SENDAI – Shohei Otani was quiet on and off the field in what was expected to be his last game in Japan on Monday before being posted to the major leagues this winter.
Otani and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, who beat the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 3-1 for their fourth straight win, drew the curtain on a miserable season that will see them finish fifth in the Pacific League after winning the Japan Series last year.
Batting third as the designated hitter, Otani went hitless in four at-bats and declined to discuss his future on this day, saying only, “I do have something of an admiration (for the majors).
“I’m just trying to get better each and every single day. I want to do what I can every day, in each and every at-bat.”
Otani, a Tohoku native from Iwate Prefecture, struck out in his first at-bat at Kobo Park Miyagi, then flied out to left and grounded out to short.
In his final trip to the plate in the seventh inning, Otani struck out looking for a second time, going down on a slider by Yuhei Takanashi to end what has been an exasperating fifth year in the pros for the 23-year-old two-way star.
Takanashi said he was privileged to have faced Otani.
“I feel incredibly lucky that I pitched against him in what could be his last at-bat in Japan,” Takanashi said. “I really appreciate having gotten the opportunity.”
After hurting his right ankle in the Japan Series last October, Otani aggravated the injury while playing for the national team and ended up missing the World Baseball Classic in March.
He managed to return in time for the season opener, but strained his left hamstring on April 8 and was sidelined until late June.
“I couldn’t play ball and it wasn’t fun,” Otani said, looking back on a season in which he made just five starts, posting a 3.20 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 25⅓ innings. In his most recent start last Wednesday, he struck out 10 in a two-hit shutout.
Otani hit .332 with eight homers and 31 RBIs in 202 at-bats.
“It was frustrating not being able to be out there. Things didn’t go the way I wanted them to. But I like to think the experience will prove useful.”
Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama hopes Otani’s five years in Sapporo will allow him to prosper at his next destination, wherever that maybe.
“I really hope his time with us will mean something to him,” Kuriyama said. “Whenever his career comes to an end, I trust that he will look back on it that way.”
Kohei Arihara (10-13) pitched one-run ball over seven innings to pick up the win. Manabu Mima (11-8) took the loss despite allowing only one earned run in 6⅓ innings for the third-place Eagles, who wrap up the regular season on Tuesday against the Chiba Lotte Marines, before facing the Seibu Lions in the Pacific League Climax Series, which begins Saturday.
Marines 6, Buffaloes 1
At Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium, Jimmy Paredes’ three-run homer and Takashi Ogino’s two-RBI single highlighted Lotte’s five-run fourth inning as the Marines came back from a run down to hand Orix its sixth straight loss in its season finale.