Tag Archives: Dennis Sarfate

Open and shut: March 4, 2020 – Full house in the Casa de PayPay

Steve Martin’s career in stand up comedy picked up as I was finishing high school and starting college, and as such his humor left a mark. One routine was about Americans’ aversion to French’s large number of difficult vowel sounds. In contrast, he presented Spanish, using the sentence: “Where is Pepe’s house? or Donde esta casa de Pepe?”

Thanks to the SoftBank Hawks’ use Fukuoka Dome to advertise SoftBank group companies, it has been Yahoo! Japan Dome, Yafuoku Dome (Yahoo! Auctions Dome). From this year it has been labeled “PayPay Dome” to represent the recently launched online billing company. It’s not identical to Martin’s famous casa, but it’s close enough that I can’t get it out of my pea brain. So for the time being I can’t think of Fukuoka Dome as anything but the Casa de PayPay.

Welcome Matt!

On Wednesday, journeyman major league starting pitcher Matt Moore struck out five of the 10 batters he faced as the SoftBank Hawks showed off their pitching depth in an 8-1 preseason win over the Central League’s Yakult Swallows.

Moore’s fastball sat at 150 kph (93.2 mph) and he complimented that with his slider and a changeup and had generally good command of his pitches, making him a strong candidate for the Hawks’ starting rotation.

The game highlights are HERE.

If Moore executes his secondary pitches, he’s going to be a success in Japan. His outing came in relief of former ace lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who other than winning the final game of last year’s Japan Series, has not been that fit over the last three seasons.

Wada gave up a solo homer on a mistake but struck out five over four innings. Rick van den Hurk, who appeared in just three games last season, was sharp on Tuesday. That means that while the Hawks appear capable of overcoming season-opening injury to 2019 rookie of the year Rei Takahashi, they are going to have tough decisions to make regarding their import players.

Teams are allowed four active foreign-registered players. New acquisition Wladimir Balentien does not count against the limit by virtue of nine years of service time, but that still leaves the Hawks with van den Hurk, Moore, lefty reliever Livan Moinelo, infielder-outfielder Yurisbel Gracial and designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne. Further complicating things is the return of closer Dennis Sarfate, who has missed most of the last two seasons.

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.

NPB games, news of June 16, 2019

Joey Meneses is on the way out at Orix, not because as misreported here a doping violation, but according to Sports Nippon story “what appears to be a severe violation of team rules,” and that his contract will be voided.


Lions 10, Swallows 6

At MetLife Dome, rookie Yakult southpaw Keiji Takahashi (0-3) walked four batters for the third straight game, allowing six runs, five earned, over 4-1/3 innings in a loss to Seibu.

Ernesto Mejia belted a two-run, fourth-inning home run and Wataru Matsumoto (1-1), Seibu’s top draft pick last autumn, allowed two runs over 5-2/3 innings.

With a 4-1 lead in the fifth, the Lions scored three runs without a hit: thanks to three walks, a hit batsman, two throwing errors and two sacrifice flies.

Swallows rookie Munetaka Murakami homered in the ninth, becoming the third player in NPB history with an 18-homer season prior to his age-20 season. The others were both Lions, Hall of Fame Nishitetsu shortstop Yasumitsu Toyoda and Seibu first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara — who would be in the Hall of Fame if it weren’t for other issues, including his arrest for drug possession.

BayStars 2, Hawks 2, 12 innings

At Yafuoku Dome, DeNA closer Yasuaki Yamasaki pitched out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the 12th inning to preserve a tie with SoftBank.

DeNA rookie Taiga Kamichatani struck out eight and gave up two runs in 7-1/3 inning. The right-hander, the BayStars’ top draft pick in 2018, surrendered the tying run on Takuya Kai’s

Homers by the BayStars’ Toshiro Miyazaki and Tomo Otosaka brought the visitors back from a run down against career minor leaguer Akira Niho, who was making his third career start and second of the season. He allowed two runs over 5-2/3 innings.

Carp 4, Eagles 2

At Rakuten Semei Park, Xavier Batista had a pair of RBI doubles, and Ryoma Nishikawa hit an 0-2 changeup headed for the dirt for a two-out, tie-breaking RBI single as Hiroshima beat Rakuten.

