I mentioned this in today’s newsletter, which is only available to free and paid subscribers and people who sign up for it using the form at the bottom of this post, but for a week now, non-resident pro baseball and soccer players and coaches have been able to enter Japan under a government visa-entry exemption that is generally used for emergency workers in disasters that uses Japan’s hosting this summer’s Olympics as the rationale behind that nonsense.
So this past weekend, the BayStars guys all arrived — including new import Fernando Romero, who tested positive for the coronavirus at Narita Airport.
Today’s headlines are filled with the flood of new arrivals, as all the non-resident “emergency” players began arriving.
Sawamura Award-winning lefty Yudai Ono was named to start for the Chunichi Dragons at Nagoya’s Vantelin Dome against the Giants on Tuesday against Angel Sanchez, so it will be fun to watch what adjustments opponents make to him this year.
The Carp-Tigers matchup should be good, too, with two of last season’s best pitchers, Hiroshima’s 2020 rookie of the year Masato Morishita and Hanshin’s Yuki Nishi.
(All results given are for 2020)
Fighters vs Lions: Sapporo Dome 6:30 pm, 5:30 am EDT
Chunichi Dragons lefty Yudai Ono was named the winner of the 2020 Eiji Sawamura Award on Monday in Tokyo. As predicted, the 32-year-old made the five old pitchers’ hearts on the selection committee flutter with his 10 complete games and six shutouts, despite a pedestrian win-loss record of 11-6.
The award goes to the most impressive starting pitcher from Japan’s two leagues, thus it is similar to but not quite analogous to MLB’s Cy Young Award.
““Getting an award like this is something that seemed beyond my grasp both as an amateur and even after I turned pro. It feels like it can’t be happening.“
–Chunichi Dragons pitcher Yudai Ono on winning the Sawamura Award.
Ono led the Central League in strikeouts with 148, one shy of tying for the Japan lead with SoftBank Hawks ace Kodai Senga and Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Ono led both leagues in innings pitched, ERA, complete games and shutouts.
There was a lot of sentiment for Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano because of the committee’s parallel obsession with win totals as the right-hander went 14-2 and set this year’s stupidest Japan record — the most consecutive decisions won from the start of the season by an Opening Day starter.
Several voters were willing to name both Ono and Sugano, but the sentiment toward picking “the best one” prevailed. Other pitchers were considered, but they lacked the sexy win total of Sugano and complete game total of Ono.
The other pitchers named were Hiroshima Carp rookie Masato Morishita and three 11-game winners from the Pacific League, Senga, his Hawks teamamte Shuta Ishikawa, and Rakuten Eagles veteran Hideaki Wakui.
This year’s Sawamura Award selection committee members were: Tsuneo Horiuchi, Manabu Kitabeppu, Choji Murata, Hisashi Yamada and Masaji HIramatsu.
The award has been open to players from both leagues since 1990, when Hideo Nomo became the first PL pitcher to win. Sugano won in 2017 and 2018, but no winner was named in 2019 for the first time since 2000.
Although the PL has dominated competition between the two leagues over the previous 16 years, no PL pitcher has won since 2014. From 2005 to 2014 however, nine of the 10 winners were PL pitchers.
Yudai Ono, who appears to be a lock to win the Eiji Sawamura Award as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, will not exercise his right to file for domestic free agency, a source told Kyodo News on Wednesday and will remain with the Central League’s Chunichi Dragons.
The Tokyo Chunichi Sports reports the 32-year-old lefty, who has been on some MLB teams’ radar, has agreed in principle to a three-year extension worth 300 million yen a year ($2.9 million), with additional performance incentives.
Swallows want to ground Yamada
The famously penurious Yakult Swallows have offered star second baseman Tetsuto Yamada a seven-year deal worth 4.5 billion yen ($43 million) a source has told Sponichi Annex.
The 28-year-old was the Central League’s 2015 MVP when he put up one of the most valuable season in NPB history. Three times he’s batted .300 with 30 home runs and 30 steals, something no other player has done more than once.
Yamada is eligible to file for domestic free agency. The Osaka native grew up a fan of the Yomiuri Giants, who one assumes might be happy to match that offer in order to have him hold down second base — not that manager Tatsunori Hara would be happy with anyone at second base, but that’s another story.
JBF moves to qualify youth coaches
The Baseball Federation of Japan announced Monday it will introduce a “certified baseball coach” qualification system for those coaching children under the age of 12 in either hardball or rubber “nanshiki” leagues according to the Nikkei Shimbun.
