I’ve written before about how Japanese baseball’s ultimate mantra is “prepare and execute,” so when things go south, things must be done. At the very least, there must be “hansei” — self reflection — on one’s failures.
The big issues on Friday were the inadequacy of the current replay system. A string of challenges at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium held up the Marines-Eagles game for nearly half an hour. They were a string of close plays that were not obviously wrong although one was overturned.
The rule in Japan is for the umps to uphold decisions on the field without clear evidence to the contrary. The most egregious mistake came when Akira Nakamura of the Hawks was granted a decisive tie-breaking home run on a foul ball because the poor quality of the monitor afforded the officials at Kyocera Dome made it look as if it had passed on the fair side of the foul pole.
When the umps saw it on a better quality monitor after the game, they realized it was obviously foul.
Osamu Ino, the director of NPB’s umpiring technical committee has in the past blamed the cheapskate owners for not making the umps job easier and then blasting the officials for not being able to make better decisions.
On Thursday, Haruki Nishikawa was called safe at second base on a stolen base attempt despite a fairly clear image of him being tagged before his foot hit the bag.
Tomoyuki Sugano equaled a team record set by Hall of Famer Victor Starffin by winning 11-straight decisions from Opening Day in the Yomiuri Giants’ 6-3 come-from-behind win over the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome on Tuesday.
Sugano (11-0) allowed three runs, all scored by Tigers leadoff man Koji Chikamoto on seven hits and a walk while striking out five over six innings. The Giants ace’s command was not up to his usual high standards, and though his fastball was occasionally untouchable, he had to work extremely carefully to get out of a couple of tight spots.
Tigers lefty Haruto Takahashi (2-3) allowed single runs in the second and fourth before his command deserted him in the bottom of the sixth and the Giants began taking advantage of his mistakes to overcome a 3-2 deficit.
Kazuma Okamoto singled in the tying run with no outs. It seems clear that the Tigers bench was taken by surprise by the lefty’s 10-pitch meltdown since no one was ready to replace him until Yuta Iwasada took over with no outs and the bases loaded.
Iwasada surrendered a two-run single to Takumi Oshiro, who added another RBI single in the eighth, and the Giants cut it close in the ninth with Rubby De La Rosa on the mound.
With two on and one out, second baseman Naoki Yoshikawa robbed Chikamoto of his fourth hit of the game with a diving stop and a force at second.
The Tigers, who left the bases loaded in the fourth, wasted a two-on no-out opportunity in the seventh, running into an out at third base on a broken buster-and-run when they trailed 5-3.
Instead of two on, no outs and a 2-0 count to one of the Tigers’ best hitters, catcher Ryutaro Umeno, the Tigers had a 1-1 count, one out, and a runner on second after Umeno swung at a pitch nowhere near the strike zone and the lead runner was out at easily at third.
Sugano’s streak is the longest for a CL pitcher to start the season after throwing on Opening Day, matching the 1982 run by Hiroshima Carp Hall of Famer Manabu Kitabeppu. The Giants franchise record was set in 1938 by Russian Hall of Famer Victor Starffin.
The Giants win gave them a magic number to clinch their second-straight CL pennant of 38 with 48 games to play. This is a Japanese magic number, mind you, a mind-numbing formula that requires knowing the number of games your closest rival has remaining with you. It’s fairly complicated math. Teams who meet the criteria have their magic number “lit up.” Fans celebrate it and the media never shuts up about it.
Should the other CL teams improve relative to the Giants, Yomiuri’s magic number, 38 after the win with 48 games left to play, can disappear. Teams can win pennants without ever having a magic number.
Asked about it after Tuesday’s game, Giants manager Tatsunori Hara said, “It’s something that has nothing to do with me.”
Seiya Suzuki capped a four-run first inning with a three-run homer off Yudai Ono (5-5) whose six-game complete-game streak came to an end in the Hiroshima Carp’s 6-3 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Ono settled down after allowing the first four batters to reach, retiring 12 of the last 14 he faced before being pulled for a pinch-hitter. Carp right-hander Allen Kuri (4-4) allowed a run over six innings to earn the win. Geronimo Franzua worked the ninth for his ninth save.
