Tag Archives: SoftBank Hawks

NPB 2020 7-7 GAMES AND NEWS

baseball and robots

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Senga opens with a win

Kodai Senga threw hard at the start, hitting 161 kph against his first batter but was missing all over, especially with his splitter, but it was good enough for a winning debut as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Rakuten Eagles 4-3 in the Pacific League on Tuesday.

Senga had been out with a calf injury compounded by arm issues, and only went five innings. Yuki Yanagita tied it with a two-run first-inning homer at PayPay Dome off Hayato Yuge (2-1). Ryoya Kurihara homered in the second to make it 3-2 only for Hideto Asamura to hit his ninth home run and tie it in the third. Yanagita broke the tie in the fifth with a hard-hit RBI single.

Albers corners Fighters in Buffaloes’ win

Andrew Albers (1-1) allowed two hits but no walks over seven innings while striking out eight for the Orix Buffaloes in their 7-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

Aderlin Rodriguez opened the scoring against right-hander Toshihiro Sugiura (1-1) in the second with his second homer in three games, and Adam Jones’ two-run double made it 3-0 through three. Masataka Yoshida went 4-for-4 with a homer, two RBIs and two runs.

Former San Diego Padre Christian Villanueva went 1-for-3 in his Fighters debut.

Fighters activate Villanueva

The Nippon Ham Fighters activated third baseman Christian Villanueva on Tuesday. The infielder, who did not re-sign with the Yomiuri Giants over the winter following his first season in Japan, had an appendectomy in May.

In his place, the Fighters have played rookie Yuki James Nomura.

Marines wear down Lions

Seibu’s Kona Takahashi struck out nine batters but ran into a buzz saw in the fifth and sixth inning in the Lions’ 8-6 loss to the Lotte Marines at Chiba’s wind-swept Zozo Marine Stadium.

Leonys Martin’s two-out, two-run fifth-inning double broke a 1-1 tie, and rookie Hisanori Yasuda’s two-run homer capped a three-run sixth for the Marines.

Marines right-hander Yuki Ariyoshi (1-0) allowed two runs over six innings, but the bullpen coughed up four runs to make it close.

Dragons lose in 10th with no hitters left

The Chunichi Dragons loaded the bases in the bottom of the 10th inning but lost 2-1 to the Yakult Swallows. Dragons manager Tsuyoshi Yoda burned through his nine reserve position players and sent reliever Takuya Mitsuma up to pinch-hit with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 10th.

Mitsuma fouled off one two-strike pitch before swinging and missing to end the game.

Norichika Aoki led off the Swallows’ 10th with a walk. With one out and first base open, Yoda ordered an intentional walk of red-hot Naomichi Nishiura. But Taishi Hirooka walked with two outs, and 36-year-old career minor leaguer Suguru Ino walked on six pitches to force in the run.

With two outs and runners on the corners in the bottom of the 10th, Swallows manager Shingo Takatsu ordered the bases loaded to bring the Dragons pitcher’s spot up with no position players left on the bench.

“It was 100 percent my mistake,” Yoda said according to Sports Nippon. “I mean one has to have at least one position player on the bench. I was conflicted about that last change and it came back to bite me.”

There are days when robots might be preferable.

And then there was Takatsu’s turn…

Takatsu himself had one of Japan’s most famous relief pitcher pinch-hitting appearances. In 1995, Central League manager Katsuya Nomura ordered Takatsu to pinch-hit for Hideki Matsui after Pacific League skipper Akira Ogi called Ichiro Suzuki in from right field to face the future major leaguer. Suzuki pitched to future big leaguer, just not the one people wanted to see.

For those of you who are curious, you can read a little about these teams in my Japanese pro baseball guide.

Live blog: Hawks vs Eagles

The Rakuten Eagles made it look easy last week taking five of six against the Lotte Marines in Sendai — when the Marines entered on the back of an eight-game win streak. The Hawks went 3-2 with a tie at Sapporo Dome against the Fighters.

Tonight will be the 2020 season debut of Hawks ace Kodai Senga. He injured his right calf on the first day of spring training, and hurt his right forearm when he was on the verge of returning to fitness.

Top 1st

Senga starts out Eigoro Mogi with hard stuff, hitting 161 kph on his 4th pitch and gets him looking at a 159 kph inside fastball. If he can keep this location up when he starts with his secondary stuff it could be a long night for the Eagles but a fast game.

