Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano will be back in Japan for 2021, and though he probably is not the best pitcher in Japan right now as some in the U.S. media have labeled him in the crush for hyperbola, he’s not far from the best.
I speculated on some of the reasons why a Japanese star should not just leap into a major league deal, and Sugano himself cited the direction MLB is going during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Sunday, Japan got a bit of perspective.
“It wasn’t something I could be 100 percent satisfied,” Sugano told Japan’s media.
His agent, Joel Wolfe, had a media availability, a portion of which was aired on TV in Japan and that clip was then shared on Twitter.
Wolfe: “It was very tough.”
—How many teams made a clear offer?
Wolfe: “Six. He had several four-year offers, three-year offers and two-year offers.. Our expectation and his expectation what a fair contract was a bit different. And I ended up having to call that general manager with two minutes to go. “
Wolfe: “He was able to draw on his relationships with (Yu) Darvish and (Kenta) Maeda. They all offered so much assistance and advice. I don’t think he will ever regret…”
Wolfe: “I think the major league teams are really going to regret…”
Although Wolfe implied money kept the two sides apart, it could well be that the money offered was not enough to outweigh Sugano’s concerns about playing in the States now.
Waseda University manager Satoru Komiyama, for years the workhorse of the Lotte Marines rotation, and briefly a New York Met, threw in his two cents. In a Facebook comment, he said considerations of money shouldn’t matter if one really desires to work from a major league mound. He suggested that agents, not players, were the ones who made a big deal about contract value.
When veteran Japanese stars take pay cuts to play in the majors, or who turn their back on minor-league deals to return to lucrative contracts with their old teams in Japan, there are questions.
I have questioned the quick U-turns of Takashi Toritani, Nobuhiro Matsuda and Ryosuke Kikuchi. Each espoused a great desire to play abroad, but at the same time prioritized a happy exit from their Japanese clubs. None of them would negotiate past a certain date, they said, because that would leave their clubs back home in a bind about whether or not they would be available for the upcoming season.
To be sure, Matsuda’s case was unusual. A Japanese attorney negotiating his next contract with the Hawks complicated his American agent’s negotiations by talking directly to the San Diego Padres’ people on the ground in Fukuoka.
Every deal, however, is unique in its way because every player has different concerns for his career, for his life off the field and for his family. It’s probably never JUST about money.
Sugano really wanted to play in the majors. Either that or he’s been really good at making people think that for years.
On Sunday, SoftBank Hawks chairman Sadaharu Oh, who would have given some part of his anatomy for a chance to play in the majors when he was young, told TBS network’s Sunday Morning, “He absolutely wanted to go.”
“I believe he wanted to see how well his pitching skill would play in America.”
Sugano has reportedly received a four-year offer from Yomiuri with annual opt-outs allowing him to go a year from now if he likes, although he could also sign a one-year deal and file for international free agency if he can compile the necessary service time.
“Is next year the best chance for him given his age? I think so,” Oh said. “But I think he really wanted to do it now.”
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
Fumihito Haraguchi delivered off the bench for the fourth straight game, his two-out seventh-inning pinch-hit single breaking a 1-1 tie in the Hanshin Tigers’ 2-1 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome on Saturday.
The Giants started the day with a magic number of five to clinch their second straight Central League championship.
Jerry Sands scored the go-ahead run after reaching on a leadoff single to decide a pitchers’ duel between Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano (13-2) and tough Tigers lefty Haruto Takahashi (5-4).
Takahashi allowed a run on four hits and two walks while striking out three over six innings. Jon Edwards, Suguru Iwazaki and Robert Suarez kept the Giants from scoring over the remaining three innings with Suarez getting his CL-leading 23rd save.
Koji Chikamoto became the Tiger’s first base runner by smacking a hanging breaking pitch and beating out a one-out infield single in the fourth despite a good play from Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.
Chikamoto, the CL stolen base leader, took second on a wild pitch even though catcher Takumi Oshiro was able to keep the ball in front of him, and then scored easily when Kento Itohara’s little fly to shallow right fell in for a single.
