The Evolution of Messenger: East-West Fusion Pitching

Original article can be found here 元の記事はこちら

Messenger has been the team's best pitcher since rejoining the team on May 29.

Messenger has been the team’s best pitcher since rejoining the team on May 29.

Hanshin pitcher Randy Messenger (33) earned his seventh win on the 26th by throwing 7 innings of 5-hit shutout ball against the DeNA Baystars at Koshien. He showed no signs of fatigue despite going on 4 days’ rest. His contributions to the team’s jump into second place, one game over .500, have not gone unnoticed, but a different sort of “evolution” in his game has also stood out.

Pitching just four short rest days after his start against the Giants (21st, Koshien), Messenger didn’t show one iota of tiredness, throwing 7 shutout innings on 97 pitches. He also held the DeNA lineup to just 5 hits and no walks, earning his seventh win of the season. Standing on the hero’s podium and asked about whether or not he felt tired, he quickly answered in Japanese, “Nai, nai, daijobu (No, no, I’m fine),” showing his toughness to the crowd. “I just want to be given the ball, and I’ll get teh job done. Just keep giving me the ball. I love summer, I’m used to the heat,” he said confidently.

Despite this, Messenger has recorded very few strikeouts these past two games. He had just two last time out, and four [yesterday]. Two seasons ago he had 183, last season 226, both of which won him the Strikeout King title, but this new and sudden “change” in the big righty’s approach has rival teams shaking in their boots. “He’s changed his game. He used to just be an overpowering pitcher, but now he learned to throw to contact and get guys out that way. It’s unbearable,” said one Central League scout.

MessengerCardBackOn the Hanshin side, one of the coaches spoke of his reliability. “Messenger came to camp prepared to work on pitching to contact. It didn’t go very well at first and caused some frustration. He went back to power pitching and got his form back, but now he’s able to use his experience from camp and it shows in the numbers. His curveball has gotten a lot better. We could call his pitching to contact (which he learned in Japan) ‘Japanese Style’ and his (original game of) power pitching ‘Western Style.’ He’s found a way to make both work well for him.”

On four days’ rest he threw a great “Japanese Style” game, but according to another team spokesman, “Messenger is able to go into games thinking, ‘Today I’m throwing to contact’ or ‘Today I’m power pitching,’ but at some point he’s going to be able to do it within a single game.” That i what we like to call “East-West Fusion Pitching.” Looks like our big righty import is clicking on all cylinders in the midst of a muddled up Central League.

Article Translation – Announcer Announces Retirement

The original article can be seen here 元の記事はこちらです

Koshien Stadium’s “Nightingale Announcer” Kayo Mizutani’s Last Call

by Mayumi Doi

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“Batting first, third baseman, Nishioka.” It seems like that beautiful voice and smooth cadence have been echoing throughout Koshien Stadium since ages ago. May 10th. That day marks the final day of working as “nightingale announcer” (uguisu jo) at Koshien Stadium for Kayo Mizutani.

“Just stay calm and don’t make any mistakes. This is just like any other day, I kept telling myself. If I didn’t, my voice would have betrayed me,” explained Mizutani, the woman with the beautiful voice, as the curtain fell on her 15-year career as Koshien Stadium announcer.

 

Life-Changing Announcement at Koshien

 

Mizutani hails from Ishikawa prefecture and was a clubhouse manager for her high school’s baseball club. One of her jobs was to announce during games, but she didn’t consider broadcasting as a career at the time. Rather, she felt like she had been forced to do it. She vaguely hoped to find a baseball-related job in the future, but announcing was not one of the options she had in mind.

But in her final year of high school just before the summer tournament, that fateful encounter took place. Once every three years, Ishikawa prefecture would invite the Koshien Stadium announcer to hold a short course. Mizutani, took part in it, but “I knew nothing of the depths and wonders of stadium announcing. But I was deeply moved: ‘That’s what it takes to be a Koshien Stadium announcer! Wow!'”

The announcer who conducted the course was none other than current director of stadium announcers Kayoko Yamasaki. And Mizutani, who until then “had no ideas about my future,” instantly made the decision to try to become a stadium announcer upon hearing Yamasaki’s voice in person.

She didn’t have the foggiest clue of how to become Koshien’s announcer, though. Her first thought was to get a part-time job at the stadium, which she did – finding work as a receptionist, a vendor, and so on. While working, she dropped the hint countless times that she wanted to find work in the field of announcing. “Unless there’s a vacancy it can’t happen. And we have nothing opening up anytime soon,” was the rejection she continued to hear.

Three years and two months into her time at Koshien, the time came. “There happened to be a vacancy, and I was granted an interview.” That was May 2001, and in June she found herself working in the announcing industry.