Daichi Suzuki hits the first pitch that isn’t a four-seam fastball, a 1-2 cutter away down the line in left for a single. Blash is rung up checking his swing on a low 3-2 slider. That’s about the closest call I’ve seen on a checked swing strike this year. The umps have been pretty forgiving unless a guy has gone well around.

Senga and Kai try to get Hideto Asamura to chase on 3-2 but he’s not biting. It’s two on with two outs for Hiroaki Shimauchi, who survives a close call on a low 1-2 fastball to stay alive. Shimauchi fouls off a cutter inside. Senga misses straight and down the pipe and Shimiuchi drills it over Yuki Yanagita’s head in center for a two-run double. Eagles 2, Hawks 0.

Stefen Romero pops up a first-pitch fastball, and the Eagles are done in the first at the Casa de Pepe.

Bottom 1st

Ryoya Kurihara, who is in left today, to lead off for the Hawks against the 1.93-meter lefty Hayato Yuge. The lefty clips him on the arm and the leadoff man is on. Mr. “300 sacrifice-bunts” Kenta Imamiya is up, and the announcers, of course, have to mention that, although no show of displeasure that he’s not squaring around.

Imamiya misses a fastball and rolls to short, not hard enough for a GDP. Yuki Yanagita takes a big swing on a first-pitch cutter that floats up in the zone and he miss-hits it just a little but still propels it into the home run terrace in left. We’re tied. Hawks 2, Eagles 2.

Yuge tried so hard to stay away from Yanagita, and he had no business swinging at that pitch, but what are you going to do. He strikes out Coco Balentien on a bouncer that gets away from catcher Hikaru Ota for “furinige” as Balentien reaches on an uncaught swinging third strike.

Keizo Kawashima, the right-handed-slap-hitting utility infielder is batting behind Coco and playing first. It’s like manager Kimiyasu Kudo lost a bet with someone. Kawashima reaches on an infield single, and Nobuhiro Matsuda smashes a bouncer into left and the bags are juiced.

Yuge appears to have regained his composure and strikes out the lefty-swinging Seiji Uebayashi, and the pops up Takuya Kai on the first pitch and the Hawks leave them loaded.

Top 2nd

Ginji Akaminai leads off with a four-pitch walk, and now with the speed and the hit-and-miss location, it feels like Kodai Senga is REALLY back. Senga hangs a splitter up in the zone, but Eagles catcher Hikaru Ota looks at it for Strike 3.

Mogi grounds to first and Kawashima — can’t get used to him wearing No. 99 — gets the force at second for the second out. Daichi Suzuki up with runners on the corners but quickly down 0-2 and looks at a strike on the outside corner — that Senga was trying to go inside with.

Bottom 2nd

With one out, Ryoya Kurihara barrels up a straight 1-0 fastball in the heart of the zone and pulls it into the permanents seats in right. Hawks 3, Eagles 2.

Yuge’s location is also kind of here and gone. He loses Imamiya on a 3-2 pitch, to put a man on for Yanagita. Yuge misses in the zone with his first pitch, but Yanagita misses, too, and fouls it off. Two hard ones inside and Yanagita grounds out to first.

Balentien, who pretty much never saw anything over the plate in Sapporo, gets a fastball in the zone and one inside for 1-1. Yuget gets him on a changeup low in the zone that Balentien lines softly to short.

Top 3rd

Blash opens the third with a smash to short that nearly knocks Kenta Imamiya off his feet for the first out. But just like that, Hideto Asamura hits his eighth home run and we’re tied. That’s a decent curve from Senga, but Asamura is all over it and drives it 12 rows back in the permanent seats. Hawks 3, Eagles 3.

Very rare for the announcing crew to comment on the umpiring, but they do when Romero takes an 0-2 pitch down the middle and umpire Kunio Kiuchi dutifully gives the batter the benefit of the doubt. Romero hammers the next pitch through the box for a single, that Senga does well to duck. But Senga recovers by getting Akaminai on a pair of curves, that he apparently calls sliders.

Bottom 3rd

Kawashima grounds out to open the Hawks’ third and the Hawks go down in order.

Fun fact: On Jan. 1, 2008, Kawashima was traded by the Nippon Ham Fighters with pitcher Yoshitaka Hashimoto and Takehiko Oshimoto to the Yakut Swallows for lefty Shugo Fuji, right-hander Yataro Sakamoto and current Rakuten manager Hajime Miki. On July 20, 2014, the Swallows sent him and lefty Ryo Hidaka to the Hawks for Nagisa Arakaki and submarine right-hander Hirofumi Yamanaka — who has the distinction of being the only player to still be active after a trade involving Kawashima.

