Tag Archives: Joe Gunkel

NPB 2020 7-14 games and news

Senga makes do with less as Buffaloes stumble

A week after SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga made his belated season debut, his splitter remains a work in progress. But even without any obvious feel for it, Senga was still able to locate his high-velocity fastball, cutter and slider often enough to overcome an Orix Buffaloes team that booted its early opportunities in a 10-3 Hawks win at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

Buffaloes lefty Andrew Albers was unable to locate his slider in the first and worked too carefully for his own good and was fortunate not to allow more than two runs. After walking Yuki Yanagita on four pitches to put two on with one out, Wladimir Balentien hit a good two-seam fastball on the outside edge and singled to center fielder Yuma Mune.

The Buffaloes outfielder misplayed the ball, allowing Yanagita to score and Balentien to take second. A walk and a bunt single loaded the bases but Albers struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda with a beauty of a changeup and jammed Kenji Akashi with a fastball inside to end the inning.

The Buffaloes evened it up in the bottom of the inning, thanks to four good two-out at-bats after leadoff man Kojji Oshiro led off with a walk. Singles by Adam Jones and Takahiro Okada, made it 2-1, and walks by Aderlin Rodriguez and Kenya Wakatsuki tied it. Ryoichi Adachi saw some mistakes up in the zone but was unable to do anything with them as Senga got out of the inning with the game tied.

Albers challenged Takuya Kai to open the second and the Hawks’ catcher doubled. Albers then did a poor job covering the bag on Ryoya Kurihara’s grounder to first, slowing as he neared the bag and letting the batter beat him to the base. Albers jammed Kenta Imamiya, but the ball fell in shallow center. It would have been a tough play but neither shortstop Adachi nor center fielder Mune committed to it, and that was, in short, the story of this game.

The Buffaloes looked more confident in their execution against another team that too often failed to execute routine plays, but against the Hawks, they looked just a little tight.

The Hawks batters succeeded in running up Albers’ pitch count, and it seemed that both he and Senga really only got warmed up after they hit the 50-pitch mark. He retired eight-straight hitters after Imamiya’s flare before giving up back-to-back triples in the fourth. Mune got to a ball off Imamiya’s bat and it would have been a heck of a catch, but it hit his glove and bounced away.

Yanagita then hit a ball too high off the left field wall for Okada to have a play on. By the time he got the ball back, Yanagita was on third and Albers was out of the game.

Albers (1-2) allowed four runs, three earned, on two walks and eight hits while striking out six. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he commanded his four-seam fastball, his two-seamer and change. The slider was effective after the first inning. It was more a case of lots of little things going wrong.

Once Albers was out of the way, the game was a piece of cake for the Hawks. Balentien singled off his replacement, Kazumasa Yoshida, and the Hawks took Orix’s bullpen to the bank.

Senga (2-0) did throw some good splitters, but more often than not, he could neither locate them or get them to tumble properly. But because Senga throws so hard and was able to locate his fastball and cutter better than he usually does, the absence of a reliable splitter was more an annoyance than a deal-breaker.

Seiji Uebayashi, who came on as a late substitute once the game was out of hand, and Kai, each belted a two-run home run for the Hawks.

Mima fans 7 as Marines beat Fighters

Manabu Mima (2-0) allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings while striking out seven, while Leonys Martin homered and had an RBI single in the Lotte Marines’ 5-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome.

Leadoff man Takashi Ogino reached base three times, stole two bases and scored two runs, while relievers Frank Herrmann and Naoya Masuda each supplied a scoreless inning to close it out.

The Fighters’ difficulties with execution returned home with them after an ugly week in Osaka as catcher Yushi Shimizu hit his pitcher while throwing to second on one steal attempt and missed third base on another.

Lefty Naoyuki Uwasawa (0-1) gave up five runs, three earned, on six hits and two walks over five innings.

Akiyama, Kinami push Tigers past Swallows

Takumi Akiyama (1-1) allowed three runs over six innings, while Seiya Kinami drove in three runs with a sac fly and a home run as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Yakult Swallows 6-3 at Koshien Stadium.

Akiyama paid the price for a pair of one-out walks in the first as both runners came around to score on a Munetaka Murakami single and a grounder to third.

The Tigers got to 40-year-old Swallows lefty for three runs in the fourth. Yoshio Itoi doubled, Justin Bour singled with one out and Jerry Sands walked. Catcher Ryutaro Umeno doubled in two, and Kinami’s sac fly made it 3-2.

The Swallows, who are without their top two catchers, Yuhei Nakamura and Motohiro Shima, got a game-tying home run from reserve catcher Akihisa Nishida in the top of the fifth, but Itoi singled home Koji Chikamoto with the tie-breaking run in the home half.

After Sands singled to open the sixth, Kinami then homered off right-hander Tomoya Hoshi, and three Tigers relievers, Yusuke Baba, lefty Suguru Iwazaki and Robert Suarez kept Yakult off the board the rest of the way. Suarez earned his second save.

Tiger pitchers ask fans for quiet

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, teams are only allowed to admit up to 5,000 fans and those have been instructed not to shout or engage in organized cheering. One hears lots of clapping, and when Tigers batters come to the plate at Koshien Stadium, one can distinctly hear thousands of fans chanting together softly.

