Tag Archives: NPB

2 teams report infections

This is not to say “Japan is better than you are,” but rather to say that even where infections are 100 times less common than in the States, and nearly everyone wears a mask, the danger of COVID-19 is very real.

NPB coronavirus timeline

The SoftBank Hawks said Friday that a part-time worker at their home park, Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome, has tested positive for COVID-19, while the Orix Buffaloes have also reported that a team official in his 40s has also tested positive.

The Hawks said the man, in his 20s, worked at the stadium but was not in close contact with anyone, which makes one wonder what kind of person works at a ballpark without coming into close contact with anyone else. Since we’ve seen that baseball players matter more than ordinary folks, the Hawks statement could mean that he did not come into contact with players or coaches.

The Buffaloes team official did not travel with the club this week to Sapporo and is resting at home without any sign of serious symptoms.

Although infections in Japan are roughly three times what they were when the government began announcing states of emergency in parts of the country, there has been no public discussion that more of the same is to follow. A total of five players within NPB have been known to test positive. NPB began its regular season on June 19, and so far has been fortunate to avoid infections. Players have been requested not to eat or drink when traveling and to refrain from eating out, period.

It’s not like NPB owners are any kind of geniuses. They have done what MLB owners have done, follow the lead of their government. When Japan’s government has waffled, the owners made bold stupid statements. When the government came out the next day, the owners said they weren’t interested in anything but safety and would do what they are told.

I understand there is a huge dynamic in America that says, “You aren’t the boss of me” and that wearing a mask has become a political touchstone. We don’t have the mask-as-political-statement thing going on in Japan, but we do have people who want to pretend it’s not dangerous and that socializing like normal is a test of their will power or something.

But it’s a smaller thing, and the government doesn’t encourage it, and still, Japan is entering a second phase much more dangerous than the first. Seeing what MLB is doing is horrifying.

Hearing the domino effect going on in MLB because the United States has made Japan’s lukewarm COVID-19 measures look like the wisdom of the ages, makes me wonder how long the U.S. season can last. At what point do the players say, “Nothing is worth it.”

Trying times for sports, society As Infections rise

The Japanese government lifted its states of emergency in May, allowing pro sports to resume, and on June 19, Nippon Professsional Baseball began its delayed 2020 season. Since July 10, events have been allowed to admit crowds of up to 5,000.

But in the meantime, the number of coronavirus infections across Japan has steadily increased, and this past week, both NPB and pro soccer’s J-League abandoned their plans to increase attendance limits from Aug. 1 to roughly half the capacity of their venues.

NPB coronavirus timeline

Compared to the numbers coming out of the United States, where pro baseball resumed on Thursday, and where numerous players and staff have tested positive for COVID-19, Japan’s infection rates are miniscule and NPB has so far announced just 5 infections since March.

Unlike in the United States, Japan’s government has since Day 1, presented the coronavirus outbreak as a serious health threat–even while downplaying its potential to disrupt the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

On Saturday, two stories broke, one from the J-League and one from the world of sumo, which had cancelled its May grand tournament and moved its July tourney to Tokyo to reduce travel.

A wrestler in the elite makuuchi division broke with Japan Sumo Association guidelines by going out eating and drinking with backers and others. He was promptly yanked from the current grand tournament and has been tested for COVID-19.

In the J-League, a player from first-division side Nagoya Grampus tested positive on Saturday, and three others with the club, which had two infections prior to the season’s restart, tested positive. Since the league’s guidelines require testing of those in close contact with those testing positive, the team could not register enough players to hold its scheduled match on Sunday.

Since early this year, NPB and the J-League have held joint “liaison” meetings with public health experts and have studied the guidelines enforced by other sports leagues in order to reopen safely. But after Monday’s 12th meeting, NPB commissioner Atsushi Saito expressed grave concern about being able to find a clear path forward.

“The world and Japan are worried about how to balance the coronavirus pathogen, economic activity, and business activity,” he told an online press conference following the meeting, according to Nikkan Sports.