But this is a rare case. It’s not like there is a clear path laid out for part-timers at Koshien to become announcers. “The timing just happened to be right. I got really lucky,” Mizutani emphasizes. No doubt Mizutani’s passion came across and the baseball gods granted her wish to her.

 

The One Time My Mind Went Blank

 

Mizutani’s dreams had come true but she was not able to start announcing games right away. The first job given to new hirees is telephone answering and recording services. You know the recorded playback when you call Koshien Stadium? That one. Also they do announcements outside the stadium. Like when the stadium gates open, cautions, and other public service announcements.

Next is doing the announcements for offseason events at the stadium. For instance, doing in-game announcing for baseball clubs that rent out Koshien.

Then they move on to pro games, but just like the pros, they start on the farm. They pick up experience doing Western League games.

She started taking charge of high school baseball announcing at the national summer tournament, and finally made her big league debut on August 31, 2003. “I can remember it clearly even now. (Shinobu) Fukuhara made the start, knocked in a run himself and won the match. I’m pretty sure it was 4-1.” It was an unforgettable match for Mizutani.

Even more than what happened during the game, she remembers how she herself felt. “When I say I remember, I mean that I remember blanking out.” The fact is, games were much more difficult and complicated to announce back then. During the game you would have to announce sponsorships along with athletes’ achievements, like if the first hit was a home run, there would be announcements for “First Hit Award,” “First Run Award,” “First RBI Award” and “First Home Run Award” and the sponsoring products to introduce. How to put that all together would be up to the announcer and had to be done ad lib. The game is a living thing, and you don’t know what’s going to come at you when. You have to make shrewd and quick decisions.

But Mizutani seasoned her announcements with quick wit and got through it all without incident. “That was the first time I felt like I drew a blank.” But now it’s a good memory.

 

High School and Pro Baseball

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Koshien Stadium is both the home turf of the Hanshin Tigers and the sacred grounds of high school baseball. Is there a difference in how Mizutani announces them? This is what she had to say: “For baseball boys, the high school tournament might be seen as a ‘one shot deal’ and their ‘last chance,’ but it’s not a good idea to think about that too much. I’m usually the type to get emotional really easily so I try to keep level-headed and just make sure I don’t make a mistake with their names when I announce.”

On the other hand, “not making any mistakes with the pros is a given, so I try to use more variation in my announcements with them. Announcing the next batter, making public service announcements and giving warnings all have a different feel to them.” So fun announcements in a cheerful voice, and warnings with a tone that says, “Be careful!”

She also put full attention into improving her announcing techniques to make sure they were properly received by the crowd. “There are actually a lot of things to keep in mind when imparting information. Purposeful inflections, stretching out and shortening sentences, pauses. Putting a pause in front of something really important. Highs, lows, tightness, looseness. Even now I feel like there’s lots to think about.”

Always her own worst critic, Mizutani always reflects on her performance and says, “There’s not a single time I got it all 100% right.” We’re not talking about mistakes that the average person would pick up on, but “I didn’t use the right inflection on this person’s name.” Things only a person of her talent and level would pick up on.

Her master, Yamasaki couldn’t say enough kind things about Mizutani, whose awareness of what it means to be a pro included “looking things up beforehand, revising the script thoroughly and just being prepared. She was reliable for all these years and kept that same eagerness that she had right from the start.”

 

Fujinami Loved Her Announcing, Too

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Soon after Mizutani made her debut with the parent club, word in the baseball world was that “a big name freshman joined the Koshien staff.” Right from the start she gained a reputation for having a beautiful and clear voice. She also held hi standards for herself and worked hard to reach them.

So on the occasion that she heard someone say, “The announcing at Koshien is second to none,” she felt supreme joy as she thought to herself that she had successfully carried the torch passed on to her by previous Koshien announcers.

Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, “Koshien poster boy,” also has a special place in his heart for the announcing at Koshien. “Even before I started playing high school ball I would come to the stadium and hear her voice. It’s been a part of my life for a long time and has left a strong impression on me. That slow, orthodox delivery and sticking to the basics really appealed to me. The way they pump things up at other stadiums, that’s cool and all but I personally prefer Koshien announcers.” That style that Fujinami loves is the very style that Mizutani longed to emulate, then inherited, then worked hard to preserve.

Mizutani will be on maternity leave for the time being. “I’m really not sure what I’ll be doing a year from now but in my heart it feels like the announcing season in my life has been completed. That is how I approached these final days.” Now, she’s leaving the announcing to her subordinates. She also has an important message to impart to them: “When you’re broadcasting, I want you to do it with the confidence that you’re the best at what you’re doing. If you make a mistake, brush it off. I would be happy to hear that you take pride in what you do.”

