Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma said Monday that this season will be his last. The 39-year-old turned pro out of high school after being taken in the fifth round of the 1999 draft by the now defunct Kintetsu Buffaloes.
Iwakuma went 107-69 in Japan and 63-39 in six seasons with the Seattle Mariners. He joined the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent in 2019, when he appeared in two Eastern League games. He has not played this year.
When the Buffaloes merged with the Pacific League rival Orix BlueWave in 2004, triggering Japanese baseball’s lone labor action, Iwakuma was sold to the Rakuten Eagles after a long dispute with Orix.
One of the key issues that summer was whether the owners could unilaterally remake NPB’s established format of two six-team leagues after the owners accepted a merger without any plan about how to move forward with 11 teams.
After players went on strike and forced the cancellation of two weekends worth of games, the owners agreed to expedite the creation of an expansion franchise. This was something they originally argued was possible — and in so doing honor an age-old pro baseball tradition of owners telling something is impossible only to turn around and do just that when they have the will to do so.
Another part of the agreement, although not written, but spoken at the Nagoya Castle Hotel press conference, was a statement from Orix’s official representative that no Kintetsu player would be taken by Orix in the merger if they refused to play for the new club.
Iwakuma along with Kintetsu players rep Koichi Isobe was the most vocal of the Buffaloes about refusing to sign with Orix. But when the distribution draft was held to allow the new Rakuten Eagles access to surplus talent on the Orix and Kintetsu rosters, Iwakuma was among those protected from selection.
Orix’s explained its decision “We promised but you can’t expect us to honor it when a player is actually important to us.”
Iwakuma, however, stuck to his guns and refused to go to Orix, eventually forcing the team to sell him to the fledgling Eagles.
After the 2010 season, the Rakuten Eagles posted Iwakuma, but he returned to the Eagles after failing to reach a deal with the Oakland Athletics, who won the sole right to negotiate with him in the bidding.
Ties can be thrillers, too
Although not enjoyable because of its see-saw nature, the Hanshin Tigers’ 10-inning 1-1 tie with the Yakult Swallows on a Monday makeup game at Koshien Stadium was just a terrific game.
It was well pitched, well played, some good swings on tough pitches, a personal speed record by one of Japan’s fastest pitchers, two brothers pitching on opposing sides and both teams seeing their 10th-inning rallies on nice catches.
Joe Gunkel started for the Tigers and went five innings. He did well to allow only a run after allowing four hits in the fourth inning, but a sharply hit grounder to third with the bases jammed was turned for an inning-ending double play.
The game also saw the Tigers’ Justin Bour bunt in attempt to beat the shift before smashing a pitch to the left of second for a single.
Albert Suarez allowed an unearned run over six innings when pinch-hitter Kento Itohara did well to put the bat on the ball for an RBI game-tying single. Shintaro Fujinami hit 162 kph on the radar gun as he struck out the side in the top of the seventh.
Scott McGough answered with a 1-2-3 inning in the home half for the Swallows and so it went. Suarez’s younger brother Robert struck out two in the top of the ninth for the Tigers, while Swallows closer Taishi Ishiyama worked around a Jerry Sands single in the home half.
Both teams put the potential go-ahead run on base in the 10th, but the Swallows’ rally died with the runner on second as shortstop Ryuhei Kobata made an outstanding catch to snare a liner. The Swallows returned the favor in the bottom of the inning, when second baseman Tetsuto Yamada caught a one-out liner with the runner going for an easy game-ending double play.
Active roster moves 10/19/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 10/29
Thursday’s games in Japan were the stuff of nightmares for baseball old farts as three relievers made their first starts of the season, while five of the 12 starters took the mound with fewer than 10 career starts.
Fittingly, the day’s signature play–or rather misplay–was made by a reliever, and could someday be known as the “McPickoff.”
Hawks come back, salvage series tie
The Orix Buffaloes blew a two-run seventh-inning lead, allowing the SoftBank Hawks to win the get-away game 5-4 in their three-game series at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
A night after Hawks closer Yuito Mori blew a two-run ninth-inning lead en route to a 3-3 tie, former closer Hirotoshi Masui gave the Buffaloes a chance to win by allowing two runs over five innings. He left with a 4-2 lead after Yutaro Sugimoto singled in a run in the fourth and Masato Matsui followed with a three-run shot off Hawks sixth starter Akira Niho (4-4).
Orix got a scintillating sixth inning against the heart of the Hawks lineup from lefty Nobuyoshi Yamada. Rookie lefty Ryuga Tomiyama (0-1) was tasked with holding the visitors down in the seventh, but the 23-year-old issued a one-out walk before surrendering Nobuhiro Matsuda’s game-tying two-run homer and a solo shot to Hawks catcher Takuya Kai.