“Our human society is useless if, in the current situation, we lean too far in one direction or the other. Who manages this balance? Is it the government? Can we institute controls? I think we need to find ways while listening to the opinions of specialists.”

Dr. Mitsuo Kaku, a professor of Tohoku University, said it was important to remember that special care is needed because roughly 80 percent of the cases have very mild symptoms.

“We know that our policy “of wearing masks, social distancing and staying home” is effective in preventing clusters,” he said. “But going forward we need to remember that many pro baseball and soccer players are young, and so I would like to see extra vigilance taken.”

Dr. Hiroshige Mikamo of Aichi Medical University, who was involved in the decisions related to the Grampus infections, said, “The infection is putting pressure on the economy. I understand we are entering the second phase of danger.”

“I said at the meeting I would like athletes and staff to refrain as much as possible from eating and drinking while traveling. This is critical for them to protect their team and their league.”

Dr. Mikamo added that the reason the Grampus match against Hiroshima Sanfrecce was canceled was red tape involved in getting trace information from public health offices.

Dr. Kazuhiro Tateda of Toho University said, “In general, people are at the same risk as players and team staff.”

“Infection spreads from eating and drinking parties. Athletes and team staff are under tight restrictions, and yet even among them, infections are occurring. So it would be no surprise if we start seeing infections among spectators.”

“We need to be prepared for those cases that will occur next. I have found that the public health authorities’ ability to obtain contact lists and indeed the cooperation with the government has been haphazard. We need to improve communication with the government.”

NPB 2020 7-3 pitchers

Here are the announced starting pitchers for NPB’s games of Friday, July 3.

Pacific League

Fighters vs Hawks: Sapporo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Kohei Arihara (0-2) vs Nao Higashihama (0-0)

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

Takahiro Norimoto (2-0) vs Ayumu Ishikawa (0

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

ZACH NEAL (1-0) vs Tsubasa Sakakibara (-)

Central League

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

Tomoyuki Sugano (1-0) vs Yudai Ono (0-1)

Carp vs Tigers: Mazda Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Daichi Osera (2-0) vs Yuki Nishi (0-1)

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

Masanori Ishikawa (0-0) vs Shota Imanaga (1-1)

NPB 2020 6-23 LiVE

Tuesday marked the start of the first full week of pro baseball in Japan, when the Pacific League enters into its pandemic travel protocols, limiting cross-country travel by playing six-game series.

Rookie Togo pitches Giants to 4th straight win

Twenty-year-old right-hander Shosei Togo, the Giants’ sixth pick in the 2018 draft allowed two runs over 6-2/3 innings while striking out seven to outduel Hiroshima’s Kris Johnson, who walked three and allowed three runs over five innings. It was Johnson’s first loss at Tokyo Dome in over three years.

Defending Central League champion Yomiuri won 3-2 to improve to 4-0 on the season. Kazuma Okamoto had two hits, singled in one run and forced in another with a walk.

Gerardo Parra, who homered twice in the opening series against Hanshin, went 2-for-3 with a line out, while Rubby De La Rosa earned his second save.

Marte, Tigers spoil Ynoa’s debut

Jefry Marte capped a three-run first inning at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium with a two-run home run off former Orioles right-hander Gabriel Ynoa, as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Swallows 5-1 for their first win of the season. Marte went 3-for-4.

Austin guns down 2, drives in 1 in BayStars win

DeNA BayStars right fielder Tyler Austin threw out a base runner to end a fourth-inning Chunichi Dragons rally and had four hits, including an RBI single that broke up a scoreless game in the fifth in a 3-0 win at Yokohama Stadium

The BayStars’ rally was keyed by a leadoff double by shortstop Yamato Maeda, leading off from the ninth spot after starting pitcher Haruhito Hamaguchi, batting eighth, ended the previous inning. Jose Lopez singled in the inning’s other run.

Austin, who threw out Toshiki Abe at the plate, was also cut down twice on the bases, but evened the score in the ninth, when he threw out Abe at home for the second time in the game.