Soto sparks Stars
Two-time Central League home run champ Neftali Soto hit his 15th home run and drove in three runs off 40-year-old lefty Masanori Ishikawa (0-4) in the DeNA BayStars’ 8-3 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Tatsuhiro Shibata came off the bench for the BayStars and doubled in three runs in the eighth to complete the rout.
Must be the shirt
Seiichiro Oshita, whom Orix added to their 70-man roster on Monday after taking him in the sixth round of last year’s developmental draft, broke a 1-1 second-inning tie with a three-run homer in his first career at-bat as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Rakuten Eagles 5-1 at Hotto Motto Field Kobe.
The Buffaloes, formed out of the 2004 merger of the Orix BlueWave and the Kintetsu Buffaloes, wore BlueWave uniforms at that club’s old home park in Kobe. Unfortunately, the Buffaloes didn’t have a special uniform available with Oshita’s new No. 40, so he wore the No. 102 of batting practice pitcher Yukihiro Yamaoka.
His feat mimicked that of Lotte Marines right-hander Hirokazu Sawamura, who was activated the day of his trade and struck out the side in order that night wearing the shirt of longtime batting practice pitcher Akihiro Fukushima.
Orix ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto (5-3), the hardest-throwing starting pitcher in Japan, allowed Hideto Asamura’s 23rd home run to lead off the second, but only two other hits and two walks while striking out nine over eight innings.
Fighters get past Senga
Haruki Nishikawa drove in three runs against SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga (6-4) in the Fighters’ 3-2 win at Sapporo Dome as veteran lefty Naoki Miyanishi again cut it close before recording the save.
Fighters right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa (6-3) threw eight scoreless innings as the hosts took a 3-0 lead into the ninth. Miyanishi, filling in for regular closer Ryo Akiyoshi has now escaped with two-straight saves after opponents’ trimmed the Fighters’ lead to a run in the ninth.
He surrendered solo home runs to Yuki Yanagita, his 23rd, and former Fighter Keizo Kawashima, his fourth.
Senga struck out 12 but walked six and gave up nine hits in his 148 war of attrition with the strike zone.
Spangenberg rescues endangered Lions
Corey Spangenberg’s 11th home run, a two-run eighth-inning shot off veteran right-hander Frank Herrmann brought the Seibu Lions from a run down in their 4-3 win over the Lotte Marines at MetLife Dome.
Marines starter Ayumu Ishikawa left with one out and a man on in the eighth. Herrmann retired Sosuke Genda before he missed a pitch that Spangenberg didn’t.
Lions starter Kona Takahashi, who lost a no-hit bid in the eighth inning a week earlier, allowed three runs, two earned over seven innings. Tatsushi Masuda worked the ninth for Seibu to earn his 18th save.
Haruki Nishikawa broke up an eighth-inning tie with a two-out, three-run triple off Reed Garrett (3-2), lifting the Nippon Ham Fighters to a 6-2 win over the Seibu Lions at Sapporo Dome on Saturday afternoon.
Sean Nolin allowed nine base runners but just two runs over six innings in his second start for the Lions, and Kaima Taira walked two in a scoreless seventh before the Lions’ luck ran out in the eighth.
With two outs, Takuya Nakashima fouled off three two-strike pitches before walking on nine pitches. Taishi Ota singled and Garrett hit Go Matsumoto to load the bases. A 1-1 splitter failed to tumble and Nishikawa hit a fly to the warning track. Center fielder Yuji Kaneko, was playing Nishikawa to pull and the ball fell just out of reach.
Sho Nakata followed with a drive near the top of the imposing center-field wall to drive in Nishikawa but was held to a single when he stumbled rounding first.
Kohei Arihara (4-6) who started the season 1-5 with three quality starts in his first eight games, has now rolled off four-straight solid outings. Some big plays from Nakashima at shortstop helped Arihara hold Seibu to two runs on six hits over eight innings.
Sean Nolin, making his second start since joining the Lions in the offseason, brought a very good fastball, but inconsistent location cost him. He allowed two runs on six hits, three walks and a hit batsman, while striking out 10.
Kensuke Kondo singled in both of the Fighters early runs, while the Lions answered with Ernesto Mejia’s eighth home run, in the second, and a Hotaka Yamakawa RBI single in the sixth.
Japanese baseball 101: Don’t get high
Nearly every Japanese language description of a good pitching effort will include the phrase, “he was consistently low in the zone,” while the kneejerk reaction to nearly every hit is, “he left that up,” whether the pitch was actually well-located or even up in the zone.
