Spring Training 2017 – 6th Cool* News

* Check out the news from the 1st Cool, the 2nd Cool, the 3rd Cool, the 4th Cool or the 5th Cool if you want to look back on the month of February. In case you missed it, “cool” is not a correct transcription of the Japanese クール (which comes from the French cours = course / installment / season), the term used to divide the spring training sessions into parts. Since クール is also used for the English word “cool” I have done so in my headline, too. The クール of winter is almost behind us. Spring and ウォーム weather is on the way! So is REAL baseball!!!


Happy World Tailors’ Day everyone! Go out there and get a suit made or altered! Today is the last day of spring training, and usually not a lot happens other than camp breaking and players heading back to mainland Japan. This is the news from both camps since February 24.

Ginoza, Okinawa – Top Squad

Hanshin faced the Nippon Ham Fighters in an exhibition game on February 25 – the second meeting of the two this spring. Last time the game ended in a 1-1 draw (see 4th Cool for summary). However, Shintaro Fujinami pitched the first five innings of that one, before heading off to Samurai Japan practices in Miyazaki. Speaking of Fujinami, he was told by one of the coaches that his pitching was a little too controlled, and that he needs to be wilder. Doesn’t sound like the Fujinami we know! He is also rumored to possibly be used as a starter instead of in long relief as originally forecasted.

 

Back to the game summary. Hanshin started Takumi Akiyama, who has impressed this spring (he impresses most springs, then disappoints during the season). With the 5th and 6th starter positions still undetermined, this would be his chance to prove himself. And prove himself he did. Four innings of one-hit ball, striking out 7 batters. The Tigers opened up the scoring with a Fumiya Hojoh 2-run home run in the third, then added more in the fourth with rookie Kento Itohara‘s 2-run single. The lead grew even more in the fifth as Masahiro Nakatani hit a 2-run deep double and then Taiga Egoshi brought in another with a bases-loaded sacrifice fly. On the pitching end, Roman Mendez put in an inning of scoreless relief, but Hiroya Shimamoto came in and served Brandon Laird a 3-run home run inducing pitch. Hanshin got those runs right back and then some in the next two innings. Nakatani hit a bomb in the seventh, and Hojoh picked up his second of the game in the eighth. First-round pick Yusuke Ohyama got the team’s final RBI with a single later that inning. Final Score: Hanshin 11, Nippon Ham 3.

The team was scheduled to play against Chunichi on the 26th but due to heavy rain, the game never took place.

On the 27th, the team had its final intrasquad game of the month. There were still plenty of pitchers and hitters who needed to prove themselves and make a case for a spot on the top squad. One of these was veteran Minoru Iwata, who has mixed good starts with stinkers this month. He was on the mound for the white squad and went 3 innings without giving up a run. His opponent on the red team was fellow southpaw Yuya Yokoyama, who threw 4 blank innings. Some of the highlights of the game include:

 

Shun Takayama hitting an opposite field home run off Rafael Dolis. Takayama’s hitting looks different this year already, as he has been driving the ball harder and hitting a lot of line drives. Hopefully this translates into better power numbers this season.

 

Rookies Yusuke Ohyama (1st round pick) and Taiki Ono (2nd round) facing off. The hurler got some good pitches nibbling on the corner for strikes, but ultimately walked the young slugger. Ohyama collected two hits on the day and now has hits in three straight games after starting spring ice cold. For his part, Ono went two innings and gave up no hits, but did walk two (including the hitter before Ohyama). He maxed out at 153 km/h (95 mph) and continues to impress scouts and coaches alike.

Import Eric Campbell went hitless and left the game after his second at bat against Yokoyama in the 4th. He felt pain in his left wrist after swinging through the second pitch he faced. To his credit, he made it through the at bat and drew a walk. He has been diagnosed with something that sometimes results in tendonitis but is more commonly known as “trigger finger” (though it’s in his wrist): tenosynovitis. It appears that he will continue to work out with the top squad, as he did today, playing catch and taking part in the team’s send-off.

Dolis took batting practice and turned more than a few heads. The one-time shortstop (before his pro days) hit several balls deep to the outfield. Three even cleared the fence. Yoshio Itoi, who was taking fielding practice for the first time this spring, was highly impressed with his new teammate. Speaking of Itoi, he still hopes to participate in exhibition games in March. He was also reported to have said, “Artificial grass is the best,” referring to the field at Ginoza. Coach Nakamura corrected him, telling him it was natural. Itoi is rather well known for his airheadedness.

Manager Tomoaki Kanemoto gave this year’s camp a score of 80 out of 100. He says the defense has a lot of work to do before the start of the season. Given how much ink these three have earned on this page over the past month (especially relative to last season), it is not surprising that the three camp MVPs announced were:

Fumiya Hojoh, Masahiro Nakatani, Takumi Akiyama

 

Finally, Hanshin will have two WBC warm-up matches this weekend at Kyocera Dome Osaka. On Friday, March 3, it will face Samurai Japan at 7:00 pm. The game is sold out. Randy Messenger is slated to start for Hanshin. He did so four years ago as well, giving up 2 hits in 3 innings of work against the Japanese team.


Aki, Kochi – Second Squad

 

Tsuyoshi Nishioka (left achilles tendon) took full batting practice. (He hit pitching machine balls last week, but these were against a live pitcher.) Of his 66 swings, 20 were deemed base hits, including one over the fence while hitting from the right side. No timetable has been determined for his return to game action, but his weight loss and swings at the plate are encouraging signs.

Yamato, who is working towards becoming a switch hitter, got his first RBI ever as a left-handed hitter. He is starting to show signs of being able to handle pitches from both sides of the plate (I’ll refrain from a sarcastic comment here) and hopes that this new weapon will land him a spot on the top squad, perhaps even as starting second baseman while Nishioka continues to rehab.

Second squad camp MVPs were also announced: Naomasa Yohkawa and Daiki Enokida.


Both clubs finish their spring trainings with a minimal number of injuries (the team has still not divulged the nature of Shintaro Yokota‘s migraines, Campbell hurt his wrist but it appears to be a minor injury, Itoi’s knee seems to be back in good shape, and Hayata Itoh has been playing in exhibition matches since his injury). There was also no movement between the camps – usually if a top squad player is badly hurt or not performing well, he is sent to Aki, and replaced by a second squad player who has stood out. Perhaps this is a sign that everyone practiced hard and looked good. We can only hope this continues through the season as well.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.