The certification will require applicants study — among other things, sportsmanship, training methods, and injury prevention. Japanese youth ball, with its focus on intense year-round practice and weekend tournaments, has long been a concern for reformers, who say many of Japan’s most talented players are wiped out as youngsters after suffering injuries that could easily have been prevented.
In its first guise, the qualifications will be voluntary, but the federation hopes they will become mandatory in the future, while expanding the qualification courses to other age groups.
Fujinami hits high note
Shintaro Fujinami had a good night at Koshien Stadium, striking out nine over five innings in a pitching duel against the DeNA BayStars’ Shinichi Onuki, who wrapped up his solid season with nine strikeouts over seven scoreless innings. The Tigers won 1-0, with former ace Atsushi Nomi getting the save.
Nomi, whom the Tigers said they will cut, got a farewell ceremony, while DeNA manager Alex Ramirez, who will be stepping down, received flowers from classy Tigers skipper Akihiro Yano.
Yanagi comes oh so close
Yuya Yanagi’s bid for a shutout crumbled in the ninth inning after he issued a two-out walk. The Chunichi Dragons right-hander surrendered two runs over 8-2/3 innings to improve to 6-7 in a 3-2 win over the Hiroshima Carp at Mazda Stadium.
Carp right-hander Allen Kuri (8-6) ended a solid season with a complete-game loss, while the Carp’s Ryosuke Kikuchi became the first second baseman in Japanese pro baseball history to make no errors in a season.
Active roster moves 11/11/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/21
Things went south in a hurry for Nao Higashihama, and the Lotte Marines exploited their advantage to pick up a crucial 6-1 win over the SoftBank Hawks on Thursday at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium to stay in the Pacific League playoff picture.
Higashihama (9-2) needed two big plays from Yusuke Masago. The Hawks center fielder saved two runs by making a catch against the wall in the second inning, but couldn’t quite haul in Hisanori Yasuda’s two-out fifth-inning fly to the gap in left.
The Marines came from a run down in the inning after Seiya Inoue, who was robbed by Masago in the second, got justice with a one-out broken-bat single. With first baseman Kenji Akashi holding the big Marine at first, Yudai Fujioka bounced one over his head to put two on. With two outs, a decent 0-2 fastball drifted into the heart of the zone, and the rookie Yasuda put a good swing on it, driving it to left center. Masago came up short and the ball bounced to the wall. Fujioka, who had to hesitate on the play scored on a close play at the plate.
Trailing 2-1 in the sixth, Higashihama gave up a one-out single and three two-out walks.
Manabu Mima (10-4) allowed an unearned run in the third. With two on and two outs, he gloved a liner from Yuki Yanagita but lost control of the ball. He retrieved it and threw wide to first, scoring the Hawks’ only run of the game. With the tying run at the plate in the form of slugger Alfredo Despaigne, Hirokazu Sawamura came in and struck out the big Cuban on four straight splitters. The Marines’ lucky two-run fifth snapped a 28-scoreless-inning streak since Lotte scratched him for a run in the Hawks’ 5-1 win on Oct. 10.
Eagles ride late rally
Thirty-two-year-old veteran Ginji Akaminai and rookie Hiroto Kobukata each doubled in a ninth-inning run off Taiwan right-hander Chang-Yi (2-4) as the Rakuten Eagles broke up a 2-2 tie to beat the Orix Buffaloes 4-2 at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Former Padre Kazuhisa Makita (2-2) earned the win, and lefty Yuki Matsui earned his second save as he transitions back to the bullpen after spending the first half of the season transitioning to the starting rotation. Longtime starter Wataru Karashima, who spent the first half of the season in the bullpen, allowed two runs over seven innings in which he struck out 10, walked one and allowed five hits.
Ono earns Dragons an ‘A’
Sawamura Award winner in waiting Yudai Ono (11-6) struck out seven and walked one over seven innings to pitch the Chunichi Dragons to a 2-0 win over the DeNA BayStars at Nagoya Dome. The win clinched the Dragons’ first top-three “A-class” finish since 2012.
That 2012 second-place finish came under the late Morimichi Takagi in the first year after the club fired their best manager ever, Hiromitsu Ochiai, for not being fan friendly, and three years after the team’s parent company began cutting spending in the wake of the downturn in Japan’s newspaper business.
Ono leads the CL with a 1.82 ERA, 148 strikeouts, 10 complete games, six shutouts and 148-2/3 innings.
Speedy Murakami swipes 3 in 1 inning
Munetaka Murakami raised his career stolen base total to 16 with three in the second inning of the Yakult Swallows’ 8-7 loss to the Hanshin Tigers.
The steals came in his 265th career game, as he became the 17th player in Japan to manage the feat. The 20-year-old cleanup hitter singled, took second on the next pitch, stole third as part of a double steal. He stole home when the Tigers tried to pick off his teammate at second.
The feat hadn’t occurred in the CL since 1953. It last happened in Japan when Nippon Ham’s Makoto Shimada did it in 1979.
The Tigers overcame a seven-run implosion by right-hander Yuki Nishi.
Chono leads Carp, Sakamoto inches closer
Former Giant Hisayoshi Chono hit his 10th home run and set up the winning run with a 10th-inning leadoff single as the Hiroshima Carp came from behind to beat Yomiuri 5-4 at Hiroshima’s Mazda Stadium.
Giants captain Hayato Sakamoto belted his 18th home run in the sixth inning. The two-run shot tied it 2-2 and moved Sakamoto within two hits of 2,000 for his career.
Government slams ‘Tazawa Rule’
Japan’s government announced Thursday that it was a day late and a dollar short. According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the fair trade commission said it suspected Nippon Professional Baseball’s Tazawa Rule was a violation of Japan’s antimonopoly act.
NPB gave up on the rule this summer, and the FTC said it has dropped its investigation. The biggest surprise is less that the FTC dropped its inquiry than the realization that Japan actually has an antimonopoly law.
The rule in question was created in 2008 in the days before Tazawa, a top amateur prospect with corporate club Japan Energy, signed with the Boston Red Sox. The rule was aimed at players who turned pro overseas, and prohibited Japanese clubs from signing them after they returned to Japan for a period of two-to-three years.
The whole thing was riddled with irony, no less because the rule was put into place about the same time that lefty reliever Tetsuya Yamaguchi was named Central League rookie of the year. Yamaguchi had turned pro in the United States, where he played rookie ball in Missoula, Montana.
The rule may have influenced high school pitchers Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani as they chose to remain in Japan after declaring their intent to go overseas.
NPB did away with the Tazawa rule this summer when he returned to Japan and joined the Musashino Heat Bears of the independent Baseball Challenge League.
In retrospect, the rule negatively impacted Tazawa and NPB, while limiting the options of two other players who were keen on turning pro with a major league club, Yusei Kikuchi and Shohei Ohtani.
The rule prevented Tazawa from choosing to enter NPB’s 2019 draft rather than accept a camp invite with the Cincinnati Reds. It also prevented Japan from selecting him in the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classic.
The 2013 squad, Japan’s first not to reach the final, was prohibited from selecting Tazawa, despite both head coach Masataka Nashida and pitching coach Tsuyoshi Yoshida saying how useful his participation would have been.
By getting rid of the rule, it made Tazawa eligible to be drafted last October, but no teams even took a flyer on him–a common practice when a player has broken one of the owners’ unwritten rules. Players of known quality who leave their teams in contract disputes have historically been ignored.
Martin re-enlists with Marines
Outfielder Leonys Martin, who is currently out with an ankle sprain and is expected to miss most or all of the postseason if the Lotte Marines qualify, has agreed to a two-year extension, ESPN’s Enrique Rojas has reported.
The deal according to Rojas is worth $6 million. The 32-year-old joined Lotte just before last year’s July 31 new-signing deadline joined Lotte just before last year’s July 31 new-signing deadline. Since then, he has made a big contribution with his powerful arm and his home run pop.
Although his numbers have been remarkably consistent since he arrived, his on-base percentage has jumped in 2020 because he is leading both of Japan’s leagues in being hit by pitches with 17, in 448 plate appearances.
Active roster moves 11/5/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/15
Chunichi Dragons lefty Yudai Ono (10-5) went the distance for the 10th time on Thursday to win a 1-0 nail-biting Central League win over the DeNA BayStars at Nagoya Dome.
Ono allowed six hits but no walks while striking out six. He also started two double plays, made a slick behind-the-back catch for the second out of the ninth inning and notched a big strikeout to end the eighth inning after the BayStars put two runners in scoring position.
After winning a tough battle to strike out pinch-hitter Taishi Kusumoto with his 111th pitch, the extraordinarily cool Ono slapped his glove and pumped his fist as he returned to the dugout.
The Dragons loaded the bases with no outs in the first against BayStars starter Kentaro Taira (3-5) but only managed to score on a Dayan Viciedo sacrifice fly.
Taira allowed four hits and a walk while striking out six over seven innings. Edwin Escobar worked a scoreless ninth for the BayStars.