Against Hawks lefty Livan Moinelo in the eighth, Masataka Yoshida singled with two outs to run his hitting streak to 21 games, and Adam Jones walked. Ryoichi Adachi was en route to first after trying to check his swing on a 3-2 pitch until he was called out and sank to his knees on the first-base line.
Sugimoto singled to open the Buffaloes ninth against Mori, but the closer hung on to record his 18th save.
Kato, 3 relievers combine on 1-hitter
Lefty Takayuki Kato (1-1) faced the minimum over five hitless innings and three relievers completed the combined one-hitter as the Nippon Ham Fighters beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-0 at Sapporo Dome.
Kato, employed last year mostly as a “short starter” who could be trusted to go through the opposing lineup twice, was yanked after just 51 pitches. He hit one batter and struck out one. Toru Murata allowed the Eagles only hit, a single by rookie Hiroto Kobukata, in the sixth. Taisho Tamai walked two hitters in the eighth and lefty Naoki Miyanishi worked a perfect ninth.
Haruki Nishikawa doubled in a run off Yuki Matsui (1-2) in the first and tripled in another in the third. Sho Nakata singled him home in the first and delivered a sacrifice fly to plate him in the third.
Matsui allowed four runs, three earned, on five hits and a walk while striking out six.
Martin homers lift Marines over Lions
Leonys Martin’s 18th home run broke up a 2-2 fifth-inning tie and started a five-run inning as the Lotte Marines beat the Seibu Lions 8-5 at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Marines starter Daiki Iwashita (4-4) worked out of a no-out bases-loaded predicament in the first inning and a two-on, one-out pickle in the third, but the Lions got to the right-hander the third time around. A fifth-inning leadoff walk and a one-out home run by Yuji Kaneko, his first, tied it.
Lotte right-hander Frank Herrmann allowed the visitors to get a run back in the eighth on a Tomoya Mori double and Ernesto Mejia’s third hit of the game, but Martin canceled that out with his 19th home run in the home half.
Katsunori Hirai, the Lions’ middle-relief workhorse out of the bullpen until asked to make his first career start last week, took the loss. He gave up five runs over 4-1/3 innings.
Fukutani, Dragons shut down Carp
Koji Fukutani (3-2) worked 7-1/3 scoreless innings and two relievers completed the Chunichi Dragons nine-hit shutout in a 6-0 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Nagoya Dome.
Carp lefty Kris Johnson (0-7) was unable to command his pitches from the get-go, and after a one-out walk to Ryosuke Hirai, Nobumasa Fukuda crushed a slider inside for his fourth home run. Fukutani led off the Dragons’ third and scored on Fukuda’s no-out bases-loaded single. Back-to-back sacrifice flies made it 5-0, and Fukutani rubbed salt in the wounds with a sixth-inning RBI single.
Johnson allowed five runs on four hits and two walks over four innings while striking out five.
BayStars bullpen day bombs against Giants
Setup man Spencer Patton (2-2) made his first start in Japan as the front man in a bullpen relay but allowed nine runs in the DeNA BayStars’ 13-4 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome.
Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the first, and a dropped flyball brought in the go-ahead run in the hosts’ three-run first. The Giants blew the game open in the second after starting pitcher Kazuto Taguchi drew a one-out walk. The Giants sent 14 batters to the plate in the 10-run inning that saw three home runs and a two-run double by the pitcher.
Taguchi (3-3) allowed a run on six hits over six innings. He struck out four.
Reliever Scott McGough’s failed throw to an empty base allowed two inherited runners to score as the Hanshin Tigers overturned a one-run seventh-inning deficit in their 4-3 win over the Yakult Swallows at Koshien Stadium.
The Swallows tied it 2-2 in the fourth and took the lead in the top of the seventh when Tigers reliever Atsushi Nomi fumbled a ground ball. Singles by Justin Bour and pinch-hitter Naomasa Yokawa put the go-ahead runners on in the home half chased left-handed reliever Keiji Takahashi (1-3).
With leadoff man Koji Chikamoto at the plate, Yokawa stole second. Inexplicably, McGough threw to first, resulting in a balk, and both runners scored as the ball rolled in foul territory toward the corner.
“That was lucky,” Tigers skipper Akihiro Yano said.
Hanshin Tigers lefty Haruto Takahashi overpowered the Yomiuri Giants hitters en route to an 11-0 demolition of the Central League leaders at Koshien Stadium.
Takahashi, who was unable to start the season with the team due to shoulder issues, made his debut on Thursday. Relying mostly on his four-seamer, a two-seamer and a cutter, the 24-year-old was able to pinpoint the bottom of the zone and jam batters inside.
