SAPPORO – With half of the MLB teams having someone in the stands on Thursday, Shohei Otani showed he can still pitch — despite not having done so since July 12.
All 30 big league clubs’ talent evaluators, including longtime New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman who was at the game, already know Otani can throw really, really hard and has displayed good skill with his forkball, curve and slider. But due to an October ankle injury and an April thigh injury, Thursday’s start against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks was just his third live game on the mound since last year’s Japan Series.
The Fighters lost 4-3 against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks and Otani’s bottom line — four runs allowed on three hits and three walks and four strikeouts in 3-1/3 innings, was nothing special — but it was a positive showing considering the circumstances.
“My arm action was good,” said Otani. “It was a small step forward from my last time. If I look only for perfection, then I’ll never get there. But at this stage, it was a good outing.”
Expected to throw around 60 pitches, Otani cruised through three scoreless innings. The 23-year-old right-hander, however, issued a four-pitch walk to open the fourth and his game crumbled.
Though he continued to throw hard, Otani’s pitches were beginning to lose their life, with Yuki Yanagita lining a clean single off a straight 160 kph fastball.
Designated hitter Alfredo Despaigne singled off a lazy 2-1 slider and light-hitting Shuhei Fukuda put a ferocious swing on a hanging splitter for his second career homer off Otani.
“The biggest thing is that I failed to execute, so I’m not there yet,” Otani said.
Otani’s 64th pitch of the evening proved to be his last. Still, it was a vast improvement over his July 1 minor league rehab start in which he couldn’t command his breaking pitches, and his first-team season debut, when he couldn’t command his fastball.
“He’s making progress, about what we expected,” Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said.
New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was in attendance at Sapporo Dome, but said little publicly other than that Otani had talent and he had come to Japan because Japan had many players of talent.
Cashman is the third top executive to be seen publicly taking in Otani’s progress. Texas Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels watched the slugging pitcher work out during his rehab in May, while Los Angeles Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was here watching the slugger hit last month.
Although he hasn’t been pitching and was out of action between April 8 and June 27, Otani, the Fighters’ principle designated hitter, is batting .342 with a .402 on-base-percentage and a .548 slugging average.
There is a strong possibility that Otani will be made available to major league teams this autumn through the posting system, when there will be a strong competition for the slugging ace pitcher.
Lions 6, Eagles 2
At Sendai’s Kobo Park, Yusei Kikuchi (13-6) bounced back from one of the worst starts of his career to allow two runs in a complete-game victory over Tohoku Rakuten.
Seibu slugger Tomoya Mori broke a 1-1, second-inning tie with a three-run double as the Eagles dropped out of second place, falling a half-game behind the Lions.
Buffaloes 14, Marines 4
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Takahiro Okada and Hiroyuki Nakajima each had four of Orix’s 21 hits, the most in NPB this season, as the Buffaloes pounded last-place Chiba Lotte.
Giants 3, Carp 1
At Tokyo Dome, Kazuto Taguchi allowed a run over seven innings, picking up his 12th win as Yomiuri prevailed over Hiroshima.
Taguchi (12-2) allowed four hits but no walks, while striking out six as the Giants continued their push to reach the postseason for the 11th straight season. The win lifted fourth-place Yomiuri over .500 for the first time since May 26.
Hisayoshi Chono opened the scoring in the bottom of the second with his 14th home run of the year, a two-out, solo shot off rookie right-hander Yuta Nakamura (4-3).
Nakamura was punished for his inability to throw strikes in the third. After Casey McGehee reached on a one-out infield single, Nakamura issued a pair of two-out walks, and Yoshiyuki Kamei singled in two to give Taguchi more breathing room.
Other than a two-out walk in the seventh, Carp pitchers didn’t allow any more base runners the rest of the way.
Reserve catcher Yoshitaka Isomura homered in the sixth to bring the Carp within two, and the visitors put the tying run on base in the eighth. But Giants right-hander Scott Mathieson pitched out of trouble to preserve the two-run cushion.
Dragons 4, BayStars 2
At Nagoya Dome, Daisuke Yamai (1-0) won his belated season debut, allowing a run in six-plus innings and hit his first career home run as Chunichi defeated Yokohama.
Tigers 1, Swallows 0
At Koshien Stadium, Takumi Akiyama (12-4) scattered seven hits over seven innings to outduel David Buchanan (6-12), who surrendered Takashi Toritani’s one-out RBI single in the fourth inning as Hanshin edged Tokyo Yakult.