It is sad to think that we will not be hearing Mizutani’s voice anymore, but as long as the next uguisu jo carry the spirit of Mizutani in them, announcements at Koshien Stadium will continue to add color to the game of baseball.

Sponichi Interview 4: Hirosawa on Murton

Part 4 of Sponichi’s series of interviews with the “BIG 4” title holders sees Katsumi Hirosawa interviewing batting title holder Matt Murton. They discuss Murton’s elite hitting techniques as well as his strong desire to contribute to the team’s first championship in 30 years.

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Hirosawa: How are you doing physically these days?

Murton: Well I hurt my leg but other than that, I’m exactly where I think I should be.

Hirosawa: Well you still have a month until opening day so I hope you take your time and get back to 100%. As I look back on last season (and I was able to watch all 144 games, some after the fact), the most surprising moment was Game 2 when you hit a home run off (Giants’ reliever Scott) Mathieson in the 8th inning*. From that moment on, Mathieson really was not able to bounce back all season. I was surprised though because I have never seen you hit that kind of home run before. Were you sitting back waiting on his fastball?

Murton: He’s got the fastball but also a slider and forkball. But in that situation I thought he’d bring the heat, so I was ready for it. Still, just in case he threw something offspeed, I was ready to adjust my swing accordingly. The pitch before, I swung a little too hard and knew I needed to relax and make an adjustment just to make good contact with his fastball. He got better in the second half, but I was able to get a good hit off him before he turned things around.

Hirosawa: Since coming to Japan, you’ve set the record for hits in a season and are seen as one of the most clever batters in the game. But as I’ve been watching you all these years, the most amazing thing to me is your bat speed. Any thoughts on that?

Murton: I just want to effectively maximize the power I have, and the byproduct of that is a fast swing.

Hirosawa: I’ve seen a lot of foreign players come and go, but Japanese baseball has never seen the likes of you, Matt. What do you think is the most important thing when it comes to hitting.

Murton: Again, probably the most important thing is getting the most of the power you have. Some of it comes down to adjusting to what you’re thrown or “trying to get hits” but really just doing what you can to get the most of your abilities up there. Of course it’s not going to result in a hit every time, though.

Hirosawa: Actually, not many batters that most their back foot early get a lot of hits. You are an exception to that rule, which is pretty amazing. Looking at former greats like Sammy Sosa (Cubs), Mark McGwire (Cardinals), Barry Bonds (Giants) or Derek Jeter (Yankees), none of them moved that back foot. Only one great hitter who does that comes to mind: Ichiro (Marlins). You’re like a right-handed hitting version of Ichiro. I call that genius.

Murton: I’m not sure if it’s the best way to hit the ball, but getting your butt facing the pitcher a little, and using that built up power against the momentum of the pitch seems to work. Maybe that causes it to look as though my back foot is moving forward.

Hirosawa: From your amateur days right through to the pros, you were pretty good at hitting the inside pitch. Did you have problems with outside pitches?

Murton: Inside pitches were tough but pitches towards the outside were easier. The reason is that I made the effort to avoid opening up my stance too much by keeping my left shoulder in place. So it was hard to get to the inside pitch. To remedy that problem, I started to focus on using my butt muscles a little more, which enabled me to handle inside pitches a little better.

Hirosawa: Last season you were quite aggressive with your base running whenever the catcher had problems handling one-hoppers from the pitcher. How much of that was premeditated?

Murton: I was always told from a young age that getting to the next base was crucial, so I’d watch for what angle the ball would bounce away from the catcher. In America coaches will always tell you, “If you think you can make it, go!” So I was just trying to do what I’ve been taught all along.

Hirosawa: So not just “quite aggressive” but extremely aggressive! As we watch you on the base paths, we can really see how you’re trying hard to contribute to the team.

Murton: If I can get to the next base, it gives us a better chance of scoring runs. I hope to keep doing it this season, too.

Hirosawa: Let’s talk about batting order. I’m sure you’ll say “I’ll hit anywhere in the lineup” but do you think you’re going to end up hitting 5th again this year?

Murton: The manager is the one who looks at each player and decides what order will produce the best results for everyone. I can’t really say anything here. I just put on the uniform and compete. It’s the manager’s job to decide what batting order will get us the most runs. Of course the guys who are getting more hits should be closer to the top of the order so you get more baserunners and more scoring chances.

Hirosawa: What players did you look up to growing up?

Murton: I think pretty much everyone in my generation looked up to Ken Griffey Jr (Mariners)**. I’m from Florida so I liked Jeff Conine, but I also had cable so I watched a lot of Braves games and saw a lot of Chipper Jones and (former Rakuten Eagles) Andrew Jones.

Hirosawa: These days in Japanese baseball, no one measures up to you as a hitter. This coming year are you looking to do anything different, like increase your RBI or home run totals?

