Tag Archives: Rakuten Eagles

NPB 2020 6-25 games and news

Hooray for the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Rick van den Hurk and Wladimir “Coco” Balentien wreck the Seibu Lions in Pacific League action on Thursday. Van den Hurk took a no-hitter into the eighth, and Balentien, Japan’s single-season home run record holder, homered twice, his first since moving from the Central League over the winter.

“I want to thank my boy Coco for doing what he did tonight. Before the game he said ‘Let’s go, the Kingdom of the Netherlands boys, let’s put a good game together.'”

SoftBank Hawks pitcher Rick van den Hurk

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Friday’s starters are HERE.

Wheeler now a Giant

Zelous Wheeler leves the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles on Thursday after five seasons in Sendai, where he was the first import in franchise history to reach 100 home runs. The right-handed-hitting 33-year-old moves to the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants in exchange for 27-year-old lefty Shun Ikeda, who was a junior member of the first team bullpen in 2017 and 2018.

Wheeler’s English language NPB page is HERE, while Ikeda’s is HERE.

Both clubs are off to solid starts, although as Jason Coskrey points out, that COVID-19 may have played a hand in the Giants decision. With the pipeline to overseas talent the Giants often depend on for midseason reinforcements currently severed, Yomiuri may be looking to acquire spare parts for the coming months.

The production of DH-right fielder Jabari Blash and the acquisition of free agent infielder Daichi Suzuki from the Marines has left Wheeler on the outside looking in.

Live blog: Lions vs Hawks

I had planned to go with the BayStars-Dragons game tonight, but don’t get the cable channel that covers the BayStars home games and they’ve pulled off the streaming service I subscribe to, so its back to MetLife Dome, amid the reservoirs overlooking Tokyo.

Go to NEWEST.

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

Top 1st

Keisuke Honda starting for the Lions tonight, and he’s a guy I liked quite a bit last year. An easy fly out to open the game, an easy grounder, and Yuki Yanagita skies one to the warning track for a 1-2-3 inning.

I’m due to appear on the Sports Information System podcast, on Thursday in the States I think, and the host asked me about who was good at framing pitches. Well I don’t know if Tomoya Mori is good at it, but he certainly looks like he got the first on Yanagita by yanking a ball into the zone.

Bottom 1st

Rick van den Hurk on the mound for the Hawks for another abbreviated season. Injuries in the spring and the summer limited him to two regular season starts in 2019.

He fans Corey Spangenberg with his spike curve to open the game, and then gets a fly out to left, where Wladimir Balentien is playing tonight for the second out. Mori rips a first-pitch fastball, but it goes straight to second baseman Keizo Kawashima.

Top 2nd

Honda misses in the heart of the plate with a 3-2 slider and Balentien drives it over the fence in left for his first Pacific League home run.

Yuya Hasegawa flies out on a high 1-0 fastball and beauty of a 2-strike changeup inside at the knees and Seiji Uebayashi looks at Strike 3 for the second out. Nobuhiro Matsuda grounds to short and we go to the bottom of the second. Hawks 1, Lions 0.

Bottom 2nd

Two-time PL home run king Yamakawa pops up a high fastball, and Shuta Tonosaki walks. But Takeya Nakamura hammers a low fastball to shortstop Kenta Imamiya, who was shading the slugger toward third and started an easy double play.

Top 3rd

Honda gets two quick outs to open the third, a 1-0 fly to left by Taisei Makihara, and a fly to center from Takuya Kai. Ryoya Kurihara, however, battles and draws a nine-pitch walk, and Kawashima singles up the middle to bring up Yanagita.

Yanagita fouls off the first two fastballs he sees, but lays off the next four pitches, the fourth being a 3-2 fastball over the inside corner for Strike 3.

Bottom 3rd

Lions veteran Takumi Kuriyama goes down looking at a fastball on the inside edge and doesn’t look any happier than Yangita did, but umpire Shoji Arizumi has been calling them there all night. Fumikazu Kimura grounds the first pitch to third, and Yuji Kaneko grounds to short.

Top 4th

Balentien goes about as deep as you can go in his second at-bat, blasting a lazy fastball up and over the plate to the walkway behind the left-field stands. Coco 2, Lions 0.

But Honda has little trouble after that. Hasegawa strikes out swinging at a high fastball. Uebayashi grounds a changeup to second, and Matsuda misses a low 0-2 curve.

Bottom 4th

Spangenberg grounds out and Sosuke Genda gets jammed on a first-pitch fastball and flies out to center. Van den Hurk overpowers Mori, who hits a come-backer and we’re going to the fifth.

Top 5th

Tonosaki at second base well positioned to scoop a hard-hit grounder from Makiharafor the first out. Two easy flies from Kai and Kurihara make it 1-2-3.

Bottom 5th

Another 1-2-3 inning for van den Hurk as the Lions cannot get the barrel on the ball as he locates with the fastball and mixes in that slider and his curve.

Top 6th

Shota Hamaya, the Lions’ second draft pick last autumn out of the corporate leagues relieves Honda, and surrenders a leadoff homer to 1.73-meter Keizo Kawashima. Hawks 3, Lions 0. Hamaya issues a two-out walk to Yuya Hasegawa, but gets out of further trouble.