But Koshien being Koshien and Tigers fans being enthusiastic, the hecklers, who are normally hard to hear above the constant white noise background produced by the cheering groups, were too audible for pitcher Iwazaki’s comfort according to a Daily Sports story.

During the eighth inning, the pitcher called time and informed the umpire, who politely reminded the crowd that shouting is currently forbidden, before play resumed.

Sugano, Okamoto lead Giants win over Carp

Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano (3-0) tossed five shutout innings, and Kazuma Okamoto hit his sixth home run, a three-run, third-inning shot in Yomiuri’s 7-2 win over the Carp at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Tomoyuki Sugano

Carp right-hander Allen Kuri (1-1) escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam in the second, but issued a four-pitch leadoff walk to Sugano to open the third. A one-out walk and a Yoshihiro Maru double at his old home park put the Giants up by a run. Okamoto followed with a homer.

Gerardo Parra singled in a run for the Giants against new Carp D.J. Johnson in a two-error, three-run sixth.


Hara surpasses Nagashima’s win total

The win was the 1,035th of Giants manager Tatsunori Hara’s career. It moved him out of a tie with his mentor, Shigeo Nagashima, and into sole possession of second place in franchise history behind Tetsuharu Kawakami, who managed the “V-9” Giants — winners of nine-straight Japan Series championships from 1965 to 1973.

Hara, who barely failed to win election to the Hall of Fame for his playing career, sprinted in once voters were allowed to consider his other accomplishments during his three-year hiatus as Giants skipper from 2016 to 2018.

BayStars’ Onuki shuts down Dragons

Shinichi Onuki (1-2) allowed two runs over eight innings, while his teammates sent 10 men to the plate in a five-run fourth inning as the DeNA BayStars beat the Chunichi Dragons 5-3 at Nagoya Dome.

Onuki struck out six without a walk. He allowed an unearned run in the first, and surrendered 24-year-old Cuban catcher Ariel Martinez’s first home run for the top team. Martinez also singled in a run in the ninth to keep his average at .500.

Dragons right-hander Takumi Yamamoto (1-2) gave up five runs, three earned, over 3-2/3 innings on six hits and three walks. The Dragons had a golden opportunity to get out of the inning on a double play. Unfortunately with the in-the-neighborhood double play a thing of the past, second baseman Shun Ishikawa’s failure to touch second on the pivot allowed a run to score and the bleeding to continue.

Lots of little ups and downs

With the win, the BayStars have now become the first NPB team to have alternated wins and losses over a 15-game stretch, according to the Nikkan Sports.

Giants, Eagles swap pitchers

The Central League’s Yomiuri Giants and the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles announced a trade on Tuesday, with the Giants acquiring 28-year-old lefty Yuhei Takanashi in exchange for 22-year-old right-hander Hosei Takata.

It’s the second trade between the two clubs after the Eagles sent infielder Zelous Wheeler to Yomiuri in June for lefty Shun Ikeda.

The Daily Sports reported that Eagles general manager Kazuhisa Ishii is high on Takata’s potential, while noting Takanashi, a side-armer, will have an opportunity for more playing time with the Giants, who since their last trade have lost closer Rubby De La Rosa.

Takata led the Eastern league in wins and ERA in 2018.

Tigers’ Gunkel deactivated

The Hanshin Tigers deactivated right-hander Joe Gunkel on Tuesday after he felt lower back stiffness during pregame practice, Sponichi reported. A first-year-import, the 28-year-old Gunkel is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA after his only start for the Tigers.

Active roster moves 7/14/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 7/24

Central League

Activated

BayStarsIF38Kouki Yamashita
TigersP36Masumi Hamachi

Dectivated

TigersP49Joe Gunkel
DragonsIF3Shuhei Takahashi

Pacific League

Activated

MarinesP27Daiki Yamamoto
FightersP15Naoyuki Uwasawa
BuffaloesC33Masato Matsui

Dectivated

None

NPB 2020 6-26 GAMES AND NEWS

Saturday’s announced starting pitchers are HERE.

Live blog: BayStars vs Tigers

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Look out Shohei, Daichi Osera’s coming for you

The most productive hitter in the Hiroshima Carp lineup had two hits for the second straight game, although as their ace pitcher, Daichi Osera has also been busy throwing complete games.

By stopping the Chunichi Dragons on a run over the distance, Osera has allowed two runs over 18 innings, while striking out eight. Although talk of limiting starters pitch counts apparently have not gotten to new Carp manager Shinji Sasaoka, whose arm barely survived the awful pitch counts that aces were forced to endure in the 1990s.

After allowing Osera to throw 116 pitches on Opening Day, Sasaoka thought it was OK to let him throw another 132 on Friday in Nagoya, when he allowed eight hits.

At the plate, Osera is 4-for-7 with a home run, three RBIs, three runs and a sacrifice, although Seiya Suzuki has been the Carp’s batting star. Suzuki, who some scouts think is a sure bet to be posted this winter, has 10 hits and half have cleared the fence.

https://twitter.com/nuremoh/status/1276455651963633666

Another “empty blast” for Jones

Adam Jones mashed his second home run this week for the Orix Buffaloes, who blew a three-run lead en route to their sixth loss of the season, a 6-5 defeat at the hands of the Lotte Marines.

The “empty blast” in the headline comes from how the Japanese sports papers used to describe home runs in a losing effort.

