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.
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.
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.