Rick van den Hurk is poised to become the latest former Hawks player to move to Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Sankei Sports reported Tuesday, citing multiple sources.
According to the report, the Swallows have been actively pursuing the 35-year-old, who was non-tendered in December and the two sides are expected to work out their agreement in the coming days.
In recent years, the Swallows have got a surprising amount of mileage out of a pair of Hawks retreads, submarine right-hander Hirofumi Yamanaka and lefty Hiroki Yamada, although the Hawks have more than got their money’s worth from evergreen utility infielder Keizo Kawashima.
Van den Hurk has been used sparingly by the Hawks due to a variety of physical issues that have not always been easy to pin down — even for the pitcher himself — but has been dynamite whenever he’s been on the mound.
On Saturday, the SoftBank Hawks held their annual “reject Kodai Senga’s plead to be posted” contract negotiation. The 26-year-old is on track to be a domestic free agent a year from now and eligible to move overseas on his own power after the 2022 season. Since GM Sugihiko Mikasa indicated a multiyear deal was ready for Senga, it seems he turned that down with the hope the club might just change its mind a year from now and post him after four years of head-shaking.
The Hawks have, according to Call to the Pen, signed Cuban pitcher Andy Rodriguez. The Hawks non-tendered pitchers Rick van den Hurk and Matt Moore, but would love to have Moore back for a second season in Fukuoka.
Tigers bulk up
The Hanshin Tigers have reached deals to import two of KBO’s outstanding imports last season, Mel Rojas Jr, and pitcher Raul Alcantara, signed lefty Chen Wei-yin, who finished the 2020 season with the Lotte Marines, and re-signed closer Robert Suarez.
Alcantara won the 2020 Choi Dong Won Award as KBO’s outstanding pitcher, while Rojas is the second straight KBO RBI leader to join the Tigers following their 2019 acquisition of Jerry Sands. Rojas, the 2020 MVP also led the league in home runs and finished third in batting average.
The Marines have come to terms with infielder Adeiny Hechevarria, the Miami Marlins’ everyday shortstop from 2013 to 2016. Hechevarria has been a utility infielder since, although he did hit a career-high nine home runs last year.
Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi said he expects Hechevarria could hit 20 homers a season in Japan. I thought that was a bit of stretch but two of the 140 players who hit 20-plus HRs in their first NPB season came here without ever hitting more than nine in a year, so it’s not quite as silly as it sounds.
The Marines also brought back Frank Herrmann, whom they non-tendered, for a second season in Chiba, while the Lions have done the same with first-year reliever Reed Garrett. The Orix Buffaloes have also agreed to bring back closer Brandon Dickson for his ninth season.
When I saw Stefen Romero cut after an outstanding first season with the Rakuten Eagles, I wondered if an unusually large number of players were non-tendered this year, but that wasn’t appear the case. The 12 teams cut 132 players on Dec. 2, one shy of the 133 cut in 2016 and 2019.
From 2003 to 2010 the median was 94. Since 2011, the new median is 127.5, with the watershed year being 2011.
This should come as no surprise to anyone. That year, both leagues were thrown into chaos between the introduction of a deader uniform ball, the merging of umpires from both leagues for the first time, and low-lighting for several months in the wake of the nuclear disasters following the March 11 killer earthquake and tsunami. Offense plummeted, many players’ numbers dipped precipitously, and a lot of them got the chop.
Since then 120 to 130 has been the norm, and this year, which at first glance appeared to be a response to more available talent from the frozen free-agent market in the States, is not that unusual.
Free agent market
Speaking of free agents, one team’s international director said he did not feel more veteran major leaguers were looking to a Japan contract this year to escape the majors’ current buyers market.
In the domestic market, Yasuhiro Ogawa, the first pitcher in Japan to throw a no-hitter in the same game he first struck out 10 batters, tested the market as a free agent and decided to stay with the Yakult Swallows rather than join the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters.
