black ball.

They were the only team to offer a tryout to Norihiro Nakamura after he left Orix in a contract dispute after his injury-plagued 2006 season. Nakamura was signed to a developmental contract by Chunichi. Ten other teams took a pass on getting a guy for next to nothing who would play eight more pro seasons — including five more as a regular.

Matsuzaka’s English language NPB page is HERE.

Although Matsuzaka did not pitch really well in 2018, he was relatively effective and was given NPB’s Comeback Player of the Year Award. The gap between good and effective had to do with his getting big outs with runners on base. When he was able to locate his cutter, Matsuzaka was reasonably effective, complimenting that with his changeup.

His good fortune did a U-turn this year, when he suffered a shoulder injury due to a fan’s overenthusiastic high-five during a meet and great at the Dragons’ spring training camp in Okinawa. Other issues followed and Matsuzaka was limited to just 5-1/3 innings.

If a high school boy can do it…

On Aug. 20, 1998, Yokohama High School’s Daisuke Matsuzaka threw a 250-pitch, 17-inning complete game victory over powerhouse PL Gakuen High School in the quarterfinals of the national high school championships.

Ten days later, 24-year-old Chunichi Dragons left-hander Shigeki Noguchi gave his best shot at matching Matsuzaka, whose heroics at Koshien Stadium made him a household name in Japan.

Pitching against the defending CL champion Yakult Swallows at Nagoya Dome, Noguchi allowed 10 hits and issued six walks and ended up the losing pitcher in a 5-3, 12-inning complete-game defeat. Eric Anthony, who played in the majors with five different big league clubs, singled in the tie-breaking runs in the top of the 12th.

Asked the next day about his 203-pitch count, Noguchi said, “I was inspired by Daisuke Matsuzaka. If he can do it, so can I.”

Noguchi, in his fifth pro season, would go 2-3 the remainder of the year to finish with a 14-9 record and posted a Central League-leading 2.34 ERA. However, over 34 innings in his remaining five starts,
he allowed 18 runs, 12 earned. The Dragons finished runner-up in the CL pennant race, four games back of the Yokohama BayStars.

NPB games, news of Sep. 1, 2019

Strange magic

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Yomiuri Giants went into Sunday’s game against the Hanshin Tigers with a magic number of 16 to clinch the pennant. Before they were back at their hotel that night, the magic was gone. Because the number – in Japan – only exists when you can clinch the pennant without having to beat your nearest pursuer. But with their loss to the Tigers and the BayStars’ win over the Carp, that condition no longer exists and…poof.

Central League

BayStars 3, Carp 2

At Mazda Stadium, Shota Imanaga (13-5) gave up two early runs but no more over 7-1/3 innings, while striking out eight to earn the win as DeNA beat Hiroshima. Neftali Soto tied it 2-2, in the sixth with his 34th home run, and Tatsuhiro Shibata put the visitors in front with a sacrifice fly.

Tigers 2, Giants 0

At Koshien Stadium, Yuta Iwasada (2-3) allowed three hits over six innings, while striking out six and walking none, and three relievers completed Hanshin’s shutout win over Yomiuri. Thirty-nine-year-old Kyuji Fujikawa converted his 11th-straight save opportunity with a 1-2-3 ninth.

Game highlights are HERE.

Swallows 3, Dragons 1

At Nagoya Dome, Wladimir Balentien ruined Yudai Ono’s day with a quality at-bat in which he singled in two first-inning runs, lining a fastball inside the opposite way, as Yakult held on to beat Chunichi.

Ono (7-8) allowed three runs over six innings. He tried to be a hero on the bases in the fifth inning. On third with one out, he was gunned down on a close play at the plate after a fly out to right fielder Yuhei Takai.

Norichika Aoki was hit by a pitch for the 100th time in the first inning and scored on Balentien’s single. He becomes the 22nd player to reach that painful plateau after he was hit for the first time in his career by current Lotte right-hander Hideaki Wakui in 2005.

Pacific League

Hawks 4, Lions 1

At MetLife Dome, Shota Takeda (5-3) had his best outing since his April 4 season debut, allowing a walk and four hits with eight strikeouts over six scoreless innings as SoftBank salvaged the finale of its three-game series with Seibu, leaving with a one-game lead over the Lions.

Yuki Yanagita and Nobuhiro Matsuda homered off Ken Togame (4-6).

Eagles 2, Fighters 1

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Jabari Blash opened the scoring with his 28th home run, and Ryota Ishibashi (7-6) allowed one hit and one walk over seven scoreless innings as Rakuten completed a sweep of slumping Nippon Ham.

Chihiro Kaneko (5-7) allowed two runs over four innings, leaving after throwing 55 pitches against 17 batters — with 18 usually being the trigger for Nippon Ham’s bullpen this season for most of their starters. But the Fighters jigsaw starting setup has been misfiring of late, and I wonder if it isn’t due to the non-news surrounding Mizuki Hori.

Marines 8, Buffaloes 6

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Leonys Martin hit his ninth home run in 129 NPB at-bats, a three-run shot that brought Lotte from behind in its win over Orix.

News

Dice-K still keen to roll

Despite nagging injuries and a fastball that would no longer dent bread, Daisuke Matsuzaka has no intention to go quietly into that good night, the Chunichi Dragons revealed Sunday.

Hiroyuki Kato, the club’s official representative to NPB, said he visited the right-hander where he was rehabbing to ascertain his intentions for next year.

