Tag Archives: Hideki Kuriyama

ramping up: 21 days to go

One aspect of the long layoff forced by the novel coronavirus is that players who were due to miss the original March 20 start of the season, are now regaining fitness and may be able to make the roster when the season finally starts on June 19.

350 days

That’s how long it will be between starts for Naoyuki Uwasawa when he takes the mound for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Tuesday’s practice game.

Last season, Uwasawa was a key component of the Rube Goldberg contraption that was the Fighters’ pitching rotation last season. Manager Hideki Kuriyama used him and Kohei Arihara as the pillars in conventional starting roles, with a handful of others tasked with going either once or twice through the opposing lineup depending on the skipper’s confidence in them.

In a June 18 interleague game, Uwasawa was kneecapped by a batted ball hit by Neftali Soto, the DeNA BayStars’ two-time Central League home run champ. Prior to that game, the Fighters starting pitchers were 26-18 with a 3.65 ERA. Afterward, even with some superb 1-inning opening acts by Mizuki Hori, they went 18-31 with a 4.32 ERA.

On Thursday, he faced five batters in a simulated game at the Fighters’ minor league facility in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, and is expected to pitch two innings on Tuesday at the Lotte Marines’ Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba.

Yanagita back with a bang

Yuki Yanagita, who until the recent ascension of Hiroshima Carp right fielder Seiya Suzuki, was considered the Japanese outfielder most coveted by MLB clubs, returned to the SoftBank Hawks’ first team for an intrasquad game on Saturday. Yanagita has been rehabbing since his 2019 dumpster fire of a season was capped with right elbow surgery in the offseason.

Yanagita missed most of the season with a knee injury and failed by the slimmest of margins to get the 140 days of service time needed to be a free agent this winter. Had the Hawks brought him up a few days earlier, he would have been on track to fulfil his stated goal of playing in the majors. They didn’t and he signed a long-ass contract that keeps him in Fukuoka for essentially the rest of his career.

On Saturday, according to the Sankei Sports, he hit an opposite-field homer from submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi, the Pacific League’s 2019 rookie of the year and another player who was due to miss the start of the season in March but now has a shot at helping out the rotation from the start.

Stewart takes drive off shin

The Hawks’ Carter Stewart Jr left the mound after pitching just one inning when he took a shot off his right shin that was turned into the final out of the inning.

Iguchi changes tune on Sasaki

Eighteen-year-old right-hander Roki Sasaki who repeatedly was clocked at over 100 miles per hour in his final high school season, apparently will appear in a practice game for the Lotte Marines in the coming weeks, manager Tadahito Iguchi indicated to the media on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, Iguchi had said Sasaki, who twice hit 160 kilometers per hour in a simulated game on Tuesday, would not be ready to appear in a game next month.

Alex Ramirez, the flexible manager

DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, like pretty much any ballplayer you talk to, has a huge bag of cliches and simple rules to explain how to prepare for and play baseball games in the form of expressions “you always want to…” or “you never…”

But when you get past the superficial sound bites that come from being a former big leaguer, you get a guy who is always on the lookout for the next thing that might work.

On Sunday, Ramirez said he was open to using a reliever to break the first-inning ice for his starting pitchers as “openers.” If so, he would be Japan’s second manager to opt for that kind of a role following Nippon Ham’s Hideki Kuriyama.

Ramirez has long been used to getting flack in Japan. A lot of foreign players took exception to his choreographed home run celebrations that the fans loved, often saying, “If you don’t do that back home, don’t do that here.” To which Ramirez was fond of answering: “In case you hadn’t noticed we’re in Japan, not ‘back home.'”

As a manager, he has been criticized for batting his pitchers eighth, something which makes a ton of sense.

Having a batter who reaches base bat ninth means fewer RBIs from the No. 8 spot in exchange for more no-out, runner-on-base situations for the top of the order — something that will help you score a few extra runs a year.

Last year, when Ramirez had his best hitter, and Japan’s cleanup hitter, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo bat second, the old farts screamed, calling it an insult to Tsutsugo and Japan.

Last year, I tracked how each team’s starting pitchers did before and after facing their 19th batter in a game. Last season, when bullpen games were becoming very common, the BayStars were second-fewest in NPB with only 55 games in which a starter faced 19-plus batters, but it didn’t really help them.

From the 19th batter on in those 55 games, BayStars opponents had a .382 OBP, the 10th worst in NPB, and a .511 slugging average, worst of all 12 teams. The Fighters were the flip side of that. The pitchers who were allowed to go past 18 batters were really good, posting a .250 OBP and .196 SLUG.

Mind you, the Hiroshima Carp had 125 games in which their starters went through the opposing order more than two times while being nearly as good as the Fighters starters in those situations. But the Carp rotation — which led NPB with a .469 quality start percentage, was deep and the Fighters’ wasn’t.

The BayStars young starting corps has the chance to be an elite group, but Ramirez isn’t going to turn a blind eye to the possibility that using openers as part of a well-thought-out plan could help. Like the Fighters, the BayStars have a solid analytics team, and it would be no surprise to see DeNA improve their pitching and defense next season just because of Ramirez’s willingness to fly in the face of ignorant criticism and try the next thing.