Murton: I just want to contribute to the team winning. If I can do that, the numbers will follow. Rather than focusing on numbers, I want to think about what I have to do each at bat in order to help the team win. I might have won the batting title last season, but there are a lot of great hitters in the Central League. I can’t win that title on my own. I just want to concentrate on that things that are within my control, focus on every game and compete hard. Maybe it’s important to look at the big picture and have goals, but I think focusing too much on those goals throws you off, too. The numbers are a result of concentrating on that one at bat, that one pitch, that one moment. If you set the goal of batting .300 but only end up with a .260 average at the end of a month of play, you missed your mark by 40 points and you start to get out of sorts. You can’t raise your average to .300 in one at bat. Whether you’re hitting .320 or .260, your job doesn’t change.

Hirosawa: If you could keep up the hot streak you had going last April*** for three months or so, you could probably set a ridiculous record in hitting, and maybe even lead the team to the pennant and Nippon Series title.

Murton: Yeah, if Miguel Cabrera (Detroit Tigers) played at his peak for the whole season, he could easily hit 70-80 home runs, too. It’s impossible to play at that kind of pace for a whole year in baseball, though, but baseball is all about the pursuit of getting the most of your ability for as long as you can. I play with that kind of mentality, and when you’re on your game, baseball is a lot of fun. Some players are naturally gifted, but really the difference between great athletes and not-so-great athletes comes down to whether or not you can stay consistent all year. The difference between a .300 hitter and a .250 hitter over the course of a 500 at-bat season is only around 20-25 hits. Some players put up crazy good numbers over a short period, but the greats can put them up for just a little longer.

Hirosawa: You’re exactly right. The difference between “Good job” and “Better luck next year” is 24 or 25 hits a season.

Murton: So if you calculate that out over a month, it’s 4-5 hits, which means one extra hit per week. It adds up.

Hirosawa: I only realized that after I retired (laughs). You know your stuff, Matt!

Murton: Four hits a month seems like a small number but it’s huge. If I go 0-for-4 in a game, I don’t want it to end there. I want that fifth plate appearance. That one chance is so important to me, especially if it can help contribute to the team winning. Each hit, each at-bat becomes that much more important.

Hirosawa: Hanshin made it to the Nippon Series last season but the team’s lone title came in 1985. The fans are hungry for another title, and are looking to you to lead the team to victory. What are your final comments to the fans?

Murton: I’m sure you all know just how hard we worked just to get to the Nippon Series, but still we were unable to win. I’ve put in a lot of work training this offseason, hoping to somehow finish what we started last year. Because you guys are such great, supportive fans. I’m going to do my best this year again. Playing in the Nippon Series was a lot of fun, really exciting. We’ve finished in 2nd place three of my 5 years with the team. We haven’t won the pennant, but it’s not easy because there are lots of good teams out there. Still, I want to win it all. It doesn’t matter if it’s Ichi-gun or Ni-gun, winning the championship only happens when every player is contributing. The fans and players all feel the same way about winning. I hope this team can come together as one and win it all this year.


* On March 29 with the Tigers down 3-2 in the 8th, Murton took the second pitch of his 4th at bat, a 146 km/h high inside fastball for a ride to the left field stands, tying the score. The Tigers got 2 more off of Mathieson in the 9th, coming from behind to win 5-3. Mathieson finished 2014, his 3rd season, with a personal worst 3.58 ERA, a 6-6 record and 30 saves.

** Griffey was chosen first overall by the Mariners in the 1987 draft. He was a 5-tool player who finished his career in 2010 with 2,781 career hits and 630 home runs. He is also known in Japan as the player Ichiro idolized.

*** Murton finished March and April 2014 with a .365 average, 6 home runs and 32 RBIs. The monthly MVP award, though, was given to Eldred (Hiroshima) who hit .373 and had 8 home runs. Though Murton is entering his sixth season in Japan, he has surprisingly still never won the Player of the Month Award.

Sponichi Interview 3: Kataoka on Gomez

Yano-Messenger Interview     Yano-Oh Interview

On April 15, 2014, Kataoka sat down to talk with Mauro Gomez. He was hitting 20-for-58 (.345) at the time and had reached base safely in 15 straight games from Opening Day. He pointed out that Gomez was hitting the ball to the opposite field quite well. When Kataoka told him that “as you go, so the team will go,” Gomez replied confidently that he believed he would put up numbers that the fans would be pleased with. He also talked about how he spent his days off talking with his mother and wife in the Dominican Republic via the Internet, how he doesn’t like rain, about his father who was in the military, about his first encounter with baseball at age 13, about his hobby (motorcycles), and other aspects of his private life.


Kataoka: Here’s to another great year! Hey, why are you growing out your beard like that?