Bottom 6th

A groundout and two strikeouts against the Lions tail, and van den Hurk has now faced the minimum thanks to the second-inning double play.

Top 7th

A 1-2-3 for Hamaya against the bottom of the Hawks lineup.

Bottom 7th

Van den Hurk has needed 63 pitches through six, but no matter how easy he’s making it look, this lineup isn’t easy. Spangenberg hits a high changeup in the air to short. Genda and Mori both strike out swinging, and van den Hurk has seven on the night.

Top 8th

Three up, three down for Hamaya and we’re back to the star of the show for the bottom of the eighth.

Bottom 8th

Middle of the Lions lineup, and Hotaka Yamakawa swings and misses at a high fastball for Strike 1. He can’t hold up on a slider on the outside corner and its Strike 2. Yamakawa then hammers a high pitch out of the zone. Van den Hurk deflects it as it bounces past. Kawashima grabs it but can’t throw Yamakawa out at first and the no-hitter is no more.

Tonosaki grounds into a force, giving the Lions speed on the bases, but not quite enough to score when Takeya Nakamura finds the gap in right center for a double.

Kuriyama, a grinder who always dictates his at-bats, has looked lost tonight. A 1-0 curve catches the outside for a strike. Van den Hurk misses low with a fastball and way outside with a curve. A slider in the zone fouled back and it’s 3-2. He tops a breaking ball in the heart of the zone back to the pitcher, who gets the easy out. Hawks 3, Lions 1.

And that’s all for van den Hurk. Cuban lefty Livan Moinelo is on with a runner at third and two outs.

And we have a game. Kimura smashes a breaking ball between third and short to plate Nakamura, and the tying run is on. Hawks 3, Lions 2.

No. 9 hitter Yuji Kaneko up and quickly behind 0-2. Moinlo misses with two fastballs before whiffing Kaneko with another.

Top 9th

In relief of their second-round pick last year, the Lions bring in their top pick, Tetsu Miyagawa. The right-hander strikes out Balentien, but Hasegawa tattoos a pitch in the middle of the zone for a single.

Pinch runner Daiki Mimori on and steals second, and Uebayashi grounds to first. Matsuda barely gets the barrel on a curve and Kaneko can’t make the catch as he races in from center. Hawks 4, Lions 2.

Makihara walks and the Hawks have two on and a chance to put this game out of reach, and it’s battling Keizo Kawashima. But Miyagawa keeps the pesky right-handed hitter from doing any damage and we go to the bottom of the ninth.

Bottom 9th

Closer Yuito Mori on in the ninth to face the top of the Lions order. Mori falls behind gets Spangenberg to ground out on an offspeed pitch. Genda strikes out swinging and Ukyo Shuto, in left for Balentien gloves it for the win.

Final score: Hawks 4, Lions 2

NPB 2020 6-21 live

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Giants sweep Tigers

Angel Sanchez, who went 17-5 last year in KBO for the SK Wyverns, had a rocky start in his NPB debut Sunday, but earned the win as Kazuma Okamoto and Gerardo Parra homered to lift the Yomiuri Giants to a 7-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers and a three-game series sweep at Tokyo Dome for the defending CL champs.

Sanchez allowed one run, on a leadoff homer to Koji Chikamoto, allowed four walks and four hits, but lasted 5-2/3 innings.

Morishita shines in pro debut for Carp

Masato Morishita, Hiroshima’s top draft pick out of Meiji University, struck out eight in his pro debut against the DeNA BayStars. The righty, who I had a look at in the spring, walked two and gave up four hits in a 104-pitch, seven-inning outing at Yokohama Stadium.

Unfortunately, there was no fairy tale finish in Morishita’s debut as four-straight BayStars batters hit line drives off Tyler Scott in the ninth. Toshiro Miyazaki finishes it off by finding the gap against the drawn-in outfield and two runs scored to end it.

“I believe that our strategy was good but that guy was real good. He has the potential to be an ace pitcher. I was glad they took him out of the game,” DeNA skipper Alex Ramirez said.

BayStars right-hander Kentaro Taira allowed a run over six innings on a walk and five hits, while striking out two.

“It was a great game all the way from the beginning. Taira did a great job from the beginning and the relievers did a great job.”

Yuki Kuniyoshi worked two scoreless innings of relief, and Spencer Patton, who worked the eighth, got the win.

Lions rookie Yoza solid in losing debut

Kaito Yoza allowed three runs over six innings in his first-team for the Seibu Lions, but the bullpen blew up over the final three innings in a 12-2 loss to the Nippon Ham Fighters. Solo homers from Sho Nakata and Taishi Ota gave the visitors an early lead they would never give up.

Mima wins Marines debut

Manabu Mima, who joined Lotte over the winter as a free agent from the Rakuten Eagles, allowed a run while striking out nine in just five innings in the Marines’ 5-1 victory over the SoftBank Hawks.

Seiya Inoue homered in the second off reliever Yuki Tsumori after the Hawks starter, journeyman Akira Niho loaded the bases by hitting Shogo Nakamura in the head. Pitches that strike a batter in or around the head are referred to as “kikenkyu” (dangerous pitches) and call for an automatic ejection for the pitcher.

