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Monday, May 27, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Swallows @Meiji Jingu Stadium, 24 May - 26 May; Dragons complete first Jingu sweep in 6 years

Well, who would have thought after the drubbing at the hands of Carp that the Dragons would be able to come back and sweep the Swallows on their home turf? Not many. The Swallows have been in wretched form as they were on an 8 game skid coming into this series. The Dragons haven't exactly been setting the league alight in May aside from a certain Shuhei Takahashi and the newer side of the rotation going into Jingu was always going to lower expectations a little. All said and done however, the Dragons completed a sweep of the Swallows for the first time since 2013 and only the second time since 2003. This also gave Tsuyoshi Yoda his first 3-game sweep as manager.

  • Game 44: Dragons 6-1 Swallows
  • Game 45: Dragons 10-3 Swallows
  • Game 46: Dragons 10-8 Swallows
Game 44
Akiyoshi Katsuno was given his second round in the rotation following his quality start against the Giants last Friday. The Gifu native put up another fine 6.2 frames against Swallows #1 starter, Yasuhiro Ogawa. Katsuno's only blemish was a lead-off solo homerun given up to Vladimir Balentien in the 7th. Katsuno was perhaps lucky not to get roughed up a bit more toward the end of his start, but he held on and the Swallows kept swinging at air to allow him another quality start to begin his professional career. 

On the batting side, it was a red-hot Shuhei Takahashi, the gift that keeps on giving, hammering in 3RBIs going 5-3 for the night with a steal. Yohei Oshima chimed in with 2 RBIs of his own going 4-4 with a steal of his own bringing up his 200th career stolen bag. The lineup seemingly kicked it's poor hitting hoodoo that it faced against the carp wracking up 13 hits to the Swallows 5 in a fairly dominant performance. Keisuke Tanimoto would strike-out one batter after relieving Katsuno in the 7th while Raidel Martinez and Hiroshi Suzuki finished off the game. 

Steven Moya would return to 1-gun action in this game replacing Enny Romero in the squad and Issei Endo in the line-up. Romero has 10 days to cool-off before possibly being recalled.

Game 45
The bats would be alight once more as they guided Yuya Yanagi to his 4th win of the season on the back of 10 runs and 16 hits. The Swallows and Dragons went tit for tat for much of the game where the Swallows slammed 3 solo homeruns that were nibbled back by a Naomichi Donoue homer and some Shuhei Takahashi magic. 

It all came apart for the Swallows in the 8th. Scott MacGuff had pitched the previous inning and with one out left to go allowed the flood gates to open as Kosuke Ito's single was followed up by a Yohei Oshima single to score Shota Ono. MacGuff was quickly withdrawn for Ren Kazuhari who promptly loaded the bases by walking Dayan Viciedo A two-base hit to Shuhei and a wild pitch later and the Dragons were left sitting pretty at 10-3 going into the bottom of the 8th. Joely Rodriguez and Toshiya Okada would clean-up the game it what turned out to be an emphatic win. 

Yanagi only got through 5 innings while Shinji Tajima and Raidel Martinez held on to the lead before the blowout in the 8th. With the bat, Shuhei once again shone, going 4-3 with 4 RBIs bringing his season average up to .337. Kosuke Ito, the 19 year-old picked up his first career modasho while Yohei Oshima joined the modasho party as well, going 4-3 with 2 RBIs adding to his recent purple patch. The returned Steven Moya picked his first two hits of 2019 to contribute to a solid victory. 

Game 46

With the series win already in hand, it was a typical hold-onto-your-butts game on Sunday. A game that you'd typically expect the Dragons to lose in a walk-off somehow managed to become a win. 

The Swallows took an early 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to Munetaka Murakami and perpetual-thorn-in-our-side, Keiji Obiki. Naomichi Donoue's 2-run homer in the top of the second however would bring the Dragons back in touching distance. 
The Swallows weren't done as Norichika Aoki, Tetsuto Yamada and Vladimir Balentien hit back-to-back-to-back homeruns off the pitching of Tatsuya Shimizu. The young 19 year-old pitcher was not to be shaken as he struck out Murakami and claimed a double play to escape the inning. 

The Dragons would respond with a minor homerun deluge of their own as Shuhei Takahashi hit a solo while Donoue responded with his second of the night with a solo jack of his own.

Shuhei would put the Dragons on level terms in the bottom of the 5th with a 2RBI single while a 3-run homer from Steven Moya put the visitors ahead 9-3.

The Swallows would however keep up the fight and some poorly executed pitching from Ryosuke Oguma, who, with two outs on the board let himself get behind in the count and get punished for it as a Taishi Hirooka single to left-field was unfortunately fumbled by Kosuke Ito allowing 2-runs. to put the Swallows 1 run away from the Dragons. The bullpen was able to hold their nerve leading into the 9th with Keisuke Tanimoto, Raidel Martinez and Joely Rodriguez keeping clean frames. Yohei Oshima would give the Dragons a cushion in the top of the 9th after he scored Toshiki Abe, but a misjudged run to second base ended the inning prematurely. 

Enter the 9th, enter the SuzuKimbrel. Hiroshi Suzuki experience has been an interesting one this year and despite his woes, he leads the Central League in saves. Suzukimbrel walked one batter, as is custom, before he got out of jail following some bizarre 'throw and hope' pitching that saw Balentien hit into a double play to end the game. 