Hawks release, Moore, van den Hurk, Uchikawa, Colas on cut day
The Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks parted company, at least technically with pitchers Matt Moore and Rick van den Hurk, while making longtime captain Seiichi Uchikawa free to complete a deal with the Central League’s Yakult Swallows on Wednesday.
Nippon Professsional Baseball’s teams are required to submit their reserve lists for the 2021 season on Dec. 2, the big day for releases across Japan. The moves don’t necessarily mean that neither Moore nor van den Hurk will be back with the four-time defending Japan Series champions, but it does mean they were unable to or unwilling to exercise an option to keep them.
Cuban two-way player Oscar Colas, who has been on the restricted list since Feb. 19, was released by not being placed on the Hawks’ 2021 reserve list, meaning he will be free to sign with an MLB club as an international amateur when the next international signing period opens in June.
Cuts throw import market wide open
The winter NPB market for import players heated up considerably with Tuesday’s cuts when a number of experienced players with established value were left off their clubs’ reserves list. Here’s a brief rundown:
Corey Spangenberg and veteran Takumi Kuriyama powered the Seibu Lions as they from behind to beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 5-4 at MetLife Dome on a holiday Tuesday afternoon game to pull into a tie for second-place in the Pacific League with the Lotte Marines.
Spangenberg’s fourth-inning solo homer put the Lions up 3-2, and his sac fly tied it 4-4 in the sixth. Shuta Tonosaki plated Fumikazu Kimura in the seventh with the go-ahead run as the Seibu bullpen locked it down after a rough outing by Kona Takahashi.
The right-hander had trouble from the start but managed a 1-2-3 first thanks to a good play from two-time Golden Glove winning shortstop Sosuke Genda to retire the leadoff man. Takahashi needed all the help he could get as he allowed four runs on four walks and six hits over 4-1/3 innings. He left after Taishi Ota’s lucky RBI single tied it 3-3, but rookie Tetsu Miyagawa’s two walks forced in a run to give the Fighters the lead again.
Kuriyama homered to tie it in the third and led off the sixth and scored on Spangenberg’s sac fly.
Nobuhiro Matsuda’s two-out RBI single broke a 3-3 sixth-inning tie and capped a four-run rally as the SoftBank Hawks came from behind to beat the Lotte Marines 4-3 at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium. The win was the Hawks sixth straight against Lotte after starting the season 4-11-1 against them.
Five Hawks relievers finished the job with Yuito Mori getting his 31st save.
The game was held up for 14 minutes in the bottom of the fifth when brilliant sunshine over the stadium rim blinded those at home plate.
Moya crushes Eagles’ hopes
Steven Moya homered twice scored three runs and drove in four to power the Orix Buffaloes to a 6-3 win at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome over the Rakuten Eagles, who fell 2-1/2 games out of second place with four games to play.
Moya closed the book on Eagles ace Takahiro Norimoto (5-7) with his second homer of the game, a two-run seventh-inning shot. D.J. Johnson and J.T. Chargois retired three batters apiece in a solid rear-guard effort for Rakuten.
Kyoda, Kinoshita boost Dragons past ‘Stars
Yota Kyoda snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run fifth-inning triple in the Chunichi Dragons’ 7-5 win over the DeNA BayStars at Nagoya Dome. Chunichi catcher Takumi Kinoshita had three hits for the hosts. He singled to lead off the fifth, homered in the sixth and singled in an eighth-inning insurance run.
Kikuchi rescues Carp, spoils Togo shutout
Ryosuke Kikuchi homered with two outs and a man on in the bottom of the ninth to break up rookie Shosei Togo‘s shutout and take Hiroshima Carp starter Allen Kuri off the hook in a 10-inning 2-2 tie with the Yomiuri Giants at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Swallows come back
Taishi Hirooka hit a seventh-inning, game-tying homer and Naomichi Nishiura’s three-run 10th-inning shot off Yuta Iwasada (6-3) decided it as the Yakult Swallows came back to beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-1 at Koshien Stadium.