Former major leaguers Brandon Laird and Leonys Martin reached base before Nakamura was hit and scored as Inoue put the game out of reach early.

June 21 Live blog: Buffaloes vs Eagles

Off to a bit of a slow start on Sunday, folks. Having a look at Orix and Rakuten today, because my favorite Japanese pitcher, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is on the mound for the Buffaloes.

Go to NEWEST.

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

Top 2nd

Yamamoto has consistently the best stuff in Japan, and it looks like he’s put some muscle on his once spindly frame. He struck out the side in order in the first and got a one-run lead in the home half, but two ground balls in the second produced the Eagles’ first hit.

  1. Dangerous Hideto Asamura grounds out softly to 2nd.
  2. Hiroaki Shimauchi gets a grounder through between 1st and 2nd
  3. Former Buffaloe Stefen Romero grounds to short and the enigmatic Ryoichi Adachi starts the inning-ending double play.

Bottom 2nd

Eagles starter Ryota Ishibashi went 8-7 as a rookie last year and was second on the team in innings pitched with 127-1/3 because the club’s two best starters, Takayuki Kishi and Takahiro Norimoto missed time with injuries

Ishibashi’s average fastball velocity last year was 145.2 kph, and he’s a four-seam, cutter, splitter, and two-seam guy, although be aware the two-seam description generally encompasses two distinctly different pitches, a hard running fastball and a two-seam sinking fastball–which is the rarer of the two in Japan.

  1. Kenya Wakatsuki grounds out.
  2. Ryoichi Adachi singles to center.
  3. Shunta Goto singles to right to put runners on the corners for Takahiro Okada.
  4. Okada, who slid home headfirst to score on Keita Nakagawa’s sac fly in the first, singles in the Buffaloes’ second run.
  5. Aderlin Rodriguez looks like a player built for Japan, a smooth compact swing, who makes excellent contact. Ishibashi hangs a forkball and Rodriguez hits it high up the wall in left for an RBI double, Buffaloes 3, Eagles 0.
  6. Rodriguez, however, contributes an out on the bases, thanks to some slick defense by Eagles first baseman Ginji Akaminai. Ginji goes to a knee to stab a ball off the bat of Masataka Yoshida, makes the play at first and then throws behind Rodriguez who is trapped between second and third.

Top 3rd

  1. Akaminai, who wears “Ginji” on his uniform as his registered name, grounds out to second, topping 1-2 splitter.
  2. Catcher Hikaru hits a little comebacker to Yamamoto for the second out.
  3. Ryosuke Tatsumi, the PL’s 2018 rookie of the year swings and misses at a low fastball for another 1-2-3 inning. The thing about Yamamoto is that he has so many quality pitches, that it’s very common to see everyone guessing wrong and getting terrible swings even at mistakes in the zone.

Bottom 3rd

  1. Adam Jones had two hits on Saturday, and put a sweet swing on a straight fastball in the first for a single that contributed to Orix’s first run. Ishibashi gets a generous call on a low pitch from home plate ump Masanobu Suginaga, and Jones goes down looking.
  2. Keita Nakagawa, who had a strong rookie season playing all over the musical chairs game the Buffaloes’ infield resembled last year, flies out to left.
  3. Koji Oshiro, another of those versatile infielders from 2019, grounds out to short.

Top 4th

  1. Eigoro Mogi gets under a high 151-kph fastball and flies out to left.
  2. Daichi Suzuki, the former Marines captain who moved to Sendai as a free agent over the winter, swings under a high 1-2 running fastball to go down swinging.
  3. Jabari Blash, who struck out looking in the first, flails at a beauty of an 0-2 curve.

Bottom 4th

  1. Buffaloes catcher Kenya Wakatsuki launches a hanging first-pitch slider away to the warning track for an opposite-field leadoff double.
  2. Adachi tops an attempted sacrifice bunt in front of the plate, and Ota throws out his opposite number at third.
  3. Akaminai, playing in tight at first base, makes a good play on a little chopper by Goto.
  4. Okada, who raked in the spring and in practice games, pulled a high hanging forkball over Akaminai and down the right-field line for his second double of the game and a 4-0 Buffaloes lead. This is quite a turnaround for Okada, whose career has been in decline for nearly a decade, and who spent most of the 2019 season on the farm after a handful of sloppy at-bats and fielding misplays at first base.
  5. Ishibashi snaps off a nasty curve to send Rodriguez down swinging.

Top 5th

  1. Not a great fastball, but Asamura doesn’t get a great swing on it and pops up down the left field line.
  2. An easy fly to lefty by Shimauchi and Yamamoto appears to be operating on cruise control.
  3. He works carefully to Romero, who ends a good 6-pitch at-bat by fouling out.

Bottom 5th

Rookie right-hander Taisei Tsurusaki on the mound for the Eagles after Ishibashi gives up four runs in four innings. Tsurusaki is making his debut against the middle of the Buffaloes lineup. He looks to have a repeatable delivery, comes over the top and keeps his hand on top of the ball.