Well, we did it. A series that gave me plenty of cardiovascular exercise was to be a successful one for the team. The first sweep under Yoda and the first sweep at Jingu since 2013 under Morimichi Takagi. You have to go back to 2003 to find another. 

Shuhei Takahashi has been simply on fire this month. With his 8th modasho (3-hit game), Shuhei has equalled the record for a month held by Giants legend Tetsuharu Kawakami and Ichiro among others. Shuhei became the 8th man to do so. There's still a few games left in May for him to break the  record. Shuhei is averaging .451 for the month including 26 RBIs and 2 homeruns. Needless to say his BABIP is ridiculously high at .392 which means, well, all good things have to come to an end. His IsoP (isolated power) is however around .194 which is actually higher than Dayan Viciedo and only a tick below Ryosuke Hirata's rate this year. (Fukuda's is .247 but has achieved that in 70 or so less plate appearances)

Steven Moya marked a triumphant return particularly in game 3 where his homer ended up being the different between the two teams. Enny Romero has been swapped out for Moya to give the line-up more power after the loss of Ryosuke Hirata. He'll have to further make-up for the loss of Nobumasa Fukuda as well who was out of action in game 3 following a wrist injury to his right hand. He should be back in a couple of weeks.

With Enny Romero out of the picture for at least 10 days, Takuma Achira will go some way to taking his place in the rotation as he'd scheduled to start against the Baystars at Nagaragawa Stadium in Gifu prefecture on Tuesday night. Yudai Ono will likely follow up the following day but it's yet to be seen who will pitch on Thursday as we've been lucky the past couple of weeks with a couple of 2-day series where only Ono and Romero have pitched. It's likely we'll see a return of Kazuki Yoshimi in my opinion as he has pitched well in his refitting shifts on the farm.

With Fukuda and Hirata out, it may be very difficult to slide Romero back into the team without perhaps "resting" one of either Raidel Martinez or Joely Rodriguez. Problem is, can the team afford to do that? Then that brings up the question of Zoilo Almonte who would certainly add some extra pep to the line-up.

Otherwise, Hayato Mizowaki who was ruled out early in this series was diagnosed with a hamate bone fracture in his write hand and will undergo surgery. The same injury befowled prodigious Fighters slugger, Kotaro Kiyomiya last year. It looks like Mizowaki will be out completely for 6-8 weeks.

Masato Matsui as well, who was sent down at the same time, has been diagnosed with a triangular fibrocartilage complex injury and will likely be out for two weeks.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Carp @Miyoshi, Mazda Stadium, 21 May - 22 May; Much ado about offence.

A short series involving a regional game in Hiroshima's regional stadium of Miyoshi in Hiroshima's north and a home game at Mazda was to be a fairly depressing one for Dragons fans as the Carp rotation's #1 and #3 starters kept the bats very quiet despite Yudai Ono and Enny Romero having an okay outing each.
  • Game 42: Dragons 2-3 Carp
  • Game 43: Dragons 1-3 Carp
Game 42
Yusuke Nomura didn't have the best of outing against the Dragons last time in Nagoya when he was rocked by 5 ER. It would however be sweet revenge for the Okayama-born starter as he threw 7 shut-out innings. Yudai Ohno on the mound for the Dragons was perhaps a little lucky to get away with only two earned runs as he gave up 8 hits over his 7 innings. A double given up to Ryosuke Kikuchi in the 5th.  Toshiya Okada made the situation worse in the 8th as he loaded up the bases. He was swapped out for Ryosuke Oguma but he only succeeded in walking in a run on a 3-2 count against Ryuhei Matsuyama. The Dragons would give the Carp a nervous finish as Nobumasa Fukuda struck a solo homer which was followed up by consecutive hits from Yohei Oshima, Dayan Vicedo and Shuhei Takahashi, the latter of whom sent Oshima home.
Naomichi Donoue would get a pinch-hit walk batting for Kosuke Ito following Yota Kyoda's fly-out to load the bases. But Masato Matsui was unable to convert, forcing an end to the game with a grounder to third base. 

What could have been, but ultimately what would not be. A better team would have won this game in the dying moments. Perhaps the absence of Ryosuke Hirata is being felt as the added punch from his bat could have made a difference. 
In the end, Oshima was the only Dragon to register a multi-hit game. 

Hayato Mizowaki started this game at the top of the order once more but failed to register a hit while Nobumasa Fukuda continues his interesting role at second in the line-up. 

Game 43
Daiichi Ohsera has the Dragons number this year throwing two complete games against us in his last two appearances. Ohsera had a perfect game going until the 6th inning when Takuma Kato saved the Dragons blushes registering the first of only 3 hits on the night for the visitors. He would however complete his 3rd complete game in a row against the team.

The Carp had taken the lead in the 2nd inning through an Shuhei Takahashi error at third followed up but a 5th innings 2-run homer from Tsubasa Aizawa. Takahashi would go some way to making up for his error as he stroked an RBI home in the top of the 7th. Enny Romero pitched 5 innings for 9 hits and only 3 strikeouts while a scoreless relay of Shinji Tajima, Keisuke Tanimoto and Hiroto Fuku closed out the game. 
Only three hits on the board through Kato, Shuhei and Dayan Viciedo is a pretty sad state of affairs but Ohsera just seems to be the bogey pitcher for the Dragons this year and he has otherwise been very dominant this season posting a 1.85 ERA over 9 starts with a WHIP of 1.00 and a K/BB of 8.25. He has a 1.00 ERA against the Dragons in 3 starts with 20 Ks. 