Gomez: I’m planning on getting it shaved off at a local barber when I get home.

Kataoka: What was it like experiencing Japanese baseball, culture and life in that first year?

Gomez: I love this country and its culture. As for baseball, I felt like the level of play here was really high and that there are a lot of great pitchers and players in this league. I’m enjoying competing in this kind of environment. It was a really fulfilling first year.

Kataoka: A lot happened early last season. You weren’t able to play in the exhibition games and a lot of people were worried about you.

Gomez: I believed I would be able to come over here to Japan and contribute well, but you can’t predict things like injuries. I wasn’t able to prepare as I had hoped to, but when the season started, my condition got better and I was able to contribute early on. Getting hurt was kind of stressful but I just kept believing in myself and I was able to get the job done.

Kataoka: I was able to interview you at this time last year as well, and I remember your first game at Tokyo Dome when you dropped that fly ball at first base. But you came right back with an RBI later in the game. I was relieved! You’re a good guy after all! After the dropped pop-up I was thinking, “He’s dropping fly balls in Tokyo Dome where there’s no wind… is this Gomez guy going to be alright?”

Gomez: Hahahaha.

Kataoka: Do you think that RBI propelled your great start?

Gomez: To tell you the truth, I was pretty nervous that first game. When I was in America, I didn’t play in domes that much. I think I had problems adjusting to the lighting. But when I got that first RBI, I feel like I got on a roll. On the other hand if I hadn’t gotten that hit, things would have been a lot harder. I think getting that first RBI helped me relax.

Kataoka: Talking to some of the Japanese pitchers you faced while in America and other people you knew, they all say, “Gomez has changed!” I heard you were purely a pull hitter back then, and you swung at a lot of bad pitches. Were you aware of that tendency and did you purposely make a change to your batting approach?

Gomez: Well in America, I think a lot more pitchers rely heavily on their fastball, so I kind of waited on that pitch and swung hard at them. Coming to Japan, I noticed that a lot of pitchers threw a variety of different pitches, regardless of the count. Of course I still pay close attention to the fastball, but I am also trying to be ready for any offspeed pitch they will throw. I also got good advice from Matt (Murton). I knew I had to relax more at the plate and be a little more flexible. I guess in that respect, I have changed.

Kataoka: From what I observed last year, you never really had a bad slump. There were times you didn’t get many hits, but you never lost that hitting form you had all year, and I think that contributed to you winning the RBI title. Looking back on your numbers, are you satisfied?

Gomez: As far as the numbers go, I’m satisfied with them in some ways, but I feel like I could have done more in other ways. I wish I could have hit a few more home runs. The RBIs came because the guys in front of me got on base a lot, so in a way there is luck involved in that one.

Kataoka: Is there anything you are thinking about changing for the upcoming season?

Gomez: I was able to put up decent numbers last season so I don’t want to make any major changes. I hope to keep the same form I had last season as far as batting goes. But I really want to contribute to the team’s success in all areas: batting, defence, even base running.

Kataoka: I heard a rumor that you’re changing your bat.

Gomez: Yeah, I’m gonna use my favorite bat from when I was in America.

Kataoka: So you ARE changing things from last year then!!! (laughs)

Gomez: Hahahaha. Yeah, I’m making a change or two (laughs). I guess I want to hit a few more home runs this season.

Kataoka: When you came last season you had heard that the Tigers fans were pretty passionate. Did they live up to their reputation last year?

Gomez: They were amazing. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. They cheer right until the last out, no matter what the score is, even if we’re losing badly. The fans here are amazing, like none other anywhere.

Kataoka: Got any favorite foods?

Gomez: Yakiniku (grilled beef).

Kataoka: Yakiniku! How about sushi? Got any sushi stories?

Gomez: I love yakiniku but a few times we went out for sushi, too.

Kataoka: What’d you eat?

Gomez: I don’t remember exactly, but I did have sushi a few times… (laughs)

Kataoka: How about yakitori (BBQ chicken skewers) or Chinese? You like them too?

Gomez: Yeah, I like yakitori, teppanyaki…

Kataoka: You down with Kobe beef?

Gomez: Of course!

Kataoka: Hope you can please the fans again this season with your resilience and power at the plate!

Gomez: Thank you! I’ll do my best!

Sponichi Interview: Yano on Messenger

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Messenger’s 3 goals for the season: a championship, three pitching titles (ERA, wins, strikeouts), and his first career home run.

Tuesday’s “Sports Nippon” paper featured part 1 of 4 interviews that will be conducted with the Tigers’ foreign players. In this one, former catcher great Akihiro Yano interviews ace pitcher Randy Messenger.

Yano: This is your sixth year in Japan. I guess you know what to expect out of spring camp by now?