Sugano tied it in the sixth by scoring on a sac fly after reaching on a leadoff double. With the Tigers outfield playing him shallow, he flied over Chikamoto’s head for his third double of the season. Naoki Yoshikawa fell behind trying to sacrifice him, before grounding a mistake from Takahashi just past Jefry Marte at first for a single. Takahashi missed down the pipe to Seiya Matsubara, whose liner to right was caught, but allowed Sugano to score.
Sands was tossed in the eighth complaining about a couple of calls by home plate umpire Tetsuya Shimada. Sands took 1-0 pitch away and below the knees for a strike, and was called out on a pitch that the overhead camera showed was well beyond the outside corner. That drew some f-bombs and the ejection.
Morishita goes the distance
Right-hander Masato Morishita (9-3) allowed four hits over the distance and drove in the eventual winning run for the Hiroshima Carp in their 2-1 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium.
Morishita struck out five in his 135-pitch outing, and went 2-for- at the plate. Ryosuke Kikuchi singled with two outs in the eighth, stole second and scored on the pitcher’s single to break a 1-1- tie. BayStars right-hander Shoichi Ino allowed a run over six innings but left with nothing to show for it.
The loss dropped the fourth-place BayStars three games below .500 although they have outscored opponents 461-422.
Ogawa denies Dragons
Yasuhiro Ogawa (10-6) allowed two runs over six innings as the Yakult Swallows battered Takahiro Matsuba (3-7) and overcame a big night from Nobumasa Fukuda to beat the Chunichi Dragons 9-5 at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Fukuda, who returned to duty on Friday after missing 1-1/2 months, took Ogawa deep in the fourth and doubled in two runs in the Dragons’ three-run seventh.
The highlight of the game, however, belonged to Dragons rookie Kaname Takino, who got perhaps the ultimate celebration of his first pro hit. As the ball was being returned from left field, fireworks erupted beyond the ballpark’s third-base stands and continued for about a minute due to an event going on at Tokyo’s National Stadium down the street that was built as the centerpiece of the 2020 Olympics to be held next year.
Later in the game, play was disrupted following a balloon release from the stadium.
Grand slam king Nakamura halts Hawks
Takeya Nakamura extended his record for career grand slams with his 21st, bringing the Seibu Lions from a run down in the eighth inning in a 4-1 win at Fukuoka’s PayPay dome that snapped the SoftBank Hawks’ 12-game winning streak.
Livan Moinelo (2-3) issued three walks for the first time since he came to Japan in 2017 and got his only out on a sacrifice before turning the ball over to right-hander Sho Iwasaki with the right-handed-hitting Nakamura coming up.
The six-time PL home run champ then launched a high straight 2-1 fastball out to center, spoiling a strong game from Hawks right-hander Nao Higashihama, who threw seven scoreless innings for his second consecutive start.
In the postgame hero interview, Nakamura was asked if the home run was a good present for Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji’s 62nd birthday.
“I wasn’t thinking about that when I batted, but I’m glad it worked out that way,” Nakamura said.
I love Nakamura’s straight-forward answers to some of those questions. Once, when asked what the mood on the bench was when he went to the plate, he answered, “I don’t know. I wasn’t on the bench. I was going to the plate.”
Albers deals Marines their 6th straight loss
Andrew Albers (4-7) allowed two singles and two walks over 6-2/3 innings, three relievers carried it the rest of the way and Takahiro Okada homered for the second straight game as the Orix Buffaloes beat the Lotte Marines 3-0 at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome. Brandon Dickson worked around a two-out single to record his 16th save.
Fighters pen out-scrapes Eagles’
The Nippon Ham Fighters’ bullpen outlasted the Rakuten Eagles’ in a 5-4 win at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi, when Sho Nakata homered to tie the game in the eighth inning and hit a two-out fly ball that wasn’t caught and brought home the go-ahead run in the ninth.