The Carp have really heated up again but at this point in time any game against Ohsera has been a foregone conclusion. On the face of how many hits the Carp collected to our line-up, they deserved to win both series. An unfortunately reality, but one I think we have to swallow. We weren't good enough. 

Speaking of swallowing, we take on the Yakult Swallows this weekend at Meiji Jingu Stadium. Akiyoshi Katsuno, Yuya Yanagi and Tatsuya Shimizu will all likely start in what at least is exciting as they're all young a fun to watch. How the results will fall is something else entirely. 

In other news, after Yudai Ohno went hitless in Miyoshi, he's currently second of all-time in the Central League for a hitless streak. He's 5 hitless PA's away from the record.

Lastly, the Dragons are 0-17 when trailing by the 6th innings. Don't bet on these guys to turn a game around. As depressing as it is, this has been a theme for the last few years.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Giants @Nagoya Dome, 17 May - 19 May; Youngster rotation not quite there in well fought series.

The Giants are pretty much the form team of the Central League so far this year and even at home, the Dragons would have their work cut out for them as the shortages of starting pitching gave them a rotation of rookie Akiyoshi Katsuno, third year hurler, Yuya Yanagi and 19 year-old Tatsuya Shimizu. Unfortunately, a series loss but the team battled relatively well throughout.
  • Game 39: Giants 4-1 Dragons
  • Game 40: Giants 5-1 Dragons
  • Game 41: Giants 4-5 Dragons
Game 39
Tsuyoshi Yoda has continued is proactive policy of giving starts to in-form farm arms by giving last year's #3 pick, Akiyoshi Katsuno his debut in a start against former Brewers hurler, Taylor Jungmann. Katsuno, the former Mitsubishi man, showed good form, locating his off-speed low in the zone and otherwise keeping the Giants honest. However, in the 5th inning, a two-base hit from Kazuma Okamoto and a run entering via a ground-out tarnished Katsuno's first professional start with  3 runs taken off what would prove to be his final inning. 

Nobumasa Fukuda's sac-fly in the bottom of the 6th would be the only consolation run as the team weren't able to support the rookie's first start. Half way through the game, Ryosuke Hirata was subbed out for Issei Endo as it was later revealed he was suffering from a strain in his left lower calf muscle. Early reports show that he might be out for a short while. 

Shinji Tajima, Keisuke Tanimoto took 5Ks between them in their relief innings while Toshiya Okada surrendered a run in the 9th in his appearance. Yohei Oshima was the only hitter with a multi-hit game while Yota Kyoda swiped 2 bases. 

Katsuno had a good game for his debut and showed some of what fans hoped of when he was drafted. You can view my draft report on Katsuno here if you want to refamiliarise yourself with him.

Game 40
Yuya Yanagi has a rough start to his game against Christian Mercedes as he surrendered 5 runs in his first 3 innings including a 2-run homer to former team-mate, Alex Guerrero. Yanagi lasted 6 inning taking 6Ks before Ryosuke Oguma and Hiroto Fuku played mop-up to finish the game. Dayan Viciedo's two-base hit to send Oshima home in the bottom of the 8th was the only consolation prize.

Once again the line-up failed to produce but Ryosuke Hirata's replacement, Issei Endo was the only one to get a couple of hits.

Game 41
Tatsuya Shimizu's second pro start would be another good one for the youngster as he threw down another rounded, yet less-controlled, 5 inning start for 2 earned runs.  
The Dragons responded well to the Giants early 2-run lead as Hayato Mizowaki was scored by a Fukuda grounder to short after he hit a lead-off triple.  Mizowaki would once again be at the hear of all things good with the line-up in the 5th as his single was connected to by Fukuda and Oshima who loaded up the bases for Viciedo to stroke a 2RBI single to give the Dragons the lead. Naomichi Donoue's pinch-hit single in the 6th would give his team further breathing room before Kazuma Okamoto claimed one back in the top of the 7th. The cushion was restored in the 9th and Oshima scored Mizowaki off a two-base hit. Enter, Hiroshi Suzuki however and the closer was rocked with a pinch-hit homerun from Giants catcher Takumi Oshiro. Some nervy moments proceeded with hits give to Hayato Sakamoto and Yoshihiro Maru put a runner on first and third, but lovely glovework from Mizowaki at second off Okamoto's bat helped turn a double-play to end the game. 
The final game of the series was truly the Hayato Mizowaki show as the 7th year infielder. Mizowaki previously had a small stint with the top team in 2017 where he hit his first pro-homer before getting injured. He was one of the best position players on the Dragons farm team last year and finally got a good go of things today where he hit 3, walked once and scored 3 times. If he can keep this up, we might well have a successor to Masahiro Araki. Mizowaki grew up with Araki as his idol as they are both from Kyushu and perhaps working the farm with his mentor has finally allowed him to step-up. Here's hoping. It's only one game but I hope he gets plenty of chances.

To add to Mizowaki's modasho Dayan Viciedo picked one of his own while Nobumasa Fukuda and Shuhei Takahashi both had multi-hit games. A relay of Shinji Tajima, Raidel Martinez, Joely Rodriguez and Hiroshi Suzuki closed out the game as the team avoided the sweep in a moral boosting win.

Overall a series that was a good battle but perhaps underscored by the Giants keeping the Dragons hitters off their game.

