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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Player Update: Where are they now?; 2015 Draft, FA and Foreign player stats

As we’re just about halfway through the season, I thought I would do a run-down of how all the new guys are doing. This report will include all the 2015 draft picks as well as the new foreign guys that have come in this season.

Draft 2015

#1 – Shinnosuke Ogaswara (Tokai University Sagami High)

The young bloke had a shaky start to life in the Western League as he regularly gave up big runs and lots of walks. He was however entrusted with starting duties against the Hawks, Buffaloes and Marines in inter-league play and walked away with just one loss from his 3 games, pitching rather well. Early signs show that he might be a Wakamatsu style pitcher throwing 4-seam fast-balls mixed with regular change-ups, but the hope is that he can get his curve and slider into the zone to open up his armory a bit more. Early signs are good for the youngster who may well be the best 1st draft pick-up in a while.

2-gun stats: 6 games, 2L, 26.1 IP, 22 SO, 5.47 ERA
1-gun stats: 3 games, 1L, 15 IP, 10 SO, 3.60 ERA

#2 – Yu Sato (Tohoku Fukushi University)

Sato has also seen some first team action already this year and became the first Dragons player since Kenshin Kawakami to claim a win in a starting debut in his performance against the Yokohama Baystars. He was used as a reliever a couple of games later much to the dismay of many and hasn’t been seen in the first-team since. Looks like he could still be good in the time to come.

2-gun stats: 8 games, 1W1L, 22.1 IP, 16 SO, 3.22 ERA
1 gun stats: 4 games, 1W, 10.2 IP, 7 SO, 5.91 ERA

#3 – Takuya Kinoshita (Toyota)

The industrial league’s best catcher was brought in to give more competition to Katsura and Sugiyama but has only seen one match in the 1st team so far and that was from the bench. Takuma Kato was preferred over him on opening day, but it looks like he is finding his feet in the 2-gun with some good batting on show. Next year he will probably be in the mix to be the 3rd catcher off the rank.

2-gun stats: 26 games, 52 AB, 2 HR, 5 RBI, .308 Avg, .462 SLG, .400 OBP

#4 – Hiroto Fuku (JR Kyushu)

The young lefty has been probably the most frequently used by Tanishige this season. He showed good promise in the pre-season open games and has obviously been showing the right stuff in training. Deployed mostly as a long-reliever this year he has done reasonably well. He got his first win when Drew Naylor went down with injury after one batter in May against the Giants, and has otherwise been thereabouts in the bullpen. Recently he hasn’t seen much time I believe due to the resurgence of Takuya Okada and the emergence of Ryuya Ogawa.

1-gun stats: 22 games, 1W1L, 4 HLD, 36.2 IP, 27 SO, 4.17 ERA

#5 – Toshiki Abe (Honda)

Abe was given Wada’s #5 by management which should give some indication of expectation, but the utility infielder has struggled a bit adapting to the pro game. He has only featured in the Western League so far and has been at the end of a few errors in the field and hasn’t really been doing a whole lot with the bat either. Given the other options ahead of him for the infield positions, there’s next to no chance we’ll see him in the first team this year.

2-gun stats: 25 games, 68 AB, 7 RBI, .206 Avg, .324 SLG, .304 OBP

#6 – Ryota Ishioka (JR East Japan)

Not much to really say about Ishioka. He was injured at the beginning of the season and has just started getting back into the swing of things. He has looked very good in his showings in the Western League so far but it is a bit early to tell as to how far he can continue his form. A good batting infielder by the looks and he may well get a look-in for the first team this season if all goes well.

2-gun stats: 11 games, 26 AB, 10 H, .385 Avg, .500 SLG, .448 OBP

FA/Cash Signings

#1 – Shota Ohba (Softbank Hawks)

This one has me scratching my head now. Ohba was the Dragons first signing of the season through a cash settlement with the Hawks. My initial thought was that he might be another piece to put in our starting rotation, but he hasn’t seen any time in the first team at all. Not only that, but he’s been limited in his action with the 2-gun as well. As a youngster Ohba was very highly though of and had 6 teams after him in the draft where the Hawks claimed him, but I really don’t understand why just yet.

2-gun stats: 7 games, 2L, 16.1 IP, 7 SO, 6.06 ERA

New Foreign Players

#1 – Dayan Viciedo (Chicago White Sox)

Well, the Dragons were missing homeruns last season and Viciedo has provided them. The Cuban announced himself with 3 homeruns in consecutive games of the opening series of the season against the Hanshin Tigers to set a record for the first foreign player to do so. He hasn’t just been hooking balls into the left stand either as he has been placing homers all over the park. His early pace saw him on track for a 40+ homer season, but pitchers have been able to find him out a bit more recently. Tigers manager, Tomoaki Kanemoto mentioned early on that Viciedo was weak to dropping balls like curves and forks and that seems to have become standard across Japan now when approaching him. Still, Viciedo’s presence has been immense and “El Tank” has become an instant fan favourite and a constant starter at first-base for the Dragons.

1-gun stats: 70 games, 257 AB, 46 RBI, 16 HR, .276 Avg, .518 SLG, .363 OBP

#2 – Jordan Norberto (Oakland Athletics)

Jordan came into the team as a respected long-relief pitcher with experience in the MLB but Tanishige and the pitching staff started to turn him into a starter as soon as he got off the plane. Norberto made his debut as a relief pitcher against the Tigers, but has since been a constant part of the starting rotation. The lefty has the stamina of an ox and is as miserly as Ebenezer Scrooge, barely giving up an inch when on the mound. He and Viciedo have easily been two of the best pick-ups in the off-season for dare I say it the entire central league.

