Masahiro Tanaka allowed an unearned run on four hits over five innings on Sunday in the Rakuten Eagles’ 3-1 preseason win over the DeNA BayStars in Shizuoka, Tospo Web reported.
Tanaka struck out three without issuing a walk in his fourth spring outing since rejoining the Eagles as a free agent for the first time since 2013.
“It’s the preseason, so I want my priority to be on sequences, so I can throw pitches that get outs, rather than these games (and their results),” Tanaka said.
“Within the context of the theme I set for myself, I think I did well. I’m not perfect yet but compared to last time I threw some good pitches after reflecting on issues from that previous game. So in that respect, it was satisfactory.”
The Eagles’ prize draft pick, lefty Takahisa Hayakawa struck out five without issuing a walk while allowing one hit over four innings. Rakuten scored all of its runs in the second inning off DeNA starter Kentaro Taira.
At Koshien Stadium, rookie Teruaki Sato, the other big deal in last autumn’s draft, hit his fourth home run of the spring for the Hanshin Tigers in a 1-0 win over the Yomiuri Giants.
The home run was the left-hand-hitting Sato’s third at Koshien and all to left, a big thing for the Tigers since the wind off Osaka bay has a reputation for knocking down would-be home run balls to right.
Because it’s the Giants and Tigers, no trivia stone is left unturned, even in the spring, as Nikkan Sports informs that this is the Tigers’ first 1-0 preseason victory over the Giants since 1995.
At Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium, Ryosuke Hirata belted a three-run homer off rookie Yakult Swallows right-hander Yasunobu Okugawa, who was a prime pick out of high school a year ago. The hosts hammered Chunichi Dragons starter Yuya Yanagi, however, for five runs in six innings.
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Lotte’s top draft pick Shota Suzuki threw five scoreless innings against the SoftBank Hawks, who got 6-1/3 strong innings from submariner Rei Takahashi in a 2-0 win. Ryoya Kurihara drove in both Hawks runs with his first home run of the spring.
At Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium, Sho Nakata homered in his hometown with a shot off Carp starter Allen Kuri. The Nippon Ham Fighters’ top pick in last year’s draft, right-hander Hiromi Ito, struck out seven in seven innings in the 2-0 win. Former Cleveland Indian Toru Murata, who was re-signed after being non-tendered in December, worked two scoreless innings of relief for the Fighters.
At Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, 10 Orix Buffaloes pitchers combined on a one-hitter in a 5-0 win over the Seibu Lions. Seibu right-hander Katsunori Hirai, who is converting from middle-relief workhorse to stater, struck out three in three innings.
The Chunichi Dragons beat the Hanshin Tigers in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel on Saturday afternoon at Nagoya Dome, but the real story was not the tight pitching but the seventh-inning high school-style offense that produced the winning run.
Masataka Iryo, 30-year-old reserve outfielder, drove in the run off Yuki Nishi (2-2) who took the loss for his strong seven-inning effort.
Dragons right-hander Akiyoshi Katsuno allowed four hits, two by Jerry Sands, and two walks. After he was gone, lefty Hiroto Fuku, and right-handers Daisuke Sobue and Raidel Martinez were all lights out. But the only thing anyone wanted to talk about was that seventh inning.
Nobumasa Fukuda did the hard work with a leadoff single and was replaced by a pinch-hitter. That’s when the story really really began. Takaya Ishikawa, the Dragons’ 19-year-old slugging rookie infielder sacrificed.
“There it is, his first career sacrifice bunt,” the TV announcer crowed. Ishikawa hasn’t homered yet, and as excited as he was, it seemed like a sacrifice was the next best thing. Ishikawa admitted that he hadn’t bunted in a game since elementary school although he does practice bunting.
Dragons captain Shuhei Takahashi, who rejoined the team earlier than expected after suffering a hamstring strain two weeks earlier, hit behind the runner to advance him to third.
Iryo’s sharp grounder into the hole was grabbed by shortstop Seiya Kinami, who had no play at first, but Iryo did what Japanese players with a surplus of fighting spirit are expected to do: he went into the bag head first in a “spirited slide.”
New import Joe Gunkel, who entered the season in the Tigers starting rotation, returned to the team after suffering back stiffness and pitched a 1-2-3 eighth.
The ultimate sacrifice
Thirty years or so back, no Japanese baseball broadcast was complete without a bizarre liturgy regarding the sacrifice bunt. Whenever a bunting situation came up, the analyst and announcer would talk about how extremely difficult it is to get a bunt down, about the skill required and the challenges one needs to overcome.
This was a setup, of course, and similar to the kind of things former first baseman say whenever someone refers to their old position as less challenging.
The purpose is to heap praise on bunters. The irony is that whenever a player failed to execute a routine bunt–which seconds before had been treated as baseball’s ultimate challenge–the former player serving as an analyst would attack the hitter for his inability to execute the simplest of tasks.