Farm Watch
On the farm, young Dragons are doing their things. Takuma Achira pitched 3 innings for 6Ks while Kenshin Kakikoshi pitched a pro career high 3 innings in a scoreless outing. Akira Neo too seems to be getting used to thing a bit more as he hit a double off Yoshihisa Naruse.

Daisuke Matsuzaka meanwhile, after being berated for playing golf on a training day, threw 35 pitches as a batting practice pitcher showing his slow return to form as he tries to return to fitness.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Baystars @Yokohama Stadium, 14 May - 16 May; Oh-no; hooray for Romero

A rain shortened series in Yokohama which ended shared, was perhaps a good result given a, at least for this season, uncharacteristically poor start from Yudai Ono. Enny Romero would bounce back to give the Dragons a win in the following fixture to leave mixed feelings over a "whatever" kind of series.
  • Game 37: Dragons 2-8 Baystars
  • Game 38: Dragons 3-2 Baystars
Game 37
Yudai Ono and Katsuki Azuma slid after the rain-out on Wednesday with pitchers on opposite sides of the spectrum regarding their fortunes this year. Azuma, last year's rookie of the year had been having trouble finding his form, while Ono had rediscovered his. 

DeNA took the lead in the 4th after a Jose Lopez 2-run dinger that cancelled out Ryosuke Hirata's timely two-base RBI in the 3rd. Pain however would be ultimately inflicted from an unlikely source in Baystars catcher, Hikaru Ito who slogged a 1-1 pitch over the left field fences for a grand slam. 
For those that don't get the reference.
It would get worse for Ohno, as he gave up another solo homer to Toshiro Miyazaki before leaving the game at the end of the 6th innings having conceded 7 runs all from homeruns. Nobumasa Fukuda would put in a consolation jack in the 7th but it would ultimately be for nought as the Dragons were unceremoniously routed.
Fukuda and Yota Kyoda would have multi-hit evenings while Hiroto Fuku mopped up 2 innings after Ohno left the game.

Game 38
Enny Romero's last time out was a narrow win over the Carp in relatively unconvincing fashion. This time around, he looked more in control throwing down 7 innings for one earned run in a high quality start.

The Dragons took the lead in the 1st but the Baystars wouldn't let off as Kazuki Kamizato struck his 4th homer of the season to level the scores in the bottom of the 6th. Nobumasa Fukuda's RBI single in the 7th in front of his hometown crowd would give the Dragons the lead while a Ryosuke Hirata buxom looking homerun in the 8th provided insurance.
The insurance would be requried as Hiroshi Suzuki kept to recent shaky form. He was able to get out of a jam with a runner on third following a run leaked after a grounder to first, when he struck out Yamato to end the game and claim his 12th save of the season.

Shuhei Takahashi would claim another modasho for the year while Fukuda claimed another multi-hit game. Romero got through 7IP whiffing 5 while Joely Rodriguez provided the link-up between the starter and closer with a scoreless inning.

Overall, a good bounce back win. I have a feeling that Ohno's start was just "one of those days" and he'll be back to form in his next start which is due to be against the Carp at Miyoshi Stadium on Tuesday. Romero attributed his better form to working on his stuff with pitching coach Hideyuki Awano and executing what he wanted to improve on in the game.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Tigers @Koshien Stadium, 10 May - 12 May; Former Koshien aces haunt the Tigers in series win

Back to Koshien for the second time this year the Dragons were looking to break their skid of series losses. The Tigers have been in decent form in the last week and a half or so and were a much more imposing proposition than they had been at the beginning of the season.

Former stars of the Koshien tournament, Yuya Yanagi and Tatsuya Shimizu, would guide the team to their first series win of the Reiwa era after a less than convincing Katsuki Matayoshi start to open the series. Yanagi hurled a gem while Shimizu, a Koshien winner in 2017, held on for a win in his first professional start.
  • Game 34: Dragons 3-7 Tigers
  • Game 35: Dragons 5-1 Tigers
  • Game 36: Dragons 5-2 Tigers
Game 34
Katsuki Matayoshi would take the first start of the series. I would have thought by now that the team would have figured out he's not much of a starter by now, but perhaps injuries and poor form have forced their hand. Either way, it went to be expected as Matayoshi gave up 5 runs in his second inning after Shuhei Takahashi's 2nd homerun had put the visitors 2-0 up.
Matayoshi would get pulled after that as Toshiya Okada and Ryosuke Oguma had to throw down 2 innings a piece to cover up. Seiya Kinami's triple would give the Tigers some breathing room in the bootom of the 5th, but the Dragons were able to pull one back with loaded bases and a Fukuda grounder in the 7th. Keisuke Tanimoto would give one more up to Yusuke Ohyama in the 8th before Raphael Dolis saved it for the Tigers.

Overall a disappointing start from Matayoshi but on the bright side, Shuhei Takahashi went 3-3 with that 2-run homer. He's been on a tear lately.

