Monthly Tigers Magazine – May 2015

The latest edition of the Monthly Tigers magazine hit newsstands today and I was sure to get my copy for the morning commute. As I thumbed through it and even read an article, I realized just how cool an organization this is. Yes, this is just another way for them to market their product, but they also offer a lot to their fans in return. Chalk full of interviews, features, profiles, posters, team history and prize offers, the 410 yen cost is a bargain. It’s also Japanese reading (and sometimes translation) practice for me as well! Who could ask for anything more?

2015maycoverHere is the table of contents for this issue:

  • Opening feature: The three main forces on this 80th anniversary team
  • Close-up Interview: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
  • Another Side View: Nishioka
  • Pinstripe Report: Awakening from Spring Hibernation
  • Tigers’ Diary: Kazuhiko Kudo
  • Players’ Note: Keisuke Kanoh
  • Tigers’ History (1935-1957): Masaru Honma
  • Pop’N Talk – Hiroya Shimamoto
  • Tigers Farm Report
  • Take Care of my Son – Tsuyoshi Ishizaki
  • Tigers Data Analysis
  • Short Q & A – Taiga Egoshi
  • Teammates Talk About – Ryota Arai
  • Advice Column – Katsuo Hirata

Once again, if any of these really interest you and you’d like an English translation (or summary), let me know! I can’t promise anything but I’ll do what I can!

The Game I Saw – Tigers 2, Giants 0?

The view from the right field stands last night. Though distant, it sure was a beautiful night to be at Koshien Stadium!

The view from the right field stands last night. Though distant, it sure was a beautiful night to be at Koshien Stadium! The Tigers lost 3-2 despite a pretty good night all around.

The Hanshin Tigers game I saw last night was one of total dominance for the home team. Starter Randy Messenger pitched 6 innings of 4-hit, 10-strikeout shutout ball while the hitters put up two runs in the 4th inning. The relievers (Kaneda, Takamiya, Shimamoto, Matsuda and Ishizaki) cobbled together two more innings of shutout ball as well. The Giants pressed at times for runs but could not bring anyone home.

Unfortunately for the team and its fans, this was the “game I saw” and does not count the first inning, one I spent lining up for a special fan club gift, in which the Giants rallied for three runs before anyone realized the game had started. So the final score was 3-2 Giants, despite the misleading headline.

I will not throw anyone under the bus, but I do have to say that so far this year (not just last night), Matt Murton has been a shadow of the man he was last season, not to mention the other four seasons preceding it. His four plate appearances went: groundout to pitcher, groundout to second, groundout to second, walk. He has grounded out too many times to count (OK, it’s been 10 so far in 16 at bats this week) and just is not hitting the ball well at all. I love the guy and do not place the blame on him for any of the team’s losses… but they definitely need the Murton of 2010-2014 to show up. I’m sure he is more aware of this than anyone else.

On the bright side, Kosuke Fukudome has found his game this year, and actually leads the Central League in OBP among Japanese players so far. Mauro Gomez seems to be hitting the ball better as well, albeit he now has a 15-game homer-less drought going. Hiroki Uemoto definitely looks more comfortable in the leadoff slot than he did batting second or seventh, as well. Ryutaro Umeno is hitting the ball much better than he did last year, striking out way less frequently and spraying the ball all over the outfield, too. There are a lot of positives the team can carry out of the recent funk.

Once Murton picks up his pace and the team finds a solid center field option (Yamato has struggled mightily, Shunsuke is a decent place holder but not likely the answer, and Hayata Itoh and Taiga Egoshi still need to mature as hitters and especially as fielders), the Tigers should be able to right the ship. Hang on tight, Tigers fans… the wins will start to pile up soon, and not just the ones that start in the second inning like it did for me last night!

Series Recap – April 7-9, 2015

Baystars1

Game 1: No runs until the 6th.

Baystars2

Game 2: No runs until the 5th.

