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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons v Carp @Mazda Stadium, April 29th - May 1st; We don't Mazda stadium, oh no, we loathe it.

It was another 3 games in Hiroshima this weekend after a series win against the Baystars during the week. The previous trip to visit the Carp in Hiroshima was a bit of a disaster with a rain delay protecting the Dragons from the sweep, but the same luxury wouldn't be on offer this time around as the weather was looking good over Western Japanese skies as 3 games were up for grabs. The Carp have been in somewhat spectacular form of late with the batters producing a fair share of runs. Ryosuke Kikuchi has been at the heart of the batting while Maru and Arai have been making headlines as well, the latter mostly for his passing 2000 career hits in the midweek fixtures against the Yakult Swallows.

Shuta Wakamatsu was up to the mound for another start in Hiroshima after being somewhat unsuccessful in his last bout while Hiroki Yokoyama started on the mound for the Carp.

The main squad change for the Dragons was the departure of the misfiring Fukuda for the on-fire Kei Nomoto who was finally rewarded for his superb run in the 2-gun team where he is averaging over .400

Game 27 started off well for the Dragons in the top of the 2nd as a walk to Viciedo brought with it a rally of singles from Nanita and Hirata. With bases loaded Donoue hit a sac fly into right field to allow Viciedo to score to make it 1-0. Scoring would continue through Katsura who hit a single to let Nanita score to make it 2-0. Wakamatsu's attempt at a bunt would however end in agony as he bunted into a double play to end the inning.

It would take until the 4th inning for the Carp to be inspired into a counter-attack. Kikuchi was fanned by Wakamatsu but 3 straight walks to Maru, Matsuyama and Eldred loaded up the bases to put the in-form Seiya Suzuki up to the plate. A hit to centre allowed the the Carp to get back on level terms as Maru and Matsuyama ran home to make it 2-2. Abe took the 4th walk of the inning to load up the bases again but Wakamatsu escaped as he fanned Ishihara and induced Yokoyama into a ground out.

The Carp would pile on the pain in the following inning. Tanaka grounded out at second while Kikuchi hit a triple to stand on third. Maru then allowed his team-mate to get in to home with a single to take the lead for the first time of the day. Matsuyama then stepped up and hit a double into right-field sending Maru home to make it 4-2. It would end the night for Wakamatsu and bring Matayoshi in to stem the tide. But the side-arm would give up a double to Suzuki to turn the game on its head and establish a 4-run lead, 6-2.

At the top of the 6th, there would be some positives for the the Dragons as Takahashi was given a walk to start the inning. Up was brought Viciedo who hit a big dinger in the backscreen to give the Dragons some hope at 6-4.

Nanita's following hit would end the night for Yokoyama who was replace by Imamura. Hirata hit a single to join Nanita and a bunt from Donoue set the two up on 2nd and 3rd base. Morino was brought on to pinch-hit for Katsura and the veteran milked a walk to load the bases. A chance was now given to the in-form Nomoto to pinch-hit for Matayoshi but the form wouldn't convert over this time as the worst possible outcome was achieved as Nomoto grounded into a double-play to end the inning.

It would prove to be a costly miss for the Dragons as in the 6th, with Okada coming in for Matayoshi. The inning would start with the removal of Kikuchi and Tanaka but a walk to Maru stopped the succession of outs. Matsuyama then stepped up with a double to allow Maru to score, 7-4. Further damage was inflicted by Eldred who hit a single to get Matsuyama home and make it 8-4. Seiya Suzuki otherwise in fine form, fell victim to Okada with a fly out to end the 6th.

The damage would increase in the 7th as Abe got on base and was bunted to 2nd by Ishihara. Arai came in to pinch-hit but ground out at short but allowed Abe to get into an easy scoring position at 3rd. At 2 outs, Okada's pitch got the better of his catcher and allowed Abe to score, 9-4.

The rest of inning passed without incident aside from a notable triple from Ohshima in the 9th but a Kamezawa fly to the catcher ended the game at 9-4. Another pretty devastating loss to the Carp in Hiroshima. There were chances to get back into the game after going down early, but the Carp were just too good with the bat today in their home environment. Suzuki and Matsuyama were particularly devastating.

Game 28 of the season would be spell out a first appearance for Junki Ito who was in line for a start against the Giants in Kyushu before the earthquakes ensured the games would be called off. With his de-registration following that game it was reported that he wasn't in the best of moods. That kind of showed when he pitched in the 2-gun as he gave up a 3-run homer to Hikaru Ito in an 11-4 loss to Orix. I was personally surprised he was given a chance on the back of that performance, but perhaps it was a promise that needed to be fulfilled. The youngster would however be up against former Yankees starter Hiroki Kuroda in what would be a David and Goliath like battle.