Game 35
Former Yokohama High School ace, Yuya Yanagi would take the mound against the Tigers American veteran, Randy Messenger. The Dragons took an early lead as Shuhei Takahashi and Toshiki Abe knocked in 3-run with two outs on the board.  Yanagi would however be the star of the show as he tossed 8 beautiful innings whiffing 12 for 5 hits. Yanagi used his change-up and fastball to perfection and peppered the zone with great accuracy. Shuhei would add some cushion in the top of the 8th for his 3rd RBI of the game while a Fukuda solo homer in the 9th ensured Hiroshi Suzuki stayed in the dugout.
Joely Rodriguez would leak one run but would clean up the game tidily enough. Yanagi has been very effective this year and picked up his 3rd win of the season with a career high of 12Ks. He threw an absolute masterclass of control pitching mixing in plenty of off-speed and breaking balls. One thing I took particularly notice of was the break on his curveball which looked very similar to the pitch that destroyed so many batters in the Big6 University League with Meiji University. Shuhei as well has been absolutely raking since, perhaps coincidentally, roaming coach, Mitsuo Tateishi gave him a one-on-one session in training last week. Tateishi mostly works with the farm team but is given the freedom to drop in with the top team occasionally as well. Whatever he said to Shuhei seems to be working as he's been batting .500+ since that session.

Game 36
Due to Koji Fukutani's re-registering due to a hip complaint (he might be out for some time...) the Dragons' farm team's best pitcher, 19 year-old Tatsuya Shimizu was given the call to start the final game of the series. Shimizu is not far removed from tasting victory at Koshien stadium as he was part of the winning Hanasakitokuharu High School team that took the Summer baseball high school tournament in 2017. Shimizu had only previously thrown two innings of first team ball so while not his professional debut it was to be his starting debut.

The Dragons and Tigers would trade blows in the 1st inning as an 2 RBI double from the red-hot Shuhei Takahashi was cancelled out by Dragons OB, Kosuke Fukudome's 2 RBI single. Yohei Oshima would however give the Dragons the lead in the 2nd while the team would give Shimizu the best chance of claiming his first pro-win with a Toshiki Abe 2 RBI double in the 5th. Ryosuke Hirata's outstanding defence also kept the Tigers under pressure.
Shimizu got through 5 innings admirably, taking 4Ks for 2 ER. A relay of Toshiya Okada, Joely Rodriguez and Raidel Martinez set things up for Hiroshi Suzuki who gave us another heart clenching save with 2-runners on base and Yusuke Ohyama up to bat. Suzuki however finished it off ins style with an out-course fastball punch out to hand the Dragons the series and Shimizu his first pro-win.
A poor but not unexpected start to the series ended with a cascade of fairly dominant pitching and some opportunistic batting driven by a white-hot, on-fire, ablaze, conflagrant, Shuhei Takahashi. The Dragons captain was really the ignition in to these wins as he went 11-8 with 7 RBIs over the course of the series. After a slow start to the month, Shuhei is now hitting .465 with 14 RBIs in the month of May.

Raidel Martinez has also been just about worthy of the "Final Boss" tag as he has a 10.80 K/9, 0.80 WHIP and 0.77 ERA after 12 games. Along with Suzuki and Rodriguez, Martinez has brought the fire with his fastball and is taking no prisoners. If Suzuki shapes up a bit more, then the Dragons have one the the best game closing trios in the Central League.
Overall, a morale boosting win and one the Dragons will be happy to take going into their next series against the dumpster fire that is the Yokohama Baystars in Yokohama on Tuesday. Yudai Ono and Enny Romero will likely start in Yokohama with nothing but shrugs as to who the third starter might be unless Yamai is recalled.

In other news, in my last post I mentioned the injury list getting shorter but it's getting longer. Koji Fukutani was deregged with a hip complaint that has apparently been diagnosed as a hernia possibly requiring surgery meaning he might be out for a while.

Shotaro Kasahara's suspected arrythmia has actually been diagnosed  as superventricular tachycardia. This is a condition involving an abnormally fast heart rhythm. It seems that if this condition is episodic, it only requires observation, but Kasahara may require some therapy if it is more regular than that. We'll have to wait and see but it may require surgery or it could be controlled by medicine.

Kasahara and Fukutani being out of the equation adds to a growing list of starting pitchers that are either out of form or injured. Akiyoshi Katsuno and Takumi Yamamoto are just about the only other starters that could be called up at this rate. As I mentioned in my last post, there's a growing injury list of starting pitchers or guys that have only just come back. The most notable absentees of course are Daisuke Matsuzaka, Shinnosuke Ogasawara, Kento Fujishima and now Kasahara. All 4 would be vying for a spot in the rotation if fit. Kazuki Yoshimi and Daisuke Yamai have fallen out of favour somewhat given the results they've left behind this year while potential rotation hopefuls like Kodai Umetsu, Sho Ishikawa and the aforementioned Fukutani have also either been sidelined or just come back from injury. It's a sad state of affairs but the Dragons now have to manage a lack of starters on the top team as well as the farm. On the farm at least there's a few more options with development contract guys, Kenta Mark Ishida, Tatsuro and Tomohiro Hamada pitching, but it's still not that deep across the board. How this little disaster is managed will be telling over the course of the season.

Just to give some insight, here's what the starting depth looks like:

Rotation LocksRotation Hopefuls
Yudai OnoTakuma Achira
Enny RomeroTatsuya Shimizu
Yuya YanagiAkiyoshi Katsuno
Takumi Yamamoto
Kenshin Kakikoshi
Shota Suzuki
Kazuki Yoshimi
Daisuke Yamai
Yu Sato
Ono, Romero and Yanagi are the only ones who've shown consistency to stay in the rotation and that are healthy. The amount of hopefuls is quite staggering and I've roughly listed them by how realistically they'll get called up any time soon. Realisitically, Kakikoshi won't be in this conversation. He's done okay so far but he's 18 year-old and is just getting used to things. Suzuki has an ERA of 8.10 on the farm so that wouldn't be recommended but Katsuno, Shimizu and Achira all look like they could do something with the top team. Yoshimi and Yamai will likely get another look in at some point while Sato's only start on the farm was a bit of a disaster as they look to stretch him out a bit more.

