Tag Archives: Roki Sasaki

Ramping up: 22 days to go

With Nippon Professional Baseball due to open its season behind closed doors on June 19, teams have begun playing intrasquad games to prepare, and will begin playing practice games against other teams from Tuesday.

Here’s the schedule for the practice games starting from June 2.

NPB preparing strict virus guidelines

As Opening Day rapidly approaches, NPB executives are hard at work developing countermeasures to promote the safety of not just players but those who work with them or at ballparks and those peoples’ families.

According to Kyodo News in Japanese, proposed measures for these guidelines include:

  • Quarantines for those testing positive that will last until 14 days AFTER they produce a negative test result.
  • Immediate isolation of those deemed to have come in close contacted with infected people.
  • 7 days self-quarantine if someone or a family member feels unwell — even if no tests are deemed necessary or tests come back negative.
  • Fixed 5-man umpiring crews.
  • Home plate umpires wearing surgical masks at all times.
  • An end to spitting, high-fives, hand shaking and “enjin” — the practice of huddling up before games and before a team’s at-bats when someone says something to get everyone fired up.
  • Media to be barred from the field and dugouts.
  • Media to observe social distancing in those areas they are allowed to occupy.
  • Media to no longer walk alongside players.

Fujinami sent down for tardiness

Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami has been demoted to the farm team for being late to practice, the Daily Sports reported Friday. It’s kind of an unusual story for two reasons. The first is that Japanese players tend to be punctual. The second is that the Tigers are one of those teams that do things like boot camp, where you are told to be 15 minutes early for everything.

Current Tigers scout Jeff Williams once talked about this custom known as “Tiger time.” Players would be told when to arrive, but because the team occupies two different parallel time universes, normal time and Tiger time, it got so confusing to Williams that he had to perpetually ask, “Is that real time or Tiger time.”

So it could have been that Fujinami was late because he was operating on the wrong clock. When he showed up after the expected time for a 10:30 am (time mode unknown) practice on Thursday, the pitcher was not permitted to take the field.

“This is not the first time for him,” manager Akihiro Yano said. “It’s up to Shintaro to make what he will of this. I made my decision based on the fact that being a responsible member of society comes before being a baseball player.”

The other confusing side to the story is that the Japanese word for late is often used in conjunction with players who are delayed in achieving game fitness. So when reading that Fujinami was late and knowing he was hospitalized after testing positive for the novel coronavirus in March, at first glance it seemed like a fitness issue, when maybe it was just a Tiger time issue.

Lotte’s Sasaki ‘not ready yet’: Iguchi

The Nikkan Sports reported Friday that fireballing Lotte Marines 18-year-old is still not close to being used in a game according to manager Tadahito Iguchi.

Sasaki, who twice hit 160 kilometers (99.4 miles) per hour in a simulated game on Tuesday, is not in line to be used during the Marines’ 12 practice games next month.

“He’s on track but I don’t think he’ll make those,” Iguchi said, sticking to the team’s roadmap not to overwork the lanky right-hander with the smooth fluid delivery.

Women’s league to start June 23

The Japan Women’s Baseball League announced Friday it will open its 2020 season on June 23 with a game between the Kyoto Flora and the Saitama Astria, four days after NPB pops the cork on its regular season. The league will adopt special rules in order to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Games will be limited to 90 minutes and seven innings for single games, and five innings when two games are played at the same venue.

The three-team circuit was founded in 2009 when, according to the league, there were five women’s hardball high school clubs in Japan. By last year there were 40. During that time, the number of registered women ballplayers has gone from 600 to 20,000.

NPB has not offered any concrete rule changes for its games other than discussing possibly changing its active roster limits.

NPB unsprung

How does one count where baseball activities sit in relation to the regular season when Opening Day is a moving target? Are we at projected OD1 (March 20) + 7 days or OD3 (April 24) minus 28 days?

Between the coronavirus pandemic AND the sudden postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, the national government’s finger on the trigger of a national emergency, a three-week lock-down. Into that mix, NPB had its first positive tests for coronavirus, three players from the Hanshin Tigers, forcing that entire team to go into self-quarantine.

When the April 24 Opening Day was announced, both the Central and Pacific leagues announced they would suspend their practice games until the middle of April. That may be so, but their minor league clubs are still playing practice games, and many of the CL and PL regulars are taking part.