Hirooka tied it off Hanshin’s second pitcher, Suguru Iwazaki, but Jon Edwards and Robert Suarez each worked a scoreless inning, while the Swallows bullpen put up four scoreless innings to force extra innings. Nishimura homered in the 10th and Taichi Ishiyama recorded his 18th save.
Jones ends 1st season in Japan
The Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes announced that first-year import Adam Jones returned to the United States on Tuesday.
Jones played in 87 games with a .331 on-base percentage with a .417 slugging average with 12 home runs and 43 RBIs. He had been deactivated due to “lack of fitness.”
In Japanese language comments released by the team, Jones called it an amazing year despite the difficulties imposed by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
He said he had learned to alter his approach having learned about Japanese baseball and Japanese culture, and that he was looking forward to come back fit and compete next year for the entire season.
Active roster moves 11/3/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/13
Is it just me, or are NPB umps beginning to adopt the old major league standard of shifting the strike zone one ball width away from the batter? This was done in the States, I understand, to decrease hit batsmen. As long as I can remember, Japanese umps have called the vertical edges of the zone by the rules as well as their talents allowed.
But Friday’s games got me to wondering. Looking at the pitches that were called strikes and balls in Sendai’s game between the Lions and Eagles, and in Osaka between the Hawks and Buffaloes and at Koshien between the Dragons and Tigers, it sure seemed like inside strikes meant getting the ball entirely over the plate, while pitchers tended to get more leeway outside.
It may just be me, but a narrow strike zone definitely impacted at least one game.
Neal outpitches Norimoto in Sendai
Rakuten Eagles ace Takahiro Norimoto has been very tough this season and he was pretty darn good on Friday, but sometimes things just have a way of going south. And while things didn’t go his way, Seibu Lions right-hander Zach Neal had his best outing in three weeks and picked up the win in a 10-2 victory in Sendai.
After both pitchers were rock solid in the first, Norimoto ran into trouble in the second. He hit the leadoff man, and pitched carefully to 2019 Pacific League MVP Tomoya Mori and ended up walking him. After that, he pretty much made his pitches but didn’t get the results he might have.
OK, he threw a straight fastball down and in to Takeya Nakamura that the slugger lined to left. The opening run scored on the play when left fielder Hiroaki Shimauchi failed to gather in the ball on a hop.
After that it was back-to-back singles off good pitches. An inside fastball jammed Takumi Kuriyama but resulted in a flair to left that fell in for an RBI single. Cory Spangenberg did a super job to go down and get a splitter and single to load the bases.
Norimoto had thrown 22 pitches in the inning at that point the wheels kind of fell off. But oddly enough, the Lions had pretty much done all the damage they were going to do in the inning.
He threw three straight pitches down the pipe, a first-pitch fastball resulted in an RBI single. A hanging first-pitch slider would have brought in another run had Shimauchi not made a good sliding catch in left. Sosuke Genda then watched a fat first-pitch fastball go by before offering at a splitter out of the zone that let the Eagles get a force at the plate.
The Lions added two more runs in the third when he REALLY missed to dangerous hitters, resulting in a Hotaka Yamakawa home run and a hanging curve that missed being a two-run homer by a few feet.
Neal — remember Zach Neal? — gave up a couple of hard-hit balls to his fielders in the second, and had trouble with the strike zone, see above, in the third, when he issued two, two-out walks — credit to Daichi Suzuki for the second — before Eigoro Mogi lined a pitch to center that went for a two-run double when center fielder Shohei Suzuki failed to make a shoe-string catch.
That brought league RBI leader Hideto Asamura to the plate. Neal got a 1-0 strike on the outside corner, and Asamura missed a fastball up and in before flailing at a changeup low and well out of the zone. You could see that changeup coming a mile away, and it was poetry.
Neal walked just those two batters, while striking out five and allowing five hits. With the win, he was able to extend his streak of consecutive winning decisions to 13.
Hawks take advantage of Buffaloes youngster
As happens a lot, walks opened the door for the SoftBank Hawks offense and they never looked back in their 9-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Hard-throwing 21-year-old Tsubasa Sakakibara (0-1) went into the fourth inning with the game tied 1-1, but four walks in the inning proved his undoing.
