Watching NPB: Watanabe Throws a Gem

By the time I flipped on the Seibu-Lotte game last night (Pacific Time), Marines submariner Shunsuke Watanabe had sent the first nine Lions he faced down in order. I must have been bad luck, as he only got through two more before giving up a home run to Hiroyuki Nakajima. Nakaji’s homer was an obvious Watanabe mistake, a waist-high, 105 kmph (65 mph) hanging slider over the middle half of the plate. After the homer, Watanabe quickly re-established himself, and retired the next nine batters consecutively before surrendering a single to Takeya Nakamura in the 7th. Along the way Seibu only managed two more hard-hit balls, both of which were long fly ball outs, though one did require rightfielder Saburo to make a nice play at the way. And when Nakaji finally came up again in the 7th inning, Watanabe kept everything away.

Watanabe’s velocity was at the low end of his snail-paced range. None of his pitches reached 120 kmph (75 mph), but I did see a few curveballs at 90 kmph (55 mph). But he worked quickly and efficiently. He didn’t walk anyone, and in the 5th inning, he sent the Lions down in order on five pitches. He also worked predominantly down in the zone, inducing a number of ground-ball outs and infield pop ups. When he did get the ball up in the zone, it was usually unhittably high or a first-pitch strike that Seibu’s hitters watched into catcher Tomoya Satozaki’s glove.

Watanabe was pulled after the Marines exited the 7th inning with a 7-1 lead, so his final line was:

7 IP, 23 batters faced, 88 pitches, 2 hits, 1 HR, 2 Ks, 0 BB, 1 R, 1 ER

Other notes:

Carlos Rosa pitched the eighth for Lotte. As a right with an orthodox delivery and a hard fastball, he’s quite the contrast to Watanabe, but the Lions were ready for him. While they didn’t score on him, they did manage two hits, the same number they got in the previous seventh innings.

• Seibu breakout first baseman Hideto Asamura again looked good, particularly against Rosa. He was right on his 150 kmph (94 mph) fastballs, slapping a line drive just foul down the right field line, then two pitches later smacking one up the middle for a single. A 1-for-3 day has his batting average at .483. He’s only drawn one walk, so we’ll see how things shake out when the league has seen him, and the hits stop falling.

• I did briefly check out the Chunichi-Yakult game, mostly to see if the Swallows pitchers would throw Joel Guzman any fastballs. Surprisingly, Shohei Tateyama did, and in the at bat I saw, Guzman singled cleanly into right field. He finished the day with two hits and only one strikeout, after K’ing 16 times in his first 34 at bats of the season.

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Patrick Newman is a veteran enthusiast of Japanese baseball who happens to write about it at, and on Twitter @npbtracker.

8 Responses to “Watching NPB: Watanabe Throws a Gem”

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  1. Jon in CUO says:

    Patrick – thanks for the interesting article. How do you go about watching NPB – is there a reliable method?

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  2. Telo says:

    20 names I’ve never heard or will hear again. Cool…or useless? Not sure.

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  3. Is Watanabe one of the slowest pitchers in NPB, or are there other junkballers as slow as he is?

    I mean, this guy makes Danny Ray Herrera sound like Aroldis Chapman.

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  4. Eric Cioe says:

    I can’t fathom throwing a heater at 72 and getting people out with it, unless you’re Tim Wakefield. This guy’s fastball is slower than Jamie Moyer’s changeup.

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    • Ree says:

      It’s also not something hitters can easily prepare for. He’s not going to get a lot of k’s with it, but if his pitch motion is strong enough (submarine + slow…I’d guess it probably is), he could do well in getting light contact with a good infield defense.

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  5. fredsbank says:

    i know the japanese game is different, but oh my god that’s a slow slider

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