The kotatsu league: Hawks poised to sign Balentien–report

A collection of Wladimir Balentien’s 2013 season home runs.

Hochi Shimbun reported Thursday that Wladimir Balentien was on the verge of an agreement with the SoftBank Hawks on a two-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $10 million. Because of his nine years of service, Balentien no longer counts against a team’s limit of four active foreign registered players.

The Hawks are three-time defending Japan Series champions. Despite missing their best power hitter, Yuki Yanagita, for most of the season and another slugger, Yurisbel Gracial, for over a month, they finished tied for the NPB lead in home runs with 183.

Here’s Balentien’s NPB page in English.

Fighters agree on contract terms with Villanueva

The Nippon Ham Fighters announced Thursday they have reached an agreement to sign third baseman Christian Villanueva, who was released by the Yomiuri Giants after one season.

In a comment released by the team, manager Hideki Kuriyama said, “I believe the addition of Villanueva perfectly dovetails with the Fighters principle needs this offseason. His results this season were not indicative of his real ability, and we believe we can assist him in making the jump. We’ve had our eye on him since he was in the majors, and the power is real. He’s also a reliable glove at third base and believe we can leave it in his hands.”

Here’s Villanueva’s NPB page.

The Giants signed Villanueva to provide power but he failed to do so at one of Japan’s best home run parks. He was benched from May 5 and did not show much more when given further trials in June and July. He was sent down to the farm for good in the middle of August and not recalled for the postseason.

The kotatsu league: VerHagen poised to sign with Fighters

The Nippon Ham Fighters announced they have come to terms with Detroit Tigers right-hander Drew VerHagen on Tuesday. In a Japanese language press release, VerHagen was quoted as saying he was eager to be coming to Japan, having heard so much about the country from others.

No contract terms were announced by the Fighters. The following is a translation of manager Hideki Kuriyama’s comments relayed by the club:

“Without a doubt, as we go through the process of regrouping, one of our absolute needs was for a starting pitcher. VerHagen has the quality to be considered in an MLB team’s starting pitching plans for next season. We had a number of options available to us and are very happy to have been able to have him join the Fighters. He’s thrown as hard as 158 kph (98.2 mph) with a good sinker, a power curve, a slider, and a changeup. He’s a very well balanced pitcher. I’ve heard he’s big on preparation and so perhaps he can adjust quickly to Japanese baseball. He has the potential to be a big right-handed rotation anchor for us, and I’m grateful to our U.S. based scouts.”

Kuriyama didn’t mention that FanGraphs has called some of his pitches splitters. A lot of people don’t know this but being able to throw six pitches in competition makes you eligible for Japanese citizenship since you will be indistinguishable from the other pitchers in NPB.

Last season, the Fighters became the first modern Japanese team to use an opener and a “short starter” — a starting pitcher whose job was to go through the order either once or twice, a plan which caused former New York Mets pitcher Masato Yoshii to end his second stint as the club’s pitching coach after yet another policy disagreement with Kuriyama.The

The Detroit News had a nice writeup of this story.

Marines land coveted reserve outfielder Fukuda

The Marines have landed — a free agent outfielder — that is. After failing to land two-time Central League MVP Yoshihiro Maru a year ago, Lotte has succeeded in getting SoftBank Hawks fourth outfielder Shuhei Fukuda, a bench player in Fukuoka largely because of the Hawks deep frontline talent in the outfield.

According to Sports Nippon, the 30-year-old Fukuda selected the Marines because of his relationship with head coach Yusuke Torigoe, who had been with him as a Hawks coach until 2018, saying, “I’ve been able to make it this far, largely because of him.”

The Seibu Lions, Rakuten Eagles, Chunichi Dragons and Yakult Swallows had also been pursuing Fukuda.

Fighters skipper Kuriyama to quit

The Nikkan Sports reported Wednesday that Hideki Kuriyama (58) has told the Nippon Ham Fighters that he will step down after managing the club after eight seasons due to poor results.

The club will finish fifth in the PL for the second time since the Fighters won the league and the Japan Series in 2016.

The Nikkan Sports said the story was confirmed by sources close to the skipper, who is expected to meet with the team president when the season ends and make a formal declaration at that time.

Both Kuriyama’s managing and his situation within the Fighters’ organization have been outliers in Japanese baseball. He is the one credited with offering Shohei Ohtani the chance to both pitch and hit as an 18-year-old in 2013, and this year became the first Japanese manager to employ a regular opener and the first in decades to employ extreme defensive shifts.

Before he was promoted to be Fighters General Manager, Hiroshi Yoshimura said it was extremely hard for the Fighters to find a suitable manager, because the team’s system goes against the grain of Japanese baseball tradition, where the manager (unless he is a foreigner working for Hiroshima or Orix) has final say over player personnel decisions and draft picks.

That system evolved after the club’s move to Sapporo in 2004 through the aegis of chief executive Toshimasa Shimada, General Manager Shigeru Takada and manager Trey Hillman.

“It’s not easy for us to find a manager,” Yoshimura said. “Because Japanese managers are used to getting their way.”