I was thinking about that last week, when Kawashima was starting against the Fighters, playing for a team that had won five of the last six Japan Series after being a middling piece in a trade over 12 years earlier.

Top 4th

With one out, Ryosuke Tatsumi walks for the second time but is cut down on a throw from Kai that reminded us what he was like back in 2018 as the Japan Series MVP basically for his ability to gun down runners.

Bottom 4th

Yuge needs 11 pitches, six of them on Kai, to get a 1-2-3 inning.

Top 5th

Senga gets Suzuki to fly out on an 0-1 fastball but runs the count full to Blash, who entered the game third in the league in strikeouts and second in walks. But Blash actually swings and misses this time for the second out.

Senga’s location is getting incrementally better as the game goes along. Asamura is up and he fouls a 1-1 fastball in the zone, and a high slider, too. Asamura nearly gets hit with a splitter that gets away and it’s 2-2. The inning ends with a strike zone as Senga hangs a splitter up high and Asamura misses it.

Bottom 5th

A throwing error by shortstop Eigoro Mogi allows Kenta Imamiya to start the inning at second, and Yuki Yanagita drives a fastball over the inside half of the plate toward the gap in right-center. What a beautiful swing, balanced, compact. Oh if it weren’t for service time manipulation. Hawks 4, Eagles 3.

Yuge gets Balentien to hit into a double play and survives a two-out Kawashima single. Yuge is up to 75 pitches.

Top 6th

Submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi, the PL’s 2019 rookie of the year, is on in relief for Senga, who allowed three runs on four hits and four walks while striking out six.

Bottom 6th

The first two Hawks go down on three pitches, and they have to rush Takahashi out of the clubhouse to start throwing on the sideline. Taisei Makihara goes up there and apparently has been ordered to take some time up there. He fouls off three, two-strike pitches before grounding out on Yuge’s eighth delivery.

Top 7th

The Eagles bat for catcher Hikaru Ota, and Yuya Ogo flies out on the first pitch. Umpire Kiuchi has not been a big fan of pitches at the bottom of the zone, and lets Tatsumi draw his third walk on a low 3-2 pitch.

Mogi flies out on the first pitch, but Suzuki smashes a hanging 0-1 breaking ball down the pipe and pulls it into right for a single, bringing Blash to the plate with Asamura on deck. Blash reaches when Kawashima can’t hang on to a low throw from Imamiya.

The bases are loaded for Asamura. He misses an 0-1 pitch in the heart of the zone, and Takahashi gets a perfect strike on the outside edge for 1-2. A fastball inside misses, 2-2. The right-hander misses up in the zone, and Asamura fouls out to Kawashima.

Bottom 7th

Right-hander Tomohito Sakai on for the Eagles. Yuge allows four runs, three earned, over six innings. He gave up six hits and a walk and hit a batter while striking out three.

Sakai jams Kurihara, and Imamiya chases a low 2-2 pitch and flies out. Yanagita swings at a first-pitch strike and flies out to center.

Top 8th

Cuban lefty Livan Moinelo on for SoftBank to take on the Eagles’ fifth, sixth and seventh spots. He strikes out two in a 1-2-3 inning.

Bottom 8th

Sakai on for his second inning of work and he keeps it close, retiring Balentien, Kawashima and Matsuda.

Top 9th

Yuito Mori is on to close out the one-run game against the bottom of the Eagles’ order. Kazuya Fujita offers at a first-pitch breaking ball up and grounds to short. Tatsumi grounds a 1-1 fastball to second, and Mogi flies out to short to end it.

Final score: Hawks 4, Eagles 3

Double standards

On Saturday morning, we learned that SoftBank Hawks players Alfredo Despaigne and Yurisbel Gracial will depart Cuba for Japan. This is good news for the Hawks fans, whose team has struggled over the first two weeks of Nippon Professional Baseball’s season.

It also reminds us that Japanese society is not an inclusive or particularly fair one. I suppose that given human nature, asking for a society to be fair is like asking for a government to be honest.

The issue is that people who live, work, pay taxes and contribute to society in a lawful manner are treated differently depending on the group they belong to. If you were born, raised and lived your entire life in Japan, you are a permanent resident, but if you happen to be outside Japan at this moment, you can’t return.

Your family is here? Your work is here? So what? Only Japanese citizens are currently allowed entry. Ostensibly, however, that won’t be a problem if you are a baseball player, whose team’s parent company can pull sufficient strings.