Messenger: Yeah, at practice I concentrate on what I am supposed to be doing. But when I get back to the hotel I do what I can to clear my mind, relax and forget about baseball.

Yano: How’s the food? Speaking of food, you are known as a ramen aficionado*. You could probably put out a book about all your favorite ramen shops, no?

Messenger: (laughs) You’re probably right, I’ve been to enough ramen joints to put a whole book out.

Yano: I’m not sure if we’ll be able to publish the name in the paper, but what’s your favorite place?

Messenger: It’s a place called Yoshimuraya**. Ichiban! (It’s number one!) Their “tokudai” (extra large) is amazing!

Yano: So you’ve got 5 seasons under your belt in Japan. You’ve won the strikeout title two years in a row. If you can win it again this year, it’ll be three. You also took the wins title last year. You’ve become an indispensable pitcher for the Tigers. What are your goals for the upcoming campaign?

Messenger: The biggest is obviously winning the pennant. I came here at the same time as Matt Murton, but we still haven’t been able to accomplish that goal. We always say to each other, “Let’s win a championship together.” As for personal goals, I want the ERA title this year. I’ve never won it before, so I want to aim for that title as well.

Yano: When I was active with the team, I didn’t get a lot of chances to catch your pitches. That first season, you really hung in there at ni-gun (Japan equivalent of Triple-A). To be honest with you, there were worse pitcher than you playing with the big team, and you could have complained but you didn’t.

Messenger: All I was doing was following orders. If they said, “You gotta do this to make the big club,” then I did it.

Yano: That’s pretty amazing. Rather, I think that probably helped your development. So you said you want the ERA title this year. Does that mean you’re going for the Sawamura Award, too?

Messenger: Of course I want to defend my two titles from last season as well, and if I can take the ERA title on top of that, it’d be great. I’ll do what I can to achieve my goals.

Yano: So what do you need to do (to achieve them)?

Messenger: When they call on me, I’ve got to throw well and go deep into every game that I start. That’s the most important thing.

Yano: Then there’s batting, home runs, right? Last season you told us you would hit two home runs but didn’t get any. How many will you hit this year?

Messenger: I’ve played six years now, maybe I should just try to get my first one. Tokyo Dome, big chance! Yokohama, big chance! Jinguu, big chance!

Yano: You’ve really become more than just a hired gun; you are the core of the pitching staff. As such a key player in the organization, as a former Tiger myself I hope you can help carry the team again this year.

Messenger: Every year I try to help the newcomers relax when they get here. I think players perform better then they feel relaxed.

Yano: By the way, pitcher (Hiroki) Kuroda has signed on with the Carp this year. Would you like to face him?

Messenger: I’d love to! He’s a great addition to Hiroshima. I thought he could have played at least 2-3 more years in America. If I get the chance to face him, it would be great.

Yano: And hit a home run off him, right?

Messenger: Sounds good! OK, I’ll hit one at Mazda (Stadium)!


* Since Messenger came to Japan in 2010, he has really come to love ramen. His favorite is tonkotsu (pork rib broth). Since he had success on days after eating ramen, he has made a habit of eating ramen the day before his starts, even finding good shops on the road.

** Yoshimuraya is located in Minamisaiwai, Nishi Ward, Yokohama, Kanagawa. It opened in 1974. Their ramen is characterized by a pork-soy broth that also uses chicken stock, as well as thick, flat noodles. They are said to be the originators of the “Iekei Ramen” and are also called the “Best Iekei Ramen.”

T-Magazine Interview Translation: Umeno & Matsuda

The first edition of the 2015 magazine is now in the hands of fan club members. Over 90% of its content is devoted to ticket purchase information (who knew it was this complicated!) but the first few pages feature a nice interview with young catcher Ryutaro Umeno and young pitcher Ryoma Matsuda. Here is my translation of the interview in its entirety.

TMagazine2015a

— You’ve had lots of opportunity to stand in front of fans at different events this offseason. Have you gotten more comfortable with public speaking?

U: Yeah, I have. Speaking is no problem. I feel a lot more comfortable speaking about baseball than about my private life, though.

M: I don’t feel like I’ve gotten more comfortable. But I think my third year was better than my second, and my second better than my first.

— You guys are both from Kyushu – Fukuoka and Nagasaki – do you feel like you have a lot of similarities?

U: Hmmm… if I had to pick something, it would be our way of speaking. It’s way different from people in Kansai.

M: I don’t speak Kyushu dialect much, but Umeno does. I’m younger than he is, so I have to use respectful language when speaking.

— What is your impression of Matsuda, your junior?

U: Heh, his head is huge. Jokes aside, he is really good at setting a boundary between baseball and his private life. He jokes around a lot, communicates well and is easy to get along with. This makes him popular among the veterans on the team.

