Does Yuki Saito have a future in professional baseball?


After the Nippon-Ham Fighters drafted Yuki Saito in the first round out of Waseda University, fans across Japan looked forward to a Masahiro Tanaka-Saito pitching battle–recreating the unforgettable moments of the 2006 Koshien Tournament. The Fighters, who had just sold Yu Darvish to the Texas Rangers and hired Hideki Kuriyama as manager, saw in Saito a bankable star and potential front of the rotation pitcher. The Fighters gave Saito number 18 (the so-called ace number) and made him their opening-day starter. Some fans and commentators grumbled that veteran pitcher Masaru Takeda was a more suitable opening-day starter, but all wanted to see how he would do in his first professional start. Thanks to a Micah Hoffpauir grand slam, Saito won his first game and was honored as the game’s hero. Hoffpauir was absent from hero’s podium.

Saito is struggling to find success; fans bought and donned his number 18 jersey in droves, but these days I only see a few fans wearing his jersey at games. When manager Kuriyama replaced him in the second inning after the Rakuten Golden Eagles scored three runs, I wondered about his future in professional baseball. He has had nothing but downs and the Fighters, if I use Kuriyama’s decision to replace him in the early innings as proof, no longer trust him. He is not a bad pitcher–he’s just not the pitcher fans want him to be.

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Sapporo Dome

What Sapporo Dome looks like when the Nippon-Ham Fighters are out of town. Sapporo’s local soccer club, Consadole Sapporo, beat J-League Division 2 rival  Matsumoto Yamaga 1-0. Sapporo Dome hosted three World Cup matches in 2002, the most memorable being the Argentina versus England match.

Sapporo Dome

Sapporo Dome

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Facts and stats

  • Yomiuri Giants Tatsunori Hara is the highest paid manager in Japan, earning between $2.3~2.4  million a year. Orix Buffaloes Hiroshi Moriwaki is the least paid, earning just under $500 thousand a year.

  • Orix Buffaloes Wily Mo Pena has hit six home runs in eight games.

  • New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka earned his 100th career victory (NPB-MLB combined stats) against the Toronto Blue Jays in his 176th appearance. Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish earned his 100th career victory in his 177th appearance.

  • Nippon-Ham Fighters Shohei Otani’s batting average is .333 (6 for 18). His earned run average is 3.00 in three innings.
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Young pitchers have tough first start

During spring training, I read about Shintaro Fujinami’s troubles to get batters out. Fujinami’s fame grew after pitching a shutout game for Osaka Toin High School, leading his team to victory at the 2012 Japanese National Baseball Championship. When the Hanshin Tigers drafted him, the Tigers had high expectations for him, and he mostly fulfilled those expectations, having a strong rookie season, though he faltered in his last few starts–including a Climax Series loss against the Hanshin Tigers.

Fujinami’s struggled in his first start of the 2014 season against the Chunichi Dragons, allowing six earned runs in seven innings. He pitched well until the eighth inning but was unable to get the last out, and was responsible four of the seven runs the Dragons scored in the eighth inning.

I also read about  Yuki Matsui, a rookie pitcher for the Rakuten Golden Eagles. Like Fujinami, Matsui was a star high school baseball pitcher. In his first start of the 2014 season, he struggled in the first and sixth innings–his first and last innings. He gave up a run in the first and two runs in the sixth. Overall, it was a decent start, and impressive for a pitcher who was in high school a few months ago.

Both pitchers should have fine seasons, though neither will have the type of seasons that the fans and sports newspapers want.

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Golden rookie Yuki Matsui ready for season

Last season’s “golden rookie” was the Nippon-Ham Fighters Shohei Otani. This season’s “golden rookie” is Rakuten Golden Eagles leftie Yuki Matsui, an undersized pitcher with great control and a major-league slider.  In spring training matches Matsui has fared well, posting an ERA of 1.13 with 17 strikeouts in 16 innings of work. In his last start against the DeNA Baystars, his fastball hit 150 kh (about 93 mph) on the radar gun.


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Date of birth

October 30, 1995






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Fighters hope 2014 not a repeat of 2013

The Nippon-Ham Fighters have gone scoreless in 27 innings, having last scored a run–and only a run–on March 13 in a spring training game against the Seibu Lions. Although the Fighters are not too worried about their recent lack of offensive production (this is spring training), a last place finish in 2013, the hole created by the departure of starting pitchers Brian Wolfe and Bobby Keppel, an aging Atsunori Inaba who was ineffective as a hitter in 2013, All-Star Sho Nakata’s transition from rightfield to third base, and “golden rookie” Shohei Otani’s continued attempt at pitching and being a part-time outfielder have Fighter fans wondering if the 2014 will be a repeat of the disastrous 2013 season.


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Michihiro “Guts” Ogasawara making a comeback

In a spring training game against the Nippon-Ham Fighters last night, Chunichi Dragons infielder Michiro Ogasawara (career stats) hit a pinch-hit home run in the top of the ninth inning, providing an insurance run.

Ogasawara was a top hitter in Nippon Professional Baseball, winning back-to-back MVP titles in 2006 with the Fighters and in 2007 with the Yomiuri Giants–the only other player to win MVP titles in both leagues is former pitcher Yutaka Enatsu (Hiroshima Carp, 1979; Fighters, 1981). Over the past three seasons with the Giants, he’s been useless, hitting neither for average nor power. In the offseason, the Dragons signed Ogasawara for reasons that I can only guess at.

Anyway, I hope “Guts” finds success in 2014, though he’ll probably contribute only as an unofficial bench coach.


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