Tag Archives: Wladimir Balentien

NPB 2020 8-6 games and news

Tigers’ late-comer Takahashi hamstrings Giants

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.

Active roster moves 8/6/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 8/16

Central League

Activated

TigersP29Haruto Takahashi

Dectivated

DragonsP28Kodai Umetsu

Pacific League

Activated

EaglesP1Yuki Matsui
EaglesP72Shun Ikeda
FightersP28Ryusei Kawano
BuffaloesP39Keisuke Kobayashi
BuffaloesP49Keisuke Sawada

Dectivated

HawksP29Shuta Ishikawa
EaglesP12Hiroki Kondo
EaglesP58Wataru Karashima
FightersP59Yuki Yoshida
BuffaloesP60Yu Hidarisawa
BuffaloesP68Yu Suzuki
BuffaloesIF9Koji Oshiro

Starting pitchers for Friday, Aug. 7, 2020

Pacific League

Fighters vs Lions: Sapporo Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Toshihiro Sugiura (3-1, 2.28) vs Zach Neal (2-1, 4.46)

Eagles vs Hawks: Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Takahiro Norimoto (3-3, 3.55) vs Nao Higashihama (2-0, 2.35)

Buffaloes vs Marines: Kyocera Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Tsubasa Sakakibara (1-1, 3.20) vs Ayumu Ishikawa (1-2, 4.23)

Central League

Swallows vs BayStars: Jingu Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Daiki Yoshida (0-1, 6.57) vs Taiga Kamichatani (0-0, 5.25)

Dragons vs Giants: Nagoya Dome 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Yudai Ono (1-3, 3.83) vs Kazuto Taguchi (2-0, 2.25)

Carp vs Tigers: Mazda Stadium 6 pm, 5 am EDT

Masato Morishita (2-2, 2.56) vs Koyo Aoyagi (4-1, 2.23)

NPB 2020 7-14 games and news

Senga makes do with less as Buffaloes stumble

A week after SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga made his belated season debut, his splitter remains a work in progress. But even without any obvious feel for it, Senga was still able to locate his high-velocity fastball, cutter and slider often enough to overcome an Orix Buffaloes team that booted its early opportunities in a 10-3 Hawks win at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.

Buffaloes lefty Andrew Albers was unable to locate his slider in the first and worked too carefully for his own good and was fortunate not to allow more than two runs. After walking Yuki Yanagita on four pitches to put two on with one out, Wladimir Balentien hit a good two-seam fastball on the outside edge and singled to center fielder Yuma Mune.

The Buffaloes outfielder misplayed the ball, allowing Yanagita to score and Balentien to take second. A walk and a bunt single loaded the bases but Albers struck out Nobuhiro Matsuda with a beauty of a changeup and jammed Kenji Akashi with a fastball inside to end the inning.

The Buffaloes evened it up in the bottom of the inning, thanks to four good two-out at-bats after leadoff man Kojji Oshiro led off with a walk. Singles by Adam Jones and Takahiro Okada, made it 2-1, and walks by Aderlin Rodriguez and Kenya Wakatsuki tied it. Ryoichi Adachi saw some mistakes up in the zone but was unable to do anything with them as Senga got out of the inning with the game tied.

Albers challenged Takuya Kai to open the second and the Hawks’ catcher doubled. Albers then did a poor job covering the bag on Ryoya Kurihara’s grounder to first, slowing as he neared the bag and letting the batter beat him to the base. Albers jammed Kenta Imamiya, but the ball fell in shallow center. It would have been a tough play but neither shortstop Adachi nor center fielder Mune committed to it, and that was, in short, the story of this game.

The Buffaloes looked more confident in their execution against another team that too often failed to execute routine plays, but against the Hawks, they looked just a little tight.

The Hawks batters succeeded in running up Albers’ pitch count, and it seemed that both he and Senga really only got warmed up after they hit the 50-pitch mark. He retired eight-straight hitters after Imamiya’s flare before giving up back-to-back triples in the fourth. Mune got to a ball off Imamiya’s bat and it would have been a heck of a catch, but it hit his glove and bounced away.

Yanagita then hit a ball too high off the left field wall for Okada to have a play on. By the time he got the ball back, Yanagita was on third and Albers was out of the game.

Albers (1-2) allowed four runs, three earned, on two walks and eight hits while striking out six. He doesn’t throw particularly hard, but he commanded his four-seam fastball, his two-seamer and change. The slider was effective after the first inning. It was more a case of lots of little things going wrong.

Once Albers was out of the way, the game was a piece of cake for the Hawks. Balentien singled off his replacement, Kazumasa Yoshida, and the Hawks took Orix’s bullpen to the bank.

Senga (2-0) did throw some good splitters, but more often than not, he could neither locate them or get them to tumble properly. But because Senga throws so hard and was able to locate his fastball and cutter better than he usually does, the absence of a reliable splitter was more an annoyance than a deal-breaker.

Seiji Uebayashi, who came on as a late substitute once the game was out of hand, and Kai, each belted a two-run home run for the Hawks.

Mima fans 7 as Marines beat Fighters

Manabu Mima (2-0) allowed two runs on six hits over seven innings while striking out seven, while Leonys Martin homered and had an RBI single in the Lotte Marines’ 5-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome.

Leadoff man Takashi Ogino reached base three times, stole two bases and scored two runs, while relievers Frank Herrmann and Naoya Masuda each supplied a scoreless inning to close it out.

The Fighters’ difficulties with execution returned home with them after an ugly week in Osaka as catcher Yushi Shimizu hit his pitcher while throwing to second on one steal attempt and missed third base on another.

Lefty Naoyuki Uwasawa (0-1) gave up five runs, three earned, on six hits and two walks over five innings.