— What is your impression of Umeno, your senior?

M: He’s like a big brother I can always count on for anything…

U: Shut up you liar!

M: He really looks after the younger players, talks to all the pitchers… as a catcher he makes a wonderful wife.

UmenoMatsuda

— As pitcher and catcher, how do you see each other?

U: Ryoma only throws towards the end of games… his strength is the power pitch that he brings. The hitter knows what’s coming and still can’t hit it. He’s mentally strong and a warrior.

M: I want to throw that power pitch all night, and Umeno is the kind of catcher that will go with it, telling me to “bring it.” It’s so easy to throw to him because he understands that I want to beat them with my fastball. We’re close together in age so he’s easy to talk to – not that the other catchers are hard to talk to! But with Umeno, we often eat out together so we can talk about the game a lot more.

— Umeno, you were a rookie this year but still managed to stay with the team all season. Did the season feel long or short?

U: It was long. Every day kind has the same feel to it, so the longest part of the season was the end of the first half and start of the second half. When it was over, it was like, “Finally!”

— It looked like you lost a lot of weight during the season, too. Were you not able to eat?

U: At the time, yeah. I thought I was eating enough, but obviously I was burning it all up pretty fast through all the moving around. I was mentally exhausted, because I was learning a lot of things for the first time, and I guess it contributed to my weight loss.

— Matsuda, you hurt your elbow and left camp. You didn’t make it up to the big team until mid-September. Would you say that pretty much sums up your year?

M: Yeah. Last year (2013) I got hurt, and I really wanted to avoid injury this season, but then I got hurt again…

— Your rehab was quite lengthy. What goes through your mind as you’re getting back into game shape?

M: I got a little depressed at first, but I know that doesn’t help any, so I just got to work, training hard. I wanted to show the team a completely different me when I came back. As I trained, trainers, coaches and others kept encouraging me to do my best. It felt good to retire the side in my first game back.

— The crowd really made a lot of noise for you when your name was called at that game (Sept.19 at Koshien). Did you notice that?

M: Yeah, I heard them. I was so happy to hear them cheering for me. It pushed me to work even harder.

— You were able to make some appearances during the Climax Series and Nippon Series. How did you feel about that?

M: In a short series everything gets amplified, but pitching is still pitching so I tried not to think about it too hard.

— Umeno, you were only able to make one playoff appearance. I’m sure you feel a little choked about that, but was the experience important to you?

U: It was huge. Of course I was bummed but getting to the Nippon Series in my rookie season and playing a little was a good experience. It was a special atmosphere.

— What would you say you got out of this season?

U: The fact that I finished the season with zero passed balls to my name. I practiced one-hoppers with Coach Yamada before games all season. I was also able to learn what data is important to keep in mind throughout the entire season.

M: I was told by Coach Nakanishi and (Shinobu) Fukuhara things like, with a one-run lead, “It’s OK to give up a walk in this case,” or with a three-run lead, “Throw strikes and avoid walking the guy” – changing my strategy based on the score. I only made 6 appearances this season but I played in some close games, so I was able to think about those things as I threw. I’m not sure if I was able to pull it off, but it gives me something to build on for next season.

— What kind of training are you planning on doing to prepare for camp this February?

U: Mainly lifting weights. Getting bigger and tighter. At the same time, I want to see how flexible I can get, because I’m pretty stiff. With all the movement I will have to do during the season, I want to make myself flexible now so that it is easier to maintain during the year. Flexibility is key.

M: I first and foremost just don’t want to get injured. I’m going to lift weights and build up my strength.

— Lots of people are joining the fan club. Tell the people your goals for the upcoming season.

U: I can’t say too much about what’s ahead but I want to focus on the games before us, not the numbers. I want to be in the opening game. I played 92 games last year and started 60, but I want to be in games right until the end of the season this time. I want to improve my numbers, of course, but not just for the sake of doing so. I want to do better with the pitchers and show the team who I can really be.

M: First, I won’t get hurt this coming year! Sounds simple but I really want to make this happen. I’ve blown it two years in a row so this year I want to be on the big team all season. I want to be used in a lot of crucial situations and close games, and of course win the pennant and Nippon Series.

Article Translation – Messenger Keys Huge Victory

Messenger’s 7 Shutout Innings & 12th Win Put Him Back on Top!

The original article can be found here 元の記事はこちらです

As the crowd roared jubilantly, Messenger’s eyes were glued on the ball. The Tiger faithful were ecstatic, and Messenger grinned. He jumped off the bench to greet the hero of the moment. With Fukudome’s game-winning hit, his strong pitching would be rewarded with a win and a tie atop the leader board (with 12, against 9 losses).