Takayuki Kishi (2-1) was looking for his third straight win after allowing five runs in his previous 20 innings. He pitched well, but a leadoff walk in the seventh opened the door for the luckiest of game-winning RBIs.

Kris Johnson (6-4) allowed two runs over six innings, with Jabari Blash putting the Eagles in front in the first and Zelous Wheeler manufacturing a run in the second with a walk, a steal, a sacrifice and an infield single.

Jabari Blash singled home Eigoro Mori in the first, but Xavier Batista tied it in the top of the second with a double after Kishi surrendered back-to-back, one-out singles.

Kishi and Johnson settled in for a siege until Carp Tubasa Aizawa doubled in the sixth and scored for the second time on a Batista double.

Geronimo Franzua worked a 1-2-3 ninth to record his second save.

Giants 7, Fighters 3

At Sapporo Dome, Tomoyuki Sugano (7-3) overcame a five-hit, three-run first inning by retiring 19 of the last 22 batters he faced over seven innings as Yomiuri came from behind to beat Nippon Ham.

Fighters starter Toshihiro Sugiura (2-2), worked a 1-2-3 first but allowed five runs on five hits and a walk in the second.

Marines 8, Dragons 7

At Zozo Marine Stadium, Daichi Suzuki sparked a six-run, ninth-inning rally with his second home run of the game, and capped it with a sayonara single as Lotte came back to beat Chunichi in dramatic fashion.

In front of their home fans, Suzuki homered of Shinji Tajima to make it 7-3 game, and Seiya Inoue and Brandon Laird walked with one out.

Raidel Martinez (0-3) gave up an RBI double to Shogo Nakamura and a two-run single to Yudai Fujioka. After a two-out single and a walk, Joely Rodriguez faced Suzuki with the bases loaded and the Dragons leading 7-6. Suzuki singled to end it.

“At the end we kept the rally going batter after batter,” Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi said. “Of course, those were the things we had utterly failed to do prior to that.”

Mike Bolsinger started for the Marines and allowed five runs over six innings.

Tigers 5, Buffaloes 5, 12 innings

At Kyocera Dome, Orix closer Hirotoshi Masui blew a two-run lead in the ninth inning by walking two batters and surrendering a two-run, two-out double to Hanshin’s Kosuke Fukudome as the two teams played to a tie, and the Buffaloes failed to win on a Sunday for the first time this year. They are 0-10 with two ties.

The Tigers trailed 5-0 after six hitless innings against lefty Daiki Tajima, Orix’s top draft pick in 2017. Tajima did well to mix his fastball and slider to keep the Tigers from making good contact.

He was making his second start of the season after winning his debut with five scoreless innings against the DeNA BayStars on June 5. Tashima was pulled after allowing a single and a walk to open the seventh.
Reliever Brandon Dickson allowed two runs on a double and a sacrifice fly. A third run scored on a ground out.

The Buffaloes broke the deadlock against Onelki Garcia in the fourth inning, when Masataka Yoshida singled, stole second and scored on Koji Oshiro’s two-out double.

The Buffaloes tacked on four runs in the fifth, when Garcia couldn’t escape a two-out, two-on jam. Yoshida singled in Kenya Wakatsuki to open the flood gates. After Stefen Romero reached on an error, Keita Nakagawa and Oshiro each delivered RBI singles.

The Buffaloes were going for their seventh series sweep of the Tigers since interleague play began in 2005. Of the 10 Kansai derby sweeps, the Tigers four between 2005 and 2009, while the Buffaloes have all five since.


More injury woes: Hawks deactivate closer Mori

The Nikkan Sports reported Sunday that the SoftBank Hawks are deactivating closer Yuito Mori due to stiffness in his upper arm. Mori has been standing in for Dennis Sarfate since April 2018.

Sarfate appeared ready to rejoin the first team this season, but continuing fitness issues have seen him spending the season to this point at the club’s minor league facility in Chikugo, Fukuoka Prefecture.

Mori has 19 saves this season, but it has often been a struggle, as it was on Saturday, when he barely managed a three-run save.

Before Sunday’s game against the DeNA BayStars he said, “It felt differently than it always does. It was simply tough. I want to take care of business as best I can (on the farm) so I can get back as quickly as possible.”

Manager Kimiyasu Kudo said, “He had discomfort, so we’re treating it carefully and deactivating him. It’s really rare for him to say he’s having discomfort.”

