Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano will be back in Japan for 2021, and though he probably is not the best pitcher in Japan right now as some in the U.S. media have labeled him in the crush for hyperbola, he’s not far from the best.
I speculated on some of the reasons why a Japanese star should not just leap into a major league deal, and Sugano himself cited the direction MLB is going during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, Japan got a bit of perspective.
“It wasn’t something I could be 100 percent satisfied,” Sugano told Japan’s media.
His agent, Joel Wolfe, had a media availability, a portion of which was aired on TV in Japan and that clip was then shared on Twitter.
Wolfe: “It was very tough.”
—How many teams made a clear offer?
Wolfe: “Six. He had several four-year offers, three-year offers and two-year offers.. Our expectation and his expectation what a fair contract was a bit different. And I ended up having to call that general manager with two minutes to go. “
Wolfe: “He was able to draw on his relationships with (Yu) Darvish and (Kenta) Maeda. They all offered so much assistance and advice. I don’t think he will ever regret…”
Wolfe: “I think the major league teams are really going to regret…”
Although Wolfe implied money kept the two sides apart, it could well be that the money offered was not enough to outweigh Sugano’s concerns about playing in the States now.
Waseda University manager Satoru Komiyama, for years the workhorse of the Lotte Marines rotation, and briefly a New York Met, threw in his two cents. In a Facebook comment, he said considerations of money shouldn’t matter if one really desires to work from a major league mound. He suggested that agents, not players, were the ones who made a big deal about contract value.
When veteran Japanese stars take pay cuts to play in the majors, or who turn their back on minor-league deals to return to lucrative contracts with their old teams in Japan, there are questions.
I have questioned the quick U-turns of Takashi Toritani, Nobuhiro Matsuda and Ryosuke Kikuchi. Each espoused a great desire to play abroad, but at the same time prioritized a happy exit from their Japanese clubs. None of them would negotiate past a certain date, they said, because that would leave their clubs back home in a bind about whether or not they would be available for the upcoming season.
To be sure, Matsuda’s case was unusual. A Japanese attorney negotiating his next contract with the Hawks complicated his American agent’s negotiations by talking directly to the San Diego Padres’ people on the ground in Fukuoka.
Every deal, however, is unique in its way because every player has different concerns for his career, for his life off the field and for his family. It’s probably never JUST about money.
Sugano really wanted to play in the majors. Either that or he’s been really good at making people think that for years.
On Sunday, SoftBank Hawks chairman Sadaharu Oh, who would have given some part of his anatomy for a chance to play in the majors when he was young, told TBS network’s Sunday Morning, “He absolutely wanted to go.”
“I believe he wanted to see how well his pitching skill would play in America.”
Sugano has reportedly received a four-year offer from Yomiuri with annual opt-outs allowing him to go a year from now if he likes, although he could also sign a one-year deal and file for international free agency if he can compile the necessary service time.
“Is next year the best chance for him given his age? I think so,” Oh said. “But I think he really wanted to do it now.”
Hideaki Wakui overcame a rough start to work seven innings, but Marines lefty Kazuya Ojima, 10 years his junior, struck out a career-high 11 to deny the 34-year-old his ninth win to open the season as the Lotte Marines beat the Rakuten Eagles and their former teammate 2-0 on Wednesday at Sendai’s Rakuten Semei Park Miyagi.
Wakui pitched out of a two-out bases-loaded jam in the first inning with a good inside fastball to Katsuya Kakunaka that the former PL batting champion popped up. After Ojima worked out of a first-inning pickle, Wakui fell behind light-hitting Yudai Fujioka to start the second. The right-hander threw the Marines shortstop a 3-1 fastball down the pipe that he skied to right only for it to reach the seats at the foul pole for his first home run of the season. With two outs, Wakui hung an 0-1 breaking ball and Shuhei Fukuda pulled it down the right-field line for his third home run.
Ojima worked around a defensive mixup in the second that helped Stefen Romero to a leadoff double, and that second zero proved to be the ballgame as he allowed only two more batters to reach through seven innings. Former Eagle Frank Herrmann worked the eighth, while Naoya Masuda notched his 17th save in the ninth.
Wakui also went seven, and though he battled his command more than he has for most of the season, he figured things out as the game went on. He finished with five walks, nine strikeouts and three walks.
Matsuda spearheads Hawks comeback
Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a game-tying seventh-inning home run and singled to give the Hawks a out, ninth-inning beachhead they exploited in their 5-4 come-from-behind win over the Orix Buffaloes at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
Masataka Yoshida doubled off 39-year-old Hawks lefty Tsuyoshi Wada to drive in a first-inning run and broke a 2-2 tie in the fifth against Wada with his xth home run.
Buffaloes lefty Daiki Tajima loaded the bases in the first but allowed no runs, but allowed a single and a home run in the fourth, reserve catcher Hiroaki Takaya’s first of the season. Tyler Higgins kept the Hawks off the board in the bottom of the eighth with the help of backup catcher Torai Fushimi, who cut down lightning-fast pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto trying to steal second.
After a scoreless ninth by Hawks closer Yuito Mori (1-1), Matsuda singled off Buffaloes closer Brandon Dickson (0-3) and Nakamura tripled home pinch-runner Taisei Makihara to end it.