To however complicate things, let's look at what the farm's pitching options look like:
2-gun startersBullpen
Tatsuro HamadaDaisuke Sobue
Tomohiro HamadaTakuya Mitsuma
Yu SatoJunki Ito
Tatsuya ShimizuKenta Mark Ishida
Akiyoshi KatsunoKenshin Kakikoshi
Takumi Yamamoto
Shota Suzuki
Takuma Achira
Kazuki Yoshimi

The bullpen is paper thin at the moment. You can add Kodai Umetsu into that mix as he's thrown two innings so far as he rehabs. Even doing so, there's not much to work with. If the top team continues to pillage players for the farm rotation, heads will need to be scratched as to how to figure out how to pitch through the season. The starters have been mostly the two Hamadas plus Shimizu, Katsuno and Yamamoto with sprinklings of starts from the others. Yoshimi and Sato have only made one start each so far and Shota Suzuki hasn't been great.

Whichever way you look at it, there's a conundrum with how to manage the pitching staff. With some guys starting to come back like Fujishima and Matsuzaka there will be some bolstering of the ranks, but it's still pretty thin for Michihiro Ogawawara's team who might as well field pitching coaches Ken Kadokura and Takuya Asao at this point.

In other news, long-serving short-stop and now colour analyst, Hirokazu Ibata has started a blog and a Twitter account. His analysis is actually pretty good and he's got a very good baseball mind. Who knows, we might see him back with the Dragons in a coaching capacity one day. For the meantime though, he's doing good work behind the microphone with interviews and commentary.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Carp @Nagoya Dome, 6 May - 8 May; Magi-Carp flail to victory

The final series of the Golden Week bonanza would take place against the Hiroshima Carp at home. The Dragons would be looking to exact revenge and reassert some dominance at home following the last series away to the Carp. Koji Fukutani would make his first start of his professional career while two of the Dragons most successful starters this year in Yudai Ono and Enny Romero would round out what looked like a winnable series. It should have been.
  • Game 31: Carp 7-2 Dragons
  • Game 32: Carp 0-6 Dragons
  • Game 33: Carp 3-2 Dragons
Game 31
Koji Fukutani was earmarked for a starting roll in the 2017 fall camp. In the 2018 season he saw mostly stints as a mop-up reliever in low pressure situations. Yoda and the gang however have decided to take the starter experiment to the next level culminating in Fukutani's first start since being drafted. 
Fukutani fanned 6 batters through 6IP for only 1ER in a quality start where he showed good velocity on his fast ball keeping it in the high 140's and topping out at 152 km/h. The fastball was his put-away pitch for may of the Carp batters where he also mixed in a variety of sliders and change-ups. 

The Dragons would take the advantage in the 4th through Shuhei Takahashi and a pass-ball from Tomohiro Abe to put two on the board. Yoshitaka Isomura's solo homer, his second of the season and second against the Dragons, would be the only scuff mark on an otherwise great start from Fukutani. Hiroshi Suzuki would unfortunately continue his wobbles in the 9th as he gave up a single to Ryuhei Matsuyama to even the scores. It would all however fall together in one big heap in extra innings with Keisuke Tanimoto. With loaded bases, Ryoma Nishikawa struck a base clearing triple while Tomohiro Abe made up for his earlier gaff with a 2-run homer to send the Carp 7-2 clear. 

On the positive side, Raidel Martinez and Joely Rodriguez set-up the game well with 5 Ks between them in their 2 innings. Run support was unfortunately not enough to help Suzuki through a rough patch. Shuhei did his best with a modasho game while Issei Endo picked up 2 hits. 

Game 32
With Yudai Ono on the mound, one can't help but feel confident this year. It's a weird feeling considering the last couple of years, but I think this is what it feels like to have an ace.

The Dragons made mince meat of the Carp as Ono tossed his 5th quality start and first CGSO of the season. Ono amassed an amazing 13 Ks with only 2 walks and 3 hits to make the Hiroshima Carp looked like stunned mullet. The line-up did their job well as Shuhei Takahashi took the initiative batting in 2 of the Dragons 6 runs while going 5-4 while Dayan Viciedo kept his average healthy going 5-3 with an RBI. Ryosuke Hirata too had fun as he smacked 4 with an RBI to bring his season average to .328. 

Not much more to say. The Dragons showed off one of their most dominating performances in recent years putting the smack down on an inconsistent Carp and on their #2 starter, Yusuke Nomura.

Game 33
Enny Romero would need to overcome a disappointing last outing against the Giants. He would not however have the greatest of starts as he gave up an early run and  2 solo shots to Xavier Batista and Seiya Suzuki to put the Dragons behind the 8-ball early on with Carp ace, Daiichi Osera on the mound.  The home team would peg 2 runs back through Shuhei Takahashi and a grounder from Kosuke Ito. Takuma Kato's heroics behind the plate would keep the game interesting but the Dragons would ultimately fail to muster the runs needed as Osera threw a consecutive complete game against the Dragons.