  1. Yoshida, one of the best hitters in the PL, swings at a huge 12-6 curve before taking a cutter on the outside corner for Strike 3.
  2. Jones provides less of a challenge, grounding a first-pitch fastball away to second.
  3. Nakagawa walks on seven pitches and steals second easily.
  4. Oshiro walks on 6 pitches.
  5. Wakatsuki flies out off the handle, and the rookie survives without any damage done.

Top 6th

  1. Nice at-bat by Ginji, but he tips a 2-2 shoot into Wakatsuki’s glove for Strike 3.
  2. Backup catcher Ayatsugu Yamashita batting for his catching partner Ota and grounds out easily to first.
  3. Yamamoto is toying with Tatsumi, going after the corners with his hard stuff while getting three strikes with his curve. Tatsumi goes down swinging at one low out of the zone.
Thanks for that Jason. A Yamamoto curve is not fair to pinch-hitters.

Bottom 6th

Veteran lefty Wataru Karashima on the mound for the Eagles. He had a serviceable year in the rotation last season, going 9-6 in 117-1/3 innings. He is in middle relief this year with closer Yuki Matsui moving back into the rotation. He’s basically a fastball, slider, curve change guy.

  1. I love watching Ginji Akaminai play first base. He is everywhere on everything, and knows where to look and when to throw. Another good play opens the first as he throws out Adachi to open the seventh.
  2. Goto flies out to left.
  3. Okada’s confidence is dialed up to “11” now after floundering for several seasons. He is balanced at the plate and ready to attack EVERYTHING. He walks to bring up Rodriguez.
  4. And Rodriguez, short to the ball on an inside pitch and pulls it down the line in left for a double. Okada to third.
  5. Okada, a small guy with a quiet stance in the left-handed batters box, doesn’t look like he should be dangerous, but he has serious power and plate discipline. Not this time though, as Karashima gets him to ground to short.

Top 7th

Don’t remember when the PL started the innovation of playing the visiting team’s Lucky Seventh song on the stadium speakers, but it is a nice touch, since no matter what park you’re at in the top flight there will be at least five or six hundred fans on the visitor’s side of the outfield waving their flags and cheering on their guys.

With no fans in the stands, the Kyocera Dome scoreboard was showing Eagles fans cheering from home on streaming video while, the Eagles song, what Casey McGehee called the “Igloo song,” plays.

  1. Mogi grounds out to open the visitors’ seventh.
  2. Suzuki misses a 3-2 inside fastball for Yamamoto’s 10th strikeout.
  3. Blash grounds one up the middle for an infield single.
  4. Asamura miss-hits a cutter to short for an easy out.

Bottom 7th

Tomohiro Anraku, who made a name for himself in high school with his brutal pitch counts, comes in to pitch the seventh for the Eagles.

  1. Jones looks at two fastballs low and away before grounding out to second.
  2. Nakagawa lined a pitch to short right center, and nearly got caught out thinking it would get through when Tatsumi cut it off in center.
  3. Pinch runner for Nakagawa at first, and Yuya Oda swipes second. Oshiro flies out to center but not deep enough to send Oda to third.
  4. Wakatsuki grounds out and we’re going to the 8th with the Eagles trailing 4-0.

Top 8th

  1. Shimauchi flies out to first on the second pitch.
  2. Romero flies out to second on the second pitch.
  3. Yasuhito Uchida, batting for Ginji, who may have twisted something when he miss-stepped making that play to open the seventh, rips a single to right.
  4. Yamashita his what they call a “bonda” in Japanese, an easy out, on a grounder to second.

That’s 94 pitches for Yamamoto and with a four-run lead, he won’t be back. Thirty years ago, I guarantee, he’d be getting ready for the ninth. Back then, there was no good excuse for lifting a starter who was leading. “How can you take him out? It’s a close game” or “How can you take him out with that big lead.” You name it, there was an excuse for it.

Bottom 8th

Anraku, the Eagles’ top draft pick in 2014, is back for the ninth.

  1. Adachi lines out.
  2. Goto fouls off two, two-strike pitches before striking out swinging in an eight-pitch at-bat.
  3. Anraku finally makes Okada look like the guy who could possibly be lost at the plate as he hesitates on a 1-2 fastball on the inside corner for Strike 3.

Return to TOP

Top 9th

United States international closer Brandon Dickson on in the ninth. He was a productive starter for the Buffaloes for six seasons, but last year, with no one else to turn to, he was thrust into the closer’s role, where he’s been dynamite. He finished 2019 as the closer for Team USA in the Premier 12.

  1. Pinch-hitter Kazuya Fujita flies out to left.
  2. Mogi grounds out to second.
  3. Suzuki fouls off a tough two-strike fastball on the outside corner. Takes a ball low for 2-2, and puts a good swing on a fastball but lines it straight to Goto in center for the Buffs’ first win of the season.

Final score: Buffaloes 4, Eagles 0

2-time PL champion manager Nashida tests positive for coronavirus

Masataka Nashida, who won Pacific League pennants with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Nippon Ham Fighters and finished his managing career with the Rakuten Eagles, has tested positive for the new coronavirus, his management agency revealed Wednesday according to Kyodo News.