He struck out 11 over seven innings, gave up three hits on ground balls, a walk. Hayato Sakamoto’s fifth-inning fly out was the only ball the Giants managed to hit into the air.
Leading 1-0 against Cristopher Mercedes (2-4) Ryutaro Umeno walked with one out and Seiya Kinami singled. The pair executed a double steal and reserve utility man Kai Ueda doubled them both in.
Joe Gunkel worked a 1-2-3 eighth, and the Tigers broke the bank with seven runs in the home half, started by a Jerry Sands leadoff single. Justin Bour doubled in one run and Masahiro Nakatani delivered a pinch-hit grand slam to complete the celebrations.
Born to run or pitch
It’s no secret that Giants manager Tatsunori Hara loves his pinch-runners probably as much as any manager in Japanese baseball history. One year when he managed the CL all-star team, Hara famously rewarded his all-time favorite pinch-runner, Takanori Suzuki, with an undeserved spot on the CL squad.
On Thursday, with one out in the bottom of the eighth and his team now losing by 11 runs, Hara probably figured there was nowhere to make use of his favorite toy except to put him on the mound.
Masuda retired two of the three batters he faced in the heart of the Tigers order with a fastball that maxed out at 85.7 mph.
Since Japanese teams rarely have more than one or two starting pitchers taking up space on their active rosters and since games–in non-pandemic seasons–are limited to 10 innings, and teams typically–although not next week–have Mondays off, this is pretty rare. The last position player to appear in a sanctioned NPB game was Akihito Igarashi on June 3, 2000 for the Orix BlueWave and their iconoclastic skipper Akira Ogi–the same guy who had Ichiro Suzuki pitch in an all-star game.
Onuki, BayStars add to Dragons’ misery
Shinichi Onuki (4-2) worked seven innings and two relievers completed the four-hitter as the DeNA BayStars downed the Chunichi Dragons 3-0 at Yokohama Stadium.
The shutout loss was the sixth of the season for the last-place Dragons, who fell to 0-6 against DeNA this season.
Dragons lefty Takahiro Matsuba (2-2), who has been enjoying a career renaissance this year following his trade from the Orix Buffaloes, allowed three runs over four-plus innings.
BayStars reserve infielder Daisuke Nakai marked a rare start by homering in his first at-bat to lead off the second. Kazuki Kamizato homered to open the third and singled home Takayuki Kajitani in the fifth to complete the scoring.
Kenta Ishida worked a 1-2-3 eighth and Kazuki Mishima did the same in the ninth to record his fourth save since he began filling in for closer Yasuaki Yamasaki on July 29.
One of the bright spots for the Dragons was their top draft pick from 2018, infielder Akira Neo. Although he went 0-for-2 and remains hitless for his career, Neo put the ball in play twice, made a good catch in left and threw a runner out at the plate.
Another tough outing for Carp lefty Johnson
Hiroshima lefty Kris Johnson allowed five runs over three innings in the Carp’s 9-5 loss to the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Johnson, coming off one of his two quality starts this year, gave up seven hits and walked two while striking out four. His teammates took him off the hook on three home runs by Ryuhei Matsuyama, Ryosuke Kikuchi and Hisayoshi Chono and tied it in the seventh on a Seiya Suzuki RBI single.
Swallows lefty Keiji Takahashi started and allowed four runs over five innings in his worst start of the season. Scott McGough (3-0) surrendered a run on two seventh-inning singles but earned the win after Yakult scored three times in the bottom of the inning.
Journeyman reserve catcher Suguru Ino tripled against Kazuki Yabuta (0-2) and scored on a sacrifice fly. Alcides Escobar singled and two more runs came in on back-to-back two-out doubles RBI by Tomotaka Sakaguchi and Yasutaka Shiomi.
Matsui goes 5 in loss to Hawks
One of the big moves this spring for the Rakuten Eagles was taking left-handed closer Yuki Matsui and putting him back in the starting rotation.
Making his first appearance in over a month after two poor outings, Matsui (0-1) allowed three runs on eight hits and a walk in a 3-1 loss to the SoftBank Hawks at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
The diminutive southpaw was victimized by some tough hops in the infield that contributed to two of the Hawks’ runs.
On a bullpen day, Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo shook up his lineup, batting a pair of struggling big hitters, Nobuhiro Matsuda and Wladimir Balentien one, two, respectively, in his order.
The only contribution either made at the plate was when Matsuda made poor contact for an infield single in the third, allowing Yuki Yanagita to drive in the tying run with a single.
Rookie Yugo Bando (1-1) the second of seven Hawks pitchers, worked three scoreless innings to earn his first career win.