Ito pitched well in his first 3 innings, well at least as well as the score can suggest, but the opening innings was marred by an injury to golden boy, Shuhei Takahashi. A particularly hard pitch in the 4th rattled Shuhei's bat and also managed to fracture a bone in his right hand ending his participation in the game early. He is set to go under the knife on the 6th of May, and young slugger is optimistic that he will be back "in 2 weeks." That seems unlikely, but it has opened the way for Masahiko Morino who was subbed in after Takahashi's injury.

It was to be an untimely injury as it spurred the Carp into life. Matsuyama's ground out was followed by a Brad Eldred solo donger to open the scores at 1-0.

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 Suzuki would make way to base care of a poor throw from Morino at third bringing Abe to the fore. Abe then hit a timely two-base hit to ensure Suzuki would score to make it 2-0. Ishihara could not continue the scoring as he ground out at third and Kuroda played all around Ito to strike out and end the inning.

The Dragons crept back in the top of the fifth. Nanita and Hirata were unreliable this time around as they both fell victim to Kuroda but a single from Donoue allowed Sugiyama to approach the plate. The catcher has been very good in this pinch situations and his following two base hit allowed Donoue to score to put the scores at 2-1. Ito, the pitcher in a hitters situation was unable to help out Sugiyama at second as he ground out to a sinking pitch.

Just as you thought the Dragons were working a way back into, the Carp taketh away. In the bottom of the fifth Ito gave up singles to Tanaka and Kikuchi brought Maru to the plate. The skillful outfielder took one look at a dodgy Ito pitch and sent the following one into the crowd for a three-run homerun, 5-1.

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Matsuyama would then fly-out before Eldred took advantage of a Donoue fumble to get onto 1st base. It wouldn't matter in the end as consecutive fly-outs to Suzuki and Abe ended things.

The game was getting harder and harder to watch for Dragons fans an after the 6th inning, one couldn't be blamed for turning off the telly. With Matayoshi now replacing Ito, he took two quick outs to get rid of Ishihara and Kuroda. Tanaka and Kikuchi would repeat what they did in the 5th to put runners on first and second. Maru would then repeat the exact same thing he did in the previous innings by sending a ball into the right-hand stands to make it 8-1 with a consecutive 3-run homer.

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Matsuyama would thankfully ground out to end things but what a disaster for the Dragons.

The Chunichi boys would start things positively in the top of the 7th as Hirata doubled to begin things. Donoue tried to get things moving but his grounder to second base only allowed his captain to 3rd. Now with Sugiyama at the plate, the catcher did what he does best as he smacked another single to make it 8-2. Fujii pinch-hit for Matayoshi but unsurprisingly failed to contribute while a grounder to first spelled the end of Ohshima and the innings.

To add insult to injury the Carp would continue their assault as they took a liking to Hiroto Fuku in the 8th. Ishihara would fall early, but hit into left from Tobayashi, which was then fumbled by Nanita, allowed the Carp man to second. Tanaka picked up his third hit of the night and scored Tobayashi to make it 9-2. Kikuchi couldn't make the most of things this time as he ground out in the infield. Fuku made sure then not to give Maru a third consecutive homer as he hit the Carp man to move runners to 1st and 2nd. Akamatsu's hit however would send Tanaka on his way home to put the score into double digits at 10-2. Arai would then pile on the misery with a double, sending both Maru and Akamatsu into the sheds, 12-2. Just, ugh.

Dragons would try to limit the damage in the 9th as Hirata doubled and Sugiyama was walked, but Fujii couldn't make the difference as the game ended at 12-2. A pretty bad loss. Hirata's two doubles and Sugiyama's two singles were about the only thing to write home about and with Takahashi set to be out for a semi lengthy period, the darkness seemed to be setting.

Game 29, the last of the series, had the objective of nothing more than avoiding the sweep.

Shingo Takeyama, a catcher and Ryuya Ogawa were added to the team to replace the injured Shuhei and the shell-shocked Ito.

Aussie Drew Naylor started this game (there's a really good interview with Drew on the JapaneseBaseball podcast here) with 28 year old Yuya Fukui starting for the Carp.

First blood would be drawn by the Carp in the bottom of the first. Tanaka would be walked to start things while Kikuchi bunted him to 2nd. Maru would then again be allowed to walk while a fumble from Morino at third allowed Arai to move to load the bases. Naylor would take down Matsuyama with a strikout, but a walk to Suzuki meant that the Carp would take the lead 1-0 after Tanaka trickled into base. Naylor would be able to fan Abe however to end the inning.