He’ll be replaced on the roster by 27-year-old Ren Kajiya.

NPB’s rites of spring

Training basics

For those of you unfamiliar with spring training in Japan, here are a few things to look out for as you dive into the news coming out of the 12 teams’ camps. It’s not Mr. Baseball, although a surprising number of NPB veterans have said that movie helped them prepare mentally for things being different.

The time between Feb. 1 and Opening Day is divided into two segments. The first is called camp, the second a time for preseason exhibitions “opensen”(オーペン戦) . Camp runs for most of February, and when it ends teams move out of their spring training facilities and go from town to town playing exhibition games.

A few exhibition games typically take place before the end of spring training, although these are most commonly practice games, where the rules are flexible to suit the needs of the teams.

Despite Japan’s reputation for working to extreme, Japanese teams will train for four or five days and then take a day off. They’ll repeat that cycle until the end of camp. But don’t worry, the work gets done.

When reporters show up at the spring training facility in the morning, they’ll receive a sheet of paper explaining which player is in which training group and the different tasks they’ll be performing until early in the afternoon. What that doesn’t tell you is that players will be hitting off machines until evening or swinging or working out until after dark.

On Jan. 31, players and staff go to a local shrine to pray for success in the upcoming season. Workouts begin on Feb. 1, or at least that’s the way it used to be. Now, large numbers of players have begun showing up for group voluntary training in the days leading up to camp. Recent photos from the Yomiuri Giants camp in Miyazaki Prefecture, showed ace Tomoyuki Sugano throwing a bullpen on “Day 2 of group voluntary training.”

Help for foreign newbies

Almost every foreign player arriving for their first spring training in Japan has been told to bring running shoes. This is sound advice. Here is some more that I’ve heard from players with NPB experience:

  • Be ready to see pitchers throwing at full velocity from Day 1 and don’t try it yourself. You’ll be ready when you are ready. That won’t stop everyone else from treating the first day of camp like Opening Day. And that includes umpires. Former Hanshin Tigers reliever Jeff Williams recalled that his catcher and an umpire once got into a heated argument over balls and strikes in the bullpen on the first day of camp.
  • Remember, you know what your body needs to get ready for the season, so don’t overdo it. You may want to keep up with your teammates, but respect your own limits. Overdo it and you will impress your teammates and coaches, but that will quickly be forgotten if you don’t get results during the season. Everyday, coaches will ask you if you want to throw. What they mean is, “Is this a day you want to throw?” They are trying to understand your needs, not get you to be like your teammates.
  • If you are a first-year player with the Hanshin Tigers, however, please try to show the coaches you actually know how to hit in batting practice on Day 1. It may mean nothing to you, but coaches are grilled about new players’ BPs by the media. This is normally not an issue, but the Tigers media is overbearing and can cause even the coolest coach or manager to begin second-guessing himself about his confidence in you. At the end of his record-setting 2010 season, Matt Murton said he wished someone had told him to square up a few balls on the first day so the coaches could relax.
  • Listen to the coaches. They might not have played in the majors although some have, but they care about the game and can often help you adjust to Japanese ball. Pitchers learn to throw certain pitches better (Scott Mathieson‘s slider) , develop a new pitch (Dennis Sarfate‘s split) or go back to pitches they’d been dissuaded from using in America (Jeremy Powell‘s curveball).
  • Be ready to have a good slide step. Base stealing may not be a thing anymore in the States, but you will be judged on how quickly you get to the plate with runners on–and get used to a coach who walked 1,000 hitters in his career to tell you that Japanese pitchers don’t walk batters.
  • For batters, it’s the same story. The coaches seem less inclined to fine tune hitters mechanics than they do pitchers, but they can often tell you what to expect and how catchers will try to attack you. In the end, however, it’s about sticking with those things that work for you and finding ways to apply your strengths in an environment where fastballs are harder to predict and a lot of pitchers have really good location with all their pitches.
  • Take advantage of the massages. While the quality of the strength, fitness and conditioning programs vary from team to team, Japanese clubs are really good at massage therapy.

If anyone has anything to add or phrase better, or you just want to tell me what a load of crummy advice I’m pedaling, please leave a comment or hit me up on twitter.