Akiyama, Kinami push Tigers past Swallows

Takumi Akiyama (1-1) allowed three runs over six innings, while Seiya Kinami drove in three runs with a sac fly and a home run as the Hanshin Tigers beat the Yakult Swallows 6-3 at Koshien Stadium.

Akiyama paid the price for a pair of one-out walks in the first as both runners came around to score on a Munetaka Murakami single and a grounder to third.

The Tigers got to 40-year-old Swallows lefty for three runs in the fourth. Yoshio Itoi doubled, Justin Bour singled with one out and Jerry Sands walked. Catcher Ryutaro Umeno doubled in two, and Kinami’s sac fly made it 3-2.

The Swallows, who are without their top two catchers, Yuhei Nakamura and Motohiro Shima, got a game-tying home run from reserve catcher Akihisa Nishida in the top of the fifth, but Itoi singled home Koji Chikamoto with the tie-breaking run in the home half.

After Sands singled to open the sixth, Kinami then homered off right-hander Tomoya Hoshi, and three Tigers relievers, Yusuke Baba, lefty Suguru Iwazaki and Robert Suarez kept Yakult off the board the rest of the way. Suarez earned his second save.

Tiger pitcher asks fans for quiet

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, teams are only allowed to admit up to 5,000 fans and those have been instructed not to shout or engage in organized cheering. One hears lots of clapping, and when Tigers batters come to the plate at Koshien Stadium, one can distinctly hear thousands of fans chanting together softly.

But Koshien being Koshien and Tigers fans being enthusiastic, the hecklers, who are normally hard to hear above the constant white noise background produced by the cheering groups, were too audible for Tigers pitcher Iwazaki’s comfort according to a Daily Sports story.

During the eighth inning, the pitcher called time and informed umpire Tomiji Iizuka, who, according to the Hochi Shimbun, asked them to be quiet by saying, “You can’t speak in a loud voice.”

Sugano, Okamoto lead Giants win over Carp

Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano (3-0) tossed five shutout innings, and Kazuma Okamoto hit his sixth home run, a three-run, third-inning shot in Yomiuri’s 7-2 win over the Carp at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Tomoyuki Sugano

Carp right-hander Allen Kuri (1-1) escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam in the second, but issued a four-pitch leadoff walk to Sugano to open the third. A one-out walk and a Yoshihiro Maru double at his old home park put the Giants up by a run. Okamoto followed with a homer.

Gerardo Parra singled in a run for the Giants against new Carp D.J. Johnson in a two-error, three-run sixth.


Hara surpasses Nagashima’s win total

The win was the 1,035th of Giants manager Tatsunori Hara’s career. It moved him out of a tie with his mentor, Shigeo Nagashima, and into sole possession of second place in franchise history behind Tetsuharu Kawakami, who managed the “V-9” Giants — winners of nine-straight Japan Series championships from 1965 to 1973.

Hara, who barely failed to win election to the Hall of Fame for his playing career, sprinted in once voters were allowed to consider his other accomplishments during his three-year hiatus as Giants skipper from 2016 to 2018.

BayStars’ Onuki shuts down Dragons

Shinichi Onuki (1-2) allowed two runs over eight innings, while his teammates sent 10 men to the plate in a five-run fourth inning as the DeNA BayStars beat the Chunichi Dragons 5-3 at Nagoya Dome.

Onuki struck out six without a walk. He allowed an unearned run in the first, and surrendered 24-year-old Cuban catcher Ariel Martinez’s first home run for the top team. Martinez also singled in a run in the ninth to keep his average at .500.

Dragons right-hander Takumi Yamamoto (1-2) gave up five runs, three earned, over 3-2/3 innings on six hits and three walks. The Dragons had a golden opportunity to get out of the inning on a double play. Unfortunately with the in-the-neighborhood double play a thing of the past, second baseman Shun Ishikawa’s failure to touch second on the pivot allowed a run to score and the bleeding to continue.

Lots of little ups and downs

With the win, the BayStars have now become the first NPB team to have alternated wins and losses over a 15-game stretch, according to the Nikkan Sports.

Giants, Eagles swap pitchers

The Central League’s Yomiuri Giants and the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles announced a trade on Tuesday, with the Giants acquiring 28-year-old lefty Yuhei Takanashi in exchange for 22-year-old right-hander Hosei Takata.

It’s the second trade between the two clubs after the Eagles sent infielder Zelous Wheeler to Yomiuri in June for lefty Shun Ikeda.

The Daily Sports reported that Eagles general manager Kazuhisa Ishii is high on Takata’s potential, while noting Takanashi, a side-armer, will have an opportunity for more playing time with the Giants, who since their last trade have lost closer Rubby De La Rosa.

Takata led the Eastern league in wins and ERA in 2018.

Tigers’ Gunkel deactivated

The Hanshin Tigers deactivated right-hander Joe Gunkel on Tuesday after he felt lower back stiffness during pregame practice, Sponichi reported. A first-year-import, the 28-year-old Gunkel is 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA after his only start for the Tigers.

Active roster moves 7/14/2020

Deactivated players can be re-activated from 7/24

Central League

Activated

BayStarsIF38Kouki Yamashita
TigersP36Masumi Hamachi

Dectivated

TigersP49Joe Gunkel
DragonsIF3Shuhei Takahashi

Pacific League

Activated

MarinesP27Daiki Yamamoto
FightersP15Naoyuki Uwasawa
BuffaloesC33Masato Matsui

Dectivated

None

NPB 2020 7-5 GAMES AND NEWS

Martinez makes his mark in Dragons’ win

Ariel Martinez became the first import to start a game at catcher in one of NPB’s top leagues since June 1991 on Sunday and had three singles for the Chunichi Dragons in their 6-4 Central league win over the Yomiuri Giants.