2-gun stats: 1 game, 1W, 5 IP, 4 SO, 0.00 ERA
1-gun stats: 11 games, 4W1L, 66.1 IP, 53 SO, 2.04 ERA

#3 – Juan Jaime (Atlanta Braves)

The Dominican closer was highly touted on his introduction to the team as a man that could throw a 163km/h fast-ball. He hasn’t had the chance to show it however as he injured his shoulder in Spring training. Given the woes with Koji Fukutani this year, he may well have been a handy player to have. He has however just recently come back from injury and is getting in some bull-pen practice. We might see him in the first-team if Tanishige can sacrifice one of Viciedo, Hernandez, Norberto or Nanita.

#4 – Luis Septimo (Chicago White Sox)

Septimo, another Dominican, was brought in just earlier this month after some time spent training with the team. He’s only pitched one game so far for the farm team so we’re not sure just yet what he can offer. I’ve heard him described as a closer but he may well be a starter.

2-gun stats: 1 game, 1 IP, 2 SO, 0.00 ERA

(Stats correct as of the 23rd of June 2016)

Also, just as a note to you all, I have mentioned it on the twitter page, but I have been updating a lot of the DragonsWikipedia pages. A lot of pages are still stubs but I’m filling in information when I get the time. The best of my work so far is Shuhei Takahashi, Yudai Ono and Shinnosuke Ogasawara. Feel free to ch-ch-ch-check it out. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Inter-league: Dragons vs Fighters @Nagoya Dome, June 17th - 19th; Dragons go Ham on Fighters

The last round of interleague play would bring about old foes, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The Fighters are probably best known abroad for fostering the growth of Texas Rangers ace, Yuu Darvish as well as home of the man that may follow in the aforementioned’s footsteps, Shohei Ohtani. To Dragons fans, at least in recent memory, the Fighters were the team that they traded Japan Series blows with in 2006 and 2007, the latter series where the Dragons clinched their J-Series title in 53 years off the back of a Daisuke Yamai and Hitoki Iwase combined, sphincter clinching, 1-0, perfect game.

Game 1 at the Nagoya dome would see Jordan Norberto face off against Luis Mendoza. Both pitchers went pound for pound the whole game with Jordan pitching 115 balls in 7 1/3 scoreless innings for 8 strikeouts. The Dominican has put in some great shows of stamina recently and his accuracy as well has to be applauded. Mendoza went 7 innings pitching a comparatively economic 88 deliveries with 6 strikeouts and 3 hits conceded.

The deciding event of the game would be a combination between old hands, Yohei Ohshima and Ryosuke Hirata. Ohshima got to first only to be bunted ahead by Araki. Hirata stepped up to take a two base hit and send his lead-off hitter home to end the scoring at 1-0 in the 4th inning.
Commentators made mention of the vague similarity to Yamai and Iwase’s heroics 9 years ago, and apart from the 5 hits that Jordan conceded, it was pretty close to replay as Tajima took his 4th save of the season to end the game.

Game 2 would see another appearance from the re-born Yudai Ohno on the mound as he faced off against Mitsuo Yoshikawa to try and win the series for the Dragons.
Hirata would be the hero once again as his solo homer in the bottom of the first set the Dragons off to a winning start.

Takuya Nakajima however would take advantage of a wayward Ohno in the 5th inning after the bases were loaded up with a single to even the scores. The Dragons would however retake the lead in the 6th through that man, Hirata as he sent Araki home after his successful steal, 2-1. Nanita would add to the carnage through a two-base hit to allow Hirata to score and make it 3-1. Brandon Laird however gave the Fighters hope in the 9th through a solo homer of his own.

It was however to be of no consequence as Tajima settled and took out Asama and Ushino consecutively to end the game and claim the save.

Hirata was “da man” with his two game deciding hits while Nanita, Ohshima and Hernandez all chipped in with hits of their own to contribute to the victory.  Ohno threw down 7 innings with 3 strikes and 3 walks or 1 earned run while Matayoshi held and Tajima made the save.  Another even game that the Dragons just edged with a bit of individual brilliance to give the Dragons a series win.

Game 3 and the final game of interleague play would see a battle of aces old and new with Shohei Ohtani facing up against Chunichi’s ace in the hole, Kazuki Yoshimi. It would take until the 6th inning before the Fighters broke through with Brandon Laird’s timely two base hit to send Ohtani in to score, 1-0. Ohtani himself would contribute with  the bat in the 8th after a bizarre substitution of three pitchers, Okada, Matayoshi and Ogawa loaded up the bases. Ohtani took a walk off Ogawa to give the Fighters some room at 2-0.  It would take the 4th pitcher change of the inning in Daisuke Sobue to end the inning.  Daikan Yoh would be the next to add to the lead as his single off Daisuke Yamai sent Taniguchi home, 3-0.  The Dragons would try their best to rally in the bottom of the 9th as Masui gave up a walk to Hirata and a hit to Viciedo to put runners on 2nd and 3rd. Ricardo Nanita’s then ground out to first would allow Hirata to score to put things at 3-1. Hernandez’s base hit would then score Viciedo to bring the scores to 3-2 and a tense moment for Ham closer, Masui. Nomoto would then take a walk to bring the closer off the mound to be replaced by Chris Martin. Up against the former Fighter, Takahito Kudo, Martin fanned the veteran outfielder to end the game and claim the save. A tense ending to a great game.