The reason for this is that the Japanese game is so rooted in the way young kids are taught to hit grounders to the left side of the infield. They are taught this way because young children don’t field well and hitting the ball to the left side increases the batter’s chance of reaching on an error.
So instead of trying to launch pitches that miss up, the first instinct of many players trained here is to chop down on those balls and smash through the left side of the infield. The “best” pitchers are those who keep batters from hitting hard ground ball singles.
The Fighters’ first illustrated this. Nolin got slugger Sho Nakata to wave at a high fastball for Strike 3, but three other high pitches were chopped between third and short in textbook fashion: back-to-back one-out singles and a two-out chopper to the hole to bring in a run.
“Forrest Gump” Nakamura stars for Marines
Even when the Lotte Marines can’t get it right, they somehow still manage to compete against the SoftBank Hawks. On Saturday, Marines second baseman had a kind of Forrest Gump box-of-chocolates game, since he seemed to be present at numerous junctures in their 5-4 win at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
The visitors squandered two good scoring chances, and Nakamura had as up and down a day as one can have. He homered to open the scoring, only for a couple of fielding near-misses on defense at second base contribute to two infield singles in the Hawks’ three-run sixth. He also literally knocked out the Hawks’ starting pitcher, and assisted in the final scene.
“The margin of victory was paper thin, because of my mistakes,” Nakamura said. “I played very aggressively even in the field. I messed up in the field so I’m glad I could contribute with my bat.”
The win improved the Marines’ record against the Hawks since the start of last season to 24-11-1. In three seasons as Lotte’s manager, former Hawk Tadahito Iguchi now has a 33-26-2 mark against the three-time defending Japan Series champions.
With two on and no outs in the first, Ikuhiro Kiyota bunted into a force out before a fluke 6-5-4 double play ended the Marines’ inning. Leading 1-0 in the third after Nakamura homered off Shota Takeda, Ikuhiro Kiyota was thrown out easily at the plate trying to score from first on a one-out double. With two on and two outs, rookie Toshiya Sato hammered a hanging breaking ball straight to first baseman Kenji Akashi.
Marines starter Manabu Mima (6-2) allowed four runs, three earned, over seven innings. Takeda was knocked out of the game in the fifth inning, when he was hit in the gut by a Nakamura line drive. Takeda threw him out at first as he collapsed to the turf. Yuta Watanabe, who made his first-team debut the night before, got the final out, and lefty Shunsuke Kasaya worked a perfect sixth.
Mima got three ground balls to open the sixth. Nakamura nearly made a tremendous play to retire the leadoff hitter but the ball stayed in his glove on an attempted flip to first. With one out and one on, he made a good play to pick a grounder up the middle but his throw to first was wide, resulting in another infield single.
Yurisbel Gracial, who’d hit his third home run in two days in the fourth, lined a pitch up the middle to tie it 2-2. With two more runs in the inning, Kasaya was in line for the win. Unfortunately, he only retired one batter in the seventh as the visitors got a run back on a Nobuhiro Matsuda error and two singles.
With one out, right-hander Yuki Matsumoto came on to face Nakamura, who missed his second home run by a few feet, driving in two with a two-out double high off the wall in left.
Mima worked a 1-2-3 seventh, and Yuki Karakawa did the same in the eighth. Matsuda earned some redemption with a leadoff single against closer Naoya Masuda. A sacrifice moved pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto to second and he took third on a wild pitch, but with the infield in, Keizo Kawashima hit a bullet to Nakamura at second and he sealed the win by doubling the stunned Shuto off third.
Tanaka, Asamura power Eagles
Kazuki Tanaka homered twice and Hideto Asamura hit his third in two games and the Rakuten Eagles beat the Orix Buffaloes 6-5 at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Tanaka hit a two-run shot in the first off Sachiya Yamasaki (2-4). Adam Jones singled to open the Buffaloes’ three-run second against Takahiro Shiomi (4-5), but Asamura turned the game around again by going deep with two on for his 21st home run.
Yamasaki left after five innings, but not before surrendering Tanaka’s second homer.
Shiomi allowed three runs over five innings. Kazuhisa Makita, the Eagles’ fourth pitcher, threw a scoreless eighth, catching a liner off Jones’ bat for the final out, while Alan Busenitz surrendered two runs in the ninth before locking down his 10th save.