The game highlights are HERE.

The 24-year-old Martinez, who was signed to a regular contract on July 1, had been with the Dragons since 2018 on a non-roster developmental deal, which allow up to three years of team control.

He was activated on Saturday, ostensibly because of left fielder Zoilo Almonte’s fitness issues. Martinez came off the bench at Tokyo Dome on Saturday, when he drew a walk and cut down a would-be base stealer.

Dayan Viciedo, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Cuba, homered twice, walked twice, singled and drove in four runs to power Chunichi’s offense, while 23-year-old right-hander Kodai Umetsu (2-1) allowed three runs over six innings to earn the win.

Umetsu scattered five hits and four walks while striking out seven, and went 2-for-3 with an RBI to raise his average to .500 for the season.

Giants starter Angel Sanchez (2-1) allowed three runs over two innings to take the loss.

Tigers’ Bour batters Carp

Justin Bour broke a 1-1 third-inning tie for the Hanshin Tigers with a grand slam in an 8-3 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Mazda Stadium.

Yusuke Oyama, who was starting at third and batting cleanup in place of Jefry Marte, who hurt a calf muscle on Saturday, hit a two-run homer in the fifth. Jerry Sands also went deep for the Tigers in the three-run inning.

Yuki Nishi (1-1), the Tigers’ Opening Day starter, allowed three runs over eight innings to earn the win. The right-hander struck out seven and walked one.

Taira, Soto lead BayStars rout of Swallows

Kentaro Taira struck out eight over seven scoreless innings to earn the win as the DeNA BayStars whipped the Yakult Swallows 8-1 at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.

Neftali Soto, who has won the CL home run title in each of his previous seasons in Japan, homered for the third time in two games with a fifth-inning grand slam.

Taira (2-0) allowed three hits but no walks.

Nomura lifts Fighters past Hawks

The Nippon Ham Fighters took a hammer to journeyman starting pitcher Akira Niho in a 5-3 win over the SoftBank Hawks at Sapporo Dome, with Yuki James Nomura breaking a 3-3 fourth-inning tie with his second career home run.

Niho (0-2) walked the first two batters he faced before surrendering RBI singles to Kensuke Kondo and Sho Nakata in a three-run first after his teammates opened the game with an unearned run off rookie Ryusei Kawano.

The rookie southpaw three primarily fastballs and sliders and missed barrels, but proved unwilling to challenge any of the Hawks big hitters and that proved costly.

He walked Yuki Yanagita with two outs in the first, and a good swing by Wladimir Balentien on a fastball well off the outside corner — he saw a lot of those this past week — was launched to the wall in center. Center fielder Haruki Nishikawa went to get it but failed to catch it for an error that scored Yanagita.

The Hawks tied it in the third when rookie Ryuhei Kuki turned on a straight inside fastball for his first career home run. A Kenta Imamiya double off the left field wall that Kensuke Kondo gloved after it struck the wall, and another walk to Yanagita brought up Balentien.

The former Dutch international slammed a 2-1 fastball, off the outside edge of course, to right. Right fielder Taishi Ota tried to make a leaping grab but missed. The ball hit the wall and Ota kicked it before recovering.

Yanagita tried to score from first but was nailed 9-4-2 thanks to an accurate throw from second baseman Ryo Watanabe and a super tag by catcher Yushi Shimizu.

The Fighters took the lead in the fourth on Yuki James Nomura’s second career home run. Watanabe singled in Kondo with Nippon Ham’s final run in the fifth.

Kawano struck out four and allowed four hits, but stayed away from his curve and change. His command was inconsistent but his fastball and slider were good enough to work with.

Yamamoto hits 4 in win over Lions

Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto worked seven innings and got plenty of run support in an 8-5 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.

Yamamoto (2-0) allowed two runs, one earned, on four hits. He hit four batters, including a record-tying three in one inning, and struck out four. A week after his secondary pitches deserted him, Yamamoto’s curve was back and he used it to effect.

He became the first pitcher to hit four or more batters and last more than six innings since the Hawks’ Kenichi Wakatabe on April 15, 1999. Daisuke Matsuzaka also did it in the 2006 playoffs — on Oct. 7, 2006 in his final game for the Seibu Lions before he signed with the Boston Red Sox.

Masataka Yoshida and Adam Jones each had three hits for the Buffaloes, while Takahiro Okada homered and drove in three runs. Aderlin Rodriguez singled, doubled, drove in two runs and walked twice.

Brandon Dickson earned his second save by getting the second batter he faced in the ninth to hit into a game-ending double play.

Asamura leaves Marine debris in his wake

Hideto Asamura hit his fourth home run of the series and his seventh of the season, a three-run, fifth-inning shot that broke a 1-1 tie and lifted the Rakuten Eagles to an 8-1 win over the Lotte Marines.

Trailing 1-0 in the third against former Eagle Manabu Mima (1-1), who joined Lotte as a free agent over the winter, former Lotte captain Daichi Suzuki, who moved to Sendai as a free agent, singled with two outs and scored on a Jabari Blash double.

Eagles starter Ryota Ishibashi (1-2) only struck out one batter over six innings, but only walked two and didn’t give up a hit after the first. Takashi Ogino doubled to open the game and scored on an Ikuhiro Kiyota double.

NPB 2020 7-4 GAMES AND NEWS

Sunday’s announced starting pitchers in NPB.

Wada gets assist from Fighters in 1st win

Former Cub Tsuyoshi Wada took a no-hitter into the seventh and ended up with his first win of the season as the SoftBank Hawks beat the Nippon Ham Fighters 8-3 at Sapporo Dome.

