In a possible preview of MLB action a few years hence, Japan’s two best starting pitchers Kenta Maeda and Chihiro Kaneko faced off today in an NPB inter-league game. Chihiro and his Orix Buffaloes defeated Maeda and the Hiroshima Carp 3-1. Chihiro threw eight shutout innings, walking two and striking out six, while Maeda allowed three runs, two earned, over seven innings pitched. Maeda walked two and struck out seven.
Kenta Maeda pitched in spite of coming out of his last start after taking a line drive off of his thigh. Maeda also reportedly had some right-elbow soreness earlier this season, but he hasn’t yet missed a start this season or pitched like a pitcher who is obviously hurting. I suspect that Maeda will keep pitching this season unless his arm falls off, so we’ll have to watch closely to see if his final stats contain any warning signs.
In another piece of news that makes me think Chihiro Kaneko is eying a move to MLB in 2015, he was recently quoted as saying that he believes that each pitcher may have a limited number of pitches in his arm and as such he would like to limit the amount of unnecessary throwing he does. While this may seem like an innocuous quote, it has quite a bit of significance in the context of Japanese baseball.
Japanese teams think pitchers should throw and throw and throw between starts in order to perfect their pitching. NPB pitchers as a group work much harder than MLB pitchers between starts, particularly in terms of bullpen sessions and pitches thrown.
Japanese players are usually extremely careful about making statements that might be seen as criticizing their teams or the way things are done in NPB. As such, a little tea-leaf reading may be appropriate regarding Kaneko’s statement, as it may indicate a desire to come to the U.S. where pitchers are worked far less between starts.
In other NPB news, the St. Louis Cardinals released 4-A hitter Joey Butler so that he could sign with NPB’s Orix Buffaloes. There have been rumors that the Buffaloes had been talking to older minor league sluggers Dan Johnson and Mike Jacobs. I think Dan Johnson, because of his past NPB experience, would have been Orix’s best bet for 2014 production, but Butler is definitely a better long-term prospect since he’s six years younger than Johnson. Butler was probably also cheaper to sign.
Meanwhile, another Japanese pitcher we might possibly see in the U.S. in 2015 is lefty Yoshihisa Naruse. He will be a “domestic free agent” this off-season, which is usually the point at which NPB teams post their better players. He also plays for the small market Lotte Marines, making it more likely that he could be posted.
On the other hand, Naruse suffered a left shoulder injury in 2013, and while he’s pitching regularly this season, he doesn’t yet appear to be all the way back to where he was before the shoulder problems began to manifest in his 2012 drop in strikeout rate.