Hiroshima and the international family

Forget the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates. Baseball’s new “We Are Family” champions are the Hiroshima Carp. Although a few teams have signed more foreign talent in recent years, Hiroshima’s family-oriented international operations are the envy of Nippon Professional Baseball. The basic process is the same for every team: find good players and sign them.

But the Carp go to greater lengths to get the process right under owner Hajime Matsuda and general manager Kiyoaki Suzuki. Part of the payoff is in the yearly performance of players like pitcher Kris Johnson and slugger Brad Eldred, who have helped power Hiroshima’s revival along with first-year pitchers Jay Jackson and Bradin Hagens, but it has a human side that goes beyond individual numbers.

Suzuki said the ideas of family, loyalty and trust spring from the city’s nature, and that idea extends to the players’ families, for whom the Carp have established an office that looks after the players’ needs off the field.

“Hiroshima is a compact town, everyone is family,” Suzuki said. “From searching out restaurants to various other things, we are able to respond to needs 24 hours a day, providing care for children and so on. They can call their interpreter 24 hours a day, wherever they are. If you take good care of a player’s wife and children, he can play with a sense of security.”

Former Carp pitchers Dennis Sarfate and Bryan Bullington are fans of what the team does. Asked if he would recommend the Carp to a friend wanting to play in Japan, Sarfate didn’t hesitate. “Hiroshima would be my first recommendation because of the way they treat you off the field,” he said.

Bullington, who is out of baseball this season after four seasons in Hiroshima and one with the Orix Buffaloes, said his family made good use of the team’s resources and assistance.

“Every team has some sort of resource, perhaps a lot more reliance on the interpreter or someone else. But because the Carp have three or four people working full time, trying to manage your apartment scenario and bills, taking kids to doctor’s appointments, it is a little unique,” said Bullington.

“Especially that first year, we definitely used the guidebook for things to do with the kids, parks, pools that kind of stuff, and also trying new restaurants and stuff. They’ve done their research. It definitely helps having that type of info, and we used it a lot.”

Interperter Hirofumi Matsunaga (松長 洋文) said part of his job is taking sick children to the doctor. “We always have female staff in the office, who speak English and can take care of the wives’ needs,” he said. “It’s us interpreters who usuallly do a lot of the other things like taking kids to the doctor.”

“They always seem to get sick when we’re on the road and on weekends, when hospitals aren’t open, so it’s hard to find one.” But the players aren’t the only ones who appreciate Hiroshima’s special focus.

Former pitcher Erik Schullstrom, who finished his four years in Japan with the Carp in 2002, has been scouting for Hiroshima ever since. He and former infielder Scott McClain scour the U.S. minor leagues for talent.

“I’m super happy,” Schullstrom said. “I’ve told the owner. I’m never going to leave my job. You can fire me. I’m never going to quit if I get offered another job, another club, a major league club, I will not take it. I’ll be working for the Carp forever. That’s how happy I am. I feel extremely lucky to be a part of this organization. Mr. Matsuda has a relationship with my children. They go and visit him, and he treats them like they’re his own kids, or his grandkids or part of his family. He’s so generous. He’s just a great person to work for.”

American assistant general manager Jonathan Fine has been the team’s representative in the United States since 1994 after working briefly alongside Suzuki and Matsuda in the front office in 1989 and 1990.

He said getting the right players starts with frank discussion among coaching staff and front office in Hiroshima to identify needs, continues with Schullstrom and McClain doing a thorough job of identifying players with skill and character, and the trust that permeates the operation allows him the ability to quickly go after the players the club wants.

“There have been a lot of changes in the (Japanese) work place the last 25 years, but the Carp remain a traditional Japanese company,” Fine said.

“They are run that way and their people are treated that way. Loyalty is expected and loyalty is earned and rewarded. It’s rewarded in the ease of getting things done. Barriers come down, people can participate in conversations, frankly. Decisions can get made relatively quickly. We’ve been able to beat other NPB teams to the punch to get good players in the past because of the ability (to move quickly).”

Schullstrom said he looks for maturity, flexibility and – with pitchers – the ability to make Triple-A batters swing and miss. But another key factor is hunger and the desire to build a successful career in Japan. “They need to be hungry. They need to be broke. It helps to have no money. I’m not kidding,” Schullstrom said.