Nakata moved into a tie for the Japan home run lead with the Eagles’ Hideto Asamura when he drove a hanging 1-0 breaking ball well back into the stands in left field. Fighters took the lead in the ninth against closer Alan Busenitz (1-3), who allowed a two-out Kensuke Kondo single.
Busenitz missed up high with a 1-2 breaking ball that Nakata got underneath and skied down the left-field line. A pair of rookies converged on it, and shortstop Hiroto Kobukata backed off to let left fielder Yuya Ogo get it. But Ogo took his time, had to sprint to get to the ball and overran it. The ball landed fair, and Kondo beat the throw home. Ogo was harshly charged with the error and Busenitz ended up taking the loss.
Both Kobukata and Ogo singled in the bottom of the ninth before veteran lefty Naoki Miyanishi escaped a two-out bases loaded jam when Steven Romero lined out to short. Kobukata, who appears to be running away with the PL’s rookie of the year award, went 3-for-5 with a two-run homer.
After being shutout in two straight games, the Orix Buffaloes finally managed to score, but 14-year veteran Yuya Hasegawa broke up a close game in the sixth inning with his first career grand slam in the SoftBank Hawks’ 9-4 win at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
The three-game sweep moved the Hawks four games clear atop the Pacific League standings ahead of the Lotte Marines, who lost 6-0 at home to the Rakuten Eagles. The Hawks have won the last three Japan Series, but haven’t won a PL pennant since 2017.
Hawks right-hander Shuta Ishikawa (8-3) was hard to hit as usual with his customary lack of command. He allowed two runs over five innings on three hits, two walks and three hit batsmen.
Akira Nakamura singled in the tie-breaking run in the sixth and Hasegawa, pinch-hitting for Wladimir Balentien, faced new pitcher Motoki Higa after Taiki Tajima (4-5) loaded the bases with one out.
Yurisbel Gracial went 3-for-4 with two runs for the Hawks, while Steven Moya went 2-for-4 with an RBI double for Orix.
Eagles close on 2nd behind Kishi shutout
Takayuki Kishi threw his first shutout in two years as the Rakuten Eagles moved to within four games of the second-place Lotte Marines with a 6-0 win at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
At the same park where in May 2014 he threw his only no-hitter while a member of the Seibu Lions, Kishi (4-0) struck out 13, one shy of his career high, set in 2018. The right-hander allowed two hits and walked one.
Good breaks and good swings put the visitors in front in a four-run second against Kazuya Ojima (7-7). Stefen Romero hit a flare off the end of the bat for a leadoff single. Kazuki Tanaka chased a pitch out of the zone but hit it well for a single. A fielders choice on a sacrifice loaded the bases with no outs.
Rookie Hiroto Kobukata lined a fastball down the pipe for a two-run double and Daichi Suzuki followed with a two-run single off his former team. Romero went 3-for-4 with two runs for the Eagles.
Double-time Kondo ravages Lions
Kensuke Kondo doubled four times, singled, scored twice and drove in four early runs in the Nippon Ham Fighters’ 8-3 win over the Seibu Lions at Sapporo Dome.
The Fighters’ top two hitters, Haruki NIshikawa and Shota Hiranuma each reached in the first and second, helping the Fighters build a quick 5-0 lead against Zach Neal (4-5).
Nick Martinez (2-6) allowed three runs over six innings on three hits and three walks to earn the win. 2019 MVP Tomoya Mori accounted for all three Lions runs with a three-run, third-inning home run, his eighth.
Takahashi picks up Dragons pen
The Chunichi Dragons’ bullpen blew a lead for the first time in ages, but Shuhei Takahashi belted a three-run walk-off homer against Hanshin Tigers closer Robert Suarez (2-1) in a 5-3 win at Nagoya Dome.
After back-to-back shutout wins in the series’ first two games, Takahiro Matsuba worked five scoreless innings despite putting two men on in three of them. Yoichi Oshima singled to open the Dragons’ first and scored on a Zoilo Almonte single.
Matsuba also had two hits and contributed to one of Chunichi’s runs, when Oshima doubled in a run in the fourth to make it 2-0.
