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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.

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