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.