“Guys who have some money in the bank almost never do well. They’re not interested in it. They don’t want to jump through the hoops. Some of the things we see (in Japan) are bizarre. They’re totally foreign.”

“I would say (we want) guys who have hunger and some patience and ability and flexibility in their personality. And you can see that. You can see guys: how they play, how they get along with other players. If they have a bad game if they strike out four or five times in a game. You can look into the dugout, you see how guys are talking to each other. You watch Kris Johnson come off the mound after a bad inning. How is he behaving? How is he reacting? How is he running out to the mound the next inning? Is it consistent?”

Schullstrom pointed to difficulties that Eldred and former Carp slugger Greg LaRocca faced and how the team’s trust and patience allowed them to achieve success. “Eldred got sent to the minor leagues and he could have pouted,” Schullstrom said.

“You can react a bunch of different ways. But, if you stand tall and act like a man, good things can happen. Toledo (where he last played in Triple-A) is way better than being in the minor leagues with the Carp.”

“LaRocca got off to a terrible start for 3 weeks. And Koji Yamamoto was our manager and he just kept putting him in the 3 Hole. And he stunk. He kept grounding out to third and rolling over balls.”

“There are no expectations (from the media) in Hiroshima. The press is relatively friendly to the team. It’s not like Osaka. They (the team) showed patience and look what he did. He hit 40 home runs, batted .328 with 100 RBIs. If a foreigner starts to struggle after 10 days, you’re out in almost every other town. But in Hiroshima with the whole coaching situation, there’s more trust. Now we (scouts) have a little bit of a track record with having success, so the leash is even longer for those guys. And sometimes it takes a little longer. We can take some credit, Mac and I, but the majority of the credit goes to the people in Japan for making it easier to succeed in Hiroshima.”

Eldred said that not only do the Carp look after the player’s family but the team IS a family.

“If a guy is new and struggles for 10 games, some teams forget about them,” Eldred said. “It’s nice to have a team that brought you here because they know you’ve got talent, and they’re expecting you to do a lot. It’s nice that they’re willing to give you as many opportunities as they can.”

“They (the Carp) always treated me very well. My second year, I had an injury and broke my hand and missed some time. I didn’t play as well as I liked, but they trusted in me and brought me back and I had a really good (third) year. That shows loyalty to their players. Once you’ve built up some time and become part of their family, they really treat you the right way. I think it’s a big family organization.”

When players arrive in Hiroshima, they have to prove themselves, and they have to put up with lots of things that are different, but Eldred and Jackson were used to playing abroad from winter ball and came in with open minds.

“I talked to other players and knew what to expect. Then when you get here, you see how helpful everyone is and how nice it is. It is very easy to trust them and be comfortable,” Jackson said.

“When I played in Mexico, when I played in Venezuela, I saw stuff I never thought I’d see, and here it’s a little bit more extreme, because baseball is so big here.”

It’s not easy coming to a different country and a different culture, but whatever the Carp can do to make it easier, they do and they do it in style, and everyone feels that the owner has his finger on the pulse of the team.

“It helps to have an owner who is involved and knows what’s going on,” Eldred said. “He takes care of us foreign players really well. When we have family or friends in town he always sends us out for a nice Japanese dinner. It’s kind of cool for him to take care of us like that. You never expect something like that, but he thinks of us.”

Sports agent Alan Nero, who represents Eldred, called Matsuda, “an outstanding individual.” “He’s let players move on to other teams where they had better opportunities,” Nero said.

“That’s very unusual. Most teams wouldn’t do that.”

Former Carp reliever Kam Mickolio, who has spent the past two seasons with the Rakuten Eagles, said, “I loved playing in Hiroshima. The owner is awesome.”

“Because of all they do, and how they are willing to structure contracts, the Carp are able to sign players for a lot less money than it would take for them to sign with any other team,” he said. What Matsuda and the Carp have built is special and other teams have taken notice.

Sarfate said the Hawks have built a similar program to take care of players’ families and Mickolio said the Eagles are doing the same.

“Rakuten’s always asking about what they do in Hiroshima, because they want to model their program after what the Carp do,” Mickolio said.

It’s not hard, but it’s not something that happens overnight. It takes time and trust to develop the bonds of loyalty that make a system like the Carp’s sing. And it takes someone at the very top to give it a heart and soul.