One doesn’t make light of the coronavirus pandemic, but it has given us some great moments by making coaches’ and players’ audible during games, as happened Monday in a Yomiuri Giants intrasquad game at Okinawa Cellular Stadium.
Hiroyuki Nakajima hit a ground rule double he thought was a home run and as he was ordered back to second by the umpire, one could hear voices from the dugout giving him — as they used to say on “Leave it to Beaver — the business.
“You should drink protein,” and “Eat more rice,” were two of things shouted at Nakajima as he retreated to second base.
As a young shortstop with the Seibu Lions, Nakajima had a tremendous physique and generated a lot of power, so in a March 2011 interview I asked about his training and nutrition regimen.
“I lift, but I don’t take any extra nutrition or supplements, unless my teammates give me amino acid stuff, and then I take those to humor them,” he said then, making me wonder if that is still his routine and if a teammate might have been on the money.
In Monday’s live chat with Warren Cromartie, I mentioned how new pitching coach Masumi Kuwata was ridiculed by former players for doing weight training in the 1980s. There is a suspicion of weight training among older players in Japan, which makes little sense. It’s almost as if to engage in strength training goes against the nation’s snobbish assertion that Japanese players are good, despite lacking physical strength, because they practice to the ends of the earth to execute in games.
Japan’s Colonel Curmudgeon, Isao Harimoto recently said of players doing weight training in camp, “The game is about hitting a ball with a bat. The time spent building muscles that might hinder you as a hitter or a pitcher would be better spent practicing hitting and pitching.”
Every team has weight rooms and strength coaches, but many teams see them as more of an accessory for the players who want to make use of them. I used to think all the teams hired strength coaches based on expertise, but according to players, some teams apparently use that position as just another way to employ a former player with few other job prospects.
Had Shohei Ohtani played for a different team than the Nippon Ham Fighters, it’s possible he would have only acquired more knowledge about strength training on his own. In 2018, Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami revealed he’d been a pro for five seasons and had never been taught about the need for nutrition or recovery.
With the Fighters, the organization sets the strength and fitness programs, but Japanese style is for the manager to make changes if he doesn’t like what’s going on. A few years ago a Lions trainer told me that nothing had changed in the way Lions players were expected to train in his five seasons there.
The Hawks did a 180 when Kimiyasu Kudo, who studies sport science, became manager. Their previous GM, Itaru Kobayashi, had expanded the club’s medical and training staff base, but under old-school manager Koji Akiyama, the staff’s input was limited. Kudo changed things.
Whether Nakajima takes protein now or not at his age is no big deal, but it perhaps a good sign that some on the Giants bench at least knew enough to rib him about it.
Sachiya Yamasaki (2-2) was pitching a heck of a game until he tried to get out of the eighth inning with a 2-2 inside fastball to Yuki Yanagita, who drilled it well back in the right-field stands for a three-run homer as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Orix Buffaloes 4-1 in the Pacific League on Saturday afternoon.
Yamasaki had allowed a run in the first on a Yanagita double and an Akira Nakamura single. But the lefty cruised through the next six innings before issuing his first walk to open the eighth. With two outs, he walked Seiji Uebayashi to bring up Yanagita. The lefty started him away to get to 2-2 before trying to surprise Yanagita inside.
The only surprise was in how far Yanagita’s 15th homer of the year traveled.
Yanagita said he was looking for something away, but he never even flinched in that direction and cranked the belt-high pitch on the inside edge well back into the right-field stands.
Hawks starter Nao Higashihama also allowed a run in the first, on doubles by Yuma Mune and Masataka Yoshida. He pitched out of a third-inning jam after Adam Jones lined out to short for the second out with two men on.
The right-hander appeared to have ruptured a blister since there were bloody smudges on his uniform pants when he walked off the mound for the last time. He allowed four hits and four walks while striking out six.
Takahiro Okada doubled off Yuki Tsumori to open the sixth, and the right-hander issued a one-out walk, but the Buffaloes ended the inning on the bases when Okada took off for home when catcher Takuya Kai faked a throw to second on a delayed double steal.
This play, and the incessant sacrifice bunting when trailing by a one or two on the road are two of the Buffaloes trademarks.
Rei Takahashi worked a scoreless seventh, and lefty Shinya Kayama did the same in the eighth to earn the win in relief. Closer Yuito Mori allowed two no-out singles in the ninth but retired the next three hitters to record his 13th save.
Marines rout Fighters
This game was over after a six-run third gave the Lotte Marines an 11-0 lead over the Nippon Ham Fighters in a game that finished 12-5 at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
With a huge lead, Lotte ace Ayumu Ishikawa pitched to the score, avoiding walks and giving up five runs on nine hits over six innings as he improved to 3-2.
Lions crush Eagles bullpen in slugfest
This game started from the fourth inning after both Opening Day starters were gone and the game was tied 6-6 as the Seibu Lions crushed the Rakuten Eagles bullpen for seven more runs in a 13-8 win at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.