Yoshimura’s words proved prophetic over the winter of 2011-2012 in Yokohama, where Shigeru Takada imported elements of Nippon Ham’s front office management style when he moved to become BayStars GM. Kimiyasu Kudo turned down the DeNA job because he would not have full control, and they instead turned to Kiyoshi Nakahata.

Being the Nippon Ham Fighters manager means access to an analytic team that is very strong by Japan standards, and players who are trained and developed the way the organization sees fit.

Being something of an iconoclast and also someone who sees himself as an innovator who takes novel ideas and runs with them Kuriyama sometimes gets into trouble with old-school guys.

Pitching coach Masato Yoshii quit the Fighters after the 2012 season because of Kuriyama’s desire to use pitcher Yuki Saito on the first team when he was not good enough for the farm team.

Asked about it afterward, Yoshii said he left because, “I wanted to be on a team with a manager who wants to win.”

Yoshii returned four years later but quit last autumn, reportedly over Kuriyama’s decision to employ “short starters,” pitchers who would start and only go through the opposing order once or twice depending on their ability.

The Nikkan Sports story said the organization sees the team’s results as a failure of player development — an area technically beyond Kuriyama’s reach.

NPB games, news of Sept. 8, 2019

Tough to Swallow

Junji Ogawa announced Sunday for the second time in six years that he no longer wants to manage the Central League’s Yakult Swallows. The team is in last place and has been eliminated from playoff contention. Ogawa took over last year and led the Swallows to second place. In six seasons over two terms, he has led them to the postseason three times.

Head coach Shinya Miyamoto, who was expected to take over after a brief coaching stint, said he wants no part of the job either. One potential candidate to manage is current farm manager and former pitching coach Shingo Takatsu.

If Takatsu does take over, he’ll become the second Japanese former major leaguer to manage a top-flight NPB club after fellow former White Sox infielder Tadahito Iguchi took over the Pacific League’s Lotte Marines in 2018.

Pacific League

Hawks 9, Marines 6

At Yafuoku Dome, Lotte’s Brandon Laird homered, reached base four times and drove in four runs, but SoftBank came back against starter Atsuki Taneichi to tie it in the seventh inning on a pinch-hit RBI single by Keizo Kawashima. Kenji Akashi’s eighth-inning pinch-hit double put the Hawks ahead in the eighth before Kawashima doubled in an insurance run.

Hawks starter Shota Takeda put the home team in a bind by allowing four runs over four innings. Taneichi allowed six runs in 6-1/3, and the Marines bullpen let the game get away further.

Game highlights are HERE.

Lions 3, Eagles 2

At Rakuten Seimei Park, Takeya Nakamura doubled in two runs for Seibu and Hotaka Yamakawa doubled in another run in the eighth after Rakuten’s Jabari Blash tied it in the sixth with his 31st home run.

Game highlights are HERE.

Fighters 2, Buffaloes 0

At Sapporo Dome, the future and past crossed paths as former Orix ace Chihiro Kaneko (6-4) matched his season-high of six innings to outpitch the Buffaloes best young pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (6-5), who held Nippon Ham to an unearned run over six innings.

Yamamoto was on the mound for the first time since straining his left oblique muscles on Aug. 3. He allowed three hits and struck out six without issuing a walk.

The Fighters’ future and past also collided as their former closer, Hirotoshi Masui surrendered a solo homer to up-and-coming slugger Kotaro Kiyomiya.

Game highlights are HERE.

Let’s pretend it never happened

For some reason, Nippon Ham Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama has decided to ditch the idea of openers and short starters. On Sunday, Chihiro Kaneko worked six innings, marking the first time this season that Fighters starters have worked six innings or more in three consecutive games.

They have also equaled the team’s longest streak of consecutive five-plus inning starts.

Mizuki Hori, who had been dynamite as the opener, has been demoted to the farm, where he is pitching occasionally and striking out batters, something one imagines would be more useful on the first team.

It’s almost as if there was a purge and evidence of the experiment, Hori, has been sent into exile in the team’s Kamagaya gulag.

Central League

Dragons 5, BayStars 2

At Nagoya Dome, Chunichi’s Yudai Ono (8-8) lost his bid for a shutout when DeNA’s Neftali Soto hit his 36th home run, a two-run shot in the ninth. The win was Chunichi’s sixth straight after sweeping the league’s top two teams, the Giants and BayStars.

As they have for the past week or so, the Dragons continued to be tenacious at the plate and on the bases. Yota Kyoda legged out a triple in the fourth inning and scored from third on a foul pop down the first base line. With Ono cruising, Nobumasa Fukuda essentially put the game away in the sixth with a two-run double.

Carp 3, Tigers 2

At Mazda Stadium, Hiroshima’s Hisayoshi Chono singled in two runs and made a good catch in left field to help Kris Johnson (11-7) earn the win over Hanshin with six scoreless innings.

Geronimo Franzua entered the game with two outs in the eighth and a runner on second. He surrendered an RBI double to make it a 3-2 game and walked the next batter before retiring the last four he faced to earn his 11th save.