You can't go past Alex Guerrero when talking about the good things coming out of Dragons camp. The man has been on fire in practice games launching dongs and hitting plenty of RBIs. Mori has slotted him in the order at number 3 in most of the games he's played in fielding at either 2nd base, 3rd, LF or DH. The fact he's been at 3 for all the games and not someone like Hirata is a bit of a big statement for me. It looks to me like any success for the Dragons this year will be heavily hinged on what the Cuban slugger can do in the most important slot in the line-up. With Guerrero, Viciedo and Hirata in clean-up, there are plenty more homeruns in this team than there has been in the last couple of years. The only point of concern, pointed out by Chunichi OB, Tatsuhiko Kimata in a radio interview is that Guerrero seems to only be getting hits with balls low on the outside. Has apparently failed to register a hit from inside course deliveries.
Running rule over the rookies in camp another big, but pleasant surprise is the emergence of Yota Kyoda. The number two pick at the draft has been starting a lot of practice games and will provide very good competition for middle infield spots. He hasn't been slugging dingers out of the park, but his batting has been tidy so far and his defence is supposedly quite tidy. Very good range, very good glove. We'll see what happens to him. The other big surprise is the emergence of Hayato Mizowaki another slap-hitter fighting for a spot in the middle. He's much in the same mold as Kyoda being a nippy runner with a half decent bat and a good glove. He impressed a lot during the Asian Winter series in Taiwan late last year, and it looks as though that form is set to carry over. Certainly a outside contender, but he'll surely get some time on the field this year.
Running the rule over the pitching and Shota Suzuki has been used extensively and has looked promising in his outings so far. He was used most recently against the Baystars where he threw down 3 innings for one earned run and 2 hits. Not too bad. Previously against the Hanwha Eagles, Suzuki was in rare form taking three batters down in a row with Ks to mark an impressive performance. Suzuki will surely see a lot more time in the first team this year and he along with Ryosuke Nomura have a lot to prove in 2017.
Other good news of players on the come back trail Takuya Asao has had two shut out outings in relief for the second team. Asao's return to the first team bullpen would be a major plus for the team that already looks pretty stacked with Rondon, Araujo, Okada and Tajima taking up spots. The 2011 Central League MVP will be doing his best to make his comeback as soon as possible.
Here are the results and information regarding the practice games played so far. Unfortunately I mentioned in my last post that the Dragons would be using their ustream account but unfortunately all streaming has been done through their official Facebook page. The games often do not coincide with the airing times on Facebook, so you may have to search for a JSports (or Gaora, etc) stream if you want to catch any more games this pre-season.
I'll just list the first team games. We could get into farm results, but there isn't a whole lot of information available.
Chunichi Dragons 18 - 1 Hanwha Eagles
SP:Suzuki 2IP 0ER 3SO Endo 4-4, Hirata 6-3
HR: Guerrero x 2 (1st, 4th), Abe (4th),
Endo (6th), Ishioka (7th)
Needless to say that Dragons steamrolled their Korean foes with 5 homeruns being registered on the way to a monster win. Guerrero started with a solo homer in the 1st and the runs kept piling on. Hanwha's only run of the game came late on against Takuya Mitsuma. Endo went 4-4 including 2 RBIs and a homer while Hirata went 6-3 including 1 RBI.
Chunichi Dragons 5 - 0 Kia Tigers
SP: Matayoshi 2IP 0ER 2SO Endo 4-2, Hirata 5-2
Matayoshi's first start in pre-season was a winning one as the Dragons strolled through a fairly easy 5-0 win against Kia. Kinoshita drove in the opening runs while Hirata and co finished up the Tigers pitching. Yanagi threw down 2 in relief with 3 strikeouts to state his credentials.