The 39-year-old lefty frequently missed in the zone, but the Fighters only hit two balls hard off him through six, both drives straight to Hawks outfielders. Instead of playing “see the ball, hit the ball” against a pitcher whose fastball sat at 85 miles per hour, they guessed and watched and looked and waited.

Wada’s changeup was first rate, and it was if the Fighters were waiting for him to throw it up in the zone, something he refused to do. Instead, whenever they got a fastball up they either watched it, missed it or miss-hit it. He surrendered his first hit to Kensuke Kondo to open the seventh.

The Fighters’ most patient hitter had taken strike after strike in the zone in his first two at-bats, and should have been rung up on a low 0-2 changeup. But umpires are umpires the world over, Kondo got a second life and pulled an inside 1-2 fastball between first and second for a single.

In the seventh, the Fighters changed tactics and began taking easy swings at mistakes in the zone. They loaded the bases with three no-out singles and Wada was gone.

“They are professional hitters. It wasn’t a matter of if they would get a hit, but when,” Wada said.

The Hawks opened the scoring in the first, when Kenta Imamiya homered with one out and none on against Takayuki Kato (0-1). Imamiya, on Friday moved into a tie for seventh all-time in career sacrifice hits with 300. Three straight hits, including a Wladimir Balentien double gave the Hawks the lead for good.

Here are the game highlights:

Kishi wins season debut

The Rakuten Eagles won a seven-inning rain-shortened 3-1 game over the Lotte Marines at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi. Takayuki Kishi (1-0) allowed a first-inning run over five innings in his season debut by pitching out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth.

Former Padre Kazuhisa Makita worked a scoreless sixth, and former Dodger JT Chargois pitched the seventh to earn his first save in Japan.

Here are the game highlights:

Yoshida homer lifts Buffaloes over Lions

Masataka Yoshida’s third home run of the season, a two-run shot in the eighth inning, brought the Orix Buffaloes from a run down and lifted them to a 4-3 win over the defending Pacific League champion Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo.

Buffaloes starter Daiki Tajima (1-0) had one brush with trouble and it cost him in a three-run fourth, capped by Takeya Nakamura’s two-run double. Aderlin Rodriguez’s fifth-inning solo homer made it a 3-1 game in the fifth and Tajima left after seven.

A one-out walk, a wild pickoff throw and an RBI single by Koji Oshiro made it a 3-2 game before Yoshida homered with two outs.

Tyler Higgins worked the eighth for Orix and Brandon Dickson closed in the ninth to record his first save of the season.

Maru drives in 6 as Giants whip Dragons

Yoshihiro Maru homered twice and added an RBI double as the Yomiuri Giants beat the Chunichi Dragons 7-3 at Tokyo Dome.

Hayato Sakamoto walked twice, homered, singled and scored three runs, while Gerardo Parra doubled twice and singled.

Marte, Bour rip as Tigers gut Carp

Jefry Marte hit a two-run first-inning home run off Carp ace Daichi Osera (2-1) in a 9-3 Hanshin Tigers win over the Hiroshima Carp at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.

Justin Bour had three hits for the Tigers and a sacrifice fly, while starting pitcher Yuta Iwasada (1-1) allowed three runs over six innings to earn the win.

Osera, who entered the game having opened the season with back-to-back complete-game victories, allowed five runs on eight hits over four innings. Osera failed to score or drive in a run on Saturday, but did single in his only at-bat, raising his average to .625.

Marte did not return to third base in the bottom of the third inning after complaining of tightness in his left calf.

Martinez 1st import to catch in 20 years

A day after being called up, 24-year-old Cuban catcher Ariel Martinez saw his first duty behind the plate on Saturday. Coming on as a sixth-inning pinch-hitter, Martinez walked, scored and stayed in to catch.

In so doing, he became the first imported player to catch in an NPB game since former Australian big leaguer Dave “Dingo” Nillson caught in one game for the Dragons in 2020. Prior to that, Mike Diaz caught 21 games for the Lotte Orions from 1990 to 1991.

Martinez, who joined Chunichi as a non-roster developmental signing in 2018, was signed to a standard contract this past week and added to the Dragons’ 70-man roster. He looked good behind the plate and threw out the first runner who tried to steal against him.

Swallows walk the walk

The Yakult Swallows overcame home runs by Neftali Soto and Jose Lopez by drawing seven walks in a 10-8 win over the DeNA BayStars, who outhit the Swallows 15-6.

Soto had four hits, including two homers, but Naomichi Nishiura and Norichika Aoki each hit two-run shots for the Swallows. Nishimura, who had lost his shortstop job to Alcides Escobar, has grabbed it back by hitting four homers in four games.

Swallows closer Taishi Ishiyama entered the ninth with a four-run lead but allowed two runs on Soto’s third home run of the year.

NPB 2020 7-3 GAMES AND NEWS

Saturday’s announced starting pitchers in NPB.

Sugano outduels Ono with 1-hitter

Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano struck out 11, while allowing one hit in a 5-0 shutout of the Chunichi Dragons on Friday at Tokyo Dome.

Sugano (2-0) walked two and hit a batter, while Ono (0-2) allowed two runs, one earned, while striking out 10 over seven innings. Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto broke up the scoreless game in the sixth inning with a solo homer.

Dayan Viciedo, who broke up Sugano’s no-hit bid with a seventh-inning double, ended the game by grounding out to second.

Ariel Martinez, a 24-year-old Cuban catcher who was activated on Friday after a hot streak in the Western League, struck out in the eighth as a pinch-hitter in his first-team debut.