Buffaloes’ Yamazaki halts Marines
Sachiya Yamasaki (2-1) worked six scoreless innings for the Orix Buffaloes in their 3-1 win over the Lotte Marines at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Yamasaki allowed three singles and a walk while striking out four. Marines starter Daiki Iwashita (3-3) walked five batters during his six innings on the mound and one of the three runs he allowed was unearned.
With a two-run lead in the eighth, Tyler Higgins worked a 1-2-3 eighth, and Brandon Dickson a 1-2-3 ninth for his sixth save.
Fighters rookie Kawano earns 2nd win
Lefty Ryusei Kawano got an early three-run lead and allowed two runs over five innings for the Nippon Ham Fighters in their 5-3 win over the Seibu Lions at Seibu Dome.
Kawano (2-3) walked three and allowed four hits, including a solo home run by Ernesto Mejia, his first of the season. The lefty struck out five.
Haruki Nishikawa singled to open the bottom of the first off rookie Lions submariner Kaito Yoza (2-3), who walked Kensuke Kondo with one out. Sho Nakata doubled off the wall in left. Taishi Ota, a huge thorn in the Lions’ paw this season, doubled Nakata home to make it 3-0.
Hawks resume farm team activities
The SoftBank Hawks said Thursday that with the exception of six individuals, baseball activities have resumed at their minor league facility in Chikugo, Fukuoka Prefecture.
Even so, the team’s Western League farm games at Tama Stadium Chikugo against the Chunichi Dragons on Aug. 7 and 8, have been postponed. Following the announcement of Hasegawa’s test result on Saturday, the Pacific League game set for the Seibu Lions and Hawks in Fukuoka was also postponed.
Four players who were determined by local health officials to have had close contact with either outfielder Yuya Hasegawa, whose positive test for coronavirus was revealed Saturday, and a rehab staff member, whose result was announced Wednesday, have been ex
The rehab group shares the organization’s minor league facility with the Western League farm team and the Hawks’ third team, and for that reason, minor league activities have been suspended.
Umetsu works out with rehab group
Chunichi Dragons right-hander Kodai Umetsu reported to the team’s rehab group at Nagoya Stadium on Wednesday apparently due to discomfort in his right elbow, the Chunichi Sports reported.
The 23-year-old threw a career-high 10 innings and 127 pitches in his shutout on Sunday at Nagoya Dome in a 0-0 tie with the Yakult Swallows. He has not thrown since.
Although his condition is said not to be serious, it comes at a time when the team is in last place, eight games below .500 and two games into a stretch of nine games in nine days.
Veteran right-hander Kazuki Mishima worked a 1-2-3 ninth inning to earn his first career save in place of battered closer Yasuaki Yamasaki on Wednesday as the DeNA BayStars held on to a 3-2 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome.
BayStars lefty Haruhiro Hamaguchi (2-1) was effectively wild at the start, walking four and hitting one threw four hitless and scoreless innings thanks to a pair of inning-ending 4-6-3 double plays. Hamaguchi allowed two runs on three hits over 5-2/3 innings while striking out seven.
Takayuki Kajitani homered with two outs in the third off Giants right-hander Shosei Togo to record the visitors’ first hit, while catcher Shuto Takajo added a two-run homer for the visitors in the fifth.
Togo (3-2) allowed three runs on four hits and a walk while striking out seven over five innings.
The Giants got their first hit in the fifth, Yang Dai-kang’s leadoff single, and their first run in the seventh, when Yoshihiro Maru opened the inning with his eighth home run. With two outs, mid-season acquisition Zelous Wheeler pulled the Giants within one with his fourth home run to drive Hamaguchi from the mound.
With the BayStars leading by a run in the seventh, manager Alex Ramirez called on Yamasaki to see if his struggling closer might regain his stuff in a middle relief role. The right-hander allowed a one-out infield single to speedy pinch-hitter Shinnosuke Shigenobu. A stolen base on a strikeout, and a wild pitch put the tying run on third with two outs, but Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto flied out to end the inning.
Spencer Patton worked the eighth and walked Wheeler with one out. Wheeler was replaced by Daiki Masuda, the flagship of manager Tatsunori Hara’s pinch-running fleet. Patton, however, struck out the next two batters to get the game to Mishima.
The 30-year-old right-hander, who had not allowed a hit or a walk since he was lit up for three runs on July 16, got tough left-handed hitter Takumi Oshiro swinging at a 1-2 splitter out of the zone. Veteran left-handed-hitting grinder Yasuyuki Kamei flied out before Shigenobu went down swinging to end it.