The hosts came from behind in a four-run eighth in which Leonys Martin doubled and scored. Yudai Fujioka capped the rally with two-run double. Brandon Laird hit his fourth home run of the year for Lotte.

Kimura slam rescues Lions

Fumikazu Kimura’s eighth-inning grand slam brought the Seibu Lions from behind in a 7-4 win at their home park, MetLife Dome, over the SoftBank Hawks. The blast took Zach Neal off the hook for the loss that would have been just his second in Japan.

Neal entered the game having won his last 12 decisions but had uncharacteristically walked three batters on Opening Day. On Friday, he took a 3-1 lead into the seventh, when he allowed three runs, one earned. He struck out eight and walked one, but his command was inconsistent.

Two-time defending PL home run king Hotaka Yamakawa homered twice to drive in three early runs. The first was on a fat mistake from Nao Higashihama, the second on a breaking ball outside that he simply put a really good swing on.

With the Lions trailing 4-3 in the eighth, Reed Garrett took the mound. Garrett had allowed a run over two innings in his first two games in Japan, but struck out the side in the eighth to help set the stage for the comeback and earn his first win.

Eagles hammer Arihara, Norimoto fans 10

The Rakuten Eagles beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 7-1 behind seven innings from Takahiro Norimoto (2-0), who allowed a run, while striking out 10. Fighters ace Kohei Arimura (0-2), who is hoping to move to the majors this winter via the posting system, allowed five runs, four earned, over six innings.

Stefen Romero homered, singled twice, walked and scored three runs for the Eagles.

Giants torch Swallows pen

The Yomiuri Giants scored five late runs against the Yakult Swallows bullpen in a 6-5 win over their local rivals at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium. Taishi Ishiyama (0-1), who saved 35 games in 2018 surrendered a two-run, ninth-inning home run to pinch-hitter Shinnosuke Shigenobu.

Rubby De La Rosa, who joined the Giants last summer, worked a scoreless ninth to earn his third save. Scott McGough, who took over as Swallows closer last summer when Ishiyama was hurt, surrendered two runs in the eighth.

Edwards sent down for “poor condition”

The Hanshin Tigers deactivated right-handed reliever Jon Edwards on Friday, with the Nikkan Sports reporting it was due to “poor condition of his shoulder.”

Edwards worked one inning of relief in the Tigers’ 11-1 Opening Day loss to the Yomiuri Giants, allowing only a single to new Giant Gerardo Parra. But in a June 2 practice game against the Hiroshima Carp, Edwards walked five straight batters.

I missed this news from Thursday, when the Hanshin Tigers deactivated right-handed starting pitcherJoe Gunkel along with right-handed reliever Koki Moriya, who felt pain in his right shoulder on Wednesday.

Gunkel faced 19 hitters in his start on Wednesday and allowed three runs on seven hits and two walks over four innings, so it’s not a surprise. I think he’s going to be effective in Japan once he makes adjustments to his approach with different hitters and has better luck with balls in play than he did in his debut.

Live blog: BayStars vs Tigers

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

For those of you who are curious, you can read a little about these teams in my Japanese pro baseball guide.

Going to pick this up in the bottom of the second. DeNA’s Neftali Soto singled with one out in the bottom of the first, and so far is the game’s only baserunner.

Bottom 2nd

Tigers starter Yuki Nishi was one of the two pitchers who homered on Opening Day. He allowed a run in six innings, scattering three walks and four hits.

Jose Lopez singles on the fourth running fastball Nishi throws him, and does well to muscle the inside pitch to left to open the inning. Nishi erases the runner when Toshiro Miyazaki miss-hits a slider to short, from where Fumiya Hojo starts a double play. Catcher Hikaru Ito, Nishi’s former teammate with the Orix Buffaloes, grounds to Jefry Marte at third.

Top 3rd

Shota Imanaga needs just three pitches to induce a fly to center from Naomasa Yokawa, and two more to retire Ryutaro Umeno. Imanaga’s fourth pitch to Nishi, an 0-2 fastball up and in causes the Tigers pitcher to look at his opposite number and say, “Watch that stuff” or something of that ilk before grounding out to second.

Bottom 3rd

Imanaga leads off from the No. 8 spot and starts an easy 1-2-3 inning. Manager Alex Ramirez has espoused a very complex rationale for when and how he bats his starting pitchers eighth, but it makes perfect sense to me, because instead of your worst hitter setting up your best three at the top of the order, you have a guy who actually gets on base.

Top 4th

Tigers’ No. 1 hitter Koji Chikamoto stays on a 1-2 changeup that gets too much of the plate and smashes it to right for Hanshin’s first hit. Hojo tries a slash bunt-and-run, but pops up to short.

Imanaga, however, does the job for the Tigers with a pickoff throw in the dirt, that gives the visitors a man in scoring position for Yusuke Oyama. In the starting lineup against the lefty in place of Justin Bour, Oyama waves at three changeups.

Marte bounces one to the right of Soto at second base and beats out an infield single. Lopez at first nearly nails Chikamoto after he overran third base, but Miyazaki was unable to get the tag on him. This gives 43-year-old Kosuke Fukudome a chance to do some damage, but he fouls out to Miyazaki at third.

