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160 Pitches? Let's Ask Masahiro

by Patrick Newman (Feb 11, 2014)

Much has been written about Masahiro Tanaka's famous two-day, 175-pitch Nippon Series pitch-a-thon. If you're reading this, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Pretty much all the commentary in the North American media has been that Tanaka throwing 160 pitches in a start (a loss no less), and then 15 in relief the next day is, at best, a bit of a question mark, and, at worst, a sign of abuse or overuse. It seems that few that have provided commentary cite primary sources, or even saw the games.

I was traveling on the days that games 6 and 7 took place, and I didn't see game 6 live, but I did catch the tail end of game 7, including Tanaka's relief appearance. He certainly did look worn out, but not quite worryingly so. What was a little odd was that of his 15 pitches, about 10 were splitters, and only two or three were fastballs. His velocity was okay, but didn't approach his peak. In retrospect, Tanaka and Rakuten were fortunate that he was able to shut down the Giants when he did, as continuing to pitch could have been disastrous.

What's getting lost in the shuffle a bit is that Tanaka voluntarily kept himself in game six, and made himself available for game seven. There are plenty of times when it's totally reasonable to criticize Japanese managers for overworking pitchers, but I'm not sure this is one of them. It's not unreasonable to fault Rakuten manager Senichi Hoshino for risking injuring Tanaka, but in this case I don't blame him. Put yourself in his shoes: you've got a real shot at winning your first Nippon Series, you've got the best pitcher in the league, he's telling you he's ready to go, and this is your last chance to use him.

With that commentary out of the way, let's take a look at what Hoshino and Tanaka had to say about this at the time it happened.

Hoshino after game 6, on wanting to remove Tanaka after throwing 120 pitches: "He wasn't in the mood to be replaced, and he himself was planning on going. He felt like he wanted to be on the mound until the end."

Hoshino after game 6 again: "I think it's an ace's will. This could be his last day to pitch in front of the fans, so there's also that. It's wonderful. The fans would be very happy to see Tanaka lose. Well, no they wouldn't."

Tanaka after game 6: "I want to what I can."

Hoshino during game 7 (really this is Sponichi's reporting with a quote from Hoshino): "Hoshino asked him numerous times 'are you really okay?' but his determination was unchanged."

Tanaka after game 7: "I was feeling depressed because my pitching yesterday was so pathetic. So I prepared myself in the bullpen, with the feeling that I would be ready to go any time, if I was put in the game. I want to show my appreciation for my teammates and fans, who set this stage."

Tanaka, after game 7 again: "I had some fatigue, but since we've come this far I couldn't just say that, so I pitched with the feeling that this would be the end."

Hoshino, prior to the Asia Series: "Tanaka, Norimoto, and Mima aren't going (in the Asia Series). You'd call me dumb if I had them pitch here."

My opinion is that Tanaka's game 6 and 7 workload was more gutsy than risky. I think Tanaka felt like he could do it, so he went for it, and it's not necessarily indicative of risky behavior.

And one last thing; Tanaka was just the sixth pitcher in NPB history to throw over 160 pitches in a Japan Series game. The most recent prior to Tanaka? Ephemeral Pittsburgh Pirate Masumi Kuwata, who threw 167 pitches in game 5 of the 1994 Series.

Tags: Masahiro Tanaka, Masumi Kuwata, Senichi Hoshino


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