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Game 3: No runs until the 8th.

If you decided to attend one of the first games at Koshien but were worried about showing up late, you needn’t have worried. The Tigers also failed to show up early. Often they failed to show up late, too. In all three games of their opening series on their home turf, the Tigers produced zero runs through the first four innings. In fact, they only scored in three innings all series and nearly half of their runs scored came on one error. Obviously it was not a good series for the Tigers, as they dropped three straight against the up-and-coming DeNA Baystars. Since winning their first three of the season, the Tigers have gone 2-7 and no aspect of their game has looked promising during this slide.

15-4-Baystars

Game 1: Although starter Atsushi Nohmi was only on the hook for 1 of the 5 runs scored against him, he was tagged for six hits and walked one through two innings, which put the Tigers in an early hole. On the whole, the Tigers pitchers combined to give up 17 hits and 8 runs, with only Fukuhara pitching a clean inning. Relievers Kaneda, Shimamoto and Takamiya allowed the ‘Stars to extend their lead back to 5 runs. The Tigers scored their runs on a Kosuke Fukudome solo home run in the sixth, which was followed later by a mishandled Hiroki Uemoto grounder to shortstop. On the whole, the Tigers scattered 9 hits and walked six times, but could not bring enough runners home to make this one close. Final Score: Baystars 8, Tigers 3.

Game 2: After a hot spring and a great first start, young Akira Iwamoto‘s magic ended here, as he allowed consecutive runs in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth innings before leaving with the team deep in a hole. It was one they would never come close to digging themselves out of, as their lone run came in the bottom of the fifth. Mauro Gomez broke out of his long slump with an RBI double, and even added another double later in the game, but the rest of the team was silent around him. They all combined for two hits – a Takashi Toritani leadoff double in the first and a Matt Murton single in the third. They drew seven walks in this one, so it was not a lack of baserunners, but again a lack of clutch hitting. Once again, rookie reliever Tsuyoshi Ishizaki looked shaky, allowing 2 runs in 1 1/3 innings. Final Score: Baystars 6, Tigers 1.

Game 3: Second-year pitcher Suguru Iwazaki hoped to bounce back after a shaky outing in Tokyo against the Swallows, especially with his parents in attendance. And he did a great job, holding the ‘Stars scoreless through seven, and left in the eighth with one out and runners on first and third. Fukuhara gave up back-to-back hits and the Baystars took a 2-0 lead heading into the bottom of the inning. A Shunsuke walk and Tsuyoshi Nishioka double gave the Tigers a golden opportunity to come back, but a Gomez grounder gave the Tigers their lone run of the inning. Final Score: Baystars 2, Tigers 1.

Even the last-place Hiroshima Carp are looking scary as they come to Koshien for the next series. They took two of three from the Giants and sit a game behind the Tigers (and Giants) in the standings. Amazingly, the three playoff teams from last season sit in the last three spots so far this year.

15-4-9 Standings

Other Notes: Murton broke the club record for most games played by a foreigner on Thursday, playing in his 704th game. The record was previously held by Willie Kirkland (1968-1973). This marks the second straight year Murton has taken a key team record. Last year he surpassed Randy Bass on the career hits list with 744… The Tigers’ team ERA is currently worst in the Central League (4.25), as is their batting average (.221). Many other Tigers analysts place some of the blame for the former on catcher Ryutaro Umeno, as he tends to call a rather simple and predictable game for the pitchers to throw. Umeno has played in all but one inning so far this season… Through 12 games, the Tigers have scored just 4 runs in the first three innings (36 total) of their matches. This means opposing starting pitchers have a 1.00 ERA against them in the early innings.

Series Recap – April 3-5, 2015

It just wasn't Tsuyoshi Ishizaki's night. The reliever allowed 5 runs to score as the Giants pounded the Tigers 9-5 on Saturday night.

