|Credit: Seibu Lions|
Game 1 against the Hawks involved a masterful outing from Takayuki Kishi. It was Opening Day for the defending champions in Fukuoka and the Lions were looking to make a statement.
They were able to chip away at recently returned pitcher Tsuyoshi Wada, who came back to Japan after a stint with the Chicago Cubs. Shogo Akiyama, Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura and Hideto Asamura contributed to the action, which included two players getting four hits apiece.
Kishi went seven innings and didn't allow any runs. He had some great defense behind him, but made sure to not let any damage happen when there were runners on base. Okawari-kun laid the big exclamation mark with a solo home run in the 9th inning to put the game away for good at 6-0.
The Hawks added two runs in the 9th inning to prevent a shutout off C.C. Lee, but the door was closed when Tomomi Takahashi got Yuki Yanagita to ground out.
Seibu Lions: 6 Softbank Hawks 2
In the second game, Ryoma Nogami made his first appearance of the season and had issues with control near the end. He would allow a solo home run to Yanagita, who is the reigning Pacific League MVP. Nogami also didn't get help from his defense, as Shuta Tonosaki could not convert a double play.
The Lions would trail 5-1 heading into the seventh inning as Tomoya Mori would get three hits in his first start of the year. The top of the 7th is where the drama would begin, as the Lions chipped their way back to 5-4 after Kodai Senga was caught with a balk. Ernesto Mejia would ground out and end a threat to tie the game.
Yosuke Okamoto would give up the 5th run, which would prove to be vital for the ninth. With Dennis Sarfate in, Ginjiro "Gin-chan" Sumitani would get a leadoff single and give the Lions a chance. Daichi Mizuguchi made his ichi-gun debut as a pinch runner and was bunted over to second by Masato Kumashiro. After Yuji Onizaki grounded out, Akiyama would walk on a full count.
With Kuriyama batting, he would strikeout after check swinging on a high pitch. Despite being picked to lose, the Lions made it close with the tying run on third base and made it interesting as they split in the house of horrors known as the Fukuoka Yafuoku! Dome.
-Mizuguchi became the first ikusei promoted Lions' draft pick to appear in an ichi-gun game. He was drafted in the ikusei round back in 2012 and earned a promotion last year.
-Hotaka Yamakawa was deactivated as the corresponding move to bring up Nogami to the ichi-gun. This was presumably performance related.
Softbank Hawks: 5 Seibu Lions: 4
In Game 1 against the Eagles in Sendai, Yusei Kikuchi took on Takahiro Norimoto. Rakuten drew first blood off some early hits against Kikuchi.
Kikuchi was able to go eight innings, but only had two strikeouts and put the ball in play more times than not. Errors by Tonosaki and Sumitani made this game out of reach as the Eagles would lead 4-0 after four innings. Tonosaki was too aggressive on a ground ball where he would go past him while Sumitani had a throwing error on a bunt.
Norimoto was dominant for the most part, striking out 12 Lions on the day and going eight innings. The Lions offense had two chances, mostly in the 2nd with two on as well as in the 7th. Naoto Watanabe came in as a substitute for Tonosaki and got a single, advancing to third on a passed ball. He would score on Akiyama's groundout and the Lions also added a run in the 7th when Gin-chan had a single with two runners on. There was two on for both Ryo Sakata and Watanabe, but they came up short striking out.
Yuki Matsui worked a quick ninth inning and the Lions lost their second straight. Offense was mostly dead, but Norimoto was dominant from the beginning and the team's speed helped the Eagles get on base.
Rakuten Eagles: 4 Seibu Lions: 2
In Game 2, Ken Togame faced Takahiro Shiomi, but it was a no contest from the start. The Lions scored first off a groundout, but it was a nightmare for Togame, as he would struggle in the third inning, only able to get one out. He would be tagged for five runs, all without a home run.
Togame's pitches were becoming hittable and had no ability to draw whiffs. Yosuke Okamoto couldn't do better, as he went 1.2 innings with six earned runs, all coming in the fourth inning. It would lead to his deactivation in place of Hirotaka Koishi.
Toshiaki Imae was the biggest culprit of the game, as he had three hits and four RBIs, but everyone on the Eagles contributed to a slaughtering. Every starting player had at least one hit on the game. Chun-Lin Kuo was able to eat up three innings while C.C. Lee took the ninth.
At the end, it was a disaster for the Lions where only Yuji Onizaki had a late home run as a consolation.
Rakuten Eagles: 15 Seibu Lions: 4
For Game 3, Andy Van Hekken took the pitching duties and faced Yoshinao Kamata, who is on a recovery season after surgery for 2016.
The Eagles struck first in the third inning with two key hits from Ginji Akaminai and Zelous Wheeler to take a 2-0 lead. Seibu would answer back, with two runs of their own with hits from Mejia and Sakata in back-to-back fashion.
It became a low scoring affair which involved a handful of double plays and minimal chances. It took a leadoff single from Ernesto Mejia to start the 9th inning. After the Lions pinch-ran him for Mizuguchi, they used Masatoshi Okada to bunt him over to second successfully. Gin-chan would ground out to first advancing Mizuguchi again.
Batting 9th, Onizaki had an opportunity to give the Lions the lead for good. He came through on a single to LF and the team never had to look back.
Tatsushi Masuda came in for the first save opportunity entering a 9th inning in the 2016 season. After Eigoro Mogi forced a long at-bat, he got Jonny Gomes to groundout and Kazuya Fujita to end the game, snapping a three-game skid.
Seibu Lions: 3 Rakuten Eagles: 2
It's been an ugly week, but the Lions are only 4-4 and right at .500. Despite all the troubles in pitching, we can only hope for further improvement in both the rotation and bullpen.
Wes Mills also contributed to this report.
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