Here is a link to my coronavirus-NPB timeline

The 66-year-old former catcher had been resting since complaining of fatigue on March 25 and developed a fever three days later. On Monday he had trouble breathing and saw a doctor. He was admitted to a hospital on Tuesday, where he was diagnosed with severe pneumonia.

After a 17-year career with the Buffaloes, Nashida coached for the club and after winning the Western League pennant as their minor league manager in 1999, was promoted to manage the first team in 2000. In 2001, the Buffaloes went from last place to first but lost in the Japan Series to the Yakult Swallows.

He managed Kintetsu until the club was disbanded after the strife-torn 2004 season and merged with the Orix BlueWave. He went on to manage Nippon Ham in 2008 following the departure of Trey Hillman, and won the 2009 pennant, only to lose in the Japan Series to the Yomiuri Giants.

He managed the Fighters until 2011 and ran the Eagles from 2016 to 2018.

Open and shut: March 3, 2020 – Sarfate returns to Fukuoka mound

Dennis Sarfate returned to the mound in Fukuoka on Tuesday for the first time in nearly two years. In one of five preseason games (“Open sen” in Japanese) played Tuesday — all behind closed doors — the Hawks took on the Yakult Swallows in an interesting contest.

Here are the game highlights, courtesy of PL TV.

As he has in the videos he’s been posting to social media that past year or so, Sarfate looked comfortable throwing although was nowhere near regular season velocity, touching 143 kilometers per hour compared to his average fastball velocity in 2017 of 153.3. He allowed a single and got two flyouts.

Rick van den Hurk threw 3-2/3 innings for the Hawks, and looked ready for Opening Day, with his fastball touching 150 kph, and good command of all his pitches. Van den Hurk pitched in just three games last year during the regular season.

Swallows starter Hirotoshi Takanashi also looked ready for Opening Day with generally good movement and command of his fastball. Although he was a little inconsistent and a little lucky, he threw five solid innings.

Peoples makes spring debut

New import Michael Peoples made his preseason debut with the DeNA BayStars, allowing three runs over three innings in which he gave up a home run, walked a batter and hit a batter against the Rakuten Eagles in Shizuoka.

Tyler Austin resumed his hit parade with a double and a single in three at-bats, raising his spring exhibition average to .615 with three homers and three triples in 15 plate appearances. The Eagles’ Jabari Blash hit his second homer of the spring.

Lions’ Takahashi goes 5 strong

Kona Takhashi, who for an instant had been in the running to start the Seibu Lions’ opener according to manager Hajime Tsuji, struck out six over five scoreless innings against the Chunichi Dragons.

Daisuke Yamai, who at the age of 41 is trying to secure some starts this season, showed he has more work to do. He walked three while allowing four runs over two innings of relief.

Open and shut: NPB goes under cover

I’m calling this spring’s preseason stories “Open and shut” since a main theme so far is 72 exhibitions scheduled to be played behind closed doors as Japanese companies are being asked to curtail large gatherings in order to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Sands opens with pair

Hanshin Tigers newcomer Jerry Sands blasted two of his team’s five solo home runs in a 5-4 win over the SoftBank Hawks on Saturday. The Tigers got three scoreless innings from their Opening Day starter, Yuki Nishi, and another scoreless frame from former Hawk Kenichi Nakata.

Yusuke Oyama, who is fighting to secure the starting third base job for Hanshin, also homered twice, while 2016 rookie of the year Shun Takayama homered to continue his comeback spring effort. Hawks starter Nao Higashihama allowed four solo homer, all off breaking pitches.

Matsui goes 5 in Eagles restart

Yuki Matsui, making the shift from closer, started and went five innings for the Rakuten Eagles in a 4-2 win over the Lotte Marines. J.T. Chargois and Alan Busenitz worked scoreless innings in relief for the Eagles, while former Eagle Frank Herrman and former Carp Jay Jackson each worked an inning for Lotte.

The PL clubs exchanged a host of players over the winter via free agency and other deals with. Herrmann, (Opening Day starter) Manabu Mima, and a pair of young minor leaguers, infielder Kenji Nishimaki and pitcher Fumiya Ono joined Lotte. Going the other way were Lotte’s former captain, infielder Daichi Suzuki, veteran right-hander Hideaki Wakui and pitcher Tomohito Sakai.

Buffs, Fighters show off season openers

The Orix Buffaloes’ Taisuke Yamaoka worked five scoreless innings, while the Nippon Ham Fighters’ Kohei Arihara allowed a run in three as the two teams went with their Opening Day starters. Orix newcomer Tyler Higgens worked a scoreless inning of relief.

Orix first baseman Takahiro Okada, who was exiled to the minors for the duration of the season after letting a routine grounder go through his legs last summer, homered in his first at-bat.

Viciedo blasts off

Dayan Viciedo homered and singled in his home preseason debut at a silent Nagoya Dome, while new Carp pitcher DJ Johnson allowed a run in one inning of work.

NPB: No fans, no sickies

Not only will all Nippon Professional Baseball games between now until mid-March be closed to the public due to concern over the coronavirus outbreak, but it is going to be no picnic for those allowed to contact players.