The Eagles’ Eigoro Mogi, who homered in each of his first two at-bats, fired the first shot in the fourth. Daichi Suzuki tripled off Tatsuya Imai (3-3) and Mogi plated him for the third time, this time with a single.
Corey Spangenberg tied it with the third of the Lions seven hits in a six-run fifth. Yuji Kaneko singled in the tie-breaking run, and Wataru Takagi drove in his second run of the game. The rookie leadoff man had three hits and scored three times for Seibu.
Rookie Morishita shuts out Tigers
Masato Morishita (4-2), the HIroshima Carp’s top pick in last autumn’s draft, struck out 12 without issuing a walk in a two-hit 6-0 win over the Hanshin Tigers at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Hanshin right-hander Shintaro Fujinami (0-4) allowed six runs on eight hits and four walks over six innings while striking out six.
The Carp took a three-run first-inning lead after back-to-back singles by Ryoma Nishikawa and rookie Ryutaro Hatsuki. Seiya Suzuki singled in one run, and Ryuhei Matsuyama doubled in two more.
With Carp leading 4-0 in the sixth, the Tigers filled first base with an intentional walk to get out of the inning against Morishita, but the rookie hit a grounder past the third-base bag for a two-run double.
Nakajima ices Dragons with 200th career HR
Hiroyuki Nakajima homered for the second-straight day, his three-run shot putting the finishing touches on the Yomiuri Giants’ 6-1 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Tokyo Dome.
Singles by Hayato Sakamoto and Gerardo Parra set up the hosts’ score in the first off lefty Takahiro Matsuba (2-3). Sakamoto came home when Zelous Wheeler grounded out. Wheeler made it 3-0 in the third with his fifth homer.
Giants starter Shosei Togo (5-2) struck out seven over 5-2/3 scoreless innings, and Nakajima put the game out of reach with a three-run shot in the sixth off Luis Gonazalez. The home run was the 200th of his career.
Onuki outduels Swallows rookie
Shinichi Onuki (5-2) held the Yakult Swallows to a run over 5-2/3 innings in a close duel with Swallows rookie Daiki Yoshida before the DeNA BayStars blew this one open against the visitors’ bullpen in a 6-2 win at Yokohama Stadium.
Yoshida (1-2) allowed two runs over six innings, but Onuki only allowed three hits and a walk. Yakult’s run off him came from a mammoth blast from 20-year-old Munetaka Murakami, who hit it well up into the right-field wing seats that were installed before last season.
BayStars captain Keita Sano singled home leadoff man Kazuki Kamizato in the first, and Kamizato doubled in a run in the second. Kamizato reached base four times and scored twice.
Spencer Patton and Edwin Escobar each worked a scoreless inning of relief for the BayStars. The game got out of hand for the visitors in the seventh after right-hander Scott McGough walked two batters and hit one.
He surrendered a sac fly to Sano for the second out. Lefty Masato Nakazato came on and failed to retire any of the three batters he faced.
Kotaro Otake made a lot out of a little on Thursday as his low-velocity deliveries frustrated hitters and helped earn him the win in his belated season debut as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Orix Buffaloes 3-1 to remain in a tie for first place in the Pacific League.
Otake, who has been with the minor league squad since feeling stiffness in his left elbow in camp and was 4-0 in the Western League, allowed five hits and a walk while striking out three over 5-2/3 innings. Although it was an impressive effort, Otake got off to a rocky start.
In the first inning, he challenged leadoff hitter Tatsuya Yamaashi with a 1-0 fastball down the pipe. But it wasn’t a very good one, and the light-hitting reserve showed what a professional hitter can do when giving a cookie, driving it well back in PayPay Dome’s left-field stands for his third career home run.
But otherwise, the Buffaloes hitters struggled to time Otake’s speeds: slow, slower, and molasses, as he mixed his 136-kph (84.5 mph) fastball with a two-seamer, a changeup and a curve. His occasional high misses didn’t hurt him as much as they perhaps changed batters’ eye levels. The end result was a lot of soft contact. Orix didn’t hit anything reasonably hard until Jones doubled with two outs in the fourth.
The Hawks wasted two walks in the first inning against Taiwanese right-hander Chang Yi but made up for it in the second. Kenta Imamiya led off with his fifth home run, Takuya Kai walked with one out and scored on leadoff man Ukyo Shuto’s two-out triple. Akira Nakamura singled and scored an insurance run in the fifth after a Ryoya Kurihara single and a Kenji Akashi double.
Chang (0-1) allowed six hits and three walks over his five innings. The right-hander, a cousin of NPB veterans Yang Dai-kang and Yang Yao-hsun, was taken by the Buffaloes in the first round of the 2016 developmental draft out of Japan University of Economics.
Otake issued his only walk of the game in the sixth and after retiring slugging left-handed hitters Masataka Yoshida and Takahiro Okada, was pulled for a righty with Jones coming to the plate. Arata Shiino got out of the inning on five pitches, and Yugo Bando, Livan Moinelo and Yuito Mori finished up with a scoreless inning each. Mori earned his 12th save.
Eagles keep pace with win over Lions
Rookie Hiroto Kobukata reached base four times and scored three runs for the Rakuten Eagles in their 7-4 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo. The win kept the Eagles tied with the Hawks for the PL lead.
Former closer Yuki Matsui allowed three runs on six hits over three innings. He left the game with a 4-3 lead and right-hander Tomohito Sakai retired all six batters he faced over two innings to earn the win. Ryosuke Tatsumi broke a 1-1 tie in the third with his fifth home run, a leadoff shot off Lions rookie Kaito Yoza (2-4).
Yoza allowed four runs over 2-1/3 innings as the Lions needed eight pitchers to get them through the night.
J.T. Chargois worked a scoreless eighth for Rakuten, while submarine right-hander Kazuhisa Makita worked the ninth to earn his first save in Japan since he saved three in 2015 for the Lions.
Marines power past Fighters
Leonys Martin’s fifth home run in six games was one of three solo shot the Lotte Marines hit in a three-run fifth en route to overcoming a five-run deficit in their 8-5 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
After Tsuyoshi Sugano doubled home Seiya Inoue with the tying run in the sixth, Martin reached on an error in the seventh and scored the go-ahead run.
The Marines comeback made a winner out of Jose Flores (1-1). The 31-year-old right-hander from Venezuela spent 10 years in the minors with the Cleveland Indians, Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants. The Marines acquired him from the Toyama Thunderbirds of Japan’s independent Baseball Challenge League.
Giants bang, bloop their way to comeback win
Yoshiyuki Kamei’s ninth-inning pinch-hit single lifted the Yomiuri Giants to a 4-3 walk-off win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo Dome.
Lefty Cristopher Mercedes allowed three doubles and a walk in a three-run first, and spent his remaining five innings on the mound pitching with me on base but allowing no more runs.
The Giants closed within a run on back-to-back two-out solo homers in the fourth inning from Yoshihiro Maru and Hiroyuki Nakajima. The hosts tied it in the fifth on a two-out bloop RBI single by cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto. Swallows right-hander Hirotoshi Takanashi allowed three runs over six innings, and two relievers kept it tied until right-hander Yuma Oshita (0-1) allowed a leadoff single.
After a stolen base, Kamei pinch hit and got enough of the first pitch thrown by Scott McGough to hit a fly into shallow center that won it.
ToSpo pandering to the populists
There’s always some writer somewhere who’ll put a populist or racist spin on something they probably don’t understand. The Tokyo Sports used to have a pretty sordid reputation for writing the most loathsome stuff and one writer of theirs seems keen to resurrect that image when he wrote a story titled “Manager Hara spills the real truth behind Parra’s substitution.”
Hara pulled Gerardo Parra out of the game during the top of the sixth inning, and Tokyo Sports would like us to think because he was solely because he wasn’t hustling on a foul fly that dropped safely.
The manager said, “You saw what happened. It looked he was favoring his leg,” although the Tokyo Sports neglected to mention that last bit. Instead, it implied Parra was fit because no trainer came out and didn’t look hurt. They then reminded readers of the time when a Japanese star was not hustling and was sent home by Hara, implying that was the reason here.
The real truth is the thing that story wasn’t interested in when a pile of made-up shit made a better headline.
Yamada rejoins Swallows
Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada was activated on Thursday and practiced as usual with the team before their game against the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome, according to the Nikkan Sports.
He was deactivated on July 27, ostensibly due to lack of upper body fitness, whatever that means.
Despaigne, Gracial to start on farm
Big-hitting Cubans Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial practiced with the Hawks Western League farm team on Thursday, and are scheduled to play in Friday’s home WL game against the Hiroshima Carp, the Nishinihon Sports reports.
The pair had gone to Cuba train with the national team in March ahead of World Baseball Classic qualifying. After qualifying was canceled, they were unable to travel to Japan until Havana’s airport re-opened for international travel in July.
The two arrived in Japan last month despite Japan’s ban on foreign nationals entering the country due to the coronavirus pandemic. After they completed quarantine they were to train with the farm team until minor league operations were suspended after infections were discovered at the minor league facility. Instead, they traveled to Sendai last week and trained with the first team.
Tigers drop Fujikawa
The Hanshin Tigers have deactivated 40-year-old reliever Kyuji Fujikawa. According to the Hochi Shimbun, the move was made due to the dreaded “lack of upper body fitness” although the article specified the afflicted area to be the right side of his upper body.
Fujikawa, who converted every save opportunity he faced after being restored to the closer’s role last summer for the first time in seven seasons, has been largely ineffective this year. He was deactivated on July 12 due to right shoulder fitness.