Sunday, April 9, 2017
Lions Weekly Digest: Imports, pitching take series against the Hawks
The Saitama Seibu Lions opened MetLife Dome with a five-game home stand to start the 2017 home season. They would see the Orix Buffaloes and Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
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Once again, the Lions would be playing their home opener against the Orix Buffaloes as second year starter, Shinsaburo Tawata took the hill for the Lions against the Buffaloes' veteran foreign pitcher, Brandon Dickson.
In the early going, the Lions would strike fast against Brandon Dickson with two runs in the bottom of the 1st. This was all thanks to Dickson's control issues as he gave up a single to Shogo Akiyama followed by walks to Shotaro Tashiro and Hideto Asamura to load the bases for Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura. Okawari-kun would hit a long drive to center field that was easily deep enough to score Akiyama on a sacrifice fly. The Lions would get their second run after a fielding error by Dickson off a chopper hit by Takumi Kuriyama to the right of the pitcher's mound with Tashiro scoring.
The Buffaloes would answer back in the top of the 3rd with two runs of their own as Tawata had trouble missing bats and his overall control. Shunta Goto would start the inning off with a double and then Kenya Watasuki would bunt him over to third. Tawata would then hit Ryoichi Adachi to put runners at the corners with one out. Masahiro Nashino would then double home Orix's first run of the game and then Eiichi Koyano would trade an out for a run with an RBI-groundout.
Both starters would then dance around trouble before the fifth inning where both starters would see the end of their days. Things were much worse for Tawata as he gave up a backbreaking 3-run home run to Stefen Romero and that would end his day with a total of 6 earned runs in his season debut. In the bottom of the 5th, Asamura would bring one back with a solo home run for his second of the year but that would be the last tally and after the 5th inning, Seibu would not see another hit as Orix's bullpen in relief of Dickson pitched four perfect innings. Hiroyuki Nakajima would punish his old team with a solo home run in the 8th to complete the final score off of Kentaro Fukukura and Shogo Noda pitched one inning of mop up duty for the Lions.
Buffaloes 7, Lions 3
In Game 2 against Orix, Takahiro Matsuba would take on Kona Takahashi. The game would be scoreless until the 4th inning, when Romero would hit a solo home run to the left field oendan. Goto would add another with a sacrifice fly.
The Lions had several runners on base and their best chance came in the bottom of the 5th with runners on the corners. However, Masatoshi Okada would ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the frame.
Matsuba would scatter a total of 7 hits over 8 scoreless innings to earn the victory as he only recorded one strikeout on the day. It would be the second straight Lions loss.
Buffaloes 2, Lions 0
-Shogo Noda was the corresponding deactivation move to make room for Kona Takahashi on the 28-man roster.
-This was the first new lineup for Tsuji, as Genda would bat second, Kuriyama was in LF and Hotaka Yamakawa became the DH. Okada would also start at catcher for the day.
For Game 1 against the Hawks, Yusei Kikuchi would take on Tsuyoshi Wada. Softbank would score three times in the top of the 2nd with a solo home run by Seiichi Uchikawa. After it looked like the Lions could get out of a jam, Mejia would misfield a chopper that would roll into right field with two more runs eventually scoring.
The Lions got a run back after Sosuke Genda stole second base and Okawari-kun plated him with a single in the bottom of the 4th. Shotaro Tashiro would hit an RBI triple in the fifth inning to make it a one run game.
Kikuchi would mostly limit the damage on the night, but allowed a second solo home run to Uchikawa in the top of the 6th to double the Hawks lead. Uchikawa would have a modasho on the evening.
This game didn't come without a chance as the Lions loaded the bases in the bottom of the 8th against Sho Iwasaki. However, Asamura would strikeout and Okawari-kun would flyout to end any threat. The Lions would go quietly in the 9th as Dennis Sarfate shut the door and the team lost their third straight game.
Hawks 4, Lions 2
-Takumi Kuriyama played his 1,500th career game and he was honored briefly for reaching this milestone.
In Game 2 against the Hawks, it would be Ryoma Nogami pitted up against Kenichi Nakata. The Lions jumped out to a 3-0 lead early on with Asamura having an RBI single to opening the scoring. Kuriyama would add on with a two run home run to give Nogami a comfortable cushion.
After Nogami escaped the top of the 2nd with a strikeout, the Lions added two more runs with a two-out RBI double from Mejia and a single from Fumikazu Kimura to make it 5-0. With the run support, Nogami would have a solid day, having only one mistake pitch as the only blemish. He would hang a pitch in the 5th inning and Seiji Uebayashi took it deep for a solo home run. Nogami went six innings with five strikeouts on the day.
Kazuhisa Makita took the 7th while Brian Schlitter allowed two hits, but had a scoreless 8th. Mejia would make sure the Lions were in good shape with his first home run of the season off Shuta Ishikawa and the three game skid would end.
Lions 6, Hawks 1
In the rubber match, Brian Wolfe continued his tour of facing the NPB teams he played for in the past. It would be Nao Higashihama, a player the Lions tried to draft in 2012 taking the mound for the Hawks.
The Lions got an early lead with a sacrifice fly from Okawari-kun in the first. They would then double the lead from a solo HR by Mejia in the second.
It would then become a game of stranding runners for both sides, as there wouldn't be much clutch hitting. Wolfe had multiple Houdini innings by inducnig a double play from Uchikawa while runners were on the corners in the 4th. In the 6th, a runner would be in scoring position, but the Hawks couldn't bring him home as Yuichi Honda would hit a comebacker.
The bottom of the 6th is where the opportunity finally came for the Lions. Asamura and Okawari-kun would reach base on back-to-back hits and Kuriyama plated the former with a sacrifice fly. Mejia would then single off Ryota Igarashi to bring Okawari-kun home, making it 4-0.
Wolfe would concede a run for the first time in the 7th, as Yuki Yanagita reached base and scored on a single from Alfredo Despaigne. He would go seven innings with only two strikeouts on the day.
Schlitter would take the 8th inning and make it easy. Masuda would have some drama as he gave up three consecutive hits to Uchikawa, Despaigne and Akira Nakamura to make it 4-2. With the go-ahead run at the plate, Nobuhiro Matsuda would flyout and end the game, giving the Lions the series as the team is back at .500.
Lions 4, Hawks 2
-Mejia homered in his second consecutive game.
-Shotaro Tashiro was picked off after he was initially hit by a pitch.
The Lions are safely back at .500 with plenty of room to get better. The offense had some life, but it was the defense that was the story minus Mejia's error. Sosuke Genda continues to live up to the hype on the defensive side of things. Tsuji has the standard Japanese lineup of a second hitter being designed to bunt.
If Schlitter can continue to be a useful arm out of the bullpen, there's hope. His velocity proved to be valuable and with Makita already an asset, the back end is in good shape. Can Tawata and Takahashi develop throughout the year? That question remains to be seen.
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