Balentien makes Arihara pay

Wladimir Balentien broke a 1-1 tie at Sapporo Dome with a two-run home run, his third in two games, off Kohei Arihara (0-3) in the SoftBank Hawks’4-1 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Coming to the plate after Yuki Yanagita singled in the tying run, Balentien extended his arms on a lazy first-pitch slider and drove it well past the wall in center for his fifth home run of the season.

In the eighth, Balentien didn’t reach the seats, but he did double off the dome’s ceiling. The ball that was headed out was deflected downward and bounced in front of and over left fielder Kensuke Kondo.

Cuba’s Livan Moinelo worked a 1-2-3 ninth to earn the save.

Imamiya reaches sacrificial milestone

Although Hawks shortstop Kenta Imamiya has developed medium-range power, he’s still a shortstop and still expected to sacrifice like he did when he needed to cement his role on the team by bunting all the time.

On Friday, his sixth-inning sacrifice put a runner in scoring position, from where Yanagita singled him home. The 300th career sacrifice hit ties him for sixth all-time with former Nankai Hawks and Kintetsu Buffaloes star Hiromasa Arai.

Norimoto survives scrape for 3rd win

Takahiro Norimoto (3-0) got his pitching hand in the way of a fourth-inning batted ball but returned to the field after treatment and gutted it out for 6-2/3 innings to earn the victory in the Rakuten Eagles’ 3-1 win over the Lotte Marines.

The Marines tied it in the fourth on a passed ball, but home runs from Ryosuke Tatsumi and Hiroaki Shimauchi off Marines right-hander Ayumu Ishikawa (0-1) made the difference at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.

With two outs and the tying runs on in the seventh JT Chargois retired Lotte leadoff man Takashi Ogino to preserve the lead, and Alan Busenitz struck out two in a 1-2-3 eighth. Kohei Morihara worked a 1-2-3 ninth for his third save.

Lions salvage tie with Buffaloes

Takeya Nakamura homered and had a solid defensive game at third base as the Seibu Lions overcame a three-run, sixth-inning deficit at MetLife Dome outside Tokyo in their game against the Orix Buffaloes that was called a 4-4 tie after 10 innings.

Adam Jones tied the game 1-1 in the sixth with an RBI single and scored on Takahiro Okada’s monstrous home run off Lions starter Zach Neal. But Nakamura homered to open the sixth against former closer Hirotoshi Masui, and Sosuke Genda completed the comeback with a two-run single.

By taking Neal off the hook for the loss, the Lions preserved his chance to win 13 straight decisions.

Tyler Higgins and Brandon Dickson each worked scoreless innings in relief for the Buffaloes, with Dickson pitching out of a one-out bases-loaded jam by striking out Nakamura and getting Wu Nien-ting to fly to the warning track.

For the second-straight night new Lion Reed Garret pitched out of trouble after allowing two hits. He had some help from catcher Tomoya Mori, who cut down a would-be base stealer with a tremendous throw.

Dragons call up catcher Martinez

The Central League’s Chunichi Dragons activated Cuban catcher Ariel Martinez on Friday according to the Chunichi Sports. The team signed the 24-year-old on Wednesday after acquiring him in 2018 as a non-roster developmental player.

The move was made because 31-year-old left fielder Zolio Almonte was deactivated due to concerns about his fitness. In his two-plus seasons in Japan, Almonte has a .369 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging average despite playing at one of Japan’s toughest home run parks.

Martinez, who cracked his second Western League home run on Thursday, has four from 11 minor league and practice games this year. He becomes the first imported player registered as a catcher since Australian Dave Nillson, who caught in one game in 2000 for the Dragons.

In three WL games, Martinez is 5-for-9 with a double, two home runs and two walks. He has yet to strike out.

Martinez caught on June 24, when he accounted for the only run off Carter Stewart Jr, with a solo home run and again on Thursday, when he homered in an 8-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Nagoya Stadium.

Carp drop reliever Scott

The Hiroshima Carp deactivated right-handed first-year import Taylor Scott on Friday, the day after he surrendered four runs in a 9-5 walk-off loss to the Yakult Swallows.

Scott (0-2) has faced 22 hitters, while allowing 10 hits and three walks. He’s allowed one home run, Thursday’s game-winning grand slam off the bat of Munetaka Murakami.

NPB 2020 7-2 GAMES AND NEWS

Friday’s announced starting pitchers in NPB.

Fighters overcome Balentien bombs

Rick van den Hurk started for SoftBank and for the second-straight time his former Dutch interational teammate Wladimir Balentien homered twice behind him. Balentien drove in five runs but van den Hurk gave them back in a 9-8 walk-off loss to the Nippon Ham Fighters on Wednesday.

With two outs and two on in the ninth, Yuki James Nomura drove one off the wall to end it. The 20-year-old rookie also made up for a second-inning error with a second-inning home run.

A week after everything worked for him, a lot of van den Hurk’s pitches lacked their usual life as he surrendered five runs on seven hits and two walks over five innings.

That was enough to keep the Hawks in the game, however, as Fighters starter Drew VerHagen allowed six runs, four earned, over 4-1/3 innings. The combination of too many missed locations and too many good swings proved tough to overcome.

A hanging 2-2 changeup to Yuki Yanagita put an extra runner on for Balentien in the first, and with the Netherlands international looking for a second fastball outside, that’s where VerHagen missed, and gave Balentien a little more to celebrate on his 36th birthday as he drove it over the distant center field wall at Sapporo Dome for a three-run shot.

VerHagen appears to have good stuff. His fastball was crisp, and his slider sharp, so it’s probably more of getting a sense of what he needs to do against certain hitters.

Sho nakata homered in the first for the Fighters on a straight 2-2 fastball in the zone. Hawks leadoff hitter Ryuya Kurihara hit a two-run shot in the second for the Hawks after a two-out smash came off the heel of Nomura’s glove at third.