Daikan Yoh was the pick of the hitters with his three while Hernandez and Viciedo both claimed two hits a piece for the Dragons. Yoshimi looked good in his 6 innings as he fanned 8 while giving up one earned run. The less perhaps said about the bullpen this game the better.
An overall series win for the Dragons in some very tightly contested but enjoyable games.

The Dragons finished the interleague standing in a respectable mid-table 8th with a 7-11 record, the weakest team batting average at .195 but conversely the best team ERA with 2.31.
Chunichi currently sits at 3rd on the Central League ladder after 70 games with a .478 winning average.

The team now has a rest until Friday when the play the Yakult Swallows at Jingu.

The good news to come out of camp this week however is that Shuhei Takahashi looks set to be on the return train as he was given the all clear to join the 2-gun team for practice.  Juan Jaime made it through he first bull-pen practice since he was injured in pre-season and Drew Naylor doesn't look likely to return until at least after the all-star break.

As for the All-star fan voting, as of the 20th a few Dragons players have popped up. Wakamatsu is the main nominated starter with 19,224 votes but Tomoyuki Sugano is way ahead of the pack with 131, 239 votes. Baystars Shota Imanaga trails him with 101,879 votes while Hiroki Kuroda of the Carp sits in third. 

Shinji Tajima however sits in the lead of voting for relief pitcher with 168,852 being trailed by Tomoya Mikami of the Baystars and Scott Mathieson of the Giants.

Viciedo is second with 121,470  at the moment for 1st base behind Takahiro Arai who's well ahead with 214, 646 votes. Mauro Gomez rounds out the top 3. 

Tetsuto Yamada is unsurprisingly taking the lions share of votes for second base with 252, 631, Ryosuke Kikuchi trails him by around 100k votes. Masahiro Araki however sits in 4th 10,000 votes off 3rd placed Luis Cruz.

Shingo Kawabata looks set to take 3rd, but our boy Shuhei sits third in the ranking with 63, 341 behind Giants favourite Shuichi Murata. 

Naomichi Donoue sneaks into the top 5 for short-stop with 59,123 votes, but Hayato Sakamoto sits on top with 183, 373 votes. 

Meanwhile in the outfield Ryosuke Hirata is the only one that gets a mention in the top 8 as he sit is 5th behind Tsutusgo, Maru, Takayama and Eldred in the voting. No sign of Nanita; what a travesty. 

I'll fill you in when the selections are made but for the time being you can review the current count here.

Hirata and Tajima are probably certain selections at this stage, apart from that we'll just have to see what happens!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Interleague: Double Trouble: Dragons v Seibu Lions & Chiba Lotte June 10th - 16; I didn't care about interleague in the first place!

Well, we're back for inter-league play and for the sake of convenience I'm doing two reports in one go. Fair? Good. Let's get going.

It was a battle of the pitchers on Friday night for Game 1 against the Seibu Lions in Saitama.
Former Giants and Fighters outfielder, Takahito Kudo was elevated to the starting 9 as Ryosuke Hirata was put on ice due to back pain complaints.

Jordan Norberto started on the mound and did all he could to keep the Dragons in the hunt for honours.  His quick motion kept the Lions on their toes as the Dominican, apart from one hiccup in the 2nd inning where he loaded the bases, on top to keep his team in the game. Jordan threw down 130 pitches in 7 innings fanning 9 and walking 5 for 3 earned hits. Massive numbers for the southpaw.

Shinsaburo Tawada for the Lions as well was well in control showing magnificent accuracy and form with his pitches in what commentators dubbed as his best performance out of the farm. He pitched 107 in 8 innings fanning 8 and only walking two for the same amount of hits as Jordan.

Relievers on both sides would do their jobs as Yamai and Okada held for the Dragons while Masuda and Makita held for the Lions

The decisive run would come in the final extra inning off Shinji Tajima’s pitching as Akiyama’s RBI single sent Uemoto home to seal a walk-off win. 

A very close game that was decided in the worse way possible for the Dragons but that was the ball game. Top pitching from both sides made for a great spectacle.

Game 2 would be a much higher scoring affair with Yudai Ohno his second start since recovering from injury. The Dragons ace would be up against Yasuo Sano in his first start of the year.

Ohno would be the first to break in the 3rd inning as a sac-fly from Asamura allowed Kaneko to open the scoring.  It wouldn’t be held for long as in the bottom of the inning, Hirata was scored by Nanita from a sac-fly of his own to even things up. Katsura would take the lead for the Dragons in the 5th through another sac-fly as Donoue wandered home to make it 1-2.  Ohno unfortunately however hit a bad run in the bottom of the inning as he gave up a walk to Kaneko, a hit to Onizaki and another walk  to load the bases; the rot would continue however as Mejia elected to walk to put Lions back on an even footing. It would be however Hirata the hero in the 8th as the captain mashed a 2-run homer, his 8th of the season, to give the Dragons the lead.

Ohno would pitch out a complete game and close out a well -deserved win.

Hirata and Ohno showed why they were chosen for the Premier 12 with their performances today. Both showed just how important they are to the Dragons with match winning contributions.

Game 3 against the Lions would have a different complexion again. Kazuki Yoshimi started for the Dragons while Ryoma Nogami started for the Lions.

The mightly Lions would strike metal first as Mejia took the bat to Yoshimi and sent him over the fence for a solo homer, his 21st of the season, in the 1st  inning.