Sometimes pitchers walk hitters because they can’t locate their pitches and sometimes because they have a poor approach, and in Sakakibara’s case it seemed more of an inability to adjust to umpire Fumihiro Yoshimoto’s narrow strike zone.
A leadoff walk on four borderline pitches to Yuki Yanagita was a case of his trying to hit the edge of the zone and locating, but not getting the calls. Another walk followed before a three-pitch strikeout of Wladimir Balentien. But at that point, Sakakibara’s ability to execute began to slip. He missed all over the place to Nobuhiro Matsuda to load the bases before Takuya Kai ground out a walk that broke the tie.
Sakakibara, whose fastball was sitting at 150 kph but was pretty straight, got the grounder he needed to keep it a 2-1 game but the ball went for an infield single and he was yanked after four.
Orix rookie Ryo Ota, whose first pro hit was a home run on Thursday, had a home run for his second hit as well, when he tied it in the second off Nao Higashihama. The Hawks starter, who was in the leg by a batted ball early in the game, left after three innings.
Arihara earns 1st win for Fighters
Nippon Ham Fighters ace Kohei Arihara (1-3) allowed two runs over six innings, scattering eight hits and three walks in a 7-4 win over the Lotte Marines at Sapporo Dome.
Arihara allowed just a run in the first despite a leadoff single and a Leonys Martin double and didn’t have a stress-free inning until his 1-2-3 sixth. Marines starter Ayumu Ishikawa (0-2) had three 1-2-3 innings through six but surrendered six runs on 10 hits and a walk to take the loss.
Fighters cleanup hitter doubled in a run in the hosts’ two-run first, and put the game out of reach with a seventh-inning grand slam.
Aoyagi, Sands pace Tigers past Dragons
Right-handed side-armer Koyo Aoyagi had the Chunichi Dragons pounding the ball into the dirt, grounding out 16 times over seven innings in a 4-1 Hanshin Tigers victory at Koshien Stadium.
The Dragons managed four hits and a walk off Aoyagi (3-1), who struck out two. The Tigers broke out for three runs in a fortunate third inning against Dragons lefty Yudai Ono (0-3).
Ono sawed off Seiya Kinami’s bat at the handle with a 1-1 slider on the hands but the ball looped over the mound for a leadoff infield single. After the pitcher sacrificed, failed to get a called first strike and sort of gave up on trying to get Yoshio Itoi and walked him on four pitches. Kento Itohara lucked into an infield single hitting an 0-2 pitch well out of the zone off the end of the bat for a perfect swinging bunt down the third base line. A throwing error by third baseman Hayato Mizowaki advanced all three runners and let in a run.
The infield came in, and Jerry Sands, whose eighth-inning home run tied Thursday’s game against Yakult and set the stage for a Tigers comeback, hit Ono’s pitch. The lefty spotted a 3-0 two-seamer low and away only for Sands to reach for it and launch it the other way into the right field gap for a two-run double.
Dayan Viciedo got a run back for the Drgons with his eighth home run of the year in the fourth.
Maru makes difference in rainy Yokohama
Yoshihiro Maru launched a third-inning tie-breaking home run at rainy Yokohama Stadium and the Yomiuri Giants earned a 2-1 win over the DeNA BayStars when their game was called after six innings.
The Giants opened the scoring in the second thanks to some quality swings from Takumi Oshiro, Gerardo Parra and Zelous Wheeler as three singles loaded the bases with no outs against Shoichi Ino (2-1). Oshiro scored on a double play.
Ino struck out six and walked one, while allowing six hits. Giants lefty Nobutaka Imamura (1-0) won his season debut. He allowed six hits and a walk while striking out two, and served up a pair of groundball double plays as the base cutouts at Yokohama Stadium began to resemble mud wrestling venues.
Maru broke the tie with two outs in the third, when Ino hung a curve ball that he launched off the end of his bat and just into the outfield seats atop their high wall in left.