Bottom 4th

Soto leads off from the No. 2 spot, which is increasingly becoming Americanized with big hitters instead of the prototypical slap-hitting bunter. The two-time home run champ grounds out, and Tyler Austin misses an 0-2 slider low out of the zone.

Keita Sano, named the BayStars captain following the departure of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, hammers a hanging slider for a single. The weird thing about Sano being the captain is that it’s usually reserved for a veteran. Sano entered Friday’s game with 394 career plate appearances.

Lopez ends the inning when he gets jammed on a running fastball inside and pops it up into shallow left.

Top 5th

Imanaga’s changeup is giving the Tigers right-handed hitters fits as it just dies when it gets to the plate. After Hiroki Uemoto looks at a fastball inside for Strike 3. Yokawa fouls off the first change but flails at two well below the zone for Imanaga’s fifth strikeout. Umeno gets enough on a 2-1 changeup in the zone to ground it softly to third for the final out.

Bottom 5th

Miyazaki opens the scoring by driving a straight fastball in the middle of the zone out to right for opposite-field shot and his third home run of the year. BayStars 1, Tigers 0. Nishi missed with a couple of breaking balls to start and got burned aiming a 3-1 pitch.

After Ito flied out to Fukudome in right, Imanaga singled, bring up former TIger Yamato Maeda, whose bouncer between third and short is good for an infield single and two on for the power-laden top of the BayStars order.

Nishi wants nothing to do with the strike zone against athletic but injury prone Takayuki Kajitani but finally gets him on a beauty of a 3-2 running fastball that Kajitani misses badly. Nishi sets Soto up for a 2-2 slider away, but leaves it over the plate, and the slugger gets it off the end of the barrel and up the middle to load the bases for Austin.

NIshi throws a first-pitch running fastball that misses the barrel and results in a tapper back to the mound for the third out.

Top 6th

Nishi strikes out swinging to open the inning, and Chikamoto flies out to center on the second pitch before Hojo goes down swinging against more slow stuff. That’s eight strikeouts for the lefty.

Bottom 6th

Sano leads off with a single, pulling a straight 2-1 inside fastball to right. Lopez grounds softly to third, too softly for a double play. Miyazaki goest the other way again, but his fly is caught by Fukudome on the warning track. Marte makes a sure-handed grab of a grounder off the bat of Ito and the Tigers go into the seventh down by just a run.

Top 7th

Oyama finally gets the barrel on a changeup and singles to left to open the Tigers’ seventh. Marte is jammed by a cutter inside and the Tigers are lucky to escape a double play as Marte beats the throw to first.

The lefty sets up Fukudome with a cutter and fastball away before jamming and popping him up inside for a foul out to the catcher. Imanaga gets Uemoto off balance with fastballs and changeups, and he, too, fouls out to Ito.

Bottom 7th

An easy 1-2-3 inning for Nishi, who strikes out Imanaga and gets Maeda and Kajitani to fly out.

Top 8th

Oyama gets a ball through the infield for a single. Taiga Egoshi on to pinch run and Umeno sacrifices him to second. Tigers playing to tie on the road in the eighth inning because, well Japan.

Fumihito Haraguchi, one of the best stories in Japanese baseball, having battled his way onto the first team having been released and signed to a non-roster developmental contract. After establishing himself, he was diagnosed with cancer and has battled back from that, too.

Nothing cute or soft from Imanaga here: fastball, fastball, fastball, fastball. Maybe he lost his touch because he then bounced a change before getting Haraguchi to go after a second one out of the zone and foul out to the catcher.

Two outs for Chikamoto. Imanaga tries to paint and his brush is just not fine enough. He works carefully and loses him for the first walk of the game. Kento Itohara on to pinch-hit for Hojo and he grounds out to Soto at second.

Bottom 8th

Right-hander Ippei Ogawa, the Tigers’ 6th pick last autumn, on in relief of Nishi, who allows just one run in his second-straight start, but has yet to win one. Nishi works seven innings, walks three and allows eight hits but walks none.

Soto opens the inning by smashing a high fastball past first for a single, and Austin blasts a 1-1 fastball in the heart of the zone over the wall in center for his second home run in three games. BayStars 3, Tigers 0.

With one out, Seiya Kinami makes a good play after a smash off the bat of Jose Lopez trickles out of Marte’s glove. The Tigers shortstop scoops it up and fires to get the runner. A 5-6-3 out in the States is recorded 6-3 in Japan.

Ogawa throws hard but his fastball is a little straight and back-to-back singles by Miyazaki and Ito give the BayStars a chance for a safe lead. Pinch-hitter Tatsuya Shibata bats for Imanaga and walks. Bases loaded for Maeda.

The veteran fouls off a 150-kph two-strike fastball. When the rookie follows with a low slider, it seems that’s the one Maeda wanted. He goes down to get it and lines it into center for an RBI single. BayStars 5, Tigers 0.

Kajitani follows with an opposite-field liner over short. BayStars 6, Tigers 0.

Top 9th

Spencer Patton on in the ninth to wrap up the BayStars’ fifth-straight win. Marte singles with one out, but Fukudome strikes out swinging at a fastball away. Justin Bour up to keep the game alive for Hanshin.

Patton misses up and in and then just inside, but finds the corner with that one. All are pretty good pitches. Slider misses too far to get Bour to offer: 3-1. Patton gets close enough to the corner for former pitcher Norihiro Akimura calling the balls and strikes behind the plate. Patton finally gets Bour on a fly to left.