It has been the same way with testing for the coronavirus. Tests are plentiful in Japan, but the government has been miserly about allowing doctors, concerned about their patients health, from having them tested.

Essentially, the only individuals who get tested are:

  • those who have been identified as having close contact with someone outside their family who has tested positive.
  • those with the proper symptoms that are so severe as to necessitate hospitalization
  • professional athletes with or without symptoms

In April, after the government declared a state of emergency, the National Training Center, a facility dedicated to improving Japan’s Olympic performance, was shuttered. But many argued it should be reopened because it is extremely important that Japan achieve its gold medal target for the Tokyo Olympics if they are held.

It was not opened before the state of emergency was lifted, but the very idea that athletes SHOULD get special treatment in the eyes of those in government is striking.

It’s a confirmation to many that who you know and what group you belong to in Japan matter more than anything, and that if you don’t belong to the right group, you really are expendable to a government that for all intents and purposes has worked harder to preserve its Olympic wet dream than it has to protect the lives of its citizens and other less desirable residents.

Japan’s sporting life

There is no smoking-gun evidence that Japan was suppressing its infection counts and limiting testing in February and March in order keep the Tokyo Olympics on track to start on July 23, 2020, but the chart of confirmed infections in Japan is essentially flat until March 24. That’s the day the International Olympic Committee informed Japan that postponement was necessary.

infections in Japan
Confirmed infections in Japan through June 23

There were 39 confirmed infections on March 24. There had been more than that a number of times in preceding weeks. On March 31 there were 87. On April 7 there were 252; on April 12, Japan peaked at 743. In the span of 20 days it had increased roughly 15 times.

Why then and not now?

It’s on the rise again and although testing is slowly becoming more accessible, it is still limited. Since the state of emergency was lifted and professional sports were put back on the table, the number of infections in Tokyo and around the country are doubling every nine to 10 days.

There are no longer daily briefings by the governor of Tokyo, and my wife keeps wondering allowed why nobody seems to care about the steady increase–which is much sharper than the one that forced pro sports to stop letting in crowds in February–although one might suspect that the official flat curve at that time was faked and that the government was looking at scarier data.

This would account for the huge spike after the Olympics were postponed, that the curve was not that steep at all but had been officially under-reported until March 24. That would partly explain why the government felt the need to act much more quickly in February when there were 30 to 50 new cases a day, than it does now, when there are 150 to 200 new cases a day.

NPB 2020 6-29 NEWS

Union: You want cuts? show us your books

The executive director of the Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association said Monday he expected tough salary negotiations in the autumn after this year’s games have been reduced and played behind closed doors but said teams would have to be open about their losses if they want concessions.

Speaking as the union announced that the average salary of Japan’s 727 domestically registered players surpassed 40 million yen ($360,000) for the first time, Mori said according to the Nikkan Sports, that the players side needed to be taken into consideration.

“Anyone can tell that profits are going to be down, but a lot of players have essentially been in camp all this time,” Mori said. “I want negotiations in good faith with the teams revealing their profit statements.”

Unlike in the majors, Nippon Professional Baseball does not have a collective bargaining agreement. Rather, Japanese law gives the players association the right to negotiate all changes to the working situation. Imported players do not typically join the union.

For that reason, the teams are likely to take Mori’s advice with a grain of sand, since the union has zero role to play in individual salary negotiations.

The figures are for the numbers stated on each individual player’s uniform player contract and would not include any additional revenues stipulated in the supplemental contracts most players agree to with their teams.

The Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks were the biggest spenders for the first time in two years at an average of 71.1 million yen, while the PL’s Lotte Marines were at the bottom at 30.4 million yen, roughly 30,000 yen ($270) lower than last-years 12th-placed club, the PL’s Orix Buffaloes. The Rakuten Eagles, who were formed in 2005, moved into third place in the domestic-spending rankings for the first time.

Ramping up: 8 days to go

We’re bordering on one week to go before Nippon Professional Baseball joins its Asian rivals from Taiwan and South Korea by playing regular season games.

Hawks pick six starters

The SoftBank Hawks on Thursday revealed their starting rotation when they open the season next Friday on June 19, the Hochi Shimbun reported. Ace Kodai Senga, who is rehabbing from a right-forearm injury only made his first pitching appearance of the year last Friday in a minor league practice game, and was not on the list.

