The Hanshin Tigers released first baseman Justin Bour on Friday after he cleared waivers. Bour was dropped from the team’s active roster on Oct. 23 and there was some confusion at the time about his future with the club.
The Tigers are infamous for giving up on first-year players without any kind of real chance to make adjustments, although they gave Bour most of a full year to get acclimated. Jefry Marte, who was hurt much of the year, was called up when Bour was dropped and played well the rest of the season.
Bour means there is still a first baseman on the market, after the Yakult Swallows agreed to terms with soon to be released SoftBank Hawks captain Seiichi Uchikawa.
Uchikawa, one of two players to win batting titles in both of Japan’s top leagues, was also the first Central League star in his prime to sign directly with a Pacific League club after filing for free agency. His move from the BayStars to the Hawks signaled the start of the Hawks’ current dynasty.
In addition to keeping star second baseman Tetsuto Yamada from filing for free agency by signing him to a seven-year extension, the Swallows also locked up closer Taichi Ishiyama, who was eligible to move to another NPB team as a domestic free agent.
Norichika Aoki, who has achieved a remarkable career renaissance since returning from the majors after the 2017 season, has also reportedly agreed to a multi-year extension.
Seiichi Uchikawa, a former Japan international, one of two players to win a batting title in both the Central and Pacific leagues and the player, more than any other, who signaled the start of the SoftBank Hawks’ current dynasty, will look for another team next season after being told he is no longer in the PL champs’ plans.
He joins a growing number of veterans on the winter job market including Tigers’ outfielder Kosuke Fukudome and former Hanshin ace Atsushi Nomi.
In 2011, the 38-year-old Uchikawa became the first CL star in his prime to move directly to the PL as a free agent. The Nippon Ham Fighters’ biggest hitter of their strong teams from 2006 to 2012, Atsunori Inaba, left the Yakult Swallows after 2004, but signed with the Fighters only after he failed to get a guaranteed offer in the majors.
Uchikawa’s arrival, a year after SoftBank won its first pennant but lost in the playoffs, was followed by the team winning six Japan Series championships in nine seasons.
The native of Oita Prefecture, Uchikawa was the BayStars’ No. 1 pick out of high school in the 2000 draft, and had his breakout season in 2004. He is one of those players who works hard to make himself understood and expends more energy than most in thinking of better ways to express himself. So while some players seem to have a recorded answer for common questions they face and give identical answers every time they are asked, I doubt Uchikawa ever answers any question the same way.
He speaks with a lisp, and while some players with a speech impediment seem reluctant to speak, Uchikawa has always appeared to relish it and seems to enjoy delivering unique perspectives on the most mundane topics.
Enokida pitches Lions past Fighters
The Nippon Ham Fighters gave lefty Daiki Enokida a bunch of mulligans by laying off fat pitches early on, and before they knew it, the game was up in a 4-0 two-hit loss to the Seibu Lions on Monday at MetLife Dome.
The Lions win moved them to within one-game of the second-place Lotte Marines in the fight for the Pacific League’s second and final playoff spot.
Enokida (1-1) began with inconsistent location, but the Fighters hitters went to the plate almost as if they’d been told Enokida would throw NOTHING in the zone. So when he missed, they watched or were surprised, and the 34-year-old began pin-pointing the edges of the zone and really spinning his 86-mph fastball that the Fighters hitters rarely got good swings on.
Fighters rookie Tsubasa Nabatame (0-1) allowed two runs in the first. An error, an infield single and a sacrifice put two men in scoring position. With the infield in against left-handed-hitting Takumi Kuriyama, the rookie left a pitch up, and Kuriyama put a textbook flat slap-hitter swing on it smacking it between third and short for a two-run single.
Fumikazu Kimura homered in the fifth to make it 3-0 and Ryosuke Moriwake got the Lions out of a seventh-inning jam after Enokida allowed a one-out double and a walk.
Kaima Taira worked a 1-2-3 eighth and after an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, closer Tatsushi Masuda sat down so Reed Garrett could finish the shutout.
Active roster moves 11/2/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/12
It took Kan Otake 18 pro seasons to reach the Japan Series and about two minutes for it to go south on him. The veteran right-hander, who joined the Yomiuri Giants as a free agent after the Giants lost the 2013 series in seven games, got his first opportunity on Sunday.
The 36-year-old, who found new life this season in middle relief, entered the seventh inning of a scoreless game in relief of Cristopher Mercedes, only for an error to put the leadoff man on base after slugger Alfredo Despaigne struggled to make contact.
With pinch-runner Ukyo Shuto on first, the SoftBank Hawks pulled off a run and hit on a 2-1 pitch to Yurisbel Gracial that put runners on the corners with no outs.
Otake’s 15th pitch, a 2-0 fastball was up and got a little too much of the plate and way too much of the barrel. Nobuhiro Matsuda launched it out over the imposing distant center field wall to break up the scoreless game.
“That was pretty rare for me to hit one out to center field,” Matsuda said.
The Hawks looked to add on a run in the eighth by having two-time batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa sacrifice for the second straight game, but no more runs would cross until Yuki Yanagita and Shuhei Fukuda went deep in the eighth off a pair of big breaking balls.
“That (home run power) is really our bread and butter,” manager Kimiyasu Kudo said a day after asserting that the Hawks’ strength was their ability to play small ball.
Mercedes and Hawks rookie Rei Takahashi combined to make this the first game in the series’ 70-year history without a base runner through four innings, a stretch Matsuda ended with a two-out fifth-inning single. Mercedes got hitters to chase his slider out of the zone, while Takahashi confounded them with great run on his fastball and some wonderful movement with his screwball.
Hawks spreading the love
The Hawks’ home winning streak extends back to their 2011 championship against the Chunichi Dragons. This is their fifth series since and a victory this time will see them complete a grand slam of sorts by defeating all six Central League teams, having knocked off the Hanshin Tigers in 2014, the Yakult Swallows (2015), the DeNA BayStars (2017) and Hiroshima Carp (2018).
With both pitchers on, the game really turned on the defense, which helped Takahashi get away with a some good swings on his mistakes and kept him in the game as long as he was.
All in all it was a spectacle a great pitchers’ duel, combined with home runs and a late comeback as the Giants scored three runs in the ninth and put the tying run on deck before the game ended.