It was a wonderful time to be a fan of Japanese baseball.
BayStars continue to rock
The DeNA BayStars continued to play like they are on a mission on Saturday in a 6-2 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Yokohama Stadium.
Following widespread criticism of manager Alex Ramirez for his willingness to keep Jose Lopez in the lineup and Keita Sano in the cleanup spot, the BayStars’s offense has been dynamite, scoring 21 runs over the last three games with Lopez and Sano doing much of the heavy lifting.
Sano and Lopez each had two hits and an RBI, while Tyler Austin doubled twice, walked and scored two runs for the BayStars.
Lefty Shota Imanaga (3-2) allowed two runs, one earned over six innings. Lefty Edwin Escobar struck out four over two scoreless innings and struggling closer Yasuaki Yamasaki worked a 1-2-3 ninth after not pitching the last two days.
Tomo Otosaka, batting for Imanaga in the sixth, hit a three-run pinch-hit home run.
Kawabata saves Swallows’ blushes
Shingo Kawabata, the injury-prone veteran infielder who won the Central League’s batting title in 2015, came off the bench in the ninth inning to stroke a sayonara single, lifting the Yakult Swallows to a 6-5 win over the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa allowed three runs over seven innings, but rookie setup man Noboru Shimizu surrendered a run in the eighth, and closer Taishi Ishiyama blew the one-run save before stranding three Giants base runners.
Norichika Aoki hit a two-run homer in the first off former Giants closer Hirokazu Sawamura, drew three walks and doubled to open the ninth, when he was pulled for a pinch-runner.
Sawamura was an emergency starter in place of Angel Sanchez, who complained of discomfort in his right shoulder prior to the game.
Had the game ended 5-5, it would have been the Swallows third 5-5 tie in four games.
Yoshihiro Maru homered twice for the Giants
Nakata blast completes Fighters comeback
Sho Nakata’s three-run home run broke a 6-6 seventh-inning tie as the Nippon Ham Fighters came back from an early 6-0 deficit to beat the SoftBank Hawks at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
Ryoya Kurihara belted a first-inning grand slam off former Cleveland Indians farmhand Toru Murata, and Hawks starter Shuta Ishikawa allowed three runs over six innings, but the Hawks bullpen proved uncharacteristically vulnerable.
Taneichi blanks Lions for 1st career shutout
Lotte Marines right-hander Atsuki Taneichi (3-1) struck out 10, while walking four in a four-hit shutout in a 5-0 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome that was a scoreless game through six innings.
Lions starter Keisuke Honda (0-2) allowed a run in six-plus innings to take the loss. A walk and a stolen base by pinch-runner Hiromi Oka set up Lotte’s Hisanori Yasuda to drive in the opening run.
Yasuda, a 21-year-old left-handed-hitting corner infielder, was the Marines’ top draft pick in 2018. The rookie seems to hit one or two rockets every game. The Marines broke the game open in a four-run eighth off right-hander Tetsu Miyagawa, the Lions’ top draft pick last autumn.
Mune’s inside the parker sparks Buffs in 9th
Yuma Mune’s ninth-inning drive to the fence in right went for an inside-the-park home run, snapping a 3-3 tie for the Orix Buffaloes, who finished the night with a 6-3 win over the Rakuten Eagles at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Eagles right fielder Jabari Blash leaped to try and catch Mune’s drive off Eagles closer Kohei Morihara, but hit the wall awkwardly and was unable to give chase immediately while the speedy Buffalo circled the bases.
Buffaloes lefty Daiki Tajima allowed three runs over seven innings, while Eagles southpaw Takahiro Shiomi held the Buffaloes to a run over six innings.
The visitors took a 3-2 lead in the seventh against former Lion and Padre submariner Kazuhisa Makita. Aderlin Rodriguez opened with a home run to tie it.
With two outs and runners on the corners, the Buffaloes finally executed a play that has backfired on them twice over the past few games, the delayed double steal, with Mune scoring the go-ahead run on what might have been the biggest home plate collision in Japanese baseball since they were outlawed in 2016.
Catcher Yuichi Adachi crossed into Mune’s path to catch the ball, which struck the runner. Mune was ruled safe, and would have been ruled safe even if a tag had been made since NPB prohibits players from obstructing the baseline even with the ball in hand.
Tajima, however, surrendered the tying run in the bottom of the inning, setting up the thrilling finish. Brandon Dickson worked the ninth for Orix, earning his fifth save.
Dragons recall Takahashi, Carp drop Osera
The Chunichi Dragons activated their captain, Shuhei Takahashi on Saturday, while the Hiroshima Carp have deactivated ace right-hander Daichi Osera.
Takahashi suffered a mild left hamstring strain on July 11.
The 29-year-old was pulled after two innings from the Carp’s game on Friday in Yokohama due to an “accident” a catch-all phrase that could include any kind of incident or injury.