Masataka Yoshida extended his hitting streak to 23 games in the Buffaloes’ third, nine short of Atsushi Nagaike’s Pacific League and franchise record and 10 short of Yoshihiko Takahashi’s NPB record.
Soto slugs Carp as Onuki goes distance
Two-time defending CL home run champ Neftali Soto homered twice and scored three runs as the DeNA BayStars took a hammer to the Hiroshima Carp 10-1 at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Carp ace Daichi Osera (5-4) failed to make it through the fourth inning for his second start in a row, surrendering eight runs in 3-1/3 innings on nine hits.
In a season that started on June 19 following weeks of improvised preparations due to the coronavirus pandemic, most teams were talking about easing players into the season. Despite that, the Carp ace was allowed to throw back-to-back complete games in his first two starts. He has been deactivated once already due to lack of fitness after going just two innings in Yokohama on July 24.
Takayuki Kajitani doubled to open the game and scored on a one-out Soto single. A Keita Sano single and a groundout plated Soto with the visitors’ second run.
Shinichi Onuki (6-2) scattered eight hits over the distance while striking out four and walking none in his first career complete-game victory.
Soto made it 3-0 in the third with his 11th home run and his second in two days. He capped DeNA’s six-run fourth with a three-run shot.
Hard to Swallow
For the second time in three days, the key play for the Yakult Swallows was a tie-breaking two-run error as center fielder Kotaro Yamasaki raced to catch a fly in the gap for the final out of the 10th inning, only to have it hit off his glove in a 3-1 extra-inning loss to the Chunichi Dragons.
The Swallows had 15 hits but were being shut out until they tied it in the eighth with three singles off lefty Hiroto Fuku, who was pitching for the third-straight day.
Closer Raidel Martinez (2-0) worked out of a one-out bases-loaded pickle in the ninth by striking out the Swallows’ most productive hitter, Munetaka Murakami, and getting Norichika Aoki to ground out.
The Dragons opened the scoring in the fourth when Nobumasa Fukuda’s opposite-field drive to right went for a triple and he scored on a Dayan Viciedo single.
Fujinami comeback hits 11-run snag
For the first time since he returned to the mound this year, the story about Shintaro Fujinami was why he’s fumbling ground balls. Instead, the one-time elite pitching prospect allowed a career-high 11 runs in the Hanshin Tigers’ 11-2 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Koshien Stadium.
Giants starter Nobutaka Imamura (3-0) got the win after allowing one run over eight innings.
Fujinami (1-5) allowed nine hits and six walks while striking out six. Fujinami’s career basically slid into the tank when Tomoaki Kanemoto became manager in 2016. The good news was that Tigers manager Akihiro Yano yanked him after he’d thrown 125 instead of letting him labor past 160 like Kanemoto once did when Fujinami displeased him.
The 11 runs was also the most ever allowed in one game by a Tigers pitcher.
Thursday’s games in Japan were the stuff of nightmares for baseball old farts as three relievers made their first starts of the season, while five of the 12 starters took the mound with fewer than 10 career starts.
Fittingly, the day’s signature play–or rather misplay–was made by a reliever, and could someday be known as the “McPickoff.”
Hawks come back, salvage series tie
The Orix Buffaloes blew a two-run seventh-inning lead, allowing the SoftBank Hawks to win the get-away game 5-4 in their three-game series at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
A night after Hawks closer Yuito Mori blew a two-run ninth-inning lead en route to a 3-3 tie, former closer Hirotoshi Masui gave the Buffaloes a chance to win by allowing two runs over five innings. He left with a 4-2 lead after Yutaro Sugimoto singled in a run in the fourth and Masato Matsui followed with a three-run shot off Hawks sixth starter Akira Niho (4-4).
Orix got a scintillating sixth inning against the heart of the Hawks lineup from lefty Nobuyoshi Yamada. Rookie lefty Ryuga Tomiyama (0-1) was tasked with holding the visitors down in the seventh, but the 23-year-old issued a one-out walk before surrendering Nobuhiro Matsuda’s game-tying two-run homer and a solo shot to Hawks catcher Takuya Kai.