It just wasn’t Tsuyoshi Ishizaki’s night. The reliever allowed 5 runs to score as the Giants pounded the Tigers 9-5 on Saturday night.

For the second straight series, the Hanshin Tigers lost two of three to an opponent that should have been easier to beat. This time, the losses were at the hands of long-time rivals Yomiuri (Kyojin) Giants.

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The series opened up on Friday with a Tigers win as starter Randy Messenger tossed 8 innings of 2-run ball. Though he struggled with control at times, he also induced several double plays, and the bats produced enough to give the team a big win. Catcher Ryutaro Umeno had two clutch hits, providing 3 of the team’s 4 runs in the process. However, as I noted after the game, there were definitely troubling signs within the victory that indicated the team should not be overconfident heading forward. Other bright spots in this one include Tsuyoshi Nishioka‘s four hits and Seung-hwan Oh‘s first clean inning of the season. Final Score: Tigers 4, Giants 2.

Game two saw Minoru Iwata take the mound with the hopes of duplicating his first start of the season. Unfortunately, he got behind early when Kataoka blasted a 3-run home run to left in the third. The Tigers chipped away at the lead, with Matt Murton doing what Umeno had done the night before, driving in three runs on two hits. The score was tied heading into the bottom of the sixth, but that’s when things got chaotic. Iwata’s lone out came on a sacrifice bunt as the Giants appeared to have him figured out. They pushed the winning run across the plate and loaded the bases before Manager Wada took the wrong course of action. He brought in rookie reliever Tsuyoshi Ishizaki, who walked home a run, induced a shallow pop fly, walked home another, then gave up two consecutive RBI hits before finally striking out the last hitter of the inning. The damage, though, had been done, and the close game became a laugher. The lone other consolation for the Tigers was second baseman Hiroki Uemoto‘s 2-run blast in the seventh, his first run-producing hit of the year. Final Score: Giants 9, Tigers 5.

Today’s game never was a match. Starter Shintaro Fujinami continued to struggle early in games, giving up two runs in the second inning. The bats sputtered all day, recording a mere two hits and only bringing more than three men to the dish in an inning twice. Despite Fujinami calming down and tossing a complete game, the bad guys’ pitcher (rookie Hayato Takagi) was better, shutting the Tigers completely down. Final Score: Giants 3, Tigers 0.

The Tigers fall out of first place for the first time this season, as the Chunichi Dragons continue to roll after being swept by the Tigers in the opening series. The standings look like this:

15-4-5 Standings

Up next for the Tigers is their first home stand at Koshien this year, as they host the DeNA Baystars. Look for Nohmi, Iwamoto and perhaps Iwazaki to start those three games. Here’s to hoping the men in pinstripes can pile up a few more victories in the coming week.

Other Notes: In game 2 of the series, none of the Tigers’ 27 outs were recorded in the outfield. They grounded out 14 times, struck out 8, fouled out 3 times, popped up to the infield once and had one line drive caught by the shortstop… Nishioka had his hitting streak end Sunday at six games, while Takashi Toritani‘s ended on Saturday at seven. He had hit safely in each of the team’s games until then… After just two games, third baseman Ryota Imanari reinjured his right side and was sent down to the minors for rehab. Reliever Yuya Andoh complained of shoulder issues as well and has been de-activated. Replacing them are veteran reliever Shinobu Fukuhara and utility man Keisuke Kanoh… Wada and pitching coach Nakanishi admitted their use of Ishizaki on Saturday was perhaps a little cruel. Ishizaki, for his part, vows to put the outing behind him and get better… Rookie Taiga Egoshi made his first career start on Sunday, going 0-for-3 with 2 strikeouts. Ryota Arai also made his first start of the year on Saturday, replacing Kosuke Fukudome, who took a day of rest. Arai went 0-for-4 with 2 strikeouts.

Series Recap: March 31-April 2, 2015

Where's the relief? Tigers relievers (including Kuwahara, pictured above) have struggled early and often in 2015.