On Friday, Zach Neal pitched for the Seibu Lions at Seibu’s minor league facility, essentially a back field behind MetLife Dome, in a game against the Lotte Marines, who also threw one of their first-line starters, Ayumu Ishikawa.

But with the news of the Tigers infections, many teams are even suspending their farm team games for the time being.

Sasaki throws 2nd BP

18-year-old flame-thrower Roki Sasaki threw his second live BP of the spring at the Marines’ home park, QVC Marine Stadium in Chiba on Friday and touched 156 kph (96.9 mph) on the radar gun.

“I wasn’t able to command some balls, and I want to increase the number of quality pitches,” he told reporters.

Here’s a video of Sasaki’s effort on Friday.

He was unable to locate his fork ball early on, but in the later stages of the session, he was able to pepper the bottom of the zone with his pitches, including his slider.

“This is a world that doesn’t tolerate poorly executed pitches, so I want to be able to execute as close as I can to 100 percent,” he said.

Matsui gets lit up

Rakuten Eagles lefty Yuki Matsui, who failed to make it as a starter straight out of high school but became a hit as their closer, has been working all spring toward a return to the starting rotation.

It’s been a rocky road so far, and on Friday his warm-up outing he allowed six runs in one inning.

“I had mediocre stuff,” he said. “Being a starter is tough.”

Camping World: Feb. 27, 2020

As spring training comes winding to a close in Okinawa and Miyazaki prefectures, players and fans ponder the future of games without spectators — turning the often poorly attended exhibitions into practice games without fans.

Sasaki heats up Marines’ pen

Roki Sasaki threw his seventh pen of the spring on Thursday, and drew a crowd at Orix’s camp in Miyazaki ahead of the Lotte Marines practice game against the Buffaloes.

According to Nikkan Sports, Marines pitching coach Masato Yoshii marveled at the 18-year-old’s ability to throw strikes (“I didn’t throw a single strike in my first camp bullpen”), but said the pitcher’s arm action was still only about 50 percent — whatever that means.

They had a camera behind the catcher on TV and it was a little scary. His motion is so easy, it seems unreal how quickly the ball gets there. You get a taste of that in the video below from his third pen.

Camping World: Feb. 19, 2020 – Lions’ Neal to start Opening Day

Second-year Seibu Lions right-hander Zach Neal will get the ball on Opening Day, manager Hajime Tsuji told the team on Wednesday as they broke camp the Nikkan Sports reported.

The two-time defending Pacific League champion Lions will open at home, MetLife Dome on March 20 against the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Last season, Neal won 11 straight games and finished the season 12-1. He has since signed a two-year extension.

“Kona (Takahashi) was doing well and I was unsure (about who would pitch Opening Day,” Tsuji said. “I made up my mind with the first pitch I saw Neal throw in the bullpen.”

Hawks flamethrower Kaino to get PRP treatment

Hard-throwing SoftBank Hawks reliever Hiroshi Kaino revealed Wednesday he will undergo platelet rich plasma therapy for damage to the medial collateral ligament in his right elbow according to the Nishinihon Sports.

The 23-year-old Kaino finished second in the Pacific League’s rookie of the year voting last autumn to teammate Rei Takahashi, who is out with a hamstring issue and also doubtful for Opening Day.

Here’s Kaino’s English language NPB page.

Tigers unleash top draft pick Nishi

A day after we learned what Junya Nishi’s music will be at Koshien Stadium, the Hanshin Tigers’ top draft pick was permitted to throw breaking pitches in camp for the first time, the Nikkan Sports reported Wednesday.

Nishi, who was also a prodigious slugger in high school and for the national Under-18 team last summer, threw a spring-high 50 pitches in the bullpen at the Tigers’ minor league camp. He said he had a good feel for both his forkball and his changeup.

Swallows Koch, Ynoa take the mound

New Yakult Swallows right-handers Matt Koch and Gabriel Ynoa saw their first game action of the spring in a practice game against the Rakuten Eagles in Urasoe, Okinawa Prefecture, Sports Nippon Annex reported Wednesday.

Koch, a former Arizona Diamondback struggled with his control as he allowed five runs in two innings. Ynoa, who pitched for the Baltimore Orioles, allowed a run over two innings. He touched 151 kph (93.8 mph) and graded his effort as 95 out of 100.