The Dragons would quickly reply however through Sugiyama as his single allowed Viciedo to score. Chunichi would take the lead in the 6th inning after a pitcher induced lull as Donoue struck a triple to send Nanita in to score, 1-2. In the 7th inning, Yamai was introduced to replace Ogawa and a poor throw from Kamezawa to Viciedo at first would allow Mejia a base hit and send Akiyama home to even the scores. News would get worse for Yamai as he gave up a hit to Asamura who scored Mejia to grab the lead for the Lions. Masuda was brought in to end proceedings and did a good job of it giving up just the one hit to Kamezawa before closing out to claim the save.

Shota Takekuma grabbed his 3rd win of the season as Yamai lost his 7th game, ranking him as the least successful pitcher in the Central League.

A bittersweet series to end the road tour on, but they were hard fought on both sides. The pitchers prevailed during the series with both Seibu and Chunichi lads fronting up great performances. 

For the Lions perspective on the games, be sure to check out the lads at Graveyard Baseball for all things Seibu. The boys over there do a lot of good work.

Our second last inter-league match of the year (barring play-offs; HAH) would be up against the Chiba Lotte Marines. Now I have a soft spot for the Marines, the first game of baseball I ever saw was an inter-league game between the Marines and the Dragons at QVC stadium plus I live in Chiba so it’s hard not to like them at least a little bit (plus I really like Kakunaka).

Anyway, the first game would be in Gifu as the Dragons took one of their home games to Nagaragawa ball park. This is another personal little thing for me as I fell in love with the Dragons while living in Gifu!

Shinnosuke Ogasawara was in my mind scheduled to start this game, but Tanishige had other plans as he started the most veteran of the pitching staff, Raul Valdes. Ayumu Ishikawa would be the opponent and a tough one at that as the Lotte pitcher has already won 6 of his 9 games this season.

Lotte would be the ones to take an early lead in Gifu as Kakunaka’s single sent Hosoya home to score.  Yamaico Navarro would then step up and stamp his authority on the game by rifling a homer into the upper tiers of the stands to make it 0-3.

Valdes would go some way to atoning for his pitching in the 3rd inning as his base hit sent Donoue into score, 1-3. Hirata’s heroics would then get Dragons hopes up with his solo homer in the 6th to make it 2-3.

However it wasn’t to be as a Kiyota solo shot in the 9th ended all hopes of a fight back to end the game at 2-4. 

Hirata was the best of the Chunichi bats with 2 in 4 but there wasn’t enough about the team to overcome a very good Ayumu Ishikawa.

Back to the Nagoya Dome for game 2 and it was Shunta Wakamatsu back on the mound  while a thus far undefeated Ryota Sekiya starting things off for the Marines.

Lotte would once again not hold back early on as they hammered Wakamatsu from the off with a lead-off homerun from Hosoya.  

Navarro would continue the scoring in the first with a base hit to send Alberto Despaigne home to make it 0-2.  Nanita hauled one back in the bottom of the inning as he scored Araki, but Hosoya would be at it again in the 2nd inning with a two base hit to restore Chiba’s lead to two.  Things would get worse for Wakamatsu in the 5th as he loaded up the bases only to walk Sekiya to cause an overload bringing Suzukihome. Hosoya the grabbed his 3rd and 4th RBIs of the game with a hit to bring Kiyota and Tamiura home to bust the game open at 1-6.

Donoue would restore some respectability to the game with his 3rd homer of the season in the 5th.

But it wouldn’t be enough to beat the Marines as the superior fire power of the Pac League side blasted 12 hits to the Dragons 5.

Hosoya was clearly the man of the match with his 4 RBIs with just about everything he touched turning to gold. Wakamatsu has to sort himself out as I really don’t think the Central League batters are going to be kind to him when we go back to regular season games. Sugiyama was the only real batter of note with his 2 base hits while, apart from Donoue, the others failed to really contribute postively

Heading into Game 3, the Dragons were looking to avoid a sweep at home and up to the mound came the junior, Shinnosuke Ogasawara to take on Kouta Futaki.

Giving up leads early on has been our specialty this series and the inevitable would only be delayed by one inning as Tamura’s sac-fly scored Marines captain, Daisuke Suzuki to make it 0-1. The Dragons would however find a way back through Donoue’s RBI double to make it 1-1 but the Marines would take the lead back through a Suzuki sac-fly with loaded bases as he scored Kakunaka to take a 2-1 lead. Kiyota would further extend the lead immediately after with 2-base hit to send Alberto Despaigne home, 1-3.  Ogasawara was then withdrawn for Shinji Tajima but neither team would budge from the 1-3 score line as Nishino claimed his 17th save of the season (what a pace is that!?).

A sweep to the Marines and a first career loss to Ogasawara marked a pretty dismal day.  Despaigne was on fire for the Marines with 3 hits while Kakunaka struck two and claimed a walk. For the Dragons Ohshima and Yusuke Matsui both claimed two hits a piece in a very even game where both sides hit 7 base hits each.

A pretty poor performance overall, but the Marines are just a level above what we can offer at the moment. Injuries are taking their toll as well as we’re still waiting for the return of a host of players including Ryosuke Oguma and Shuhei Takahashi. Hirata was out of the third game with back issues as well. 

Check out We Love Marines for all the Chiba Lotte news you need and the Ouendan as well as all the Pacific League news you didn't need! 