Romero had probably his worst start of the year and clocked up 99 pitches in 5IP before a relay of Hiroto Fuku, Shinji Tajima, Raidel Martinez, Joely Rodriguez and Hiroshi Suzuki closed out the game scoreless. Martinez continues his ridiculous ability to strike out fools as he took 2 more this game to bring his K/9 up to 10.97 (3rd in Central League for +10IP) which is the highest of any Dragon this year. Ono lurks just behind at 10.72 which is just as if not more impressive. Among the bats Viciedo would have the only multi-hit game as the line-up failed to connect and Osera did the job. 

Overall, this was a winnable series but all it means now is that the Dragons only have 3 wins  in May. Not being swept is admirable I suppose, but there's been an element of bad luck. That being said, good teams win these close games and we haven't been able to.

In other news, ahead of the Ladies Series, an "ikemen" vote has been taken to find the most handsome Dragon on the current roster. Naomichi Donoue was the overwhelming favourite. An understandable pick in my opinion. Shuhei Takahashi and Toshiya Okada rounded out the top 3.

Naomichi has the face the ladies love.
Otherwise, I have been meaning to update on injuries.
As of today the current injury list is as follows:

PlayerInjury Status
Shinnosuke OgasawaraLeft shoulder pain
Daisuke MatsuzakaRight shoulder discomfort
Sho IshikawaRight elbow osteochondritis dissecans
Shotaro KasaharaSuspected arrhythmia
Kento FujishimaPost-blood clot surgery
Taisuke MaruyamaPost-Tommy John surgery
Yusuke Kinoshita Right shoulder pain
Akito OkuraOssification of the thoracic vertebrae
Takuya KinoshitaLeft knee discomfort
Ryota IshiokaRear left thigh pain
Kaname TakinoInner left knee collateral ligament injury

All of the above are on separate training menus with some still resting up. Kento Fujishima has thrown a few pitches recently, as has Matsuzaka. It's a shame to have so many in need of treatment, but the good thing is that the list is getting shorter.

Finally, the starters against the Tigers at Koshien stadium this week have been suspected as Katsuki Matayoshi, Yuya Yanagi and Tatsuya Shimizu. Shimizu is the biggest surprise who is only 19 y/o. One would have thought that Takumi Yamamoto or Akiyoshi Katsuno would have been next in line but Shimizu has pitched exceptionally well so far in his 32.1 IP, with 24 strikeouts and a 2.23 ERA. Katsuno has the next best ERA and IP on the farm while Yamamoto has racked up the innings but sits with a 4.38 ERA for the season,

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Swallows @Nagoya Dome, 3 May - 5 May; Swallows too chirpy for lethargic, mythic lizards.

The Reiwa era would continue to be a painful one as the Dragons went in search of their first series win during the reign of the new emperor. One would have hoped a return to home against the Swallows would have yielded a win, but this was not to be the case. The first win of the era would come in third game despite a shaky close to proceedings.
  • Game 28: Swallows 7-2 Dragons 
  • Game 29: Swallows 8-4 Dragons
  • Game 30: Swallows 5-6 Dragons
A steady flow of runs from the Swallows throughout the first game of the series aided by a complete game from Yasuhiro Ogawa guaranteed a somewhat comfortable win. Katsuki Matayoshi made his first start of the year which ended as to what was to be expected, in a short, 5 IP for 5ER. His first inning was a bases loaded jam in no time before he gave up a 2 RBI single to Tetsuto Yamada. While he escaped the inning with no further damage, the Swallows were 5-0 up care of a Yuhei Nakamura 2RBI double in the top of the 6th. The Dragons were able to avoid a shut-out in the 9th  through a 2RBI single off the bat of Shuhei Takahashi. Viciedo has the only multi-hit game for the Dragons while Hiroto Fuku had his first appearance of he year, striking out two and giving up a 2-run homer to 19 year-old Munetaka Murakami.

A big 5th inning from the Swallows would knock the Dragons flat on their backs as Yuya Yanagi took on 8 earned runs for his first loss of the season. The Dragons had evened up the scores through Toshiki Abe in the 2nd following the Swallows scoring on a wild-pitch. It would all come tumbling down in the 5th inning however as the Swallows kept slugging, claiming 7 runs where Yoda just stood by and watched Yanagi take a beating. Nobumasa Fukuda would give the home team some heart with a massive back-screen homerun in the 6th but apart from a dribble in the 8th where the team got their 4th run of the night, it wasn't one to write home about.
Fukuda and Abe both had 2-hit games while Toshiya Okada's first appearance of the season went unscathed. 

The final game of the series would be a slightly better one to reflect on as Takuma Achira claimed his first career win in a 6-5 victory. Up against veteran and former draft target, Hayato Terahara, the Dragons took the initiative when Yohei Oshima singled to send Ryosuke Hirata home. Toshiki Abe, the RBI machine, would make further damage in the 2nd while Achira also batted one in to improve his chances of a W. Yuhei's 2-run homer in the 4th would put pressure on the Dragons to step up and it was effort from Ryosuke Hirata in the 4th and 5th that gave his team further cushion. 
It would come down to 2 runs in hand come the 9th following good mop up work from Raidel Martinez and Joely Rodriguez. Hiroshi Suzuki secure the win the hard way as he was luck to escape with only one run conceded after loading up the bases with Tetsuto Yamada at the plate. Suzuki was however able to take a grounder off Murakami to end the game in a close, 6-5 victory.
The bats came alive in this one with Hirata and Oshima both claiming modashos while the latter also picked up two steals to push him into double figures for the year.