Dragons relievers Keisuke Tanimoto and Hiroto Fuku kept the Tigers scoreless through seven before Daisuke Sobue blew the lead in Hanshin’s three-run eighth. Jon Edwards worked a scoreless eighth to preserve the visitors’ only lead of the series, but things went south in the ninth.
With one out and two on, Dayan Viciedo lined out to second. Reserve second baseman Kai Ueda’s throw to double off the runner at second was wild and put the winning run at second with two outs
Suarez threw Takahashi a 1-1 159-kph fastball down the pipe, and he hit it off the end of the bat. The fly ball sliced but just stayed fair down the left-field line for an opposite-field three-run home run.
Matsuyama salvages draw for Carp
Ryuhei Matsuyama hit a Tokyo Dome special, a high opposite-field fly to the the dome’s invitingly close walls in straight-away left and right, for a two-run game-tying home run for the Hiroshima Carp in their 5-5 10-inning tie against the Yomiuri Giants.
The Carp had a golden opportunity to break the tie in the eighth but it died in a failed squeeze attempt.
Ryosuke Kikuchi, the Carp’s seven-time Golden Glove Award-winning second baseman, set a Central League record by recording 434 consecutive errorless chances.
“If you ask me, a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage is boring, since human beings make mistakes and you want to know the guy out there is human.”
–Pro Yakyu News analyst Yutaka Takagi, when asked about Kikuchi’s chances of surpassing his own single-season record for highest fielding percentage at second base.
Rookie right-hander Daiki Yoshida (2-6) allowed two runs over six innings and drove in one run with a sacrifice fly in the Yakult Swallows’ 4-3 win over the DeNA BayStars at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Keita Sano opened the scoring in the second inning by homering for the fourth straight game, but the Swallows took the lead in the home half on Yoshida’s sac fly. The Swallows’ Munetaka Murakami hit his 22nd home run, while Takayuki Kajitani hit his 17th for DeNA.
Active roster moves 10/15/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/25
Allen Kuri (5-5) threw his second career shutout and his first in over a year on Monday, as the Hiroshima Carp beat the DeNA BayStars 4-0 in the only game on the NPB calendar.
The 29-year-old, who was criticized a week earlier for being too cute with his breaking pitches, took the initiative with his hard stuff early, using his cutter and running fastball often.
He allowed seven hits and two walks while striking out seven, including four straight at one stretch.
Carp rookie Minoru Omori manufactured a run in the first off Masaya Kyoyama (1-1), scoring on a sacrifice fly after an infield single and a stolen base.
Seven-time Golden Glove Award-winner Ryosuke Kikuchi slammed the door on the BayStars by starting a slick double play to end the third inning that started with two on and no out. Kikuchi followed that with a leadoff homer in the home half. He doubled in a run in the fifth, and Kuri hit a chopper to second base in the seventh that brought home another run.
Kuri needed 111 pitches to get through eight innings but came back out for the ninth. Rookie manager Shinji Sasaoka continued to show a willingness to let his guys finish. He kept Kuri on the mound in the ninth with two on and one out after he walked a batter with his 128th pitch.
But Kuri responded by getting two fly outs and ending it.
For the curious, Kuri, whose father is American, has two versions of his first name. He is typically listed as “Aren”–the romanization of his Japanese name, but told me he also spells it Allen.
Giants giving pitcher Tone 2-way look
Yomiuri Giants pitcher Chiaki Tone, whom the national team’s machine-translated English roster page listed as “Chiaki Door Root”– a transliteration of the two Chinese characters in his family name — is now spending time playing left field for the Giants third team, the Hochi Shimbun reported Monday.
The 26-year-old lefty, has had an injury-plagued career. He pitched in six games in 2017, missed all of 2018 and appeared in just 26 games last year.
A left-handed hitter who was the Giants’ second pick in 2014, Tone had five plate appearances on Sunday. He doubled, singled, walked twice and struck out.
The third teams do not compete in a league but rather take part in games against corporate, club university and independent minor league teams.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.