Last of all, this week John Gibson and Jim Allen's Japan Baseball podcast this week will have our very own Ricardo Nanita on the show for a chat. Definitely check it out when it drops!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Inter-league: Dragons vs Buffaloes @Kyocera Dome, June 7th - 9th; Dragons feast on dodgy Buffalo

Series three of inter-league play took the Dragons back to Osaka to play the talented but inconsistent Orix Buffaloes. It wouldn’t be the first time the Dragons played at the Orix home park as they faced off against the Tigers in the opening series of the season in the same place. Viciedo was on fire in his debut series and hit 3 consecutive homeruns to announce himself in Japan. Would the same ballpark produce the same results?

A few interesting duals among the two teams with old faces on both sides. Former Baystars and Dragons slugger Tony Blanco would be occupying the Orix batting line-up while former Buffalo trainee Taiki Mitsumata would start from the bench for the Dragons.

Game 1 and Shinnosuke Ogasawara was given his 2nd start of his career to see if he could claim his first pro win after he got “Fukutani-ed” in his debut against the Hawks. The Buffaloes would front up with Yuki Nishi who has only claimed 2 wins in this season from 10 starts.

Chunichi would start the scoring in the 2nd inning as consecutive hits from “El Duo del Diablo,” that being Viciedo and Nanita gave Chunichi a chance and it was Fukuda’s sac-fly that saw the scoreboard tick over to 0-1. The Dragons extended their lead in the 3rd with Ohshima hitting an RBI double followed by Viciedo’s base hit to move the score to 0-3. Itoi would pull one back for the Buffaloes in the bottom of the inning while another RBI single in the 4th from Adachi put Orix within one, 2-3. Ogasawara was withdrawn after 5 innings for Daisuke Sobue and the youngster would have to put faith in his relievers again to secure his first win. It was unfortunately not to be as Shinji Tajima, uncharacteristically for this season, gave up a single to Nishino in the 9th to even up the scores and send the game into extra innings.

It would take until the top of the 12th before the Dragons started to beat down on the weary Buffaloes. With bases loaded, Takahito Kudo’s 2 RBI single put the Dragons into a 3-5 lead while Sugiyama’s double drove 3 home to put the boys from Nagoya into an unassailable 3-8 lead. Fuku was given closing duties in the bottom of the 12th and young lefty gave up only one hit as the Dragons claimed the win.

Ogasawara will have trust issues with his bullpen after his last two games, but the youngster played well. Officially, however, the winner was Toshiya Okada who got his 3rd win of the season. 14 hits today from the line-up with a lot of them coming late on. Ohshima, Viciedo, Nomoto and Sugiyama topped the hit charts with two each.

Game 2 would be a much lower key affair with Shunta Wakamatsu and Takahiro Matsuba doing the dance on the mound. Nakajima of the Buffloes bludgeoned a Wakamatsu ball into the stands in the 2nd inning to give the Osaka team the lead.

Viciedo struck back with a solo homer in the 4th, but his 15th homerun of the season wouldn’t help the Dragons to victory as the scores stayed the same at 2-1 to the Buffaloes.

Matsuna fanned 8 bats in his 8 innings showing some good control. He ultimately kept the Dragons to 2 hits the entire game despite 2 errors in the field. Hirano claimed his 12th save of the season as the Buffaloes closer tries to come back to the form that earned him so many plaudits some years ago.

Game 3 would be a good contest with Raul Valdes and Chihiro Kaneko going head to head.

Viciedo wasted no time as he donged his 5th homer in the Kyocera Dome this year in the 1st inning scoring Araki along the way to make it 0-2.

The Buffaloes struck back through a Nishino RBI single in the 3rd but a homerun from Nanita in the 4th put the lead back to two.

Donoue would continue the scoring as he struck an RBI single while Ohshima would follow suit with one of his own. The mayhem continued in the 4th with Araki joining the party to make it 1-6. Viciedo continued to contribute with the bat in the 7th through a sac-fly while Atsushi Fujii’s 2nd solo homer of the season put the Dragons 1-8 up.

In the 8th inning, Valdes would load the bases allowing Itoi to swing and send two home, but the introduction of Ogawa stemmed the tide. Daisuke Sobue was brought in for the 9th and finished up the game, 3-8 in the Dragons favour.

The slap hitters of Ohshima, Araki and Kamezawa claimed two hits each today while Valdes pitched 7 1/3 innings with 3 earned runs, 2 walks and 2 Ks.

A great series for Dragons fans but many will be scratching their heads about the result in the middle given the dominance of the sandwich. Dayan Viciedo showed that he loves playing in the Kyocera dome with his 5th dong in 6 games at the stadium. Ogasawara was perhaps a little unlucky not to claim his maiden win once again but the 18 year old still has plenty of time to break his duck. He looks good so far, just hope we can nurture him right.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Inter-league: Dragons vs Eagles @Nagoya Dome, June 3rd - 5th; Birds of prey continue to plunder Dragons

The second round of the interleague series would see the Dragons encounter a different type of poultry to the Hawks in the Rakuten Eagles. The game took place in Nagoya for the first home games of the Pac-Cen battles.

In Game 1, Jordan Norberto lined up against Takahiro Shiomi for this one with the Dominican looking for his 4th win of the season.

The Eagles were the ones to take the early initiative through Zelous Wheeler who trundled a ball over the right stand to take the lead 0-1 in the 2nd.