Austin breaking the spring

The late Wayne Graczyk used to warn players who did TOO well in the spring to be prepared to adjust before games started counting because, most of their preseason opponents are from the rival league, and teams work hard to have plans against guys who do extremely well in the spring.

If Wayne were here, he’d be telling us that now about new DeNA BayStars outfielder Tyler Austin. In a practice game against the Lotte Marines on Wednesday, Austin doubled and walked twice, making him 6-for-8 with two homers and two doubles (at least) according to the Chunichi Sports.

Famous for not throwing

Roki Sasaki is famous for two things, throwing the fastest pitches ever recorded by a Japanese high schooler, and not throwing. He, or rather his Ofunato High School manager, made front-page news last summer when the star right-hander was held out of Iwate Prefecture’s championship game. The game decided whether his school or Shohei Ohtani’s alma mater would make it to the national championships at Koshien Stadium.

So it should be no surprise that the mere fact that the Lotte Marines’ top draft pick did strength training on Wednesday cause the Nikkan Sports to headline a story “Sasaki refrains from bullpen session — according to plan says coach.”

Sometimes it’s hard not to think of Japanese spring training as a time when pitchers arms are supposed to broken — as if that is part of the process.

Camping World: Feb. 15, 2020 Sasaki comes to town

On Saturday, two days after he threw his first bullpen session of spring training, 18-year-old Roki Sasaki was again the center of attention. This time, Sasaki, who touched 100 mph in his senior year of high school, drew a crowd of Chunichi Dragons before their game with his Lotte Marines according to the Nikkan Sports.

Sasaki’s first bullpen was a huge hit with a pair of former major leaguers, Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi and pitching coach Masato Yoshii. The former Met, who coached Shohei Ohtani in his last two seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters, said he’d never seen anyone throw like that.

Indeed, Sasaki’s delivery is so effortless looking, that he is a fairly unique athlete. Sasaki said he was much happier with Saturday’s 48-pitch effort, saying, “I threw some pitches I was very happy with, although I was still wild.”

And the crowd?

“I noticed them, but they weren’t in my field of vision when I was throwing so no problem,” he said.

Disappointment from Bour

In what will probably be the first of many such stories this season, the Daily Sports reported on the results of new Hanshin Tigers Jerry Sands and Justin Bour, in their headline: “Sands gets 2 free passes, Bour grounds into bases-loaded double play.”

The game was the team’s first outside practice game, a 7-1 loss to the Hiroshima Carp.

New Buffalo Jones confesses to wanting to hit. 300

Sports Hochi reported Saturday that new Orix Buffaloes import Adam Jones, who has declined the Japanese custom of announcing numeric goals for the season, revealed to Orix executives that he wanted to hit .300. Stop the presses.

BayStars import Austin to start preseason opener

Journeyman first baseman and corner outfielder Tyler Austin will start in right field for the DeNA BayStars in Sunday’s preseason opener against the Yomiuri Giants in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, DeNA skipper Alex Ramirez said, according to Hochi Shimbun.

Tyler will bat second and play right, while two-time CL home run champion Neftali Soto, who split his time last season between second and right, will be at first base. Regular first baseman Jose Lopez, will be the DH. Ramirez said he would continue to use big hitters in the No. 2 hole this season.

Last year, he caught flak for “insulting Japan” by having the national team cleanup hitter, new Tampa Bay Ray Yoshitomo Tsutsugo bat second.

Villanueva vows to adjust with new club

Christian Villanueva was 0-for-3 with two strikeouts in his intrasquad debut with the Nippon Ham Fighters, whom he joined after an unsuccessful NPB 2019 debut campaign with the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants.

He said he was grateful to the Fighters for accepting him and that he would adjust so that he could be able to be as effective as possible, the Hochi Shimbun reported.

Mota making strong appeal for Giants call-up

Israel Mota, a 24-year-outfielder who spent five years in the Washington Nationals farm system, continued to swing a hot bat in camp, the Hochi Shimbun reported Saturday. Mota, who joined Yomiuri on a developmental contract last year, singled and doubled in three practice game at-bats against KBO’s Samsung Lions.

In the same game, new Giant Gerardo Parra was greeted by Giants fans showing off their “Baby Shark” chops when he appeared as a pinch-hitter at Okinawa Cellular Stadium. He struck out.