Nomura, who was born in the States, homered in the bottom of the second, and Kensuke Kondo, who walked and scored in the first, delivered a sac fly in the third to make it a 5-4 game. With SoftBank leading 6-5 in the seventh, Balentien homered again, but Fighters prospect Kotaro Kiyomiya matched him with a two-run shot.

Hawks closer Yuito Mori came on in the ninth. Kensuke Kondo, who entered the game tied for the league lead with 10 walks, drew his third of the game, on eight pitches, to open the inning. Tanaka singled.

With two outs and both runners in scoring position, Nomura drove a cutter in the heart of the zone to the wall to end it.

Spangenberg, Mori blast Buffaloes

New Lions leadoff man Corey Spangenberg, homered, tripled, singled, walked and scored three runs, while Tomoya Mori homered and drove in four runs as Seibu overcame an early two-run deficit to beat the Orix Buffaloes 9-5.

Lions reliever Reed Garrett entered in the eighth, having retired the last 13 batters he’d faced, but surrendered back-to-back hits. The right-hander then returned to form by retiring three straight and working his fifth-straight scoreless inning.

Spangenberg may have had a big night at the plate, but his first inning in the field was an adventure. He misplayed the hop on a ball hit in front of him in left. The ball got over his head for a double and then he kicked it to put leadoff runner Yuma Mune on third.

Martin, Inoue pace Marines

The Lotte Marines moved back into first place in the Pacific League with an 8-5 win over the Rakuten Eagles, at Sendai’s Rakuten Semei Park Miyagi. Leonys Martin and Seiya Inoue each homered and drove in three runs for the Marines.

Stefen Romero, who joined the Eagles over the winter, homered to tie it 2-2 in the bottom of the second but starting pitcher Takahiro Shiomi (0-2) surrendered six runs over 4-2/3 innings.

Marines starter Daiki Iwashita (2-0) allowed three runs, two earned, over five innings, while Frank Herrmann and Jay Jackson each worked a scoreless inning out of the Lotte bullpen.

Viciedo, Dragons rock former teammate

Dayan Viciedo belted a three-run homer off former teammate Onelki Garcia (0-2) and Raidel Martinez closed it out as the Chunichi Dragons beat the Hanshin Tigers 4-2 at Nagoya Dome.

“They’re in a bind. They want to get up there and advance runners with sacrifice bunts, but they just don’t have runners.”

–analyst Yutaka Takagi on the Hanshin Tigers’ offensive woes.

Swallows blast Carp

The Yakult Swallows overcame a four-run deficit on the strength of four homers in a 9-5 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Jingu Stadium, with 2019 CL rookie of the year Munetaka Murakami driving in five runs, four on a walk-off grand slam.

Naomichi Nishiura, who had homered to drive in the winning run twice this week, twice tied the game with home runs.

Ramirez’s best intentions prove costly

DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez’s fondness for the intentional walk cost him in a 5-3 loss to the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome. Japan’s annual leader in giving away first base put two on intentionally and both scored.

Giants right-hander Toshiki Sakurai (1-0) was punished for a couple of his mistakes, but he was able to mix, locate and execute some nasty curves and splitters, and the BayStars only managed one run off him in eight innings while striking out nine.

Tyler Austin walked, doubled and scored for the BayStars, while lefty Edwin Escobar worked a solid inning of relief for DeNA. Right-hander Spencer Patton, who had been lights out so far this season, got rocked for three runs in the eighth with the help of an intentional walk.

Austin to 1B as Ramirez sidelines Lopez

Tyler Austin, who has been in right-field this season for the Yokohama-based DeNA BayStars, will be at first base on Thursday night for the team’s Central League series finale against the Yomiuri Giants at Tokyo Dome, manager Alex Ramirez said before the game according to the Daily Sports.

The story reported Ramirez as saying that Lopez was hitless against Giants starter Toshiki Sakurai in eight at-bats, while outfielder Tomo Otosaka had a good track record at Tokyo Dome.

Austin has gotten his Japan career off to a good start, 13 hits in his first 34 at-bats for DeNA.

With Lopez inactive for the game, the BayStars will have Austin, two-time defending CL home run champ Neftali Soto and relievers Spencer Patton and Edwin Escobar available.

NPB 2020 6-25 games and news

Hooray for the Kingdom of the Netherlands

Rick van den Hurk and Wladimir “Coco” Balentien wreck the Seibu Lions in Pacific League action on Thursday. Van den Hurk took a no-hitter into the eighth, and Balentien, Japan’s single-season home run record holder, homered twice, his first since moving from the Central League over the winter.

“I want to thank my boy Coco for doing what he did tonight. Before the game he said ‘Let’s go, the Kingdom of the Netherlands boys, let’s put a good game together.'”

SoftBank Hawks pitcher Rick van den Hurk

Go to today’s LIVE BLOG.

Friday’s starters are HERE.

Wheeler now a Giant

Zelous Wheeler leves the Pacific League’s Rakuten Eagles on Thursday after five seasons in Sendai, where he was the first import in franchise history to reach 100 home runs. The right-handed-hitting 33-year-old moves to the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants in exchange for 27-year-old lefty Shun Ikeda, who was a junior member of the first team bullpen in 2017 and 2018.

Wheeler’s English language NPB page is HERE, while Ikeda’s is HERE.

Both clubs are off to solid starts, although as Jason Coskrey points out, that COVID-19 may have played a hand in the Giants decision. With the pipeline to overseas talent the Giants often depend on for midseason reinforcements currently severed, Yomiuri may be looking to acquire spare parts for the coming months.

The production of DH-right fielder Jabari Blash and the acquisition of free agent infielder Daichi Suzuki from the Marines has left Wheeler on the outside looking in.