The Dragons struck back immediately in the bottom of the inning as a Nobumasa Fukuda sac-fly allowed Viciedo to score to put things back to 1-1. That’s the way things would stay until the 7th inning when Ginji, pinch-hitting for Shiomi, got one away to take the lead for the Eagles once more. Okajima would pile on more pressure with another RBI single to slowly start to take the game away at 1-3. The Dragons would not be able to break the Rakuten bullpen however as the batting line-up failed once again to break through. It was even between both sides with 5 hits a piece, but the Eagles made it count and pitched well to seal the win.

Game 2 would mark the comeback to the first team for Yudai Ohno who has been out since early May with elbow soreness. A vital piece of the puzzle returns and makes the starting rotation look all the more impressive. Yoshimi, Ohno, Jordan and Wakamatsu have all looked good this season with still some question marks over Valdes and Ogasawara.

Ohno however wouldn’t make the greatest of comebacks as the Eagles didn’t allow him to get his rhythm going in the 1st as Mogi struck first blood with a bunt and run that allowed Okajima to get in to score. Zelous Wheeler contributed once more as his ground-out to second was followed by Yoshimochi coming in to score. Nakagawa would keep the pressure on after Matsui was walked as he copied Wheeler’s example allowing Mogi to score to make it 0-3. The Dragons continued to knock on the door all game to try and get something out of the result, but 0-3 would be the end score.

 8 Dragons hits to the Eagles 5 was perhaps some bitter reading as with a bit more luck (and a more honed Ohno) the result could have easily gone the other way. Araki, Nanita and Fukuda all posted two hits each while Ohno’s return was marked with 2 Ks, 3 walks (all in the first inning) and 3 hits conceded. If we forget the first inning, we could call it a decent comeback!

Eager for revenge, the Dragons wanted to avoid the sweep on Sunday. Kazuki Yoshimi’s safe hands were entrusted with the ball to try and set up the first win at home in the interleague period.

The 0-0 lock would be broken in the 6th through Dayan Viciedo as a poor throw from Mogi allowed Yoshimi and Ohshima to scurry home to make the score 2-0. And that would be all she wrote! The Dragons held on for a close victory that the Eagles never really looked like endangering. Only 3 hits today from the Dragons which is some cause for worry particularly as one of them came from the pitcher, but a win is a win is a win. Yoshimi grabbed his 3rd win of the season while Tajima snatched his 3rd save.

Not a great series from the batters, but there’s not much you can do about that. The Eagles have been good this season and maybe this was another case for the gulf between the two leagues. The Dragons sit on 2W 4L against interleague opponents so far this year. Will be interesting to see if we can even get .500. The coaches don’t seem to be taking it all overly seriously though with time given to a few newer members, particularly Ogasawara.

In back office news however, the Dragons have signed a new pitcher. Another lad from the Dominican Winter League, a team-mate of current Dragon Juan Jaime even (and even a former team-mate of Viciedo in the Majors), former White Sox pitcher, Leyson Septimo. It is likely that he will be used as a closer to compete with the misfiring Koji Fukutani. That does however raise the question of who out of Nanita, Viciedo, Valdes and Jordan will be given the flick to make room for him, but that’s something we’ll find out I guess. Maybe if Oguma returns we’ll see Valdes de-regged to make room for him. 

Inter-league: Dragons vs Hawks @YahooAucDome, May 31st - June 2nd; Hawks get the swoop on Dragons

The start of inter-league play! One of the more interesting caveats of the season to break up the monotony of playing the same 5 times over and over again! The Pacific League has been the better between the two leagues of late and the inter-league competition would be another proving ground to see how teams on either side are fairing.

The Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka would be the first challenge for the 2nd placed Dragons. The Hawks are of course the reining Japan Series and Pacific League Champs and after a rocky start to the season, sit perched high on the table with no signs of slowing down.

In Game 1 Shinnosuke Ogasawara was in the limelight for the lead up as the first draft rookie had been hyped up for his first start on his pro debut against the Hawks. Ogasawara would make a minor record on his appearance becoming the first high school rookie to debut on the opening day of inter-league play. A very specific record, but a nice one to have nonetheless. Rick Van den Hurk would be the starter for the Hawks and the lanky starter would prove to be a tough challenge to overcome.

Ogasawara pitched with great poise, control and balance in the opening 2 innings as his change-up wreaked havoc on the Softbank line-up.  He didn’t wait long for his first career strike-out as he took care of Makihara in quick time. After seeing Imamiya ground out, Ogasawara then struck-out Hawks star, Yuki Yanagita to end the inning. A very promising start.

The Dragons opened the score first in the 3rd inning through Ricardo Nanita as he belted his 3rd homerun of the season making it 0-1.

The Hawks would return fire in the bottom of the 3rd through Imamiya who got the first hit against Ogasawara on the evening and the first RBI as he split the centre, 1-1. It was however to be former Hawk, Kyouhei Kamezawa that would strike back in the top of the 4th to give the lead to Chunichi once more with a sacrifice fly, 2-1. Ogasawara would keep the Hawks out of the game as he pitched a total of 5 innings for 1 earned run, 4 strikeouts and 7 walks. Hiroto Fuku took over for one inning with Daisuke Sobue taking the other to keep a hold of the Hawks attack and give Ogasawara the best chance possible to get his first win on his pro debut.  In the 8th inning, Fukutani was given the chance to keep the good work going but after taking two outs he gave up consecutive hits to Uchikawa and Hasegawa.  Matsuda then evened up the scores with a a single while Nakamura rifled in a 3 RBI double to stretch the winning score to 5-2. Fukutani had absolutely blown it. With only one out to get he let it slip away. Possible mentally unprepared for such a battering, the Chunichi counter-attack was rendered useless by Dennis Sarfate who ripped through Nomoto, Ohshima and Kamezawa to end the game, claim the save and most importantly the win.

