Make Nohmi a Set-up Man!
There are less than 50 games left in the season. (Translator’s Note: The count now sits at just over 20.) As of August 9, the team sits in the favourably behind the Giants by a mere 0.5 games. If they want to win it all, the team must avoid the same disastrous September they put out last season. One of the big reasons for last year’s slump was the inability to hold down leads as the relievers replaced starters. It seems to me the batting order is even stronger than last year, so it is that much more important to have a solid corps of relievers.
I propose the team use ace pitcher Atsushi Nohmi as their set-up man in the 7th and 8th innings. One of Nohmi’s strengths is his ability to strike guys out. Let’s go back to 2012, when I was the pitching coach for the Tigers. I wanted Nohmi to win the league strikeout title, so I put him in as a reliever in the final game of the season. He did an outstanding job, and clearly has what it takes to be a solid reliever.
This year in particular, Nohmi is struggling to throw the ball well. (As of August 8) Nohmi is winless in his last 8 appearances, sports a 5-10 record with a 4.50 ERA. He’s shown signs of being able to put together a good game, but has also tended to give up runs early and has been knocked around badly later in games as well. With that in mind, I think he would be better used in the seventh and eighth as a reliever.
Presently (Shinobu) Fukuhara is playing the role of set-up man, but I don’t think he’s got his best stuff going for him right now. This is where Nohmi comes in to complement Fukuhara and Andoh and shut down the opposition in the 7th and 8th. Fortunately the team has a solid closer in Seung-hwan Oh, so it is best if the team can build their lead through the first six innings, then shut down the opposing team’s hitters beyond the 7th. Granted, at the moment the team has a solid 19-10 record in games decided by one run. As they battle for the league title, there will likely be more close games like this, and they don’t want to blow any leads late in games. They need to go overboard to ensure they are rock solid in the final three innings of such games. Having that strong a relief corps would likely be quite intimidating for other teams as well.
On the other hand, the team currently has a 4-31 record in games that they trail after six innings. That makes it even more important that they hold leads when they have them. If they are losing late in games, rest Nohmi and Fukuhara. If they are winning, they’ll have their best relievers in their best shape.
You might be thinking that if they follow my suggestion, the starting pitchers look a little lean. I think you can confidently put Messenger, Iwata, Fujinami and Iwasada in place as the core. With the other two slots, put in the youngsters, try to get them through five innings and you can use guys like Enokida in the sixth. So far against the Giants this season (as of August 9th), the Tigers have a 9-6 record, but there are nine games remaining. Of those, six take place at Tokyo Dome. These are must-win games, so the team has to hold fort in the last three innings.
I’ve spent the whole article talking about the pitching staff, but another issue is what to do about the 6th and 7th hitters. Though the first five hitters are doing their job, their 441 runs (2nd in the league) leave something to be desired. If the 6th and 7th hitters can get a few more hits, the lineup becomes that much more dangerous.
In any case, there are less than 50 games remaining in the regular season. Hopefully the team can win against the Carp, who are always strong in the summer months, but even more key is not losing against the weaker teams. To do these things, come from behind and win the division title from the Giants, I strongly believe the first step is to give the relief corps a solid anchor in Nohmi.