Chunichi Dragons 3 - 2 DeNA Baystars
SP: Suzuki 3IP 0ER 2SO Hirata 3-2, Guerrero 3-2
Chunichi Dragons 4 - 1 Rakuten Eagles
SP: Ono 2IP 0ER 2SO Guerrero 2-2, Imae 2-2
WP: Oguma 2IP 1ER 2SO HR: Guerrero (3-run, 3rd inning)
Dragons struck in the first inning through Guerrero as he scored Oshima. The Eagles would strike back in the 3rd through Imae, but a 3-run dinger off Chia Hao Sung to Guerrero sealed what would become a 4-1 win to the Dragons. Wakamatsu, Yanagi, Okada and Tajima appeared in relief to run down the innings.
Chunichi Dragons 8 - 2 Nexen Heroes
SP: Yoshimi 2IP 0ER
Unfortunately I can't find detailed info here, but the Dragons took to the game with aplomb. Furumoto opened things with a sac fly while Kinoshita, Donoue, Shuhei and Yusuke Matsui all chipped in with RBIs. Hitoki Iwase took one inning in relief giving up a run while Yamai and Valdes kept things scoreless. Jordan Norberto took the final innings and gave up a single run but closed out an 8-2 victory. (Apologies, I didn't find extensive batting stats for this one)
Chunichi Dragons 4 - 1 Hiroshima Carp
SP: Matayoshi 4IP 1ER 2SO Endo 2-4
WP: Oguma 3IP 0ER 2SO
Hiroshima took an early lead in the third inning, but Oguma, Fukutani and Suzuki kept the side scoreless while Endo, Kinoshita and Takahashi knocked in 4 for the Dragons.
(I couldn't find an appropriate highlights package, sorry)
Chunichi Dragons 0 - 2 Nippon Ham Fighters
SP: Suzuki 5IP 2ER 2SO Kamezawa 2-2
WB: Takanashi 3IP 0ER 4SO
Rookie of the year, Hirotoshi Takanashi pitched 3 scoreless innings following Takayuki Kato's scoreless 3 against the Dragons to dry up confidence after Keisuke Moriyama's 2RBI double in the 4th. Oshima, Donoue and Ishioka were the only batters to take the veneer off Takanashi and Kato's performance. Yudai Ono and Shunta Wakamatsu both had a run-out against the Fighters with Ono completing just the one inning while Wakamatsu took charge of the 7th and 8th.
Chunichi Dragons 5-1 Nippon Ham Fighters
SP: Yanagi 1IP 1ER Guerrero 3-4, Viciedo 2-4, Kinoshita 2-4
HR: Guerrero (1st inning)
It was the Alex Guerrero show once more as the Cuban took a liking to an inside course pitch from an rare poor showing from Kohei Arihara, launching the 2015 rookie of the year into the left stands to notch a 3 run homerun. Kinoshita would knock in another to end the first inning 4-0 to the good. The Fighters would immediately peg one back in the bottom of the 1st against a nervous looking Yanagi as Laird drilled home Nakashima. Takuya Mitsuma pitched well following Yanagi showing off his shuuto to good effect while Salomon Rondon broke a Chunichi speed record clocking 159km/h beating the previous efforts of Tsuyoshi Yoda, Takuya Asao and Koji Fukutani who have all been clocked at 157km/h. Guerrero would knock in the final RBI of the game in the 7th while Kasahara and Tajima closed out.
The team started off with a bang and it was made very clear that NPB teams are significantly better than their KBO opponents. The positives from the results however is that the Dragons downed NPB teams in 4 out of 5 of their outings which of course a good sign moving forward. My main concern however is the over-reliance on Alex Guerrero who for example drove in all 4 runs against the Eagles and has otherwise just been knocking in all the runs.This is what the cynic in me says, that we might struggle to fire if he doesn't. Last year's line-up failures are still very fresh in my memory and while Guerrero is going to be a massive boon for the team, I really do wonder how well the guys around him can support him when he has predictable lapses in form. Good positive is that the team hasn't let go over more than a couple of runs so, so defensively looking alright but it is still early days.
A great start to the year so far with plenty to be excited about! I will be going back to Japan in March for business and while I won't unfortunately be able to get to any Dragons games, I'm in Osaka around the right time for the Hanshin v Buffaloes Open League game at the Kyocera Dome. Should be fun.
Until next time, Doraho!