 One can only feel frustrated for Ogasawara who had a debut win in his sights. It all came down to Fukutani though and the poor lad was devastated in the post-game barely being able to look at his team-mates. Needless to say, Fukutani was sent down to the 2-gun after his performance. Tajima looks set to be the closer for the time being.

Ogasawara however fulfilled and exceeded my expectations. His first few innings were absolute dynamite. He looks to have gotten a bit bigger since being drafted and his 140km+ straight balls and his change-up looked really good. He seems to have a decent curve ball on him as well which he didn’t quite get working on the night. The weapons seem to be there he just needs to put them to good use. My benchmark for him in the game was to remain at 1 earned run for 5 innings and he did that with gusto. I’m very proud of the young man.  I hope we get to see more of him this season.

Game 2 of interleague play would see Shunta Wakamatsu take to the mound to try and reverse his bad luck of late, losing his last 4 games on the trot. Tsuyoshi Wada would be his opposite number on the mound with the veteran Hawks pitcher only losing 1 game and winning 6.
Donoue started things of brightly in the second as he hit Viciedo home to open the scoring in the 2nd. Hirata would then chip in with some of the good stuff at the right time as in the 3rd inning the Chunichi captain cracked three run homer into the stands to make it 0-4.

Viciedo would end the scoring in the 5th inning with an RBI single to send Ohshima home. Wakamatsu pitched out the game very well as the Hawks struggled against his wizardry. Wakamatsu claimed 8Ks in 8 innings giving up 2 walks and only 3 hits. A tremendous return to form. This writer however is a tad pessimistic as he things the Pacific League boys just haven’t had the time to figure him out like the Central League batters have. Hirata and Viciedo both had two hits a piece today and figured prominently in the reckoning. Good win for the Dragons to bounce back from the previous evenings unfortunate loss.

Game 3 against the Hawks would bring with it a bit of nostalgia for the Dragons fans as former starter Kenichi Nakata started for the Hawks. The Kyushu-born pitcher had some good years with the Dragons but was still looking for his first win of the season. Raul Valdes would take the ball to start the Dragons pitching.

These kind of match ups interest me. Do former players, particularly pitchers, have an inside knowledge that helps them against their old team mates? I can only think there has to be something to that line of thinking.

Anyway, it was to be the reverse of my thinking to start off as former teammates Nakata and Fujii did battle in the 1st inning only for the latter to come out the winner as he whacked a solo homer into the stands to start things off for the Dragons, 0-1.

The Hawks would reply immediately however as with only one out taken, Valdes loaded up the bases. Hasegawa would take the opportunity to but the Hawks into the lead with a 2 RBI single followed by Matsuda’s sac-fly to make the scores 3-1. Nanita’s second solo homer of the series in the fourth but the Dragons back in reaching distance.

But the Hawks would taketh away through Imamiya’s solo homer in the 4th to make it 4-2 and restore the two point gap.

Hiroto Fuku was brought in to replace Valdes but the youngster couldn’t stem the tide; he didn’t get much help from his teammates either. Honda looked to be on his way to grounding out but a poor pick up from Kamezawa got the veteran home as well as scoring Tsuruoka. Uchikawa would then rub salt into the wounds with an RBI single to blow the score out to 6-2.
The Dragons failed to rally and only mustered 3 hits from their 9 innings, two of which were homeruns. So concluded another poor showing from the batters that were shown up by their former pitching staff.

A 1-2 loss over the series was a result I probably would have taken at the beginning of the series but if not for Fukutani’s head explosion in the first game, we might have been celebrating a series win. Wasn’t to be and now we’ll have to redeem ourselves against Rakuten in Nagoya. 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Regular Season: Dragons vs Swallows @Nagoya, May 27th & 29th; Swallow your pride

In the last series before inter-league play, the Dragons faced off against the Swallows for their second series against the Tokyo team in Aichi. The record against the Swallows hasn’t been bad this year but with Swallows killer Drew Naylor out with injury, would his replacements be able to replicate his ability?

In Game 7 against the Swallows this year Valdes would take up responsibilities on the mound for the Dragons, while Naruse would be his opponent for the evening for the Swallows.

In a change to the line-up, Ricardo Nanita was elevated to the #3 spot. Ohshima was given a run there against the Baystars and Hirata had been hitting there before his injury, but the elevation up the order was given to the Dominican veteran as he continues his impressive form.

Shota Sugiyama would be the first to open the scoring as his triple in the 3rd to send Viciedo and Donoue into score, 2-0. The Dragons would further extend their lead in the 3rd inning as a Hirata double allowed Araki to score to make it 3-0. Ohshima continued his great form (possible all-star?) with a triple to allow Sugiyama to score while Araki obliged his outfielder with a single to stretch the lead to 5-0 in the 4th. It wouldn’t all be smooth sailing though as  Iihara struck back for the Swallows in the 5th with a 2-run homer.
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Sakaguchi would then put Yakult in reaching distance with his three base hit that sent home Ohbiki and Hiyane, 5-4 in the 6th. Valdes would then be withdrawn in the 7th inning for Yu Sato who, showing his inexperience, put two on base before a wild pitch put both runners into scoring positions. Sato was then withdrawn for Okada who walked his first batter to really put the pressure on with bases loaded. Ohbiki would be the man to claim the RBI but at the expense of a double-play, 5-5. From 5-0 down the Swallows had crawled back onto level terms. The Dragons would be the ones to chortle at the end of proceedings however as Nanita’s sac-fly allowed Ohshima to score again to take the lead 6-5.  Shinji Tajima would be called on in the 9th inning to save the game and did so with aplomb.