Sankei Sports gives us a rundown of the steps others will have to take to be at the ballpark starting Saturday.

  • No one will be allowed to enter Sapporo Dome if they have a temperature of 37.5 C or more for five minutes.
  • Media members at other ballparks will be required to have examinations upon arrival. This may include screening, a questionnaire and having your temperature taken.
  • While on the road, Orix Buffaloes players will be asked to refrain from going outside.
  • The Rakuten Eagles have urged staff members to minimize contact with players.

Camping World: Feb. 22, 2020 – Let the games begin

This is the one week of the year where Japanese baseball looks like that in the majors. Teams are in camp and playing preseason games. Very often the games played until the final week of February are “practice” games, where rules can be bent to suit the needs of the managers. But once the “open season” begins, those games’ stats are recorded.

On Saturday, eight teams were in action, with most of the attention focused on the BayStars – Eagles game because Rakuten southpaw Yuki Matsui started in line with new manager Hajime Miki’s plan to move him out of the closer’s role. The other player of interest was the Eagles’ top draft pick, 24-year-old shortstop Hiroto Kobukata.

The Swallows – Carp game saw Hiroshima’s first pick, Meji University right-hander Masato Morishita and Yakult’s second pick, Japan Sport Science University right-hander Daiki Yoshida.

Morishita’s debut

Morishita looks much as he did last year as an amateur, a right-hander who balances about three seconds on his back leg before going to the plate. The one difference appears to be his arm slot. He had been high 3/4 in college, but was nearly 12-6 in the first inning. Ostensibly, he’d been tasked with making some adjustments in his previous bullpen session, and one wonders whether his arm slot was part of that. From the second inning it looked closer to what it had been in college and his command was spot on.

He allowed two runs in the first, basically because of his command. Few of the balls had anything coming off the bat, and his slider was particularly sharp.

Not “real” baseball

If one needs proof that these games are meaningless, one can look at Morishita’s not being ejected in the first inning for a “dangerous pitch.” A curve slipped out of his hand and traced an eephus arc before striking Alcides Escobar on the top of his helmet. Had this been a regular season game, the umpires would have been compelled to eject him for hitting a batter in the head.

Escobar “suits” Japanese ball

Escobar, the Swallows’ new shortstop, was praised as a good fit for Japanese baseball by the crew broadcasting the game, ostensibly because of what he can’t do. Other than his size, the 33-year-old Venezuelan fits Japan’s cookie-cutter image of a middle infielder: Plays good defense, runs and bunts well, while not being able to hit for power or reach base.

Goodness gracious.

One crowded infield

New Carp manager Shinji Sasaoka is trying out lots of combinations in his infield. He brought in second-year shortstop Kaito Kozono to play second, and the 2018 No. 1 pick did a reasonable impression of Ryosuke Kikuchi with the glove with a good charge toward the mound and a sharp throw to first across his body.

Former Yankees and Padres utility man Jose Pirela, who has impressed with the bat in camp, was tried out at third. Having spent most of his time with the Yankees and Padres at second base and in left field. He has good hands, it looked from this game like third base might be a challenge for his arm strength.

Nice start for Yoshida

While the Swallows’ top draft pick, high school star Yoshinobu Okugawa was throwing his first bullpen of the spring hundreds of miles away in Yakult’s minor league camp after hurting his arm in January, second-round pick Yoshida had two innings in the spotlight.

The 1.75-meter Yoshida has a super smooth delivery that looks like it was modeled on Tomoyuki Sugano’s although he doesn’t look like he’s trying to throw the ball through a wall like Sugano sometimes does. Yoshida, who has been used as the setup guy for the national collegiate team, has an above-average fastball with some hop to it, and showed a decent changeup and a slider, neither of which he commanded nearly as well as his four-seam fastball.

He located the fastball and missed some barrels with the change and retired all six batters he faced.

Matsui goes back to starting line

Yuki Matsui, who came to national prominence in high school for being able to survive extraordinarily high pitch counts, failed as a starter in his 2014 rookie season. That year he walked 67 batters in 116 innings, but was reincarnated as a closer the following season.

His English NPB page is HERE.

Matsui looked fairly uncomfortable, threw a lot of straight fastballs, missed his locations. He faced 18 batters and surrendered a pile of hard-hit balls while walking two batters and hitting one.

He did throw a number of quality sliders, and those kept the day from being a complete disaster.

Mirror, mirror

Yesterday, I filled out a scouting report on Eagles second pick Fumiya Kurokawa. A muscular second baseman, Kurokawa resembles current Eagles second baseman Hideto Asamura. Kobukata, the top draft pick, is a small left-handed hitting shortstop like Rakuten’s incumbent at the position, Eigoro Mogi.

Kobukata started and had three hits, all ground balls pulled through the right side of the infield. He looked OK with the glove. I don’t know if it’s a Japanese thing but like Kurokawa, Kobukata takes an extra step to set his feet before he throws. When he does cut loose, however, he has a gun with some good carry.

The other news from that game was the absence of new BayStars import Tyler Austin, who has been smoking hot all spring, due to stiffness in his right elbow.