Live blog: Lions vs Hawks

I had planned to go with the BayStars-Dragons game tonight, but don’t get the cable channel that covers the BayStars home games and they’ve pulled off the streaming service I subscribe to, so its back to MetLife Dome, amid the reservoirs overlooking Tokyo.

Go to NEWEST.

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

Top 1st

Keisuke Honda starting for the Lions tonight, and he’s a guy I liked quite a bit last year. An easy fly out to open the game, an easy grounder, and Yuki Yanagita skies one to the warning track for a 1-2-3 inning.

I’m due to appear on the Sports Information System podcast, on Thursday in the States I think, and the host asked me about who was good at framing pitches. Well I don’t know if Tomoya Mori is good at it, but he certainly looks like he got the first on Yanagita by yanking a ball into the zone.

Bottom 1st

Rick van den Hurk on the mound for the Hawks for another abbreviated season. Injuries in the spring and the summer limited him to two regular season starts in 2019.

He fans Corey Spangenberg with his spike curve to open the game, and then gets a fly out to left, where Wladimir Balentien is playing tonight for the second out. Mori rips a first-pitch fastball, but it goes straight to second baseman Keizo Kawashima.

Top 2nd

Honda misses in the heart of the plate with a 3-2 slider and Balentien drives it over the fence in left for his first Pacific League home run.

Yuya Hasegawa flies out on a high 1-0 fastball and beauty of a 2-strike changeup inside at the knees and Seiji Uebayashi looks at Strike 3 for the second out. Nobuhiro Matsuda grounds to short and we go to the bottom of the second. Hawks 1, Lions 0.

Bottom 2nd

Two-time PL home run king Yamakawa pops up a high fastball, and Shuta Tonosaki walks. But Takeya Nakamura hammers a low fastball to shortstop Kenta Imamiya, who was shading the slugger toward third and started an easy double play.

Top 3rd

Honda gets two quick outs to open the third, a 1-0 fly to left by Taisei Makihara, and a fly to center from Takuya Kai. Ryoya Kurihara, however, battles and draws a nine-pitch walk, and Kawashima singles up the middle to bring up Yanagita.

Yanagita fouls off the first two fastballs he sees, but lays off the next four pitches, the fourth being a 3-2 fastball over the inside corner for Strike 3.

Bottom 3rd

Lions veteran Takumi Kuriyama goes down looking at a fastball on the inside edge and doesn’t look any happier than Yangita did, but umpire Shoji Arizumi has been calling them there all night. Fumikazu Kimura grounds the first pitch to third, and Yuji Kaneko grounds to short.

Top 4th

Balentien goes about as deep as you can go in his second at-bat, blasting a lazy fastball up and over the plate to the walkway behind the left-field stands. Coco 2, Lions 0.

But Honda has little trouble after that. Hasegawa strikes out swinging at a high fastball. Uebayashi grounds a changeup to second, and Matsuda misses a low 0-2 curve.

Bottom 4th

Spangenberg grounds out and Sosuke Genda gets jammed on a first-pitch fastball and flies out to center. Van den Hurk overpowers Mori, who hits a come-backer and we’re going to the fifth.

Top 5th

Tonosaki at second base well positioned to scoop a hard-hit grounder from Makiharafor the first out. Two easy flies from Kai and Kurihara make it 1-2-3.

Bottom 5th

Another 1-2-3 inning for van den Hurk as the Lions cannot get the barrel on the ball as he locates with the fastball and mixes in that slider and his curve.

Top 6th

Shota Hamaya, the Lions’ second draft pick last autumn out of the corporate leagues relieves Honda, and surrenders a leadoff homer to 1.73-meter Keizo Kawashima. Hawks 3, Lions 0. Hamaya issues a two-out walk to Yuya Hasegawa, but gets out of further trouble.

Bottom 6th

A groundout and two strikeouts against the Lions tail, and van den Hurk has now faced the minimum thanks to the second-inning double play.

Top 7th

A 1-2-3 for Hamaya against the bottom of the Hawks lineup.

Bottom 7th

Van den Hurk has needed 63 pitches through six, but no matter how easy he’s making it look, this lineup isn’t easy. Spangenberg hits a high changeup in the air to short. Genda and Mori both strike out swinging, and van den Hurk has seven on the night.

Top 8th

Three up, three down for Hamaya and we’re back to the star of the show for the bottom of the eighth.

Bottom 8th

Middle of the Lions lineup, and Hotaka Yamakawa swings and misses at a high fastball for Strike 1. He can’t hold up on a slider on the outside corner and its Strike 2. Yamakawa then hammers a high pitch out of the zone. Van den Hurk deflects it as it bounces past. Kawashima grabs it but can’t throw Yamakawa out at first and the no-hitter is no more.

Tonosaki grounds into a force, giving the Lions speed on the bases, but not quite enough to score when Takeya Nakamura finds the gap in right center for a double.

Kuriyama, a grinder who always dictates his at-bats, has looked lost tonight. A 1-0 curve catches the outside for a strike. Van den Hurk misses low with a fastball and way outside with a curve. A slider in the zone fouled back and it’s 3-2. He tops a breaking ball in the heart of the zone back to the pitcher, who gets the easy out. Hawks 3, Lions 1.

And that’s all for van den Hurk. Cuban lefty Livan Moinelo is on with a runner at third and two outs.

And we have a game. Kimura smashes a breaking ball between third and short to plate Nakamura, and the tying run is on. Hawks 3, Lions 2.

No. 9 hitter Yuji Kaneko up and quickly behind 0-2. Moinlo misses with two fastballs before whiffing Kaneko with another.