Final Score: BayStars 6, Tigers 0

NPB 2020 6-24 live

The Giants suffered their first loss of the year, in June no less, while Justin Bour gets his first hit after starting his season 0-for-16, while the most highly touted rookie of the season runs into a buzz saw called Hideto Asamura. All that and more from Japan on Wednesday night.

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Thursday’s starters are HERE.

Kuri hands Giants 1st loss

Allen Kuri allowed an unearned run over seven innings, and the Hiroshima Carp beat the Yomiuri Giants 5-1 at Tokyo Dome.

Seiya Suzuki and Kosuke Tanaka each homered off Cristopher Mercedes, who lasted just three innings. Ryosuke Kikuchi, who gave up on finding at major league job before camp started and returned to the Carp, had three hits, including a home run.

BayStars’ bullpen holds on

Takayuki Kajitani, a player whose once electric future has been hampered by frequent injuries, homered to break a 2-2, fifth-inning tie at Yokohama Stadium, and a quartet of DeNA BayStars relievers held the Chunichi Dragons scoreless over the final four innings.

Spencer Patton, coming off a nightmare of a 2019 season, struck out two of the four batters he faced to set up for closer Yasuaki Yamasaki, who recorded his second save in precarious fashion.

After Yohei Oshima’s two-out single, Issei Endo missed the left field fair pole by a foot or two before drawing a walk. Another walk loaded the bases before Dayan Viciedo grounded out to end the game.

Former Giant Suarez stops Tigers

Former San Francisco Giants pitcher Albert Suarez (1-0) allowed an unearned run over six innings at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium to pitch the Yakult Swallows to a 6-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers. Suarez struck out four while allowing two singles. He walked a batter and hit a batter.

No one likes to lose, but there was no mistaking the relief on Justin Bour’s face when he singled in the seventh inning for his first hit since the season started on Friday.

Gunkel gets his feet wet

Tigers right-hander Joe Gunkel (0-1) allowed three runs in four innings on seven hits and two walks. His pitches sank a lot but the Swallows hitters made enough contact on them and it seemed like almost everything they put their bats to found a hole. While some of that was probably just bad luck, it appears Gunkel will need to make some adjustments. It’s a pretty common thing for new pitchers in Japan.

Wakui, Asamura spoil Kawano’s debut

Three days after his 34th birthday, Hideaki Wakui won his first game as a Rakuten Eagle, allowing two runs on four hits and a walk while striking out five over seven innings in a 5-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters.

The Eagles trailed rookie Ryusei Kawano 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth, when the Fighters walked Jabari Blash with two outs and a man on only for the inning to go south in a hurry.

With one run in and two on, Asamura launched an opposite-field homer off the end of his bat. He only had two hits but the two outs he made were pretty impressive in their own right.

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Laird makes Buffalo sushi

Former New York Yankee Brandon Laird hit a three-run, first-inning home run, walked, singled and scored twice to help the Lotte Marines to a 6-4 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.

Leonys Martin also singled, walked and scored a run for the Marines, who improved to 4-1, while former Cleveland Indians right-hander Frank Herrmann earned his third hold in the four games. The former Eagle is 1-0 in four scoreless outings so far in Chiba.

Here’s Laird’s hero interview

Hawks beat Lions at their own game

The Seibu Lions are kind of like Japan’s answer to pro wrestling. You can expect a lot of weird things, a lot of blows, a lot of falls. The combination of a historically good offensive and an unhealthy amount of mediocre pitching means no game is ever safe until the ref gives the final count.

The two-time-defending Pacific League champs got a dose of their own medicine on Wednesday in a 9-6 loss to the SoftBank Hawks. Kenta Imamiya tipped the scales with a three-run, sixth-inning homer off a high hanging curve from Tatsuya Imai (0-1) while Seiji Uebayashi went deep with a three-run bomb in the first.

The Lions got four RBIs from two-time home run king Hotaka Yamakawa at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo, and a 2-for-5 night from new leadoff man Corey Spangenberg, but starter Tatsuya Imai surrendered seven runs and that was that.

Live blog: Eagles vs Fighters

Go to NEWEST.

For those of you who are curious, you can read a little about these teams in my Japanese pro baseball guide.

Hideaki Wakui retired the Eagles in order in the first, finishing the inning by fanning Kensuke Kondo on three pitches, so that’s an impressive start for the veteran at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park.

Bottom 1st

It’s the pro debut of Ryusei Kawano*, the Fighters’ top draft pick in 2019 out of the corporate leagues.

The lefty popped up leadoff man Eigoro Mogi on a first-pitch fastball, but Jabari Blash fouled off a 2-2- pitch before walking on seven pitches. He does that a lot. New Eagle Daichi Suzuki flied out to deep right to bring up Hideto Asamura.

Kawano starts him off with a breaking ball in the dirt, and misses with a fastball and then another curve. Asamura takes a fastball right down the pipe for Strike 1, but puts a good swing on a curve from the lefty and pulls it past utility man Toshitake Yokoo at third.

With runners on the corners, and two outs, Kawano gets the tough Hiroaki Shimauchi to ground a high first-pitch fasrball to second for an easy force.

