Friday, June 28, 2013

Daisuke Yamai No-Hits the Baystars!

On Friday night Daisuke Yamai recorded his first career no-hitter in a 9-0 Chunichi win over Yokohama.  The Dragons jumped out to a 7-run lead in the first prior to Yamai even taking the mound.  Yamai then proceeded to mow down Yokohama's hitters, the first nine in order until a 4th inning walk toTakehiro Ishikawa.  Yamai finished the game with 4 walks and 3 strikeouts, the Dragons defense commited no errors and no Yokohama runner got any farther than first base.  Yamai cruised through the first six innings without giving up any hard hit balls (at least that I recall).  He wasn't striking out many guys but his breaking ball was producing a lot of weak grounders including two double-plays.  After the sixth Yokohama began to hit the ball more squarely and Yamai dodged a few bullets along the way.  Takagi brought Morino and Fujii  in early as defensive replacements to help preserve the no-hitter.  Both players made major contributions as Morino made a nice diving stop on a grounder in the 7th and Fujii overcame a stumble to snag a well hit ball in the 8th, Fujii as well as Ohshima covered a lot of outfield ground in the late innings tracking down deep balls hit by Blanco, Shirasaki and Ramirez.  With two outs in the 9th Yamai fielded a bounding groundball headed towards first base and underhanded to Morino at the bag to record the final out, just getting the speedy Kensuke Uchimura and making himself the 77th NPB pitcher to record a no-hitter.

I can't think of a more deserving pitcher than Yamai to get a no-hitter.  Looking back at Yamai's start in Game 5 of the 2007 Japan Series, in which Daisuke had a perfect game going through 8 innings but was then pulled in favor of closer Hitoki Iwase in what turned out to be the clinching game for Chunichi.  I still agree with then-manager Ochiai's decision, but it was still an unfortunate circumstance for Yamai who came so close to the record books and was left to wonder what would have happened had he come out for the 9th inning.  Now, thanks to his performance Friday night, he and everyone else who follows Japanese baseball knows that he has what takes to finish off a no-hitter.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dragons Ink Hector Luna to Contract Extension

Roughly a week ago Chunichi and third-baseman Hector Luna came to agreement on a contract extension.  The deal adds an additonal two years to Luna's current contract and has a club option for a third year.  Extending Luna makes a lot of sense, not only because he's leading the NPB in hitting, but because he's a capable third-baseman leaving first base open for other foreign players. 

Luna's signing is interesting because it seems to show a change in team philosophy concerning foreign players, at least in this instance.  Over the last near-decade that I've followed the Dragons their management has been unwilling to do multi-year contracts with foreign players, even productive players and fan favorites like Tyrone Woods and Tony Blanco.  I'm not sure if Luna's production alone led to his extension at this time or if the consequences of not re-signing Blanco over the last offseason had something to do with it.  Blanco has been a beast this year for Yokohama, currently hitting .341 with 23 HR and 62 RBI, but I don't think too many people expected him to hit quite that well.  I certainly wasn't expecting that from Blanco, I was a little more than 50-50 in favor of re-signing him because he'd had trouble staying healthy the last couple years and hadn't produced as much as when he first came to Chunichi.  I was also curious to see what other foreign first-basemen could be acquired.  I'm not sure what exactly has led to Blanco's success this year, likely a combination of a fresh environment, the "new" NPB ball and Yokohama's stadium, but in hindsight Chunichi looks pretty bad for letting him go.  Clearly the Dragons didn't want to let Luna get away in free agency and fortunately Luna was interested sticking around.