Scout Diary: Feb. 21, 2020 – Fumiya Kurokawa, 2B, Rakuten

I was going to do a rundown on all the top draft picks from NPB’s 2019 autumn draft, but Fumiya Kurokawa grabbed my attention with a story of his alertness on the bases, so here we are.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

Furukawa was the second pick of the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles out of powerhouse high school Chiben Wakayama. He’s a second baseman, and that usually raises questions among amateurs because if he could field and had an arm, he’d be a shortstop.

  • Birthday: 4/17/2001
  • H: 1.82 m, W: 86 kg
  • Bats: L, Throws: R
  • Position: 2B

Physical description: Looks like a left-handed-hitting Hideto Asamura who has grown into his body more quickly than Asamura did. He has pronounced movement with his front foot, swinging his toe over the plate as he times the pitcher’s delivery.

PresentFuture
Hitting Ability5060
Power5060
Running Speed5555
Base Running7070
Arm Strength4040
Arm Accuracy5050
Fielding5055
Range5055
Baseball Instinct6060
Aggressiveness6060

Abilities: Soft hands, quick flips. Alert, aggressive base runner. Disciplined approach, compact swings, quick hands to the ball, with a slight uppercut.

Weaknesses: Hyper conscious of setting his feet before throwing, often taking an extra step before throwing.

Summation: He could develop real power, and pro coaches are sure to iron out his throwing technique and make him an above-average fielder.

2019 video of Kurokawa as a high school senior

Follow up

The report says nothing about his makeup or his speed to first, so those are things I’d like to fill in as time goes by. He did get to second on balls into the outfield in 8 seconds, but I don’t have enough records to know if that’s really fast or not.

Sayonara Nomu-san

Katsuya Nomura, one of the greatest baseball players in history, a player worth comparing to Josh Gibson, Yogi Berra and Roy Campanella, died suddenly at the age of 84 of ischemic heart on Tuesday in Japan.

An elite slugging catcher, Nomura played in an era when Japan’s talent depth was quite a bit lower than it is today. And like some of his peers, Shigeo Nagashima, Sadaharu Oh and Isao Harimoto, Nomura was able to stand above the crowd like a colossus and added to his legend by becoming a superb manager and a celebrity analyst.

In a 27-year career, Nomura won nine home run titles, led the Pacific League in runs three times and RBIs seven times. He was a Triple Crown winner and a five-time MVP.

A driven, gifted athlete, Nomura was also blessed with a keen mind that he constantly exercised in his bid to stay one step ahead of his opponents — a talent that helped him become the most successful manager of his generation. The peak of his managing success came with the Yakult Swallows from 1990 to 1998. Taking over a team that had been perennial weaklings, Nomura won four Central League pennants and three Japan Series championships.

On Tuesday, the impact Nomura had on his players and rivals echoed around Japan as word of his death spread. Players recalled how he motivated them with his harsh words and how he educated them and trained them to win.

Nomura turned pro in 1954 with the Osaka-based Nankai Hawks, then in the middle of a dynasty under the leadership of Hall of Fame manager Kazuto Tsuruoka.

From 1970 to 1977, Nomura served as the Hawks’ player-manager, although it was largely a collaboration between him and influential coach Don Blasingame. After winning the 1973 pennant, Nomura became the first Hawks manager to fail to win a pennant in four consecutive seasons since Tsuruoka had Hawks to their first pennant in 1946. But turmoil within the club, that Nomura blamed on a faction aligned with Tsuruoka, and Nomura’s enemies blamed on the skipper’s future wife Sachiyo — the mother of their five-year-old son — came to a head and Nomura was fired after the 1977 season.

Nomura moved to the Lotte Orions in 1978 before finishing his playing career with the Seibu Lions, which in 1979 were transplanted from Fukuoka to Tokorozawa, Saitama Prefecture, on the western outskirts of Tokyo.

Although Nomura would have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer, the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame required candidates to be out of uniform for five years before they could go on the ballot. Since many stars became managers and coaches, this created a huge logjam of worthy candidates and Nomura was not elected until 1989. The following year he took over as manager of the Swallows and turned them into a minor dynasty.

Just as he had been the leader with Nankai, the Swallows were built around their catcher, bespectacled big-hitting defensive wiz Atsuya Furuta, the second player Nomura took in the 1989 draft and a future Hall of Famer.

In his stints as Hawks and Swallows manager, Nomura showed a talent for working with young pitchers, getting big performances out of them and then overworking them.

He was also an incredible evaluator of talent, and a motivator. Former outfielder Atsunori Inaba, who someday should be voted into the Hall of Fame, credited Nomura with turning his career around by telling him his outfield defense was useless. Inaba responded by turning himself into a superior right fielder.

He is best known, however, for his fascination with analytics and advance scouting in formulating game plans against opponents, something he had begun as a player studying films of opposing pitchers to discover how they were tipping their pitches. The Swallows famously shut down PL MVP Ichiro Suzuki in the 1995 Japan Series.

Nomura was ahead of his time in building a club made of guys with high on-base percentage, often collecting aging castoffs like Eiji Kanamori, a slap-hitting on-base machine, thus earning the Swallows the nickname of “Nomura’s recycling factory.”