“With the score tied, Fukudome did his job well. All the fielders played well, but Fukudome’s contribution was especially huge. He always mans his position in the field well, and when the game is on the line, he delivers key hits. He’s definitely a reliable teammate, one we all count on.”

Messengerhero2He stood up on the hero’s podium expressing his gratitude, but it was the righty’s hard work on the mound that led the team to victory. In seven innings, he allowed just three hits, no runs, and struck out eight. In the sixth inning with two outs and runners on first and third, he made Kimura swing at a low-and-out 142 kph (89 mph) forkball. He pumped his fist as he trotted off the field. He walked five batters, but he also tempted the Carp hitters to swing zealously at his pitches.

MessengerPitchIt was his quick thinking on the mound that enabled him to pick up the win. He took note of the Carp hitters’ tendencies and changed up his pitches well. He started mixing speeds as he threw a lot more curves — a pitch he normally doesn’t use a lot — in the 110 kph (70 mph) range. Even pitching coach Nakanishi grinned, saying, “He used his curve well. It brought us a win, so it was worth playing him on four days’ rest.” All of his pitches make his 150+ kph (93 mph+) fastball more effective. That has not changed since his days in America. He doesn’t even need to use the two-seamer that so many pitchers in the majors rely on.

“I don’t think [the two seamer] works for me. My style is to throw a four-seamer with good spin. Just go straight at the hitters.”

He now has a personal best 12 wins, tied for the league lead with DeNA’s Kubo. He also extended his strikeout lead to 212, giving him the lead in two of the three triple-crown categories. But what he wants more than anything is a title for the team.

“Individual awards are all fine and good, but the final goal is to win the championship. That’s what I want to focus on the rest of the season.” Looks like he’s going to keep it in top gear until he reaches the top.

Article Translation – Nishioka Coming Back Soon?

The original article can be found here 元の記事はこちらです

NishiokaIt looks like the long road to recovery for the Tigers’ Tsuyoshi Nishioka will soon be coming to an end. The infielder is slated to play against Western Hiroshima (Carp farm team) at Naruohama tonight (September 5).

The plan is to give him 2 or 3 at bats as DH. Because of rain earlier in the day, he was not able to take practice swings on the Naruohama Stadium field, instead working out at the indoor practice facility. He should play at DH through the end of the week, then play in the field next week. He is slowly making progress and hopes to be the catalyst that leads the Tigers to steal the division title from the Giants by season’s end.

Update: The word on Sanspo is that he took three at bats tonight, grounding out to first twice and striking out looking once. He says he was able to see the ball well, but needs to work on his timing a little more. Wishing you all the best and a speedy recovery, Nishioka!

Article Translation – How the Tigers Can Win

For a JPEG of the original article, written by former Tiger pitcher and pitching coach Keiichi Yabu, click here.

Make Nohmi a Set-up Man!

s_nohmiThere 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.

Translation – Gomez: RBI King

Gomez: Ready, Set, GO!

The original article can be found here 元の記事はこちらです

GomezRBI2When the entire lineup explodes with production, you can be assured the cleanup hitter has not been silenced, either. Indeed, Gomez took part in the load of RBIs collected last night. He made a big inning even bigger with a swing of his bat. “The Tigers’ RBI King” took one more step towards becoming the league RBI King in the process.

“I had a great opportunity, and I just wanted to make sure I made good contact. They brought in a reliever right before I got up there, but I got my timing down and was able to put the ball in play.”

It was the fourth inning and the Tigers took a commanding 5-0 lead. With one out and runners on first and third, the Swallows brought in reliever Abe. Gomez took his second pitch, a slider, and drove it between shortstop and third. That was the team’s 6th run, and the onslaught that continued resulted in a 5-spot for the inning.

GomezRBI1That brought Gomez’s RBI total on the year to 90. The gap between him and Hiroshima’s Eldred, the RBI leader, to 1. The Carp slugger has fallen into a huge slump, and the tides have clearly turned in Gomez’s favor. It’s just a matter of time before we celebrate the birth of “Gomez: RBI King.” The Tigers’ import slugger is also on the verge of making team history. The current team record for RBIs by an import in his first year is 92, held by Breeden (1976). Gomez is sure to pass that number by season’s end.

Eldred went hitless in three at bats, including two strikeouts, as the Giants’ Sawamura shut out the Carp. Playing at Koshien for the first time in a month, Gomez freely attacked the ball, focusing on hitting to the right side. He always does so when he regains his focus after a few bad games. During bad times, he tends to swing at balls thrown outside the strike zone. If Gomez can kick that bad habit, he’ll be fine.

He took a free pass each of his first two times up, and added another single to center in the sixth. As he gets back into a groove on home turf, look for he and the team to keep the good times rolling.