“He wants to continue his playing career,” Kato told reporters at Nagoya Dome. “He’s been an important player in Japan’s baseball world. He’ll get special treatment, but he’s a player at about that stage…”

Matsuzaka pitched two games in July and has an 0-1 record. Last season he was NPB’s Comeback Player of the Year.

NPB games, news of July 16, 2019

Pacific League

Fighters 3, Hawks 2

At Yafuoku Dome, reserve catcher Shingo Usami drew a two-out, bases-loaded walk in the ninth inning to lift Nippon Ham to its second straight win over league-leading SoftBank.

Sho Nakata drew a leadoff walk and was replaced by a pinch-runner. The Hawks understudy closer, right-hander Hiroshi Kaino, hit the next batter when he tried to sacrifice. The next batter did sacrifice.

Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama pinch hit for career .209 RHB Toshitaka Yoko with career .225 switch-hitter Toshiya Sugiya, basically gaining nothing by bringing someone off the bench — except it may have encouraged Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo to try and set up a double play by intentionally walking the bases loaded.

After a strikeout, Kuriyama went with another pinch-hitter, Usami, who forced in the go-ahead run.

Fighters starter Toshihiro Sugiura allowed two first-inning homers and came out before his third trip through the lineup.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 5, Marines 1

At MetLife Dome, Sosuke Genda drove in the game’s first run with a third-inning RBI single and tripled in a seventh-inning insurance run as Seibu beat Lotte.

Game highlights are HERE.

Buffaloes 1, Eagles 0

At Kyocera Dome, Orix’s Taisuke Yamaoka (7-2) won a dynamite pitching duel with Rakuten’s Takahiro Norimoto (1-1).

The Buffaloes manufactured a first-inning run on a single, a sacrifice, a fielders choice and a Masataka Yoshida sac fly. Norimoto retired the next 19 batters, nine by strikeout, but took the loss.

Six Eagles runners reached over the first four innings, but Yamaoka got two double plays and retired the last 12 he faced. Brandon Dickson faced four batters in the ninth to record his seventh save.

Game highlights are HERE.

Central League

Dragons 3, Tigers 2

At Nagoya Dome, Zoilo Almonte drew a bases-loaded, ninth-inning “sayonara” walk, lifting Chunichi past Hanshin.

Daisuke Matsuzaka, sidelined since February after a fan gave him a particularly vigorous high five that left him with inflammation in his right shoulder, allowed two runs over five innings in his season debut for the Dragons.

Giants 6, Swallows 3

At Jingu Stadium, Yakult may want to put a bounty out on Yomiuri’s Yoshiyuki Kamei after he terrorized him for the second straight night.

Kamei iced Monday’s 11th-inning win with a two-run home run. On Tuesday, he broke a 3-3 with an RBI single in the fourth and added a solo homer in the seventh.

BayStars 8, Carp 5

At Yokohama Stadium, Kyle Regnault (4-2) walked the bases loaded with the game tied 4-4 in the seventh to set up a four-run DeNA inning as the BayStars came from behind to beat struggling Hiroshima.

NPB games, news of June 14, 2019

Interleague

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.

News

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.

Dice-K apologizes for golf

Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has been rehabbing since a fan injured him with an overzealous high five during spring training in February, apologized on Friday for playing golf the day before.

The Chunichi Dragons indicated Thursday that the former Boston Red Sox and New York Mets pitcher would face a penalty for breaking team rules, which got his former Japan teammate Yu Darvish up in arms about Japanese baseball’s repressive customs.

“I made trouble through my careless acts,” Matsuzaka told reporters at Nagoya Stadium, where he rejoined the Dragons farm team after a trip to the Tokyo area for treatment.

The team prohibits players from playing golf on practice days, even though Matsuzaka was not scheduled to join his teammates in their practice over 200 miles away in Nagoya.

On Monday, Matsuzaka threw his first bullpen since February, and was slated this week to throw batting practice. “I need to refocus and concentrate on baseball,” he said.

“I will give my best effort so I can contribute to the team as soon as possible.”

Injured and rehabbing players in Japan are expected to be monk-like in their devotion to “returning to the team as soon as possible.” And clubs typically do not make such players available for interviews regardless of their actual availability.

Yu Darvish hit out at the custom on Twitter.

“Of course, it would be no good if he lied to the team and skipped out on his treatment to play golf, but nobody was writing that. But playing golf either before or after his treatment is no big deal. Simply put, the restrictions placed on injured players in Japan are oppressive.”

Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish via Twitter on the subject of rehabbing pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka being punished for playing golf.

Not pulling your leg

The big news out of Nippon Professional Baseball’s spring training on Tuesday was that Daisuke Matsuzaka is suffering from right-shoulder inflammation.

What’s unusual is that his club, the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons, believe it was caused at a meet-and-greet at the club’s training camp in Chatan, Okinawa prefecture, when a fan pulled on the right-hander’s arm.

The 38-year-old Matsuzaka later reported stiffness in the shoulder and is now prohibited from throwing.

Although he wasn’t really effective last season, Matsuzaka — who had surgery on that shoulder in August 2015 — excelled at pitching out of trouble last year and finished with a 6-4 record en route to winning NPB’s Comeback Player of the Year Award.

Is that an award one actually wins?

There was no word from the Dragons about the nature of the fan encounter. Was the fan in question challenging Matsuzaka to an arm wrestle? Was he falling over backward only to be saved by our hero reaching out to grab him?

Either way, the pitcher, who in 1999 took part in one of Japan’s ubiquitous all-star game home run derbies was seen taking healthy cuts in one of the indoor batting cages in lieu of pitching practice.