As a manager, Nomura displayed amazing verbal acuity. He loved to make up little phrases, quips and songs about players and rivals. And while he was a master storyteller, he often couldn’t resist the urge to rip into others in public. His constant jabs against the Swallows’ top rivals, the Yomiuri Giants, and their manager, Nagashima, became tiresome for the club’s executives and they cut him loose after the 1998 season — although by all accounts he was as tired of them as they were of him.

He went off to manage the Hanshin Tigers, where he figuratively put his foot down on the team’s prima donna, celebrity outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo. Nomura left him on the farm team at the start of the season and said he might use him to pitch, but had no use for him otherwise. As it had with Inaba, Nomura lit a fire under the Tigers poster boy, who followed by turning in three of his best seasons.

Although the Tigers finished last for three straight seasons under Nomura, the talent he nurtured there provided the foundation for the club’s 2003 and 2005 Central League championships. Nomura’s run, however, was cut short after his wife, Sachiyo, was arrested on suspicion of tax evasion in December 2001.

After a successful run as manager of corporate league side Shidax, Nomura was asked to rescue the Rakuten Eagles, who fired the club’s inaugural skipper, Yasushi Tao, after the club’s 2005 disastrous debut campaign. Nomura again was able to make big strides in the development of a young pitcher. This time, however, it was in the form of powerfully built youngster Masahiro Tanaka, who blossomed under Nomura’s tutelage.

The Eagles reached the playoffs for the first time in 2009, but that proved to be Nomura’s swan song. Once more, turmoil within the front office left people pointing fingers and Nomura was out.

My only real interactions with Nomura were during that time with Rakuten, because he was supremely approachable. While most field managers who meet the media before the game do so in sessions lasting five to 15 minutes before wandering onto the field, Nomura came out early, sat on the bench, where his cushion and bottle of green tea would be waiting for him.

For the entire Eagles practice, he would chat with reporters, covering the usual team news, but also telling stories. It seemed like the responsibility of the beat writers to keep him engaged so he would continue to tell his tales. It was magical stuff we may never see the likes of again.

Once more, however, some of the groundwork he laid in Sendai contributed to a later pennant. After a failed 2010 season under Marty Brown, the Eagles hired Senichi Hoshino as their fourth manager. Hoshino, who had succeeded Nomura with Hanshin and won the 2003 CL pennant, steered the Eagles in 2013 to their first Japan Series championship.

In between managing gigs, Nomura was at his critical best as a sharp-tongued TV analyst, harshly laying into managers and players who failed to meet his high standards on the field. It wasn’t simple bitterness, but rather a powerful mix of his love for the game, a dislike for half-measures and his talent with words.

In 2012, one of his former Swallows players, Hideki Kuriyama, took over as manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters and led them to the Japan Series title in his first season. Asked about the form journeyman outfielder turned analyst and university lecturer, Nomura said, “The Pacific League has certainly gotten pretty weak if that guy can win a pennant.”

As teams lowered their flags to half-mast on Tuesday at their spring camps and held moments of silence in Nomura’s memory, Kuriyama said, “I never heard a single word of praise from him. I’ve been giving it all I’ve got up to now so that I might once hear him say, ‘You’ve done a good job, I see.’ I so much wanted him to see me take that next step forward.”

The kotatsu league: Rakuten snaps up former Buffalo Romero

The Rakuten Eagles on Monday announced they have reached an agreement on a 2020 contract with 31-year-old outfielder Stefen Romero, who spent the past three seasons with the Pacific League rival Orix Buffaloes.

The signing gives Rakuten a third hard-hitting imported position player to go with third baseman Zelous Wheeler and right fielder Jabari Blash.

Romero, who played in only 81 games in 2019, dealt all season with a neck issue that he said would require a month of rest. On April 19, he suffered a right oblique tendon injury in Sendai that kept him out for nearly a month. He was again deactivated for a month from June 23 due to inflammation in a right oblique tendon. On Sept. 3, he hurt his right knee running the bases, but returned 10 days later.

Despite all those troubles, he posted a .305 batting average leading to a .363 OBP. Those numbers were likely skewed by good luck. After a .282 average when not homering or striking out from 2017-2018, Romero’s figure in 2019 was .385 in 295 at-bats last season.

Romero, who said he now makes use of a Rapsodo device in his offseason workouts, has become an extreme flyball hitter compared to how he was when he arrived with Orix in 2017 according to Delta Graphs.

His English language NPB page is HERE.

Romero is the sixth veteran the Eagles have acquired this winter, having brought in a trio of Lotte Marines (infielder Daichi Suzuki and right-handers Hideaki Wakui and Tomohito Sakai, former San Diego Padre and Seibu Lions submariner Kazuhisa Makita, and former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever J. T. Chargois.

The Sendai-based Eagles finished third in the Pacific League last season behind the two-time defending PL champion Seibu Lions and the three-time defending Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks. They ranked seventh among NPB’s 12 teams in both pitching and fielding according to Bill James‘ Win Shares, but dead last in offense.

The Eagles have never reached the postseason in an even-numbered year, finishing sixth, fifth, sixth, fourth, sixth, fifth and sixth.