Against Hawks lefty Livan Moinelo in the eighth, Masataka Yoshida singled with two outs to run his hitting streak to 21 games, and Adam Jones walked. Ryoichi Adachi was en route to first after trying to check his swing on a 3-2 pitch until he was called out and sank to his knees on the first-base line.
Sugimoto singled to open the Buffaloes ninth against Mori, but the closer hung on to record his 18th save.
Kato, 3 relievers combine on 1-hitter
Lefty Takayuki Kato (1-1) faced the minimum over five hitless innings and three relievers completed the combined one-hitter as the Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-0 at Sapporo Dome.
Kato, employed last year mostly as a “short starter” who could be trusted to go through the opposing lineup twice, was yanked after just 51 pitches. He hit one batter and struck out one. Toru Murata allowed the Eagles only hit, a single by rookie Hiroto Kobukata, in the sixth. Taisho Tamai walked two hitters in the eighth and lefty Naoki Miyanishi worked a perfect ninth.
Haruki Nishikawa doubled in a run off Yuki Matsui (1-2) in the first and tripled in another in the third. Sho Nakata singled him home in the first and delivered a sacrifice fly to plate him in the third.
Matsui allowed four runs, three earned, on five hits and a walk while striking out six.
Martin homers lift Marines over Lions
Leonys Martin’s 18th home run broke up a 2-2 fifth-inning tie and started a five-run inning as the Lotte Marines beat the Seibu Lions 8-5 at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Marines starter Daiki Iwashita (4-4) worked out of a no-out bases-loaded predicament in the first inning and a two-on, one-out pickle in the third, but the Lions got to the right-hander the third time around. A fifth-inning leadoff walk and a one-out home run by Yuji Kaneko, his first, tied it.
Lotte right-hander Frank Herrmann allowed the visitors to get a run back in the eighth on a Tomoya Mori double and Ernesto Mejia’s third hit of the game, but Martin canceled that out with his 19th home run in the home half.
Katsunori Hirai, the Lions’ middle-relief workhorse out of the bullpen until asked to make his first career start last week, took the loss. He gave up five runs over 4-1/3 innings.
Fukutani, Dragons shut down Carp
Koji Fukutani (3-2) worked 7-1/3 scoreless innings and two relievers completed the Chunichi Dragons nine-hit shutout in a 6-0 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Nagoya Dome.
Carp lefty Kris Johnson (0-7) was unable to command his pitches from the get-go, and after a one-out walk to Ryosuke Hirai, Nobumasa Fukuda crushed a slider inside for his fourth home run. Fukutani led off the Dragons’ third and scored on Fukuda’s no-out bases-loaded single. Back-to-back sacrifice flies made it 5-0, and Fukutani rubbed salt in the wounds with a sixth-inning RBI single.
Johnson allowed five runs on four hits and two walks over four innings while striking out five.
BayStars bullpen day bombs against Giants
Setup man Spencer Patton (2-2) made his first start in Japan as the front man in a bullpen relay but allowed nine runs in the DeNA BayStars’ 13-4 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome.
Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the first, and a dropped flyball brought in the go-ahead run in the hosts’ three-run first. The Giants blew the game open in the second after starting pitcher Kazuto Taguchi drew a one-out walk. The Giants sent 14 batters to the plate in the 10-run inning that saw three home runs and a two-run double by the pitcher.
Taguchi (3-3) allowed a run on six hits over six innings. He struck out four.
Reliever Scott McGough’s failed throw to an empty base allowed two inherited runners to score as the Hanshin Tigers overturned a one-run seventh-inning deficit in their 4-3 win over the Yakult Swallows at Koshien Stadium.
The Swallows tied it 2-2 in the fourth and took the lead in the top of the seventh when Tigers reliever Atsushi Nomi fumbled a ground ball. Singles by Justin Bour and pinch-hitter Naomasa Yokawa put the go-ahead runners on in the home half chased left-handed reliever Keiji Takahashi (1-3).
With leadoff man Koji Chikamoto at the plate, Yokawa stole second. Inexplicably, McGough threw to first, resulting in a balk, and both runners scored as the ball rolled in foul territory toward the corner.
“That was lucky,” Tigers skipper Akihiro Yano said.
The search for the best outfield defensive tools on the planet brings us to Japan’s Pacific League and the top three in the 2019 voting for the three outfield Golden Gloves. I thought it would be easier to select a PL winner than in the CL, but I was wrong.
