The transition to Nippon Professional Baseball is never easy, even for veteran major leagues.
Among other things, the fact that Japanese pitchers throw more off-speed pitches than their Major League Baseball counterparts is cited as one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.
Added to this are the various cultural differences off the pitch.
Former Philadelphia Phillies infielder Freddy Galvis is the latest former MLB player to struggle in Japan.
The Pacific League’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks sent the struggling shortstop to their farm team on Monday, May 2 after he got off to a slow start that included a .129 batting average and just one home run and four RBIs in his first 22 games.
“It was a difficult decision,” said SoftBank coach Hiroyuki Mori. “We were worried that if he was taken out of games his motivation would drop, so it’s better to send him downstairs where he can get hit regularly and hopefully get his rhythm back.”
Galvis, 32, who also has MLB experience with the San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles, was one of the biggest offseason signings among NPB teams and arrived in Japan with high expectations.
12+ MLB seasons. The Venezuelan native has a .246 batting average with 109 homers and 426 RBIs.
Sending a player to the farm can work wonders. Just ask Sho Nakata from the Yomiuri Giants.
Nakata fought for the top team with a .188 batting average and two homers in 22 games.
Since the Giants sent him to the farm through May 3, the 33-year-old infielder has hit five home runs in five games.
It happens toh the best
Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto was one of the top pitchers in Japanese baseball last season, posting an 18-5 record with a 1.39 ERA and 206 strikeouts in 26 games.
He also added a gold medal to his long list of accomplishments when he helped Japan to a top podium place in the baseball tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.
But on Tuesday, May 3, the 23-year-old right-hander showed he’s only human.
In a game against the Hawks, Yamamoto was tagged for seven carries with 10 hits over 5⅓ innings, his worst performance to date as a pro.
The seven runs included a Grand Slam against SoftBank’s Yuki Yanagita.
Yamamoto is 3-2 this season with a 2.34 ERA and 46 strikeouts in six games.
For Yamamoto, the game against the Hawks marked the first time since May 28, 2021 that he did not make a quality start, defined as three earned runs or fewer over six innings or more.
Tanaka reaches 1,500 innings
Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka hit an impressive milestone in winners fashion on Tuesday.
The 33-year-old right-hander played eight scoreless innings to clinch the win as the Pacific League-leading Eagles beat the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters 2-1 at the Sapporo Dome.
In the first inning of that game, Tanaka recorded his 1,500. Innings in Nippon Professional Baseball. An impressive number considering he spent seven years in MLB with the New York Yankees.
Tanaka is from Hyogo Prefecture but played in high school in Tomakomai, Hokkaido.
“I think it was fate that allowed me to reach this milestone in Hokkaido,” Tanaka was quoted as saying Kyodo News. “It’s been a while since I’ve played here, but I have so many fond memories of Hokkaido and this stadium.”
With the win, Tanaka improved to 3-1 for the high-flying Eagles. After modest results on his return to NPB last season, Tanaka is showing signs of returning to his dominant self.
Okamoto on fire
Yomiuri Giants cleanup hitter Kazuma Okamoto has made an impressive start for the Central League’s leading team.
As of Thursday, May 5, Okamoto already has 11 home runs, 28 RBIs and 18 runs scored, numbers that suggest he could be in for his best season yet.
The 26-year-old infielder hit 39 home runs and 113 RBIs last season to win the CL home run and RBI titles for the second straight year.
Okamoto has hit 146 home runs since his debut season with the Giants in 2015.
His breakout season was in 2018 when he hit 33 things.
It’s fair to say that the Giants haven’t been as strong since Hideki Matsui played for them between 1993 and 2002 and hit 332 home runs during that time.
Right-hander Drew Anderson kicked off his NPB career in style on Thursday, May 5.
Anderson flirted with a no-hitter en route to his first win for the Hiroshima Carp in a 3-0 decision over the Giants.
The 28-year-old Nevada native hit seven, allowing just one hit and no walks through seven innings.
Before signing with Carp last year, Anderson played for the Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers.
Anderson’s season has been suspended due to COVID-19 restrictions. It lasted over a month into the season before its first start.
“He was a bit nervous but that was a great pitch,” said Hiroshima coach Shinji Sasaoka. “He took a big step towards earning a place in the rotation.”
The win also allowed the Carps to move past the Giants’ standings leaders in just 1½ games.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a veteran journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here.