Overall, the Swallows packed more of a punch when it was needed. I'm concerned that the match-ups have been a problem. Matayoshi was not a good match-up for Ogawa just like Yamai wasn't a good match-up for Sugano in the previous series. Hopefully the rotation can be worked on a bit better to give the team a better chance to win. Better yet, not starting Matayoshi would be a plus. I like him as a player and as a personality but he does not have any outstanding pitches to put away batters. Stamina he might have, but quality to turn over the order twice, he does not.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Series Wrap: Dragons vs Giants @Tokyo Dome, 30 April - 2 May; Giants take first series of the Reiwa era

This series, straddling the new imperial eras of Heisei and Reiwa, would be an unfortunate one for Dragons fans as, while the team were able to close out the Heisei era on a positive, winning note, the Reiwa era started with 2 demoralizing losses.
  • Game 25: Dragons 3-1 Giants
  • Game 26: Dragons 1-5 Giants
  • Game 27: Dragons 3-9 Giants
In the final game of the reign of the Emperor Heisei, 19 y/o Kosuke Ito would make his first-team debut batting lead-off no less and fielding in left. He marked his first PA with a hit and otherwise threw himself around in the field narrowly missing a wall bouncing catch early in the game.
Yudai Ono showed he is the Giants enemy number one as he went to town, throwing more Ks than a disengaged teenager on WhatsApp. Ono didn't quite do the damage to the Giants that he did in the opposite fixture earlier in April, but he still took 8Ks in 7 IP leaving him with a 10.13 K/9 for the season and a 1.04 WHIP. Not bad reading. The match-up was kind with Giants rookie Yuki Takahashi taking the mound, but even he got through 7. He however was rocked by a Fukuda 3-run jack in the top of the 2nd inning from which the Giants never recovered.
Kyoda had the only multi-hit game while Joely Rodriguez picked up his 11th hold and Hiroshi Suzuki his 9th save.

The first game of the Reiwa era would see a fairly predictable result as 40 y/o Daisuke Yamai threw down against NPB's arguably best hurler in Tomoyuki Sugano. Sugano showed his class claiming a complete game which would have been a shut-out had it not been for Dayan Viciedo's RBI single to centre in the 9th. 
A haphazard opening inning from Yamai that loaded the bases saw the floodgates open as Toshiyuki Kamei, Dai-Kang Yang, Yasuhiro Yamamoto and Seiji Kobayashi all added RBIs, some clean and some in between ground outs. The first homerun of the Reiwa era by Hayato Sakamoto would be the final scoring play for the Giants in the 2nd inning to close out a comfortable win for the Edo Leviathans.
Masaru Watanabe made his starting debut as he lead-off and claimed a hit while Kyoda and Viciedo had multi-hit games. 

The spotlight would be on Enny Romero for the final game of the series as it was his walk from Taylor Jungmann that helped give the Dragons the lead in the 4th inning after Ryosuke Hirata singled to drive in two runs. 

Romero was pitching well but it started to get ugly as he gave up a solo homerun to pinch-hitting, former Dragon, Alex Guererro in the  bottom of the fourth inning. It would however all come tumbling down in the 5th.
It started harmlessly by giving up another solo shot to the erstwhile power-impaired catcher, Ginjiro Sumitani. What seemed a minor bruise with no one on base was compounded when walks given to former major leaguers, Hiroyuki Nakajima and Christian Villenueva, ended in some bullshit. With 2 outs already recorded, Kazuma Okamoto skied what looked like a straight forward fly-ball that struck the roof causing confusion between Yota Kyoda and Shuhei Takahashi who weren't prepared for the change in trajectory. Given the situation, Nakajima was already in full-flight and ran into home to even up the scores.
Whether this distracted Romero or not, with Yang at the plate, he shook off Takuma Kato's sign to favour a fastball inside that was dispatched into the stands to give the Giants a 6-3 lead. Romero, frustrated with himself, tossed his glove into the dirt. I don't blame him.

Villenueva and Sakamoto contributed 3 more runs to end the game 9-3 despite both teams managing 10 hits a piece. 4 homers surrendered to the Giants doesn't look good and it certainly made the difference. Viciedo otherwise had a modasho game while Hirata and Toshiki Abe both registered 2-hits a piece.
On his return to the top team, Toshiya Okada pitched a scoreless inning to end the evening on a high note.

Overall, a series to forget. A series that reminds us of our mortality and perhaps where we really should be overall in the standings. The Giants looked strong and we didn't. Romero was lit-up which is surprising but Ono keeps showing his return to ace form so that is reassuring.

Some other information; @robertsan_CD is a new account on Twitter I've found and he is a Dragons data collector. All the information is in Japanese but he is one of the most knowledgeable fans I've found. He's recently uploaded an infographic on the farm team for March-April and he keeps pumping out interesting stuff. I strongly recommend following him.

Other news, Koji Fukutani has been stretched out on the farm and will likely start one of the next 6 games. Yoda seems to be using this stretch to fiddle with his rotation a bit which I approve of. Hiroto Fuku and Shun Ishikawa were promoted today to replace Taiki Mitsumata and Daisuke Sobue. Mitsumata just hasn't registered a hit while Sobue probably needs a rest.