Okada claimed his second win of the season while Tajima kept his scoreless record intact while claiming his 2nd save of the year. Nanita was the hero of the night for hitting the winning runs while Araki and Ohshima both claimed a hit a piece.

A close win that was almost taken away from the team at the death (not unlike the last loss that the Swallows inflicted on us in their last visit) but the team held on. It was perhaps a strange decision for Tanishige to throw Sato into the fray at such an important juncture, but young lads need to be exposed to these high pressure situations.

Saturday’s game would be contested between Jordan Norberto and Hirofumi Yamanaka. Jordan has been in great form since starting his Chunichi career and has proven to be an important piece of the starting rotation this year (and one of the only consistent components at that).
Scoring would start late in the 6th but Hatakeyama would be the one to get the scoreboard moving as his RBI single allowed Yamada to score to put the Swallows 0-1 up. This however sprang the Dragons into life as consecutive blows from Nanita and Viciedo invited Hirata to clean-up and even up the scores. Kamezawa would then claim the lead, as today’s third baseman hit a 2 RBI single to put the scores at 3-1. The Swallows would continue the sparring however through Sakaguchi who sent one home while consecutive RBI singles from Kawabata and Hatakeyama put the Swallows 3-4 to the good. Not great pitching from Okada who was brought in to relieve for Jordan at the start of the inning. Daisuke Sobue was brought in to limit the damage but he couldn’t stop Imanami from getting on base off as Araki let one past him which subsequently let one in to extend the lead to 3-5.  The Dragons would get back within one from a Hirata solo homer in 8th.

The Swallows however would extend their lead again in the bottom of the inning through Nakamura who scored Takeuchi to make it 4-6.  At the top of the 9th however, the Dragons would expose the hole left by Tony Barnette’s return to the MLB as his replacement Ondrusek gave up an RBI single to Ohshima before Kei Nomoto hit with a sac-fly to even things up at 6-6!
Into extra innings now and it was to be the Swallows that would prevail in the 11th with Hiroto Fuku pitching. Nakamura batted in the winning runs as he did last time the Swallows visited Nagoya, while Hiyane extended the lead to 6-9. The Dragons were unable to rally in the 11th giving the Swallows a last gasp win.

Jordan pitched well again today as he fanned 7 batters but walked 5 in his 6 innings. Tajima also kept his spotless record going as he claimed the only hold for the Dragons on the night. Kamezawa was the surprise with the bat tonight as his 3 hits rendered 2 RBIs in a very successful night for the infield utility man. Ohshima, Nanita and Hirata all otherwise pitched in with 2 hits a piece in a fairly productive night for the line-up. The game was won and lost in the bullpen today however particularly with Okada’s shocking give away of 4 runs.

The final game of the series would see Kazuki Yoshimi maintain his spot in the starting rotation following his first win last week against the Giants. Juri Hara, the rookie, would start for the Swallows. It would be a story of Hispanic heraldry as Nanita and Viciedo made big contributions.
It would be Nanita who would open proceedings in the 1st inning as his RBI single allowed Ohshima to score to open things at 1-0. Nanita would be at it again in the 3rd inning as he double the Dragons lead with a solo homer, 2-0.

It wouldn’t stop there in the inning as Donoue’s double sent Viciedo home, 3-0. The Swallows finally made a reply through the virtuous Tetsuto Yamada as last year’s “Triple 3” man added to his collection of RBIs as he hit Ohbiki home in the 4th.  Yoshimi however was otherwise doing his job of keeping the Swallows honest and it was through that pressure created that Viciedo was able to do his thing in the 7th inning. With Ohshima and Nanita on base the Cuban took no pity on the first pitch from Matsuoka as he mashed a towering homer into the back screen for a 3-run homerun! 6-1!

Fukutani was given relief duties in the 8th but it was Okada who would close off the inning in a relatively low pressure situation compared to the previous day to celebrate a bit 6-1 win.
The “Mash Brothers” or “El Masho Duo”  were the standouts on the night. Nanita grabbed two hits, including a homerun and milked a walk for his 2 RBIs.  Viciedo would also take two hits, including his wonderful dong, for 3 RBIs in a fantastic showing from the #3 and #4.  Yoshimi only conceded 3 hits against a loaded Swallows line-up which speaks volumes of his value to the team while Ryuya Ogawa and Sobue both took home holds in a game where the bullpen looked much healthier.

2 wins from 3 for the Dragons in the last game before the inter-league break. A good way to go out. The loss and the almost loss in the first game will be of worry to Tanshige but the results are all that matter and a series win is always a good thing.

Ahead of the interl-league break, our first draft pick in 2015, Shinnosuke Ogasawara  is set to make his pro debut in a start against the Softbank Hawks. This is a game we were never likely to win anyway, so hopefully the message to Ogasawara is to go out there and do his thing without too much pressure. Looking forward to seeing how the young fella will go! He will become the first HS rookie to debut in the opening game of the inter-league play since its inception 14 years ago!

Moeyo Dragons!