Swallows kiddy corps beats Tigers
Twenty-year-old Munetaka Murakami brought the Yakult Swallows from behind with a two-run fourth-inning home run and 21-year-old lefty Hiroki Hasegawa saved the day out of the bullpen in a 3-1 win over the Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
After allowing the visitors on the scoreboard in the first, Yakult right-hander Juri Hara (2-0) got out of a one-out bases-loaded jam in the first inning with a pair of strikeouts. Hara worked five innings, allowing three hits and five walks while striking out six.
Tigers lefty Onelki Garcia cruised through the first three innings before surrendering a leadoff double to Norichika Aoki in the fourth. Murakami followed with his fifth home run.
Yugo Umeno, a 21-year-old right-hander, followed Hara in the sixth and walked the first batter he faced. He left with one out the bases loaded. Hasegawa, however, popped up leadoff hitter Koji and struck out veteran Yoshio Itoi.
Yakult’s Yasutaka Shiomi, who homered when he returned to action on Tuesday, a month after being injured by a pitch, homered off veteran lefty Atsushi Nomi to open the bottom of the sixth.
Scott McGough pitched a 1-2-3 seventh for the hosts, while impressive 23-year-old rookie Noboru Shimizu worked around a pair of walks in the eighth when he caught Chikamoto looking at Strike 3. Taishi Ishiyama worked the ninth for his sixth save.
The Tigers opened the scoring through Chikamoto. He doubled to open the game when his drive popped out of center fielder Kotaro Yamasaki’s glove, stole third and came home on a Yusuke Oyama infield single. Garcia gave up four hits and a walk, while striking out five.
Carp’s Suzuki decides pitchers’ duel
Seiya Suzuki broke open a scoreless game in the sixth inning, when he homered for the ninth time this year with a two-run shot off lefty Takahiro Matsuba in a 2-0 Hiroshima Carp win over the Chunichi Dragons at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Making his second start of the season, veteran Carp right-hander Yusuke Nomura (1-0) was perfect through five innings. He allowed four hits and no walks over eight innings while striking out two.
Geronimo Franzua struck out the side in the ninth to earn his first save.
Matsuba (2-1) allowed five hits and two walks while striking out five and hitting a batter. He surrendered Jose Pirela’s second hit of the game with one out in the sixth, and with two outs, Suzuki took him deep.
39-year-old Wada shuts down Lions
Veteran southpaw Tsuyoshi Wada (3-0) turned back the clock as he combined his usual guts and finesse with good movement on his fastball to strike out nine over six-plus innings for the SoftBank Hawks in a 4-2 win over the Seibu Lions at Fukuoka’s PayPayDome.
The 39-year-old Wada, who said afterward he wanted to come out with guns blazing after not getting out of the fifth inning in his last start, came out getting swings and misses with his fastball and struck out two batters in a 1-2-3.
Hawks speedster Ukyo Shuto opened the scoring for the Hawks in the bottom of the first, when he tripled and scored on Kenta Imamiya’s sacrifice fly. Three-straight one-out singles made it 2-0 as Ryoya Kurihara drove in Yuki Yanagita.
The Lions got their first runners of the game on in the top of the second, but Wada stranded two, and the Hawks added a third run in the bottom of the inning. Nobuhiro Matsuda singled, took second on a throwing error by the pitcher, went to third on a groundout and scored on a Shuto sac fly.
Seibu’s Fumikazu Kimura, who struck out to end the Lions’ second with two in scoring position, hit a solo home run in the fifth, but Yanagita answered that with his 10th home run, a one-out solo shot in the home half.
Wada gave up a run in the seventh on a leadoff double to Takeya Nakamura and a Takumi Kuriyama RBI single. Lefty Shinya Kayama, however, worked around a one-out single to strand two runners. Another lefty, Livan Moinelo, worked the eighth, while closer Yuito Mori pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to earn his eighth save.
Matsumoto (1-3) gave up all four runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings.
Martinez, Kondo get Fighters past Buffs
Nick Martinez allowed a run over six innings and Kensuke Kondo drove in four runs for the Nippon Ham Fighters in their 6-2 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sapporo Dome.
Orix right-hander Yu Suzuki struggled but stranded six runners as he held the Fighters to a run over four innings. Taishi Ota drew a leadoff walk in the second and opened the scoring on Kotaro Kiyomiya’s bases-loaded sac fly.
The Buffaloes repeatedly threatened to blow the game open, but Martinez prevailed through tough pitching and some good luck.
Masato Matsui got the Buffaloes’ first hit off Martinez when first baseman Kiyomiya fielded a ball Martinez couldn’t reach, and then neglected to see the pitcher covering first and waiting for his throw that never came.