Where’s the relief? Tigers relievers (including Kuwahara, pictured above) have struggled early and often in 2015.

After a promising opening series at Kyocera Dome, the Tigers looked to jump out to a perfect 6-0 start as they faced the Tokyo Yakult Swallows at Jingu Stadium. Unfortunately, the cooler weather brought about a cold spell at the plate as well. In three games, the pinstripes managed just seven runs, losing two of three to last year’s basement-dwelling birds.

15-3-Swallows

The first game started out about as well as any team could hope: Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit a home run, knocking in Takashi Toritani and Hiroki Uemoto in the process and giving the team a quick 3-0 lead. Unfortunately, that was all the fireworks the Tigers bats would provide on the night, and starter Atsushi Nohmi surrendered 4 runs in 6 innings as the team lost a close one. Final Score: Swallows 4, Tigers 3.

Wednesday night marked the long-awaited return of Akira Iwamoto to the lineup. In his first start in nearly three years, the youngster dazzled and confounded the Swallows bats, limiting them to 5 hits in 7 effective innings. The Tigers bats were also silent, but a 2-run RBI double by Yamato in the sixth provided enough offense to give the team all they needed to win. The victory was also preserved thanks to a clever fielding ruse by Kosuke Fukudome, who feigned being able to track down a hit to right, slowing down the runners, then relaying a throw home via Uemoto and gunning down the potential tying run. Closer Seung-hwan Oh struggled once again, but managed to preserve the win with a scoreless ninth. Final Score: Tigers 2, Swallows 1.

Last year’s surprise rookie Suguru Iwazaki got the start for the third game, and looked to be in control through four innings. The Tigers bats gave no support until a Nishoka dribbler found its way to right field, plating Toritani in the fifth. Unfortunately, that is also when the wheels fell off the cart for Iwazaki. He and reliever Kentaro Kuwahara combined to give up six hits, including a 2-run home run to Tetsuto Yamada, and before the team could come back up to the plate again, they were faced with a 5-1 deficit. Nishioka, who got three hits on the night, brought another run home in the seventh, but the rally died prematurely when slugger Mauro Gomez grounded into a double play. Reliever Daiki Enokida served up a grand slam home run to Yamada in the eighth to round out the scoring. Final Score: Swallows 9, Tigers 2.


Unfortunately for the Tigers, two of my biggest fears about the team seem to be coming true. First, the relief squad is not providing much relief. In this series alone, they combined to allow 4 earned runs in 8 1/3 innings. This does not factor in the first series, in which they surrendered 6 ER in 10 innings as well. Current ERA: 4.91. Second, the bats are so hit-and-miss, it’s not even funny. Big innings have been preceded and followed by several innings of silence. In this series alone, they scored three in inning 1, got nothing in innings 2-14, scored twice in inning 15, got nothing again from innings 16-22. No one expects runs every inning, but a little more consistency from the hitters would be nice. Several players have yet to hit their stride. Hopefully facing the so-far woeful (but longtime rival) Giants over the weekend will put some fire in their bellies.

Series notes: Thursday’s game featured the professional debuts of pitcher Hiroya Shimamoto (2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER) and outfielder Taiga Egoshi (1 AB, 0 H, 1 HBP). Combined with Tsuyoshi Ishizaki‘s debut against the Dragons, already three Tigers have seen their first action as pros this season. Hopefully the young players can make their presence felt in 2015… Matt Murton was a beast at Jingu Stadium last season, but finished this series just 2-for-11 (.182). Hopefully he can find his 2014 mojo soon… Gomez hit into three double plays in the series, and managed just two singles… Prior to Thursday’s game, third baseman Ryota Imanari was recalled from the farm. The team sent catcher Takashi Shimizu down to Naruohama to make room for him… Newly-signed reliever Mario Santiago made his debut on the farm on Wednesday, throwing three innings of shutout ball.