Top 9th

In relief of their second-round pick last year, the Lions bring in their top pick, Tetsu Miyagawa. The right-hander strikes out Balentien, but Hasegawa tattoos a pitch in the middle of the zone for a single.

Pinch runner Daiki Mimori on and steals second, and Uebayashi grounds to first. Matsuda barely gets the barrel on a curve and Kaneko can’t make the catch as he races in from center. Hawks 4, Lions 2.

Makihara walks and the Hawks have two on and a chance to put this game out of reach, and it’s battling Keizo Kawashima. But Miyagawa keeps the pesky right-handed hitter from doing any damage and we go to the bottom of the ninth.

Bottom 9th

Closer Yuito Mori on in the ninth to face the top of the Lions order. Mori falls behind gets Spangenberg to ground out on an offspeed pitch. Genda strikes out swinging and Ukyo Shuto, in left for Balentien gloves it for the win.

Final score: Hawks 4, Lions 2

Open and shut: March 4, 2020 – Full house in the Casa de PayPay

Steve Martin’s career in stand up comedy picked up as I was finishing high school and starting college, and as such his humor left a mark. One routine was about Americans’ aversion to French’s large number of difficult vowel sounds. In contrast, he presented Spanish, using the sentence: “Where is Pepe’s house? or Donde esta casa de Pepe?”

Thanks to the SoftBank Hawks’ use Fukuoka Dome to advertise SoftBank group companies, it has been Yahoo! Japan Dome, Yafuoku Dome (Yahoo! Auctions Dome). From this year it has been labeled “PayPay Dome” to represent the recently launched online billing company. It’s not identical to Martin’s famous casa, but it’s close enough that I can’t get it out of my pea brain. So for the time being I can’t think of Fukuoka Dome as anything but the Casa de PayPay.

Welcome Matt!

On Wednesday, journeyman major league starting pitcher Matt Moore struck out five of the 10 batters he faced as the SoftBank Hawks showed off their pitching depth in an 8-1 preseason win over the Central League’s Yakult Swallows.

Moore’s fastball sat at 150 kph (93.2 mph) and he complimented that with his slider and a changeup and had generally good command of his pitches, making him a strong candidate for the Hawks’ starting rotation.

The game highlights are HERE.

If Moore executes his secondary pitches, he’s going to be a success in Japan. His outing came in relief of former ace lefty Tsuyoshi Wada, who other than winning the final game of last year’s Japan Series, has not been that fit over the last three seasons.

Wada gave up a solo homer on a mistake but struck out five over four innings. Rick van den Hurk, who appeared in just three games last season, was sharp on Tuesday. That means that while the Hawks appear capable of overcoming season-opening injury to 2019 rookie of the year Rei Takahashi, they are going to have tough decisions to make regarding their import players.

Teams are allowed four active foreign-registered players. New acquisition Wladimir Balentien does not count against the limit by virtue of nine years of service time, but that still leaves the Hawks with van den Hurk, Moore, lefty reliever Livan Moinelo, infielder-outfielder Yurisbel Gracial and designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne. Further complicating things is the return of closer Dennis Sarfate, who has missed most of the last two seasons.

The kotatsu league: Balentien moves to PL powerhouse Hawks

Dutch international slugger Wladimir Balentien has joined the SoftBank Hawks, the Pacific League club announced Monday. The 35-year-old Balentien will not count against the team’s four-man foreign-registered player limit because of his nine years in NPB.

The 35-year-old Balentien, who hit 60 home runs in 2013 and became only the second player to win a Central League MVP without his team winning the pennant. He broke Japan’s single-season record of 55 first set in 1964 by Hall of Famer Sadaharu Oh and subsequently tied by Tuffy Rhodes in 2001 and Alex Cabrera in 2002.

According to Kyodo News, Balentien’s deal is for two years and will pay him 500 million yen (roughly $4.5 million) next season.

The Hawks are three-time defending Japan Series champs. No PL team has ever won four straight. Balentien will wear No. 4, which until now had belonged to his former Yakult Swallows teammate Keizo Kawashima.

Value

The table below gives Balentien’s career wOBA and win shares in Japan with his WAR and wOBA rankings since 2014 — the first year Delta Graphs tracks them for. The WAR rankings are for hitters, the win share ranks are for all NPB players.

YearwOBA – NPB rankWin Shares – NPB rankWAR – NPB rank
2011.33517.1 – 29th
2012.40722.1 – 11th
2013.50432.9 – 1st
2014.435 – 1st15.3 – 41st3.1 – 22nd
2015.2941.5 – 323rd-0.3
2016.388 – 8th18.9 – 26th2.3 – 34th
2017.380 – 11th8.8 – 106th2.0 – 39th
2018.391 – 19th19.3 – 26th0.7 – 54th
2019.400 – 8th16.4 – 33rd1.9 – 43rd

The Hawks also announced they have reached an agreement with pitcher Rick van den Hurk on a one-year contract for 2020. Van den Hurk is entering his sixth NPB season. He pitched just three times during the regular season and started Game 3 in the Hawks’ four-game Japan Series sweep over the Yomiuri Giants.

Swallows poised to sign pitcher Koch

The Yakult Swallows have reached an agreement on a one-year contract with 29-year-old right-hander Matt Koch, Kyodo News reported Monday.

Koch is 8-8 in his major league career with 4.88 ERA over 125-1/3 innings for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has a 6.44 ERA over four Triple-A seasons with the Pacific Coast League’s Reno Aces, about 0.8 runs higher than the team’s ERA during that span.

In 246 innings at Triple A, he’s struck out 5.9 batters per nine innings, while walking 2.3. With Yakult, he’ll be teamed up with another former Diamondback, pitching coach Takashi Saito.

The kotatsu league: Tigers sign minor league righty Gunkel

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.