Orix skipper Norifumi Nishimura’s customary sacrifice when trailing on the road and a Ryo Nishimura single put runners on the corners with one out. A stolen base and a comebacker opened first base with two outs, and after Martinez fell behind Masataka Yoshida 3-0, Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama ordered the left-handed slugger walked. Martinez then won a 10-pitch duel with Adam Jones by getting a routine fly out to center.
The Buffaloes tied it in the fifth after a walk and two singles, one an infield dribbler, and a Yoshida sac fly.
Once more, Jones came up with a chance to some damage with two outs, but home plate umpire Atsushi Fukuya called him out on a 2-2 pitch that missed badly inside. Martinez tried to hide the disbelief at his good luck behind his glove as he walked off the mound. Jones could do little but express his own disbelief with Fukuya’s perception of the strike zone.
With Suzuki out of the game after 85 pitches, Buffaloes right-hander Kazumasa Yoshida allowed the Fighters to retake the lead. He promptly gave up a Kenshi Sugiya leadoff double. A sacrifice bunt and a Kondo sac fly put the Fighters back in front. That, too, was short-lived.
With Martinez gone, the Buffaloes tied it in the seventh when Aderlin Rodriguez was struck near the wrist with the bases loaded. But that was it for Orix. Sugiya drew a leadoff walk in the bottom of the inning, was sacrificed to second on Takuya Nakashima’s second sac bunt of the game and the 230th of his career. Kondo singled to bring in the go-ahead run and scored on a two-out Ota double.
Fighters lefty Naoki Miyanishi worked the eighth inning and became the 16th pitcher in Japanese pro baseball history to appear in 700 games. The active leader is Ryota Igarashi of the Swallows (822).
Wakui continues remarkable turnaround
After going 3-0 in his first three starts and looking truly mediocre, Hideaki Wakui has been rock solid since and continued that on Tuesday when he allowed a run in seven innings as the Rakuten Eagles beat the Lotte Marines 5-1 at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium.
Wakui (5-0) has allowed three runs, two earned, over his last 20-1/3 innings after giving up tons of hits in his early games. Against the team that sold him in December, the 34-year-old right-hander went to the mound with a two-run lead thanks to Hideto Asamura’s 12th homer of the season.
Leonys Martin touched Wakui for a first-inning home run, but that was about it for the Marines offense as the right-hander continued to spin the ball away from opposing bats and mix his pitches.
Stefen Romero, who hit a pinch-hit grand slam the night before, took lefty Kazuya Odajima (2-3) out to dead center to open the fifth, and then tripled and scored in the seventh.
“I’ve been able to keep leadoff hitters off base, and that was what I was trying to keep up tonight,” said Wakui, who joined the Marines as a free agent from the Seibu Lions in 2014. “It did feel kind of strange tonight since I hadn’t been a visiting player her for so long. I’m just glad I didn’t go back to the wrong dugout.”
The big-hitting Seibu Lions executed some down-and-dirty ninth-inning small ball to earn a 3-2 walk-off win over the Lotte Marines on Friday.
With the score tied 2-2 against Marines closer Naoya Masuda (0-2), Sosuke Genda popped his drag bunt over the mound and slid head-first into the bag for a leadoff single. Slugging catcher Tomoya Mori, the Pacific League’s 2019 MVP sacrificed for the second time in his career. After an intentional walk to two-time home run king Hotaka Yamakawa, Masuda missed up with a 1-0 fastball and Shuta Tonosaki looped it into left to bring home the winning run at MetLife Dome.
The Lions open the scoring in the first inning on a one-out Genda single and a two-out Yamakawa home run. Tonosaki followed with a double, but Ishikawa retired 12 of the next 13 batters, allowing the Marines to draw level and left the game after seven innings.
Leonys Martin doubled and scored on a long single by cleanup hitter Hisanori Yasuda, but the inning ended on a strike-out, caught-stealing double play. The Marines tied it on well-struck two-out singles by Tsuyoshi Sugano, Yoshida and Seiya Inoue.
Frank Herrman struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth for the Marines, while Lions relievers Kaima Taira, Reed Garrett and Tatsushi Masuda kept the Marines off the board through nine, when the hosts were able to pull ahead.
Hawks’ Higashihama outpitches Arihara
Nao Higashihama (2-0) allowed a run over seven innings while striking out eight, and Akira Nakamura’s two-run third-inning double snapped a 1-1 tie as the SoftBank Hawks pulled away to a 4-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
The visitors took the lead in the first when Higashihama was missing a lot on three well-hit no-out singles by Haruki Nishikawa, Taishi Ota and Kensuke Kondo, but Arihara blew that lead in the third.