NPB games, news of Oct. 11, 2019

“Our backs were to the wall tonight, but … that is where the Hanshin Tigers thrive.

–Hanshin Tigers third baseman Yusuke Oyama after his ninth-inning home run broke a 6-6 tie and allowed the Tigers to wintheir seventh elimination game in the past month.

Tigers 7, Giants 6

At Tokyo Dome, 39-year-old closer Kyuji Fujikawa worked two scoreless innings to collect the win as Hanshin won a see-saw Game 3 in the Central League Climax Series final stage on Friday to keep their season alive. League champ Yomiuri needs only a tie over the final three games to advance to the Japan Series for the first time in six years.

Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto just missed a third-inning grand slam, with a double off the top of the center field wall in Yomiuri’s three-run third. That gave the hosts a 3-1 lead. Hanshin, which had never led in the series until Ryutaro Umeno homered to open the scoring in the third, retook the lead in a five-run fifth.

The Giants faced bases-loaded situations in the third, fourth and fifth — when rookie Koji Chikamoto capped the inning with a three-run triple. The 23-year-old Okamoto tied it 6-6, however, in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer, his second of the series.

Each team wasted a good late-inning scoring opportunity before Oyama put an easy swing on a back-foot slider from lefty Kota Nakagawa and lofted it over Tokyo Dome’s shallow wall in straight-away right.

Asked about what it felt like to go into an elimination game, Oyama said, it was nothing new for the Tigers.

“We only got here after facing a bunch of these ‘must-win games’ at the end of the regular season, but that is where the Hanshin Tigers thrive,” he said.

Game highlights are HERE.

Hawks 7, Lions 5

At MetLife Dome, Kodai Senga struck out 10 while allowing two singles and three walks over eight innings as SoftBank pressed league champion Seibu to the brink of elimination.

For the second-straight day, Taisei Makihara singled to open the game and scored on an Akira Nakamura first-inning single. But while Nakamura was the Hawks’ big bopper on Thursday, it was their second baseman’s night Friday.

Makihara, who made a good play to defuse a third-inning situation before it erupted, doubled in two runs with a hard grounder over the first base bag in the second, hit a two-run homer in the fourth, and Senga did most of the remaining work.

The Hawks are trying to match a franchise record by appearing in three consecutive Japan Series, something their Osaka-based predecessors, the Nankai Hawks achieved from 1951-1953 and again from 1964-1966.

The Lions, meanwhile are trying to avoid becoming the first PL regular season leader to lose the final stage of the PL postseason since the Daiei Hawks lost to the Lions in 2004 and Bobby Valentine’s Lotte Marines in 2005.

Game highlights are HERE.

News

High school fireballer Sasaki completes talks with teams

Flame-throwing right-hander Roki Sasaki met with scouts from the Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks and Seibu Lions on Friday, the last of 11 clubs slated to meet with the pitcher who will likely go in the first round of NPB’s amateur draft on Thursday.

The Nippon Ham Fighters, potentially a prime destination for a player with his eye on a major league future, did not meet with the youngster, although the club has already asserted it will nominate Sasaki as its first draft choice. Although Sasaki suggested last week he would play for any NPP team and had no thoughts at the moment about playing in the majors, the Fighters have a history of using the posting system to allow their stars to get an early start in the majors.

The Hawks, and the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants, are at the other end of that spectrum, and to date have refused to post players, forcing them to wait until they are eligible for international free agency to leave.

The Hawks’ chief amateur scout, Yutaro Fukuyama, tried to sell the youngster on Hawks owner Masayoshi Son’s vision of creating the world’s strongest team and its strong development setup.

“He’s one of our candidates for the first pick,” Fukuyama said. “No player in my 20 years of scouting has offered the promise that this amazing athlete does. His ceiling is impossible to imagine.”

Fighters throw in towel for Hancock, Barbato

The Nippon Ham Fighters said Friday they will not bring first-year pitchers Johnny Barbato and Justin Hancock back for the 2020 season.

The 28-year-old Hancock injured his right shoulder on May 11, and has twice gone back to the United States for examinations. He pitched in eight games with one loss, two holds and two saves and posted a 9.00 ERA. Barbato, who was used in relief and as a short starter, pitched in 15 games, going 2-2 with one hold with a 5.63 ERA.