Shogo Akiyama, Lions 秋山 翔吾
Takashi Ogino, Marines 荻野 貴司
Haruki NIshikawa, Fighters 西川 遥輝
By default, Akiyama, whose metrics have been slipping year by year, is the PL winner of the tools challenge. Despite the ubiquity of PL TV, the league’s streaming service, I’m simply unable to find any video collections of Takashi Ogino or Haruki Nishikawa. Those who are interested more on Nishikawa can find my profile of him HERE, since he has expressed an interest in playing in the majors.
If you are interested in the new Cincinnati Reds outfielder, my profile of the former Lions captain is HERE.
Conclusion and admission
My outfield tools surveys of four leagues, the National, American, Central and Pacific, has produced four finalists:
Lorenzo Cain, Milwaukee Brewers
Jackie Bradley, Jr, Boston Red Sox
Seiya Suzuki, Hiroshima Carp
Shogo Akiyama, Seibu Lions
My choice for the best outfield tools in the world goes to Jackie Bradley Jr. of the Boston Red Sox. If I had to pick No. 2 it would be Kevin Kiermaier of the Tampa Bay Rays.
I tried to evaluate every outfielder on the following criteria:
judgment at the wall
I omitted “good hands” from consideration because all the candidates are exceptional at catching the ball. But having said that, Bradley is as good at that as anyone I’ve seen — and I grew up watching Willie Mays. I am hesitant to give out an 80 score, but let’s call it a 75.
Based on the video above, I’ve rated his arm strength is 75, his accuracy a 70. His footwork is as good as Kiermaier’s which is the best I’ve seen. But there’s a cherry on top, the grace and speed at which he transitions from catching to throwing is an 80. Again, he’s not AS good at scaling outfield walls as Lorenzo Cain, but nobody is. Having said that, Bradley is pretty darn close.
The other special thing about him is his jumps. He appears to be in motion before the batter swings. His raw speed gives him incredible range when he is right, and allows him to make up for guessing wrong.
I have less confidence in my Japanese choices in the outfield than I had in the infield, because while I’ve seen these guys a fair amount, I’ve been a writer, not a scout.
I’m trying to change that, of course, and my podcast colleague John E. Gibson could give a far more educated opinion about tools, because that has always been an after thought. Until now, my thinking has been, ‘Does he make the play or not? How often does he make plays? What are the context of the plays he made or didn’t make? Are they part of the story of this game or the story of that player or of Japanese baseball.
Gibson likes to talk about tools, but for the most part, they pretty much didn’t enter into my calculus. Which is kind of odd in a way, since the greater part of sports writing in Japan is obsessed with technical minutia about tools and skills. I preferred to write about how people grew and learned rather than why they decided to move their hands apart when the gripped the bat.
Anyway, I hope to remedy that indifference to specific skills going forward.
Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Kohei Arihara would like to pitch in the major leagues and hopes to be posted as early as the conclusion of the 2020 season. Arihara was the Pacific League’s rookie of the year in 2015 and led the PL this season in wins.
“I had that thought in mind when I joined the team (as an amateur) and this year I formally relayed that,” Arihara told a press conference
The 27-year-old is the second front-line Fighters player to tell the team he’d like to be posted this offseason, following center fielder and leadoff man Haruki Nishikawa’s disclosure last month.
Arihara’s profile and my analysis can be found HERE.
Balentien on verge of signing with Hawks
The Nikkan Sports reported Wednesday that veteran slugger Wladimir Balentien was on the verge of signing with the SoftBank Hawks. The 35-year-old Balentien, who set Japan’s single-season home run record with 60 in his 2013 Central League MVP campaign, no longer counts against a team’s limit of four active foreign-registered players.
The Hawks are the only team that has been said to be in the hunt to sign Balentien, who has played all nine of his seasons with the Yakult Swallows, has 288 NPB home runs.
Dragons agree to terms with lefty Gonzalez
The Chunichi Dragons have agreed on a contract with 27-year-old Dominican lefty Luis Gonzalez according to the Chunichi Sports. According to the story, Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda has been in the Dominican Republic, where Gonzalez has been playing winter ball.
Chunichi has lost the services of lefty Joely Rodriguez, who was arguably the Central League’s best middle reliever in 2019. HERE is Rodriguez’s NPB player page.