The Hawks came back in the third inning, when Ukyo Shuto and Kenta Imamiya both squared up pitches in the zone like they knew what was coming from Fighters ace Kohei Arihara (1-4). Yuki Yanagita, who seems to square up everybody’s pitches, ironically drove in the tying run when he was fooled on a high changeup that fell for a flair single. A passed ball when Arihara and catcher Ryo Ishikawa got their signals crossed put the runners on second and third for Nakamura.
Livan Moinelo struck out three batters in the eighth, and Yuito Mori closed it out in the ninth to earn his seventh save.
Arihara hung in to the end in an eight-inning complete-game loss. He was charged with four runs, three earned, on eight hits, two walks and a hit batsman. The right-hander struck out four.
Ryoya Kurihara accounted for SoftBank’s final run when he opened the sixth with his fifth home run.
Unheralded Buffalo Sakakibara downs Eagles
Tsubasa Sakakibara (1-1), who turned pro on a non-roster developmental contract, outpitched Rakuten Eagles ace Takahiro Norimoto (3-2) in a 6-2 Orix Buffaloes win at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Orix scored in the first on a Tatsuya Yamaashi single off Norimoto’s first pitch, a sacrifice and a Masataka Yoshida single. The Eagles ace suffered no further damage after Adam Jones hit a bullet to third for the second out and Aderlin Rodriguez struck out swinging at a slider.
After failing to sneak across a run in the fourth on a delayed double steal, the Eagles helped out with Orix’s second run in the fifth. Center fielder Ryosuke Tatsumi failed to catch Kenya Wakatsuki’s leadoff liner and played a single into a double. No. 9 hitter Hayato Nishiura followed another sacrifice with another run-scoring single. Norimoto missed over the plate with a low 0-2 slider, and Nishiura went down and hammered it up the middle.
Sakakibara scattered four hits and two walks over the first six innings, and Ryoichi Adachi singled home a run in the seventh to make it 3-0 Buffaloes before Stefen Romero put the hosts on the board with a leadoff homer in the home half.
The Buffaloes finally drove Norimoto from the game in the eighth on Aderlin Rodriguez’s two-run double.
The Buffaloes bullpen allowed an unearned run on two walks over three innings as Orix won its third-straight decision.
Giants comeback, tie Swallows
The Yomiuri Giants gave up five early runs in ugly fashion, but came back against the Yakult Swallows bullpen to salvage a 5-5, 10-inning tie at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Giants lefty Nobutaka Imamura walked three of the first six batters he faced before the game blew up on him in the second.
Daiki Yoshida, the Swallows’ starting pitcher and their second draft pick last autumn, singled home two runs after Alcides Escobar’s leadoff walk, Kotaro Yamasaki’s single and a sacrifice. Yoshida went to second when a grounder that struck Imamura’s foot. The Swallows pitcher scored from second on a Tetsuto Yamada single. Yamada scored on a Norichika Aoki fly to left center that fell untouched for a double due to a mixup between left fielder Zelous Wheeler and center fielder Yoshihiro Maru. Munetaka Murakami singled home Aoki to drive Imamura from the game.
The Giants began taking the measure of the Yoshida in the fourth. Takumi Oshiro followed a walk to cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto with his second homer in two games. Back-to-back hard-hit singles from Hiroyuki Nakajima and Wheeler followed. Yoshida, however, snuffed out the rally with a strikeout and a double play.
The Giants mounted another rally in the fifth, but Escobar made a good stop at short on a grounder up the middle and started a sweet double play. That was all for Yoshida, who walked three and gave up six hits while striking out four.
Scott McGough worked a 1-2-3 sixth, but the Giants took a stick to 21-year-old righty Yugo Umeno in the seventh.
Naoki Yoshikawa led off with a home run, and Shinnosuke Shigenobu doubled – his ball passed through a small hole in the fence over Jingu Stadium’s right field wall – and scored on a Hayato Sakamoto sac fly before Maru homered to tie it.
Sano slam lifts BayStars to walk-off win
Keita Sano continued his torrid streak since criticism of skipper Alex Ramirez emerged over the weekend, blasting a walk-off grand slam that boosted the DeNA BayStars to a 9-6 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Yokohama Stadium.
Ramirez, who was criticized for everything from not ordering a bunt to putting on his socks in the wrong order, was also widely slammed in the Japanese media this week for giving key offensive roles to Sano and veteran first baseman Jose Lopez.
Sano’s home run was his third in three games, while Lopez had two doubles and his second home run in three games.
The BayStars came from a run down in the first against Carp ace Daichi Osera on a Takayuki Kajitani leadoff single, back-to-back doubles from Tyler Austin and Lopez and a groundout.
