NEW YORK – Five years on from the massive earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan that took so many lives, Japanese major leaguers who began their careers in the affected area cast their minds back to the disaster while promising to provide whatever inspiration they can from the mound.
The New York Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka and fellow right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners were the ace starters for the Sendai-based Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles back in 2011, and despite their careers taking them to new heights, they have not forgotten the fate of the Tohoku region.
“It is nowhere near being restored and we mustn’t forget the disaster,” said Iwakuma, who won the Sawamura Award as NPB’s most impressive starting pitcher with the Eagles in 2008.
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami — which according to police left 15,894 people dead and 2,561 missing — shook the nation ahead of Iwakuma’s seventh and final season with the club.
Tanaka won the top pitcher award that year, and again in 2013 in his final season when he went an unprecedented 24-0 and led the team to the Japan Series title before moving to New York.
“There will still be continuous support activities needed,” he said. “I’ll be honored if there are people there who are looking forward to seeing me play. I’ll play to deliver positive news to them with as many good performances as I can produce.”
The Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish is another high-profile name who honed his game in the region. He spent three years with Tohoku High School in Sendai before joining the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
“I went around six prefectures in Tohoku for road trips and games and they have a special place in my heart,” the 29-year-old said. “I play baseball over here but we just keep doing what we do in the right manner, and hope to help them even by a little bit.”
Maeda gets second start
Mesa, Arizona — Kenta Maeda pitched three scoreless innings in his second start, A.J. Ellis had two hits and drove in three runs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Oakland Athletics 8-3 on Thursday.
Maeda signed a $25 million, eight-year deal with the Dodgers following eight professional seasons with the Hiroshima Carp, a deal that could escalate to $106.2 million. He has yet to allow a run in five innings and has struck out five.
“His ability to change speeds keeps hitters off balance,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He got up to 50 pitches. It was a good outing.”
A’s starter Rich Hill, who lasted 2⅓ innings, got the opening two outs of the first before walking the bases loaded and giving up Ellis’ three-run double and Trayce Thompson’s two-run homer.
“He’s a veteran guy in the rotation,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “He had some ups and downs. It’s a great opportunity for him.”
Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier also drove in runs for the Dodgers. Billy Butler had two hits for the A’s.
Maeda isn’t taking anything for granted as he prepares for his first major league season.
“I’m aware it’s spring training and not the regular season,” Maeda said through an interpreter. “I’m not concerned about results. I’m sure there will be a few bumps along the way.”
Maeda got strikeouts with his fastball, change-up and slider, though he’s not yet comfortable with his slider.
“The break was not too good on it,” he said.
As for differences between the two professional leagues, Maeda said he has noticed the bat speed among major leaguers “is pretty quick.”