Villanueva lands 1st punch in slugfest
The Nippon Ham Fighters’ Christian Villanueva blasted a three-run, second-inning homer to open the scoring off lefty Daiki Enokida (0-1) who surrendered seven early runs in an 8-5 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.
Fighters starter Toshihiro Sugiura allowed three runs over 5-1/3 innings. He didn’t allow a run until the sixth, when two walks and a single opened the floodgates to a five-run Lions innings, highlighted by a three-run Corey Spangenberg home run.
Wheeler boosts well-coached Giants
Zelous Wheeler hit a two-run first-inning home run and put his team in front with a sixth-inning RBI single for the Yomiuri Giants, who took advantage of an umpire’s inattention in a 12-5 see-saw win against the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
With the game tied 5-5 in the sixth, Wheeler put the Giants in front and cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto, hitless in his first three at-bats, singled in one more. A seven-hit five-run ninth turned the game into a rout.
The Swallows overturned their early deficit via a one-out Tetsuto Yamada home run, a Norichika Aoki walk and Munetaka Murakami’s 11th home run off Nattino Diplan. But the Giants retook the lead in the second with two runs against lefty Keiji Takahashi after a Hiroyuki Nakajima leadoff single and a double by rookie reserve catcher Yukinori Kishida.
The Swallows were denied an inning-ending double play because third base umpire Yoshiharu Yamaguchi wasn’t paying attention. Nakajima was caught between third and home on a grounder to third and beat a hasty retreat only to find Mota occupying the bag. Swallows catcher Yuhei Nakamura did the smart thing and tagged both men. Nakajima, mistakenly thinking he was out, walked off the bag until third base coach Koji Goto yanked him back.
Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu came out to argue but in the ump’s judgement, Goto preventing Nakajima from getting tagged out did not constitute help or he wasn’t looking. Either way, Hayato Sakamoto followed with a two-out two-run double.
Tomotaka Sakaguchi’s two-run homer in the fifth put Yakult back on top, only for Wheeler and the Giants to turn the game around once more.
Kishida walked to open the sixth, pinch-runner Daiki Masuda stole second and scored on Shinnosuke Shigenobu’s single. A walk put two on for Wheeler who singled between third and short.
Giants reliever Yuhei Takanashi (1-0) earned the win, extending his scoreless game streak to 15 with two scoreless innings.
Nomura pitches Carp past BayStars
Yusuke Nomura (3-1) allowed two runs over eight innings, while Shota Dobayashi and Seiya Suzuki each scored twice in the Hiroshima Carp’s 4-2 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohoma Stadium.
The Carp opened the scoring in the fourth on a one-out Dobayashi single, a Suzuki double and Ryuhei Matsuyama’s two-run single. In the home half, Carp center fielder Takayoshi Noma threw out Neftali Soto at the plate to end the inning. The BayStars tied it 2-2 in the fifth on Takayuki Kajitani’s 10th home run, but Dobayashi put the visitors ahead in the sixth. He walked, stole second and scored on Matsuyama’s second RBI single off Haruhiro Hamaguchi (3-3).
Suzuki’s 14th home run, off Spencer Patton in the ninth, completed the scoring, and Geronimo Franzua struck out the side in the bottom of the inning to record his seventh save.
Bour, Tigers maul Dragons
Justin Bour homered twice and drove in three runs, while Onelki Garcia (2-5) allowed two runs over six innings in the Hanshin Tigers’ 11-3 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Koshien Stadium.
Bour dropped his bombs against Dragons right-hander Koji Fukutani (2-2), who hit his first bump in the road in his transition to starting pitcher, allowing six runs in six innings to take the loss after four decent outings. The Tigers took the lead in the second when Bour hit his 11th of the season with two outs and none on. His two-run home run capped Hanshin’s five-run sixth
Hawks drop Despaigne, Higashihama
The SoftBank Hawks deactivated two-time Best Nine Award-winning designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne and Opening Day starter Nao Higashima on Wednesday.
The 34-year-old Despaigne has been suffering from pain in his left knee. The right-handed-hitting slugger returned to Japan in July with Cuban teammate Yurisbel Gracial and rejoined the first team on Friday and has appeared in three games.
Higashihama, named to start on Opening Day for the first time in June, was sent down due to a stiff neck. He threw 132 pitches in a five-inning start on Friday against the Lotte Marines in which he allowed three runs. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 2.96 ERA. He was replaced on the active roster by Wednesday’s starting pitcher, 39-year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Wada.
Moore back with 1st team
First-year import Matt Moore rejoined the Hawks first team on Wednesday for practice prior their game against Orix in Fukuoka. The 31-year-old lefty suffered a left calf injury on July 7.
“His leg is no issue,” manager Kimiyasu Kudo said. “Once he’s in games, we’ll control his pitch counts to some extent. I’ve watched video. The only thing that concerns me is the number of pitches.”
Elsewhere, the Orix Buffaloes deactivated first-baseman Aderlin Rodriguez, while the Central League’s DeNA BayStars dropped first baseman Jose Lopez.