Yoshinobu Yamamoto (right) and Roki Sasaki of Japan in action during the Japan Workout at Miami International University on March 18, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Koji Watanabe – SAMURAI JAPAN/SAMURAI JAPAN via Getty Images)
By Matthew Tallarini
World Baseball Network
Last night’s game at Zozo Marine Stadium Stadium in Chiba was one for the ages.
Two international players on the radar of Major League Baseball organizations — possibly the two best young pitching prospects in the world — pitched against each other in Nippon Professional Baseball for the first time in their careers.
The defending Japan Series champion Orix Buffaloes starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who may request to be posted after this season enabling Major League Baseball clubs to bid to sign him, and Chiba Lotte Marines rising prospect starting pitcher Roki Sasaki, faced off in a pitching duel clash, with Chiba beating Orix 2-0.
Sasaki, 21, pitched seven scoreless innings allowing just one hit, walking two, and striking out 11 in a masterful performance. Sasaki, 2-0 on the season, has yet to allow a single run this year in 13 innings of work. He’s allowed just two hits, two walks, and struck out 22.
Yamamoto pitched six innings, allowing five hits, one earned run, one walk, and struck out nine during his second start. Yamamoto is 1-1 overall in 2023, pitching 12 innings with a 0.75 ERA allowing seven hits, walking three batters, and striking out 15. Yamamoto is expected to explore his options in Major League Baseball this coming offseason.
Both pitchers played a big role in Japan’s championship run at the 2023 World Baseball Classic. Sasaki started in two games, posting a 3.52 ERA with a 1-0 overall record, pitching 7.2 innings and allowing seven hits, walking two, and striking out 11 batters. Yamamoto pitched out of the bullpen once and started one game during the 2023 World Baseball Classic, posting a 2.45 ERA in 7.1 innings of work, allowing four hits, walking two batters, and striking out 12.
Yamamoto has pitched extremely well in Japan since he broke through in 2017 and has the opportunity to improve the impression he’s already made on Major League Baseball organizations through the course of this season.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Marines got on the scoreboard when Kenta Chatani rapped a single to left field, scoring Kouki Yamaguchi for the first run of the game.
During the bottom of the seventh inning, the Marines extended their lead to two when Hirohiro Fujioka drove a single to center field and Chatani came in to score, and Chiba never looked back.
The Chiba Lotte Marines improved to 7-5 and 1.5 games back of the first place Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks in the Pacific League. The Orix Buffaloes dropped to .500 on the season, tied for third place with the Saitama Seibu Lions at 6-6.
The Chiba Lotte Marines will play their second game of their three-game set against the Orix Buffaloes at 1 a.m. EDT.