Spangenberg breaks out

Corey Spangenberg put good swings on straight pitches in the zone for his first big game in Japan, going 4-for-5 with a grand slam and a strikeout in the Seibu Lions’ 11-3 win over the SoftBank Hawks at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.

It was a welcome sight for Lions fans after the left-handed hitter flailed at low and away breaking balls over the weekend with eight strikeouts over the first three games.

Matt Moore, making his first start in over a year, missed some locations, and made a costly fielding error on a potential double play comebacker and allowed six runs, four earned over 5-1/3 innings.

Here are the game highlights.

Here is Spangenberg’s hero interview.

Marines come back against closer Dickson

Lotte’s Seiya Inoue singled in the tying run in the ninth inning at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, and the Lotte Marines walked off 6-5 winners when Orix Buffaloes closer Brandon Dickson hit Takashi Ogino after an intentional walk loaded the bases to set up a force at the plate.

Trailing 3-0 after four thanks to first-inning homers from Ikuhiro Kiyota and Brandon Laird off Buffaloes starter Andrew Albers, Adam Jones hit his first home run in Japan and drew a walk in Orix’s three-run sixth.

Here are the game highlights.

Yuge shuts down Fighters in Martinez’ return

Hayato Yuge, a 1.93-meter lefty, struck out six and walked one over 6-1/3 innings, while Hideto Asamura and new Eagle Stefen Romero both hit long home runs in a 4-0 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.

Fighters’ starter Nick Martinez, making his first start since 2018 after his 2019 season was derailed by injury, struck out seven but allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks over five innings.

Here are the game highlights.

Live viewing

I didn’t really have a good idea how our live viewing event would turn out. The purpose was to make NPB games more accessible to readers, but with most of the participants already well-versed in the game here, it was a fun, free-wheeling discussion as the Lions-Hawks game went on in the background.

I hope to do about three a month, because I can only do them on my days off, and I can’t blog or do anything else while we’re doing it. More than half the participants were joining from the U.S. or Canada so it was hard with a 5 am EDT start time. I am in awe of these people.

Tuesday’s starting pitchers notes

Here were the starting pitchers. All three of the PL visiting starters are imports (Nick Martinez, Matt Moore, Andrew Albers), while two of the three CL starters (Kris Johnson and Gabriel Ynoa) are. Moore and Ynoa will be making their Japan debuts.

Pacific League

Eagles vs Fighters: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi

Hayato Yuge vs NICK MARTINEZ

Martinez went 10-11 in 2018 while eating up over 160 innings in his Japan debut after moving from the Texas Rangers. He missed all of 2019 with an injury to his right forearm.

Lions vs Hawks: MetLife Dome

Kona Takahashi vs MATT MOORE

Lions pitchers led Japan with a record 93 hit batsmen. The Lions had set the previous record of 84 in 2018. Only one other team, the 2004 Orix BlueWave, has hit more than 80. I mention this because Takahashi led all pitchers in Japan with 14, which doesn’t crack the top 20 all-time. I guess they just don’t make ’em like they used to. The record is 22, by Toshiaki Moriyasu of the 1969 Toei Flyers, but it took him 341-2/3 innings to get there.

Moore was one of three players taken in the eighth round of the 2007 MLB draft to reach the majors and turned 31 on Thursday, probably the first time in his career his birthday came before Opening Day. On April 6, 2019, his season ended when he damaged the meniscus in his right knee when fielding a bunt. This will be his first regular-season start since then.

I haven’t talked to the Hawks’ scouts but one would think that since virtually every Hawks pitcher throws a knuckle curve or a spike curve, Moore will fit right in.

Marines vs Buffaloes: Zozo Marine Stadium

Kota Futaki vs ANDREW ALBERS

Albers is coming off a tough 2019 season, when more or less everything went south for him. He gave up more had contact, gave up home runs twice as often as he had in 2018 when he went 9-2 with a 3.02 ERA, and his fielders caught few of the balls opponents did put in play.

He’s 4-0 in eight career games against the Marines with a 2.66 ERA, but that’s 1-0, 4.03 in Chiba, and 3-0, 1.44 elsewhere.

Central League

Giants vs Carp: Tokyo Dome

KRIS JOHNSON vs Shosei Togo*

Johnson is the veteran among Tuesday’s import starters, having won the prestigious Sawamura Award as Japan’s top starting pitcher in 2016–when his numbers were virtually identical to his 2015 figures.

He’s 57-30 in his Japan career, but 9-3 against the Giants, who though they won the league last year, were fairly mediocre from 2016 to 2018. Johnson is 5-1 at Tokyo Dome in his career. His only loss there an 8-inning complete-game defeat in May 2016.

BayStars vs Dragons: Yokohama Stadium

Haruhiro Hamaguchi vs Yuya Yanagi

Swallows vs Tigers: Jingu Stadium

GABRIEL YNOA vs Koyo Aoyagi

NPB eyes opening to fans from July 10

In a show of cautious optimism considering the resurgent number of coronavirus infections in a nation that has seriously avoided testing, Atsushi Saito, the commissioner of Nippon Professional Baseball on Monday told reporters Japan’s two leagues would look to admit fans to its parks from July 10, the Hochi Shimbun reported Monday.

Link to my NPB coronavirus timeline.

After meeting online in a liaison conference with counterparts from pro soccer’s J-League and public health experts, Saito said that, government guidance permitting, up to 5,000 fans will be admitted to games from July 10.

“We believe we will be able to open the doors to fans from July 10,” Saito told reporters in an online press conference, four days after NPB’s 12 teams began their regular season three months late due to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

If conditions permit, the clubs hope to admit crowds up to half of their parks capacity from Aug. 1.

Confirmed new infections in Japan by date

Data provided by the ministry of health labor and welfare.

Confirmed new infections in Japan bottomed out around 20 on May 25, when the government announced the state of emergency would be lifted nationwide, and NPB announced its season would start on June 19. Since then the daily new infection rates have rebounded slightly to 40 to 60 per day.

Although a majority of people are still wearing masks, restaurants, food shops, and bars that had been shuttered or empty are now filling up, with people crowded together.

All NPB players, team and field staff were tested prior to Opening Day and no new infections were announced.

Japan’s principle means of interdicting new cases is not increased testing as was promised after the Olympics were postponed in March but to restrict entry to Japan to citizens. Non-citizens, including permanent residents, some who have lived their entire lives in Japan are not currently allowed to enter the country.

Silence is not golden

Playing baseball in empty stadiums that would normally be filled with non-stop chanting and noise-making means hearing virtually everything. You can hear the coaches complain about the umpires, the players’ chatter, and as Chunichi Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda and his Yakult Swallows counterpart Shingo Takatsu discovered this weekend at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, the broadcasters.

The Nikkan Sports reported Sunday that prior to the start of the ninth inning of Sunday’s game, Yoda came out for a word with home plate umpire Tetsuya Shimada, who then approached the Swallows bench for a word with Takatsu, and pointed up at the broadcast booths as they spoke.

“From the broadcast booth could be heard ‘The catcher is setting up inside,'” manager Yoda said, according to a Dragons official.

The broadcast booths at the small park are not far from home plate and their voices could be heard on the field without fans making the ubiquitous noise.

Central League administrator Kazuhide Kinefuchi said according to the Dragons, “We have to look out for this at every park and correct it immediately.

Takatsu appeared to hear it as well, the umps said.

“He could hear something. The pitch locations or something like it.”

Until about 10 years ago, NPB had a similar issue. Teams used the big screens at the ballpark to show replays of their player’s swings when the home team was batting. Every fair or foul ball would be replayed, with the result that the home team batters could see where the opposing catchers were setting up.

Former Fighters pitcher Carlos Mirabal said those two things are apples and oranges.

“(It being on the screen) to me doesn’t matter, because the players would always go in the training room and ask someone who was watching the game where the pitch was or any other question,” Mirabal said.

“If it’s right before the pitcher throws the pitch, then that’s no good.”