Okamoto powers Giants past Swallows
Yomiuri Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto homered and drove in three runs while Angel Sanchez (8-3) and three relievers combined on a four-hit 6-0 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Swallows rookie Daiki Yoshida (2-7) took the loss, allowing four runs in two-plus innings. He walked in the game’s first run with a bases-loaded walk to Zelous Wheeler.
Carp’s Yabuta ends victory drought
Kazuki Yabuta (1-2) allowed two runs over six innings to earn his first win in two seasons, and Jose Pirela put the game on ice with his 11th home run, a three-run shot in the ninth as the Hiroshima Carp beat the Hanshin Tigers 9-5 at Koshien Stadium.
Pirela was walked intentionally in the Carp’s two-run first and also doubled and singled. Fumiya Haraguchi hit a three-run pinch-hit homer for the Tigers to make it a 6-5 game in the sixth.
Moore pitches Hawks to 11th straight win
Matt Moore (6-3) struck out 10 over seven scoreless innings to outpitch 19-year-old rookie Kosei Yoshida (0-1) in a 4-2 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sapporo Dome.
The win was the Hawks’ 11th straight as the three-time defending Japan Series champs drive toward their first Pacific League pennant in three years. The win, and the Marines’ loss, dropped SoftBank’s magic number to clinch to six.
Yoshida, the standout pitching star of the 2018 national high school championships at Koshien, was the Fighters’ second pick that year. He went 1-3 in four starts last season. On Thursday, he allowed four runs, two earned, in six innings.
Hawks closer Yuito Mori, pitching for the first time in nine days—when the Hawks last had a save opportunity to give him—allowed Sho Nakata’s 30th home run with one out before earning his 28th save with the potential tying runs on base.
Neal, Spangenberg, Tonosaki hold off Marines
Zach Neal (5-7) allowed a run in five innings, and was backed by a two-run Corey Spangenberg home run and a three-run Shuta Tonosaki blast in the Seibu Lions’ 7-4 win over the Lotte Marines at MetLife Dome.
Marines lefty Kazuya Ojima (7-8) allowed six runs over five innings. The Marines came back in a three-run sixth against Reed Garrett, but Tetsu Miyagawa, Ryosuke Moriwaki and Kaima Taira finished up with one scoreless inning apiece. After a couple of shaky outings, regular closer Tatsushi Masuda was given a breather as the rookie Taira earned his first save of the season and the second of his career.
Ernesto Mejia doubled to lead off the eighth to set up a Lions insurance run. In addition to his home run, Sotozaki singled, doubled, was hit by a pitch and contributed to the Marines’ tying the game 1-1 with an error in the outfield.
Romero blasts Buffaloes
Stefen Romero homered twice walked and drove in four runs as the veteran right-hander Takayuki Kishi (5-0) overcame a three-run Adam Jones home run in the Rakuten Eagles’ 6-3 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Romero’s 22nd home run, a three-run shot off lefty Daiki Tajima (4-6) made it 5-0 in the fifth innings. Adam Jones went deep off Kishi with his 12th homer in the top of the sixth. Romero hit his 23rd in the eighth off Yu Suzuki to complete the scoring.
Nomi joins Fukudome inTigers checkout line
Hanshin Tigers lefty Atsushi Nomi, who was for many years the ace of the iconic Central League club, revealed Thursday that the Tigers do not expect to keep him for next season, Sponichi Annex reported.
The 41-year-old, who in 2004 selected the Tigers when he turned pro the following year out of corporate league club Osaka Gas, has a career record of 103-94. Since 2018, he has been working out of the Tigers bullpen.
In a comment released by the club, Nomi said, “It is true I’ve spoken with the team about the future, but I won’t be the one to repeat the content of that discussion.”
“The one thing I want to say to all the fans is that this year will be last to play before everyone wearing a Tigers uniform.”
The news came a day after sources revealed that Japan’s oldest player, 43-year-old outfielder Kosuke Fukudome was told this week that he is surplus to the team’s needs next year.
Bour, Martin deactivated
Hanshin Tigers first baseman Justin Bour was deactivated on Thursday, as was outfielder Leonys Martin of the Pacific League’s Lotte Marines.
Martin sprained his left ankle running to first base in Wednesday’s game against the Seibu Lions and was unable to leave the field without assistance. The right fielder, who joined the club in the summer of 2019, has 25 home runs this season.
Bour’s deactivation is his first since he joined the Tigers over the winter. He took part in Thursday’s pregame practice as usual.