Top 2nd

Sho Nakata opens the inning and the scoring by barreling up a decent high fastball from Wakui and driving it well over the fence in left center. Wakui went up high with a fastball on 0-2, and then brought it down a bit where Nakata could get it.

Ryo Watanabe grounded out before Wakui dodged a bullet. The right-hander got a tough call on a 2-2 changeup away to Kotaro Kiyomiya, and then hung a slider down the middle that the 21-year-old hammered to deep right, where Stefen Romero made the catch. Wakui then got Yokoo to wave at a 1-2 fastball away, and we go to the bottom of the second.

Bottom of 2nd

Kawano walks Romero to open the second. If he can stay healthy, this guy is going to be a tremendous acquisition. He gave Orix his best, but just suffered from one injury after another.

But Yasuhito Uchida grounds a first-pitch fastball to short, where Kazunari Ishii starts an easy double play. Kawano gets ahead of catcher Hikaru Ota 0-2 but loses him by missing low out of the zone. The rookie ends the inning when Ryosuke Tatsumi hammers a 3-2 slider, but Kiyomiya makes a nice grab behind the first base bag.

That’s 39 pitches for the rookie. Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama is perhaps the most iconoclastic in Japan at running his starting rotation, so there’s no telling how long he’ll stick with the kid.

Top of 3rd

Ishii grounds to second to open the Fighters third, as Wakui starts it against the last two hitters in the Nippon Ham order. A nice pick at third by Daichi Suzuki on a ball hit by catcher Yushi Shimizu and there’s two down.

Major league aspirant Haruki Nishikawa, who fouled out to open the game, does better this time, smacking a high 1-0 fastball to the gap for a double. Wakui then misses badly with a changeup inside to the right-handed-hitting Taishi Ota, and he muscles it over third for an RBI single. Fighters lead 2-0. Kondo goes down swinging for the second time to end the inning.

Bottom 3rd

Kawano strikes out Mogi swinging with a high fastball, the rookie’s first career K. Blash grounds out and Suzuki hits a can of corn to right for Kawano’s easiest inning yet.

Top 4th

Nakata goes down swinging on a 3-2 curve, Watanabe hits an easy fly to right and Kiyomiya holds up on a fat-looking 3-2 fastball up and takes first on a walk. Yokoo shows some good discipline, but he can’t do anything with the pitches Wakui puts in the zone, and flies out to second.

Bottom 4th

Can Asamura hit or can he hit. Nice first-pitch slider at the bottom of the zone, but he was on it only for his liner to get within range of Nishikawa in left, who slides to make the grab. Shimauchi grounds a fastball to short this time for the second out, before Romero accidentaly beats the Fighters shift with a single up the middle.

The Fighters, who began aggressively shifting last year, had Watanabe pulled right behind the bag against the right-handed-hitting Romero who got jammed on an inside fastball with the ball rolling to the right field side of the second base bag. Kawano then jammed Uchida with another fastball inside and the inning’s over with a dinky liner to Kiyomiya at first.

Top 5th

Wakui is by no means overpowering, but his fastball has a little zip on it, and he’s mixing his pitches, keeping guys off barrels, and more importantly going after guys. Tatsumi in center has to make a long run for the second out, but it’s an easy 1-2-3 inning for the veteran.

Bottom 5th

Kawano will go at least five unless he runs into serious trouble here. He dispatches Ota with a fastball flied out to center, but walks the No. 9 hitter Tatsumi and danger lurks. Mogi fouls out well down the left field line, but Tatsumi tags up and takes second.

Kawano’s been starting most guys off with a slider for a while, but misses with a first-pitch fastball away to Blash. The rookie is definitely trying to keep his misses down, as he misses low. The Fighters decide to put Blash on, and after a chat with pitching coach Masao Kida, Kawano faces the lefty Suzuki.

Tatsumi steals third on the first pitch without a throw. Kawano hangs a 1-1 slider, and Suzuki slams it up the middle. Fighters 2, Eagles 1, with Blash cruising into third and Asamura in the driver’s seat.

Asamura miss-hits a 1-2 fastball away off the end of the bat and that puppy carries over the fence for a two-run homer. Eagles 4, Fighters 2.

Shimauchi flies out to end the inning, but damn Asamura is a hitter.

Top 6th

Wakui might not have much tonight, but he’s more or less locating his fastball, and he’s dictating the pace. He starts the sixth with easy outs against a couple of tough hitters, Ota and Kondo, who grounds out after two-straight punch-outs. Nakata, who missed a curve the last time up for Strike 3, looks at a fastball and down he goes.

Bottom 6th

Kazutomo Iguchi on the mound for the Fighters to face Romero. Kawano’s line: 4 runs over 5 innings on 5 walks (1 intentional), 4 hits and 1strikeout.

Romero is retired on a sharp play be Yokoo at third. But Uchida launches a liner to left, and Kondo cuts it off to hold him to a single. The Eagles’ top draft pick, Hiroto Kobukata is on to pinch run, and Ota bunts him to second.

Tatsumi reaches on an infield single. Runners on the corners with two outs for Mogi, who battles but grounds out.

Top 7th

–Defensive change: Kobukata, who ran for the first baseman Uchida, stays in to play short. Mogi moves to third, Suzuki goes across to first.