Carp spoil Swallows rookie’s debut
Shota Dobayashi, long a favorite of the Hiroshima media, made his debut in the Carp No. 3 spot and went 4-for-5 with three runs, while Seiya Suzuki and Ryuhei Matsuyama combined to drive in eight in a 9-2 win over the Yakult Swallows.
Right-hander Daiki Yoshida, Yakult’s second draft pick last autumn, allowed five runs on nine hits over 2-1/3 innings to take the loss in his first-team debut.
Carp ace Daichi Osera (3-1) allowed two runs over six innings, while striking out five and walking two. New import D. J. Johnson had his best outing yet for Hiroshima as he struck out the side in the eighth inning.
Alcides Escobar drove in both Yakult runs with a sixth-inning double that missed the top of the wall at Mazda Stadium by a few feet.
Hawks drop van den Hurk, Carp call on Scott
A day after the briefest start of his career in Japan, right-hander Rick van den Hurk was deactivated by the SoftBank Hawks on Friday. The 35-year-old who opened his season with a dominating win over the Seibu Lions on June 25, is now 1-2 with 7.29 ERA in his sixth Japanese season.
Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo said van den Hurk was feeling tightness in his back according to the Nikkan Sports.
“We’re going to give it a little time,” Kudo said at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome prior to Friday’s game against the Orix Buffaloes. “We want to know a little bit more about his condition, so he’ll be staying with the team for a bit.”
Meanwhile, a day after a Hiroshima Carp bullpen game imploded, the Central League club called up reliever Tayler Scott. The first-year right-hander has allowed seven runs over three innings and is 0-2 in five games. He has since pitched in two farm games and retired all six batters he faced for the Carp’s Western League team.
Former major leaguers Jerry Sands and Kosuke Fukudome hit late home runs to lift the Hanshin Tigers to a 6-4 come-from-behind victory over the Yakult Swallows in the Central League on Thursday at Koshien Stadium.
After five scoreless innings from Swallows southpaw Keiji Takahashi, the Tigers broke through to tie it in the sixth. Yusuke Oyama “tripled” on a ball to the wall that center fielder Kotaro Yamasaki failed to gather in. Right fielder Yuhei Takai retrieved it but dropped it twice before getting it back to the infield.
Oyama scored on a groundout by Justin Bour. Takahashi walked Sands, and his replacement Kazuki Kondo walked Ryutaro Umeno to bring up Fukudome, who then doubled to the warning track in right.
Instead of regular setup man Scott McGough or closer Taishi Ishiyama, Swallows skipper Shingo Takatsu opted for 23-year-old rookie right-hander Noboru Shimizu, the Swallows’ top draft pick from 2018.
Shimizu, who had allowed seven hits and a walk over 12-1/3 innings of relief this season while striking out 11, retired Bour to open the eighth before Sands pulled him down the line for his second home run. Umeno singled, and the 43-year-old Fukudome reached the seats in right.
Robert Suarez issued a leadoff walk in the ninth but ended the game with a double play to earn his third save.
Munetaka Murakami had three hits for the Swallows, including a double and scored twice, but was pulled for a pinch runner in the fifth with stiffness in his right leg.
Giants take advantage of Carp bullpen
The Yomiuri Giants behind Cristopher Mercedes (1-2) beat the Hiroshima Carp on a bullpen day 9-4 at Mazda Stadium.
Right-hander Kazuki Yabuta opened for the Carp and did his best to aim for the edges of the zone and miss outside it. Yoshiyuki Kamei doubled on the first pitch. After a groundout on the second pitch, Yabuta stayed out of the zone and walked the next batter. He nearly got away with avoiding the zone when Kazuma Okamoto chased Ball 4 and nearly grounded into a double play.
Okamoto beat the throw to first, allowing Kamei to score and bringing Takumi Oshiro to the plate. The Giants catcher got ahead 2-1, and when Yabuta missed up high with a fastball, Oshiro drove it high up into the stands in right center.
Although Shota Dobayashi hit a two-run fourth-inning home run off Mercedes, the Giants never trailed. No. 8 hitter Naoki Yoshikawa homered in the sixth and Okamoto hit his eighth home run in the seventh.