The Dragons started their counter-attack in the third as Naylor started things off with a double. A high and straight one at Ohshima saw the outfielder grounded out at second while Naylor moved to third. Kamezawa then came into bat and his timely double put Naylor home to even the scores up at 1-1. Morino struck out to put two outs on the board but that wouldn't worry Viciedo as he doubled to send Kamezawa home to make it 1-2. Nanita would then ground out to end the innings.

Just to let all know, as it is golden week in Japan, I have just a few drinks to go with a BBQ, so the report may get more interesting or less coherent as we go from here. Let's see what happens!

The Carp struck back in the third inning. A walk to Kikuchi would start things while Maru would get to base at the expense of his team-mate to move to first. He would however steal second to make up for any ground lost. Arai would take another walk while Matsuyama's grounder would get Maru to third but have Arai out at second. Suzuki's single however would get the scores to 2-2 and a poor throw from Ohshima ensured runners on 2nd and 3rd however Abe was unable to make anything of it as the inning ended.

The Dragons would rally once more at the top of the 4th as Hirata started things off with a walk. Donoue singled, but after a fumble from Suzuki in right field Hirata was able to make it home to allow the Dragons to take the lead at 2-3. A hit from Sugiyama plus a bunt from Naylor would put runners on 2nd and 3rd but Ohshima couldn't make the most of it. Kamezawa loaded the bases with a walk but Morino could only fly-out to end the inning.

Chunichi extended their lead in the 5th as Viciedo and Nanita got onto base to start things. Hirata's double would send Viciedo home to make it 2-4 to the Dragons. This enforced a change for the Carp as Fukui was withdrawn for Toda. Toda however could not prevent Donoue's triple as he sent two home to put the Dragons 2-6 to the good. Toda would keep his nerve however and see out the rest of the inning.

The bottom of the fifith would break my and many Dragons hearts. Two outs would start the inning as Kikuchi and Maru ground out but the last out would remain elusive as Arai got on to base followed by Matsuyama. With Suzuki now up to bat, you wouldn't blame anyone for walking him, but on a 1-0 count he hit a single to make it 3-6. Abe continued things for the Carp as he hit two home to make it 5-6. Naylor now just hanging on gave a hit to Aizawa before Eldred was brought on to pinch-hit for Toda. The American slugger was to be judge, jury an executioner as he struck a powerful three-run homerun to take the lead for the Carp and leave a frustrated and broken Naylor to think about what could have been.
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The Australian pitcher gave an almighty yell when bat connected with ball and one could only feel sorry for him as the ball sailed over the fence to take the lead for the carp at 8-6.

Maru would return to inflict the pain in the 6th inning as after another Morino fumble, Kikuchi took to 1st base while Maru threw the bat and made another homerun to send the scores to 10-6.
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Relatively deflated, the Dragons made back one run in the final inning as Hirata made a single followed by Donoue's out. Nomoto would hit as a pinch-hitter for Sugiyama to put runners on 1st and 2nd while Fujii sent Hirata home to make it 10-7. Tani would try his best to make the most of the situation but flew out to end the game.

3 very bad losses in Hiroshima and really there can be no excuse. The Dragons were over powered in all games and didn't pitch well enough in the tiny Mazda stadium. While they were able to muster 16 hit to the Carp's 10 in the final game, it wasn't when it counted and the homeruns given up to Maru and Eldred really hurt efforts to get back into the game.

Takahashi's injury will also be a big talking point out of these games and with Morino making two errors in his starting debut this year, there will be question marks as to who can fill in there long-time. My hope is to see Donoue move to 3rd with Tani or Hernanez at short-stop. Ishikawa has been the main third-baseman for the 2-gun team, but he is far from good enough for the first-team at the moment.

Starting pitchers are also a worry as none of the three did well enough. Wakamatsu has it in him but I am worried about Naylor. I think the Aussie can be very, very good on his day, but his control and reading of the batters could be better. He may well still be settling in in Japan but if you look at someone like Jordan, you have to wonder how much that really counts. I want him to do well, but I'm worried he can't succeed outside of the Nagoya dome and Jingu at this rate. The Junki Ito experiment was one that had to be done, but well, the less said the better. He's still young though and has a spot in the starting rotation of the second team.

Bring on the Tigers for the next round of games over the Golden Week!

NB: Due to time constraints and the imminent birth of my first child, I will be trying out a much more condensed and less time-consuming method of match reports. It currently takes me about 3 hours to get one of these up and running with all the gifs. I want to continue this blog, so making it more concise is the best I can do. I hope you guys don't mind the new format.

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