Kudo had already named right-hander Nao Higashihama, former ace lefty and former Chicago Cub Tsuyoshi Wada, and veteran big leaguer Matt Moore. On Thurday he added Rick van den Hurk, Shuta Ishikawa and journeyman Akira Niho.

“The first couple of weeks, it’s not like the starters will be going deep into games,” Kudo said. “In a context like that, it’s better to have guys who can throw two or three innings.”

ramping up: 21 days to go

One aspect of the long layoff forced by the novel coronavirus is that players who were due to miss the original March 20 start of the season, are now regaining fitness and may be able to make the roster when the season finally starts on June 19.

350 days

That’s how long it will be between starts for Naoyuki Uwasawa when he takes the mound for the Nippon Ham Fighters in Tuesday’s practice game.

Last season, Uwasawa was a key component of the Rube Goldberg contraption that was the Fighters’ pitching rotation last season. Manager Hideki Kuriyama used him and Kohei Arihara as the pillars in conventional starting roles, with a handful of others tasked with going either once or twice through the opposing lineup depending on the skipper’s confidence in them.

In a June 18 interleague game, Uwasawa was kneecapped by a batted ball hit by Neftali Soto, the DeNA BayStars’ two-time Central League home run champ. Prior to that game, the Fighters starting pitchers were 26-18 with a 3.65 ERA. Afterward, even with some superb 1-inning opening acts by Mizuki Hori, they went 18-31 with a 4.32 ERA.

On Thursday, he faced five batters in a simulated game at the Fighters’ minor league facility in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, and is expected to pitch two innings on Tuesday at the Lotte Marines’ Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba.

Yanagita back with a bang

Yuki Yanagita, who until the recent ascension of Hiroshima Carp right fielder Seiya Suzuki, was considered the Japanese outfielder most coveted by MLB clubs, returned to the SoftBank Hawks’ first team for an intrasquad game on Saturday. Yanagita has been rehabbing since his 2019 dumpster fire of a season was capped with right elbow surgery in the offseason.

Yanagita missed most of the season with a knee injury and failed by the slimmest of margins to get the 140 days of service time needed to be a free agent this winter. Had the Hawks brought him up a few days earlier, he would have been on track to fulfil his stated goal of playing in the majors. They didn’t and he signed a long-ass contract that keeps him in Fukuoka for essentially the rest of his career.

On Saturday, according to the Sankei Sports, he hit an opposite-field homer from submarine right-hander Rei Takahashi, the Pacific League’s 2019 rookie of the year and another player who was due to miss the start of the season in March but now has a shot at helping out the rotation from the start.

Stewart takes drive off shin

The Hawks’ Carter Stewart Jr left the mound after pitching just one inning when he took a shot off his right shin that was turned into the final out of the inning.

Iguchi changes tune on Sasaki

Eighteen-year-old right-hander Roki Sasaki who repeatedly was clocked at over 100 miles per hour in his final high school season, apparently will appear in a practice game for the Lotte Marines in the coming weeks, manager Tadahito Iguchi indicated to the media on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, Iguchi had said Sasaki, who twice hit 160 kilometers per hour in a simulated game on Tuesday, would not be ready to appear in a game next month.

Stewart gets 1st chance against front-line hitters on Friday

SoftBank Hawks right-hander Carter Stewart Jr, who last year became the first marquee American amateur to turn pro with a Japanese team, is scheduled to pitch in Friday’s practice against the Pacific League rival Lotte Marines.

Last season, Stewart was limited to third-team action against amateur and independent minor league opposition. This spring he has pitched for the Hawks’ Western League farm squad in preseason action.

Nippon Professional Baseball was set to open on March 20, but has now been pushed back until April 10 at the earliest because of the new coronavirus outbreak, while all preseason games since Feb. 29 have been played behind closed doors.

For viewers in the US, PL TV is airing practice games and this one is on the schedule for Friday, March 20. HERE’S THE LINK.

Although the preseason exhibition season is now over, teams will begin playing “practice” games from Friday.

Stewart, the eighth overall pick in MLB’s 2018 June draft, said he is slated to throw between 90 and 100 pitches against the Marines.

“I’m going to go out there like I did last week. Obviously, they can hit a little bit better, so maybe they’re going to put me in a little bit tougher situations, but obviously, you’ve still got to perform,” he told reporters in Fukuoka.

Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo, a former pitcher himself, said he was keen to see what Stewart could do now.

“He’s gotten to the point where I want to give him a taste of first-team experience,” Kudo said. “I want to see what kind of pitching he can manage at this stage of his development.”