Kobukata wastes no time in showing off his glove. Diving to his left to snag a one-hop smash and throw out Watanabe to open the inning. Kyomiya flies out to Mogi at third, and if Yokoo hits it to Suzuki at first, the Eagles will have a defensive substitution trifecta.

But Yokoo finally puts a good swing on a changeup in the zone and lines it to center for a single. Yuya Taniguguchi bats for the Ishii and fouls out to third.

Bottom 7th

Iguchi still in for the Fighters, and a 3-2 slider to Blash is hit off the end of the bat for a deep fly to left. Suzuki gets jammed and lines out, while Iguchi shatters Asamura’s bat he still drives it to deep center.

Top 8th

Right-hander ALAN BUSENITZ in for Wakui. The 34-year-old leaves after an impressive night. His line: 2 runs over 7 innings, on 1 walk, four hits and five strikeouts.

Busenitz needs just nine pitches to take the Fighters out of the eighth inning and everything is going right for the Eagles.

Bottom 8th

Rookie Kenya Suzuki* — of the funky delivery — surrenders a hustling one-out double to Romero, who leaves for a pinch runner. Yokoo can’t make a circus catch on a smash by Ota down the third base line and he doubles in Kobukata. Eagles 5, Fighters 2.

Kenya Suzuki

Top 9th

Kohei Morihara in for the three-run save here in the ninth. He’s got Kondo, Nakata and Watanabe due up.

Kondo lines an 0-2 pitch to left for the first out. A fly out to left center, and Kobukata fields a one-hopper at short and makes the throw to first to end it as the Eagles improve to 4-1.

Final score: Eagles 5, Fighters 2

Return to TOP

Here are the announced starting pitchers in Nippon Professional Baseball for June 24.

Pacific League

Eagles vs Fighters: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Hideaki Wakui vs Ryusei Kawano*

This is a battle of the ages as 34-year-old Hideaki Wakui takes the mound for the first time with his new team, the Eagles, against perhaps the top pitching prospect of last autumn’s NPB draft, 22-year-old lefty Ryusei Kawano.

Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Tatsuya Imai vs Shuta Ishikawa

Tatsuya Imai

Imai, the Lions’ first pick in the 2016 draft, turned pro out of high school. He threw 135-1/3 innings last season, when he walked 72 batters, the second-highest total in Japan, topped only by Kodai Senga’s 75 — although the Hawks’ ace led both leagues with 180-1/3 innings pitched.

Among pitchers with 90-plus innings, he was fourth in his percentage of pitches outside the zone, and couldn’t get batters to chase and gave up more than his share of hard contact. About half of his pitches so far have been four-seam fastball (146 kph avg velocity), with sliders next and curves and changeups rounding out his mix through 2019. He’s had his best results with the slider and change. Like most pitchers the question will be whether he can locate his fastball often enough.

Shuta Ishikawa

Ishikawa appeared in two regular season games after coming back from a right hamstring injury in the spring that was followed by a right-knee injury. He’s a fastball, curve, slider guy, with a couple of different curves, and an occasional splitter.

A 28-year-old, Ishikawa worked his way up from a non-roster developmental contract like ace Kodai Senga and starting catcher Takuya Kai. In 2018, when he threw 127-1/3 innings, the right-hander’s hard-contact percentage was sixth-lowest in Japan among pitchers with 90-plus innings. Even without a single dominant pitch, Ishikawa attacks the zone but misses barrels.

Marines vs Buffaloes: Zozo Marine Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kazuya Ojima vs Kohei “K” Suzuki

Kazuya Ojima

Ojima was Lotte’s third pick in the 2018 draft out of Waseda University. As a rookie in 2019, his mix was a 139 kph fastball with a cutter and splitter. He didn’t work in the zone and walked a lot of batters, but was around the NPB average in strikeout percentage despite missing fewer bats than almost anyone in NPB.

Kohei “K” Suzuki

Known in Japanese as “K-Suzuki” a play on teammate Takahiro Okada’s registered name “T-Okada.” The right-hander was Orix’s secon pick in the 2017 draft, and needed something to distinguish him from minor league infielder Kohei Suzuki, thus the “K”.

Despite the moniker, Suzuki was below the team average in strikeouts and above average in walks. He’s a fastball (145.1 kph in 2019), slider guy with an occasional curve and split. The split and the fastball had the best results in 2019. In 102-2/3 innings in 2019, he was in the zone more than the league average, and was had the second lowest ground/fly ratio in Japan among pitchers with 90-plus innings, although his home run rate on fly balls was just ordinary.

Central League

Giants vs Carp: Tokyo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

CRISTOPHER MERCEDES vs Allen Kuri

BayStars vs Dragons: Yokohama Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Shoichi Ino vs Takumi Yamamoto

Swallows vs Tigers: Jingu Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

ALBERT SUAREZ vs JOE GUNKEL

Albert Suarez, the 30-year-old brother of Hanshin’s Robert Suarez, appeared in just four games last season for Yakult. He’ll face Joe Gunkel, who will be making his Japan debut.

Open and shut: March 7, 2020 – Welcome to Japan, Joe Gunkel

New Hanshin Tigers right-hander Joe Gunkel started Saturday’s preseason game against the Nippon Ham Fighters at Koshien Stadium, and allowed seven runs in four innings. Despite the ugly totals it was anything but an ugly outing for the 28-year-old who pitched in the minors for the Red Sox, Orioles, Dodgers and Marlins.

