“If Bauer wins, I have to win”
If Yoshinobu Yamamoto (Orix Buffaloes) and Roki Sasaki (Chiba Rodeo Marines) are the best right-handed pitchers in Nippon Professional Baseball, Shota Imanaga (Yokohama DeNA BayStars) is the best left-hander. Imanaga was drafted by Yokohama DeNA in the first round of the 2015 Nippon Professional Baseball Draft and has pitched in 154 career games, posting a 63-47 record with a 3.16 ERA.
After posting an 11-4 record with a 2.26 ERA in 21 appearances last year, including his first career no-hitter, Imanaga earned a spot on the World Baseball Classic (WBC) roster, pitching three innings of three-hit ball (one home run) with two strikeouts and one walk against Team Korea in Group B, one inning of two-hit ball against Italy in the quarterfinals, and two innings of four-hit ball with two strikeouts and one walk against the United States in the final.
After making an impact on the world stage at the WBC, Imanaga is now looking to make his way to the major leagues through the posting system after this season. In 11 appearances this year, Imanaga has a 6-1 record with two complete games and a 2.29 ERA, including a seven-inning, 15-strikeout performance in his last start. He is tied for fifth in the Central League in wins, fifth in ERA and first in strikeouts (88).
Imanaga’s most recent outing was his sixth win of the season, as he threw 113 pitches, allowed six hits (one home run), walked none, struck out 15, and gave up one run (one earned) in seven innings of work against the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball 2023 at the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan on 7 July.
It was a “dominant” performance. Imanaga started the game with two strikeouts in the first inning and gave up a solo home run to leadoff hitter Kazuma Okamoto in the second, but he didn’t falter and got two more strikeouts to end the inning without allowing another run. He retired Shosei Togo, Lewis Brinson and Yoshihiro Maru in order in the third, and then retired all three batters in the fourth to extend his streak to seven straight.
Imanaga, who already had 11 strikeouts when the fourth inning ended, added one more in each of the fifth and sixth innings, and when he got into trouble in the seventh inning after back-to-back singles by Tagumi Oshiro and Sho Nakata, he threw well over 100 pitches but struck out pinch-hitters Hisayoshi Chono and Yukinori Kishida with back-to-back 151km fastballs to complete his seven innings of one-run ball.
Imanaga, who is aiming to break into the major leagues, has been taking steps forward in a short period of time, receiving “express advice” from 2020 National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer. According to Sports Illustrated, Imanaga spoke with Bauer for about 20 minutes during a pitching session at Yokohama Stadium on the third of this month. Imanaga told Bauer, “I want to go up at least two to three kilometres,” and asked him about the secret to getting his velocity up in the middle and late innings.
Bauer, who tends to lose velocity faster in the middle and late stages of a game than in the early stages, shared his tips on using the mound slope. Imanaga took the advice and threw a 128-pitch complete game against the Yakult Swallows on the 6th, followed by a 15-strikeout performance on the 15th.
According to Sankei Sports, Imanaga said, “You have to use the flexion angle of your hip to raise your pitch in a crunch situation, and my arm definitely followed through. Bauer has a very good ability to understand his body. She’s really focused on recovery, and I’m learning a lot from her,” he says, adding that he has a competitive streak – “if she wins, I have to win.”바카라
Imanaga’s 12.5 per cent swinging strike rate on fastballs, which is higher than Roki Sasaki’s, tops the 12 clubs, according to the Sporunichi Annex. In the last 15 days, 10 of his 15 strikeouts have come from fastballs, giving him a whopping 15.5 per cent swinging strike rate. His 74.3 per cent strike rate is also among the best in Nippon Professional Baseball. Bauer’s advice is paying off.
Imanaga, who just won the Cy Young Award, which is given to the best pitcher in the big leagues, is learning a lot of “know-how” from Bauer. Major league teams such as the St. Louis Cardinals are now watching Imanaga closely. I wonder how big of a contract he will get after growing up with Bauer.