The kotatsu league: Johnson, Coco taking their leaves

Much of Friday’s news from NPB concerned foreign-registered players who will not be back next season with their current teams. The big leavers include two quality middle relievers and Japan’s single-season home run record holder.

Coco free to go go

Wladimir Balentien’s run with the Central League’s Yakult Swallows has come to an end Kyodo News reported Friday. According to the report, the Swallows international director Masayuki “Michael” Okumura said, “Time’s up. We were unable to come to agreement.”

The 35-year-old Balentien, who in 2013 shattered Japan’s single-season home run record by hitting 60, hit 288 home runs and posted a .378 on-base percentage in his nine seasons with Yakult. He led the CL in home runs three times, in on-base percentage twice and was 2013 MVP.

Because of his nine years of service, he no longer counts against the four-active-player limit for foreign-registered players.

Kyodo News’ Japanese language story is HERE.

Tigers’ Johnson 1 and done

Reliever Pierce Johnson (28) will be handed his release on Nov. 2, Kyodo News reported Friday. Johnson posted a 1.38 ERA in his lone Japan season with the Hanshin Tigers. He went 2-3 and logged 40 holds.

According to Delta Graphs, Johnson led all Tigers pitchers with 50-plus innings in swinging-strike percentage (16.0) –and was second in the CL. Opposing batters made contact on just 66.5 percent of their swings against him, the best figure in the CL and the fourth best in NPB.

Dragons’ Rodriguez leaving Nagoya

Left-hander Joely Rodrirguez, whose 44 “hold points” (holds plus relief wins) led the CL by two over Pierce Johnson’s 42, is also on his way out of the Chunichi Dragons organization, the team announced Friday according to Kyodo News.

Hiroyuki Kato, the Dragons’ official representative to NPB, said Rodriguez’s agent suggested “the lefty’s priority was a contract with an MLB team” and therefore the Dragons decided not to include him on their reserved list.

The 28-year-old Rodriguez, who has displayed a plus two-seamer and changeup, has been solid in middle relief since joining the Dragons in the middle of the 2018 seasons.

Uwasawa apologizes for broken kneecap

In today’s “Only in Japan” corner, Nippon Ham Fighters Opening Day Starter Naoyuki Uwasawa accepted a pay cut of 10 million yen ($94,000) because he missed half the season due to injury. The lefty, one of two starting pitchers used in a traditional fashion by Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama this season, had his season ended on June 18.

A drive off the bat of DeNA BayStars slugger Neftali Soto struck Uwasawa on the left knee cap and broke it.

On Friday, he said, “I’m afraid I was unable to carry my weight and was a bother to the team.”

I don’t know about you, but that’s like getting hit by a bus and then apologizing to the driver that hit you for making him late.

Here’s the Sponichi Annex story.

Jim Allen

sports editor for a wire service in Tokyo

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