|The preaseason is over, the 2014 NPB regular season kicks off this Friday! Let’s take a look at the players who will be starting the season at ichi-gun for Our Marines. First, the pitchers.|
1) Yoshihisa Naruse. Naruse gets the opening day start for the 5th year in a row. He finished the preseason with a sub-2.00 ERA that was sub-1.00 until giving up a pair of runs at Seibu Dome in his last start. He looks much leaner than last year (more like the Naruse we saw in October than April) and is as unflappable as ever. I think he’s going to have a nice year.
2) Yuki Karakawa. The Baby-Faced Killer got beat up a bit in his first Spring start but was very solid after that. The nice thing is he was getting through the early innings much more efficiently than he had been in previous years. I really want to see him go much deeper in games this year.
3) Ayumu Ishikawa. First round draft pick and super rookie, Ishikawa made 4 starts this spring and looked really solid in all 4, only giving up 3 earned runs total. He had some issues with blisters on his fingers in his last two starts so I hope that’s not A Thing, because so far when he’s on the hill he looks great.
4) Hideaki Wakui. He’s our big free agent signing and hope to be an ace-like pitcher, but honestly after a nice first outing he has gotten stomped, repeatedly. The first was an 8-run disaster at home vs Yomiuri, and the second was just on Tuesday at ni-gun, a 7-run beatdown. On top of that, he started the no-game that was cancelled by wind last week and looked pretty poor there, too. He’s thrown a lot in the preseason – 250+ pitches one day at Ishigaki – so he’s probably just a bit tired. We hope. He gets the start in the home opener next week, so we’ll find out then.
5) Takuya Furuya. New Lefty Ace looked lovely in limited work this spring, giving up just one run in 6 innings. I think he will give much the same performance he did last year; AKA awesome.
6) Takahiro Fujioka. Really??? Yes. He’s looked good back in the rotation this spring, really he has. He’s going to get another chance to be the solid starter we all know he can be. His key is going to be to attack the batters more especially early, and it looks like he has been doing that so far. We’ll see.
Waiting in the Wings
If any of these guys should go down, here’s who will step in. Seth Greisinger is first on the list – he’s only not a starter now because he is injured, and will not be back until May, minimum. After that, look for Kazunari Abe or Hiroki Ueno to fill in as starter, with Yuta Ohmine as a wild card, though patience with Ohmine in the organization seems to have run out. Yuji Nishino could always come back if needed as well. Super duper wild card: Hiroya Kawamitsu, rookie last year who lost the whole season to injury and who has had a nice camp and preseason. He’ll start the year in ni-gun, though.
There’s been no announcement (that I have seen, at least) regarding this year’s closer. Nishino has moved to the pen with the anticipation that he can move into that role, but is it official? He wasn’t throwing as closer in the spring much, though he was very solid (9 IP in 7 games, 11 Ks and 2 ER).
Naoya Masuda didn’t pitch much before going down with an injury. He’s going to start the season at ni-gun but he is throwing and will be back soon.
Carlos Rosa was perfect this spring to continue his fine work from last year. He’s the other candidate for the closer role, though I think he’ll be best in that same fireman role he had last year.
Our 4th round draft pick last year, Shohei Yoshihara, has earned a prominent spot in the pen after making 5 scoreless spring appearances (6 IP, 5 K). Yasutaka Hattori also gave up no runs in his 2014 spring and will be the lefty fireman out of the pen.
Takahiro Matsunaga was quite honestly getting beaten up all spring. I don’t know if this shuffling between the rotation and the pen has messed with his mind or his mechanics, but he has not looked very good so far. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start out in ni-gun this year.
Other than the aforementioned Ueno, we can expect to see Tomohisa Otani as middle relief as well this year, much like he did last year. We might also see more of Yuhei Nakaushiro this year, something we’d all like to see.
It’s extremely good, to be honest. This team was in first or second almost all last year with so many of these guys injured or not on the team, so the new additions plus having everyone back should mean the best pitching staff we’ve seen in Makuhari in quite some time. I am strongly optimistic about this season as it is, and most of that optimism comes from the really solid looking pitching staff.