Gunkel put a couple of floating sliders on a tee, and got a lesson in what left-handed hitters in Japan will do to two-seamers when they are not trying to crush the ball, but by and large it was entertaining.

A lesson in pitching to Japanese left-handed hitters.

From his low 3/4 slot, Gunkel had a lot of horizontal movement on a 91.3 mph two-seamer that he mercilessly jammed right-handed hitters with, and even got one batter looking on a backdoor two-seamer.

His slider was inconsistent in quality and command, as was his four-seamer, but he threw a splitter that really dropped and got him swinging strikes, and he is quick to the plate.

He got burned on ground balls that found holes, a couple of jam shots and a fly to deep center on a mistake pitch that carried out of the unusually windless park. He also struck out six.

Gunkel has a lot to work with, and he has a great catcher in Ryutaro Umeno to help him over a couple of minor rough spots. Hopefully, he’ll learn to use his arsenal quickly enough to keep up with the adjustments opposing hitters will make so that he doesn’t hit a prolonged rough patch. That’s because imported Tigers pitchers who have major rough patches learn more than they want to know about the Western League and get released.

Austin, Soto go back to back

Taylor Austin hit his fourth home run of the spring for the DeNA BayStars on Saturday, while two-time defending Central League home run champion Neftali Soto followed him with his first. Get a look on Austin’s face after Soto’s home run.

When I saw they both came off SoftBank Hawks journeyman Ryoma Matsuda, who gives up a fair number of home runs, I wasn’t too surprised, but compared to some of the really fat pitches Austin crushed earlier in the preseason, it was a straight fastball but not a cookie.

The Hawks opened with Nao Higashihama, who’s been named their Opening Day starter, and he looked ready to go, although he did get away with a hanging curve to Soto up in the zone that the right-handed-hitting slugger pulled foul. Matsuda had less luck with his fat pitch.

Patton’s back

The BayStars got an inning of work from Spencer Patton, who ended a frustrating season by breaking his hand against a refrigerator door. I commented to a colleague that he didn’t pitch well last season, but looking at his sharp performance on Saturday and his numbers from Delta Graphs the past three seasons, nothing really stands out.

The one outlier is his win probability. He gave up an unusual number of hits in the most volatile moments. How much of that is down to bad luck and bad timing, I don’t know. An old fart uninterested in analytics might say he lacked the “will to win,” but I am going to go with really crappy timing and luck.

I am unaware of his contract situation, but a lot of teams would have been cautious about bringing Patton back. The BayStars do a good job with analytics, and I assume they want him around because they see the intrinsic quality and because he’s a good teammate. That stuff matters.

The kotatsu league: Tigers sign minor league righty Gunkel

A day after they concluded a contract for 2020 with lefty Onelki Garcia, the Hanshin Tigers announced they have added Miami Marlins minor league right-hander Joe Gunkel.

The 27-year-old comes out of the Marlins organization. In four Triple-A seasons, Gunkel posted a 3.77 ERA. He struck out 6.23 batters per nine innings while walking 1.19 and allowing a little more than one home run per nine.

In a statement released by the Tigers, Gunkel said he was excited to be playing in Japan after hearing how good Japanese baseball was from former teammate and Yakult Swallows reliever Scott McGough.

Japanese-only free agency needs a 2nd look

Number magazine’s website “Number Web” posed an interesting question that speaks to the heart of one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s paradoxes — how come teams losing top foreign stars to another NPB club cannot receive compensation?

The answer is of course that foreign-registered players, unlike Japanese, cannot be reserved unless they agree to a contract for the following season. They are in essence free agents the minute their contractual obligation to a team ends. The Number Web article uses Wladimir Balentien‘s impending move to the three-time Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks as an example because — according to NPB’s silliest rule — he has acquired the right to file for free agency.

Thus, one could argue that the Yakult Swallows, for whom he played nine seasons, are losing a free agent but receiving zip in return. But using Balentien as an example is ridiculous. What about Onelki Garcia? He went 13-9 for the Chunichi Dragons in 2018 on a one-year deal and then decided to split to the Hanshin Tigers when Chunichi wanted to re-sign him.

Heck, the Yomiuri Giants’ back-to-back 2008 and 2009 pennants were built on the backs of stealing players the Swallows had scouted and signed. Pitchers Seth Greisinger went 30-15 over those two seasons, while Dicky Gonzalez was 15-2 in 2009 — the year he moved to Yomiuri from Yakult. Left fielder Alex Ramirez moved four stops down the Chuo Line to Tokyo Dome and won back-to-back Central League MVP Awards.

The Swallows response to the talent drain was to begin offering lucrative long-term contracts, starting with Balentien, reliever Tony Barnette and outfielder Lastings Milledge. The latter deal didn’t pan out, but the contracts for Balentien and Barnette were instrumental in Yakult’s 2015 pennant.

Free agency was the baby of the Yomiuri Giants — a plan for Japan’s most prestigious team to snap up as much previously unavailable talent as possible. But this winter, Giants Hall of Fame manager Tatsunori Hara has railed against compensation that annually costs his club a player here and a player there.

Since the Giants are the biggest talent poachers in NPB, they would likely dig in their heels at the thought of having to shell out even more for foreign talent just because it’s easier to get Japan-ready talent from the Swallows than it is to actually find it yourself.