Abe leads Dragons rout of BayStars
Another bullpen day, this time by the visiting DeNA BayStars at Nagoya Dome, started well but turned into a rout and an 8-0 loss at the hands of the Chunichi Dragons.
Toshiki Abe went back into the starting lineup for the first time in four days and responded with three hits and four RBIs, while starting pitcher Yuichiro Okano (2-1) worked five scoreless innings thanks to three double plays.
The game stayed close for six innings until Kazuki Mishima took the mound in the seventh and surrendered three runs to let the game get away. In the end, it didn’t matter that one of the runs who scored was walked intentionally.
That was the second of the game and the Japan-high 12th for BayStars skipper Alex Ramirez, who leads Japan in intentional walks issued every year.
Ariel Martinez came off the bench and delivered a two-run pinch-hit single in the Dragons’ three-run eighth.
Eagles scrape past Lions without starter
Rakuten scored two early runs off Seibu Lions starter Kona Takahashi (2-2) and the Eagles held on to win 7-4 at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi despite losing their starting pitcher to an injury in the fourth inning.
Big lefty Hayato Yuge had scraped through three scoreless innings until a batted ball struck him above the right ankle. He stayed in the game to surrender a run before being pulled.
The Eagles led 2-1 in the fifth before former Lion Hideto Asamura drove in his second run of the game with a single. Jabari Blash, who doubled and scored in the second, walked in the sixth and scored on Ryosuke Tatsumi’s home run off Takahashi.
Leonys Martin tied it with a two-run single and Tsuyoshi Sugano singled in the go-ahead run as the Lotte Marines came from two runs down to beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 4-3 at Sapporo Dome.
Christian Villanueva, who appears to be settling in with the Fighters in a way he was unable to do last year with the Yomiuri Giants, opened the scoring in the first with a two-run single.
Marines starter Daiki Iwashita (3-0) allowed just those two runs over five innings, leaving the game with a 3-2 lead after he struck out Villanueva swinging on a big breaking ball with the bases loaded.
As he did during last week’s series in Osaka, Villanueva also turned heads with his defense at third base until his throwing error in the sixth allowed 39-year-old pinch-runner Takashi Toritani to score from first.
Drew VerHagen (1-1) gave up four runs, three earned, over 5-1/3 innings. He led 2-0 with none on and two outs in the fifth after a double play but two singles and a walk loaded the bases for Martin and the Marines.
Naoya Masuda worked the ninth for Lotte to earn his seventh save.
Buffaloes come back to beat Hawks
The Orix Buffaloes came from a run down in the third on home runs by Ryo Ota and Adam Jones and Sachiya Yamasaki (1-0) allowed two runs over five innings to earn the win in a 4-3 victory over the SoftBank Hawks at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Ota, the Buffaloes’ top draft pick in 2018 out of high school, had much of his first year wiped out when he was hit by a pitch. He went 0-for-13 last year, but homered off Rick van den Hurk (1-2) who allowed four runs in 2-2/3 innings.
Two walks and a Masataka Yoshida RBI double set the stage for Jones’ fourth home run, which reached the third deck in left center.
Yamasaki, Orix’s first draft pick in 2014 shared the hero podium with Ota, whose father is a former pro ballplayer who currently works as a batting practice pitcher for the Buffaloes.
New import Tyler Higgins worked a scoreless eighth and Brandon Dickson allowed a run in the ninth as he secured his fourth save.
Carp deactivate Johnson
The Hiroshima Carp deactivated left-handed starting pitcher Kris Johnson on Thursday. The 35-year-old allowed five runs over five innings and walked four in Wednesday’s loss to the Yomiuri Giants. The winner of the Sawamura Award as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher in 2016, Johnson is 0-3 this season with a 5.73 ERA.
The Rakuten Eagles have activated Shun Ikeda, the 27-year-old left-handed pitcher they acquired last month from the Yomiuri Giants in the Zelous Wheeler trade.