|On paper, Kona Takahashi could be the sixth starter|
For now, this leaves a question mark that not even the Lions themselves can answer. Who is their sixth starter? This question will be answered through ni-gun and what the coaching staff sees downstairs.
Competition should play itself out and someone will emerge. The other possibility is that the Lions can treat that slot for a spot starter in a pinch based on the matchup, but it would be unconventional.
Here are some candidates who could be the sixth starter in the rotation:
Kona Takahashi: This one is pretty obvious, as he was the team's first round pick out of high school in 2014. He had a promising rookie season with his share of ups and downs, but there's no denying he has upside which is why the Lions took this Koshien star. He is coming off a fractured cheek injury where he was hit by a ball thrown by an umpire, which delayed his chance in the rotation earlier. He did start some ni-gun games, so it appears he's healthy. He did however, walk several batters.
Isamu Sato: Sato has been with the team since 2012 as he was drafted out of high school. He is currently 21 and is possibly groomed to be a starter ready for ichi-gun action. His spring training impressed coaches and we should see him make an appearance if everything goes right in ni-gun. Competition between Takahashi, Sato and Ryoma Nogami were big near the final week of open-sen.
Yasuo Sano: Sano was a spot starter for one game last year in Hokkaido where he went four innings with three earned runs. He received extra work over the winter in the Australian Baseball League, being an extra starter Down Under. A second round pick in 2014, he could be a future rotation candidate, but most likely has an uphill battle.
Kazuhisa Makita: The Lions could be tempted to make him a starter after his solid six inning performance as the long reliever / bullpen ace on March 26. He did fine last year as a starter, giving them the logic of "why not start him again?" Personally, we would be against this option as the bullpen would take a major hit.
Chun-Lin Kuo: Kuo was the Lions' 6th starter in 2015 as he was signed as a top amateur free agent out of Taiwan. While he had his ups and downs, he did what was expected as a rookie entering his first year as a professional. The Lions currently have him in the bullpen, but could treat him like a spot starter if they wanted to do so.
Outlook: I personally think it will be a matter of if Takahashi is ready for the April 21 deadline. They could always milk it to April 24, which is the last day of the first six game stretch for 2016. If not, Sato looks like the prime candidate if the Lions management is satisfied with his performance in open-sen and ni-gun. Both guys should still be battling for the next two weeks.
We really hope Makita doesn't become a starter, nor Kuo. Both guys look to be built out of the pen, especially with Kuo struggling when he faces the batting order for the second time. Takahashi's health should decide it. Presumably he will start the game on June 24 in Gunma prefecture, which is near his high school.
Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall