Tag Archives: Yohei Kokubo

Sasaki had elbow issue before start

Ofunato High School manager Yohei Kokubo, who was criticized by some in Japan for not throwing his ace pitcher Roki Sasaki two days in a row after he had thrown 332 pitches over four days, but not criticized for having him throw 194 pitches last Sunday, may have a new headache.

100-mph pitcher told medical staff of issues

The Nikkan Sports is reporting Friday morning that Sasaki, who has been clocked at 100 mph and has been followed by at least 20 of 30 MLB teams told the medical staff prior to Wednesday’s Iwate Prefecture semifinal that he felt discomfort in the inner part of his right elbow.

Sasaki, who hit 99.4 mph in the fourth inning of Sunday’s 12-inning, fourth-round game, threw 129 pitches in the semifinal. Manager Kokubo, who had previously treated his star carefully, held him out Thursday’s final — a 12-2 loss to local powerhouse Hanamaki Higashi HS, due to muscle stiffness. Something that flies in the face of Japanese high school baseball tradition, where, it seems, nothing short of death is an excuse to keep your best pitcher off the mound in a big game.

Sasaki threw 435 pitches over 4 games

In 29 innings over four games of Iwate’s prefectural tournament, Sasaki threw 435 pitches over 29 innings. He allowed two runs on nine hits and struck out 51 batters.

Before that last game, he had apparently not recovered fully from Sunday’s marathon and told the Iwate Prefecture High School Baseball Federation’s medical staff about the discomfort.

Despite that, he pitched and showed no ill effects, hitting close 98 mph with ease in his loose relaxed motion.

That is the problem in Japanese amateur ball in a nutshell. Pitchers whose arms are in danger may still be able to pitch effectively — but in so doing may push their elbow ligaments past the breaking point.

The Nikkan Sports writer asserts that there was “only a small chance of the injury getting worse” but he is asserting something that even a thorough examination could ascertain.

Former manager: ‘I would have thrown him,’ but…

A story on Asahi.com asked Shinichi Sawada, the former manager of Iwate Prefecture’s Morioka Dai Fuzoku HS about Kokubo’s decision, and Sawada praised the choice of holding Sasaki out to protect his arm, saying he could not have made that choice.

“It was a brave decision,” Sawada said. “If it had been me, I would have said, ‘I’m counting on you,’ and sent him out there.”

Yet, Sawada applauded it.

“Even if the player wants to go, it’s the coach’s job to protect the children’s future,” Sawada said. “Until now the dogma has been training kids to have guts through an absolute focus on winning. But going forward, we have to respect the rights and wants of the students. I think manager Kokubo is the picture of the new age manager.”

Sawada recommended the regional tournaments switch to round robins from the current knockout style in order to reduce the number of games on the top teams.

High schooler Sasaki in good hands

With Ofunato High School manager Yohei Kokubo now limiting access to hard-throwing senior Roki Sasaki after word of his 100 mile-per-hour pitching feats spread, the Nikkan Sports’ Shinji Kaneko wrote a short column about the manager himself, which you can find HERE.

At first glance, Kokubo, 32, appears to be the kind of coach that reformers seeking to change Japan’s soul-crushing youth baseball culture long for. Kokubo played independent minor league ball in America. He strives to maintain his players’ enthusiasm in an environment that really tests children’s enthusiasm for the game.

Out of concern for Sasaki’s health, Kokubo has had him undergo a bone density test, and said, “He doesn’t have the mature physique capable of holding up to throwing really hard.”

Kaneko writes that the Ofunato lacks the brow-furrowing intensity of other schools.’

“It’s interesting to watch the Ofunato bench. The players’ expressions are animated, and this was seen in a practice game. You don’t see the manager lose his temper. When one of his hitters fell behind in a count, Kokubo shouted from the bench, ‘Go down looking, strike out swinging. Either is OK,’ causing even the opposing team’s supporters to burst into laughter. The batter responded by getting a hit

Shinji Kaneko, May 3, 2019 in the Nikkan Sports

“I don’t want them to hate baseball,” Kokubo said.

This radical stuff in Japan stems from the inspiration Kokubo drew from watching the Mexican national team practice during the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

“When a pitcher goes to the mound, you never know when he’s going be hurt,” Kokubo said. “It really worries me.”

Sasaki pitched on Friday in the Iwate Prefectural spring tournament, but Kokubo said he was conflicted about using him until the last minute. The pitcher is now being shadowed by most major league teams, and the skipper feels the youngster ‘now carries a heavy burden of fate.’

Sasaki for his part has said, “I have a deep respect for the manager’s thought process over our play. I think that’s why I can play so positively.”