DeNA starter Taiga Kamichatani, who allowed two hits in the first, gave up two more in the second and two more in the third, when he added a walk and allowed another run.
Osera was pulled after two innings of work. Right-hander Makoto Kemna seven of the first eight batters he faced before Kajitani walked with one out in the fifth and scored on Lopez’s second double.
The lead was short-lived, however. Kamichatani fell behind 3-1 to Seiya Suzuki who hit the ball so hard off the wall in left he was easily held to a single. With one out, Jose Pirela hammered a hanging 2-1 splitter into the seats in left for his second home run in two nights.
The Carp widened the lead with two more runs off Spencer Patton in the eighth, but Hiroshima’s bullpen couldn’t hold it. Lopez homered to make it a 6-4 game in the eighth and Kajitani singled in another run in the ninth before Sano underlined the victory.
Ono misses out again in loss to Tigers
A week after suffering a tough loss to the Hanshin Tigers, Yudai Ono allowed a run over five innings only for the Chunichi Dragons bullpen to blow up in a 5-2 loss at Nagoya Dome.
Ono, who is looking for his first win of the season, surrendered a solo home run to Yusuke Oyama in the fourth. The lefty allowed four hits and two walks while striking out nine.
Tigers starter Koyo Aoyagi (4-1) gave up two runs in the second and lasted six innings to earn the win after Hanshin scored four runs in the top of the seventh. Fumiya Hojo doubled in three and scored on a Jerry Sands single.
Robert Suarez worked the ninth to earn his fifth save.
Tigers’ Gunkel rejoins top team
Right-hander Joe Gunkel worked out with the Hanshin Tigers’ first team on Friday according to Sponichi Annex and was activated. The 28-year-old first-year import pitched in a simulated game on Thursday and ostensibly showed no ill effects.
Gunkel was deactivated on July 14 due to lower back stiffness.
Meanwhile, the Yomiuri Giants have deactivated Brazilian pitcher Thyago Vieira while the Hiroshima Carp have dropped infielder Alejandro Mejia.
A day after they concluded a contract for 2020 with lefty Onelki Garcia, the Hanshin Tigers announced they have added Miami Marlins minor league right-hander Joe Gunkel.
The 27-year-old comes out of the Marlins organization. In four Triple-A seasons, Gunkel posted a 3.77 ERA. He struck out 6.23 batters per nine innings while walking 1.19 and allowing a little more than one home run per nine.
In a statement released by the Tigers, Gunkel said he was excited to be playing in Japan after hearing how good Japanese baseball was from former teammate and Yakult Swallows reliever Scott McGough.
Japanese-only free agency needs a 2nd look
Number magazine’s website “Number Web” posed an interesting question that speaks to the heart of one of Nippon Professional Baseball’s paradoxes — how come teams losing top foreign stars to another NPB club cannot receive compensation?
The answer is of course that foreign-registered players, unlike Japanese, cannot be reserved unless they agree to a contract for the following season. They are in essence free agents the minute their contractual obligation to a team ends. The Number Web article uses Wladimir Balentien‘s impending move to the three-time Japan Series champion SoftBank Hawks as an example because — according to NPB’s silliest rule — he has acquired the right to file for free agency.
Thus, one could argue that the Yakult Swallows, for whom he played nine seasons, are losing a free agent but receiving zip in return. But using Balentien as an example is ridiculous. What about Onelki Garcia? He went 13-9 for the Chunichi Dragons in 2018 on a one-year deal and then decided to split to the Hanshin Tigers when Chunichi wanted to re-sign him.
Heck, the Yomiuri Giants’ back-to-back 2008 and 2009 pennants were built on the backs of stealing players the Swallows had scouted and signed. Pitchers Seth Greisinger went 30-15 over those two seasons, while Dicky Gonzalez was 15-2 in 2009 — the year he moved to Yomiuri from Yakult. Left fielder Alex Ramirez moved four stops down the Chuo Line to Tokyo Dome and won back-to-back Central League MVP Awards.
The Swallows response to the talent drain was to begin offering lucrative long-term contracts, starting with Balentien, reliever Tony Barnette and outfielder Lastings Milledge. The latter deal didn’t pan out, but the contracts for Balentien and Barnette were instrumental in Yakult’s 2015 pennant.
Free agency was the baby of the Yomiuri Giants — a plan for Japan’s most prestigious team to snap up as much previously unavailable talent as possible. But this winter, Giants Hall of Fame manager Tatsunori Hara has railed against compensation that annually costs his club a player here and a player there.
Since the Giants are the biggest talent poachers in NPB, they would likely dig in their heels at the thought of having to shell out even more for foreign talent just because it’s easier to get Japan-ready talent from the Swallows than it is to actually find it yourself.