The Carp said later only that his “condition was not good.”
Osera threw a 116-pitch complete game on Opening Day and a 132-pitch complete game seven days later in a lop-sided win. Since then, he has surrendered 10 runs on 24 hits and six walks over 19 innings.
Meanwhile, the Seibu Lions have activated Venezuelan slugger Ernesto Mejia for the first time this season.
At MetLife Dome, Seibu won a pitcher’s duel over SoftBank. In the third game this season at MetLife Dome in which neither team scored more than two runs, Kona Takahashi went six innings, while Kyle Martin, Katsunori Hirai (4-1), and Tatsushi Masuda (15th save) finished up for the Lions.
Robert Suarez, who is being tested out as a starter this season, needed 105 pitches to get through four scoreless innings, and Seibu broke through for two runs in the eighth. Sosuke Genda singled and scored on a booming one-out Hotaka Yamakawa double. Yamakawa was safe on a single when he had no right to be but the Hawks couldn’t make the routine throw and tag.
The win moved the Lions to within four games of the first-place Hawks.
At Sapporo Dome, all the action occurred in the first and seventh innings. Rakuten broke a 1-1 tie in the seventh when Zelous Wheeler singled and scored, and Nippon scored three in the home half. The first Fighters run came when Kazuhari Ishii’s RBI double stuck in the right field wall for an “entitle two base” as they say in Japanese baseball English. Three batters later, Yuya Taniguchi’s pinch-hit double broke a 3-3 tie.
Eagles right-hander Takahiro Norimoto (2-2) allowed four runs in 6-1/3 innings. He struck out six and walked one. Frank Herrmann surrendered Taniguchi’s double, while Alan Busenitz worked a scoreless eighth for the Eagles.
Former Cleveland Indians pitcher Toru Murata had his best outing of the season, three scoreless innings of relief for Nippon Ham, and Ryo Akiyoshi saved his 18th for the Fighters.
At Zozo Marine Stadium, Orix took the lead in the first on an error and a high casual fastball from Hideaki Wakui that pint-sized slugger Masataka Yoshida knocked into the field seats in right-center for his 20th home run. Wakui (3-7) had a “you’re not supposed to swing at those high ones, dude” look.
Orix starter Taisuke Yamaoka (8-3) contributed to what was a night of fat pitches but fared better than Wakui. Being Japan, Orix manager Norifumi Nishimura brought out his closer with a four-run lead in the ninth and Brandon Dickson
At Tokyo Dome, Hiroshima’s Ryoma Nishikawa led off the game with his second first-inning leadoff homer in two days and his fourth of the month in the win over Yomiuri. Ryosuke Kikuchi followed with another and Kris Johnson (8-6) cruised. The lefty allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven scoreless innings.
Alex Guerrero belted a two-run home run for the Giants and came within a hair of tying it in the eighth when he lined into a double play with a runner on third. Geronimo Franzua who came on to face him finished up and got five outs and his sixth save.
Old fart bunt alert
The Pro Yakyu News cast couldn’t help from drooling a little bit when Giants manager Tatsunori Hara ordered young cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto to sacrifice with no outs and a runner on second while trailing by a run in the eighth inning.
Mitsuru Manaka: “Even though the Giants lost, about the eighth inning Yomiuri Giants manager Hara demonstrated his persistence by ordering Okamoto to bunt.”
Masaki Saito: “He was aiming to have a runner on third with one out.”
Manaka: “Manager Hara is willing to bunt isn’t he?”
??? : “In order to win, to get this game, he’ll really play small ball.”
Manaka: “Tomorrow is Game 3. I can’t wait. Wow. What a tenacious sacrifice.”
When I first started writing sabermetric guides to Japanese baseball 25 years ago, this stuff absolutely drove me nuts, and then it was nonstop. Now it’s only once a day or so, and I’ve built up something of an immunity.
At Yokohama Stadium, Toshiro Miyazaki’s one-out, bases-loaded single in the ninth broke a 3-3 tie and lifted DeNA past Yakult after the Swallows tied it in the eighth on a two-run Tetsuto Yamada home run.
BayStars starter Haruhiro Hamaguchi didn’t figure in the decision but was sharp, allowing a run over six innings.
The win moved the BayStars to within 3-1/2 games of the league-leading Giants.
Dragons 3, Tigers 2
At Koshien Stadium, 19-year-old Chunichi right-hander Takumi Yamamoto (1-1) allowed a run over six innings to earn his first pro win. Zoilo Almonte and Dayan Viciedo combined for five of the Dragons’ 11 hits against Hanshin.
The 1.67-meter (5’6″) Yamamoto said he hopes his first win is an inspiration to others.
“I don’t want to finish second best to pitchers who are bigger than me,” said Yamamoto. “This is just one win, but it means I faced up to it (the challenge). I think this may mean something to young kids playing ball, and maybe inspire them.”