Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB)’s “Living Legend” Masahiro Tanaka (35-Rakuten Eagles) suffered the humiliation of a minimum-inning stint in his return to Japan.
Tanaka started an away game against the Orix Buffaloes at the Kyocera Dome in Osaka City, Osaka Prefecture, Japan on April 18, and struggled, giving up five runs on seven hits and one walk with three strikeouts (two walks and one hit batter) in 2 1/3 innings. The loss was Tanaka’s 10th of the season (seven starts) as Rakuten fell to 3-6.
It was the first time Tanaka failed to complete three innings since returning to NPB in 2021. The five-run outing was his second straight, following a six-inning, five-run outing against the SoftBank Hawks on Sept. 9, and raised his season ERA to 5.09.
Tanaka got off to a shaky start in the first inning when he gave up a hard-hit ball to Orix leadoff hitter Keita Nakagawa. After allowing a stolen base, Tanaka grounded out to No. 2 hitter Masahiro Nishino to put runners on first and third. He then gave up an RBI single to No. 3 hitter Tomoya Mori to score the go-ahead run.
In the second inning, Tanaka faced an even bigger challenge. One out later, he gave up back-to-back singles to Marwin Gonzalez and Yutaro Sugimoto. After back-to-back walks loaded the bases, Tanaka induced a grounder to first against Nishino, but an error by Rakuten first baseman Toshiki Abe allowed the third run to score. Tanaka was able to get out of the inning with the bases loaded when Mori doubled straight to the third baseman.
Tanaka started the third inning on a high note, getting his first strikeout of the day against Leandro Cedeño to lead off the inning. However, he was immediately in trouble when Yuma Mune tripled to center field, and then allowed three straight hits to score two more runs. Tanaka was eventually pulled with runners on first and second, trailing 0-5. The only consolation for Tanaka was that Satoshi Miyamori, who took over on the mound, got out of the inning without allowing a runner to reach base.
Tanaka suffers double-digit losses for the second straight year/ Photo by OSEN
The loss was Tanaka’s 10th of the season and moved him into first place in the Pacific League for most losses. His ERA (5.09) is the lowest among the 22 pitchers in the Pacific League and all of NPB who have pitched at least one regulation inning. Compare that to the next highest ERA after Tanaka, the last-place Central League pitcher Yasuhiro Ogawa (Yakult Swallows), who has a 3.51 ERA, and you get a sense of how badly Tanaka is performing.굿모닝토토
Tanaka returned to Japan in 2021 after a stint in the major leagues, and in his first year back, he went 4-9 with a 3.01 ERA. Last year, his second year back, Tanaka went 9-12 with a 3.31 ERA and led all NPB pitchers with the most losses, and he suffered the humiliation of having his salary cut in half from 900 million yen ($8.08 billion) to 475 million yen ($4.267 billion) before this season.
Tanaka, who added seven more wins this season to his NPB career total of 119, added 78 wins in the major leagues (46 wins with a 3.74 ERA) to his U.S.-Japan career total of 197. He is just three wins away from his 200th career victory, but the milestone is not easy to reach. Since his win on Aug. 26 (seven innings, one run), he has lost two of his last three starts. He has up to three starts left on his schedule, but if his up-and-down form continues, Tanaka’s 200th career win will likely be pushed back to next season.