High school star Kikuchi gives scouts a taste of his skills


Hanamaki Higashi High School left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is drawing the spotlight as he decides on whether he will attempt to join the major leagues or begin his career in Japanese pro baseball, pitched in front of scouts from both sides of the Pacific on Monday.

Facing Chukyodai Chukyo, this year’s national high school champion, the 18-year-old Kikuchi struck out three in a row in a scoreless ninth inning and clocked a 153-kph fastball in the quarterfinal game in the National Sports Festival in Niigata.

Kikuchi, who hurt his back during the summer classic at Koshien Stadium in August, did not start but took the mound with the Iwate school ahead 6-4.

“It’s something getting three strikeouts from Chukyo,” said an elated Kikuchi, who is likely to make a decision on whether he will try to make a move to the majors or remain in Japan in the coming days. He did not comment on his future course of action on Monday.

Bryan Lambe, a special assistant to the general manager of the New York Mets who came to watch Kikuchi, said he liked what he saw.

“He was impressive. He has a strong, quick arm. Good balance and a strong bottom half,” said Lambe.

After Boston Red Sox rookie Junichi Tazawa refused to be named in Japan’s amateur draft last year in order to pursue a career in the majors — the first such move by a top Japanese amateur player — Japanese teams fear Kikuchi will be the next big name to go.

“We don’t want to let him go to the majors. We definitely want him to remain in Japan,” said Takayoshi Nakao, a scout for the Hanshin Tigers.

Dave DeFreitas, who is in charge of scouting in Japan for the Cleveland Indians, said the decision will ultimately be up to Kikuchi.

“A pitcher as good as he is, if he wants to go to the major leagues, it’s our job to go and see him,” DeFreitas said.

Kikuchi helped Hanamaki Higashi to a runnerup finish at the national high school invitational in April and to reach the semifinals in the national championship.

Despite it being a weekday, some 12,000 fans turned up at Hard Off Eco Stadium Niigata, cheering on Kikuchi when he took the mound to finish out a 6-4 win.

All 12 Japanese professional clubs sent scouts while there were scouts from eight major league teams.

Dragons whip Giants

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Masahiko Morino hit a two-run homer to spark the offense and eight of the Chunichi Dragons’ starting nine got hits in a 10-1 rout that snapped the Yomiuri Giants’ 10-game winning streak on Monday.

Morino went deep to right off Shun Tono (8-8) in the first inning and Tony Blanco went 3-for-4 with two runs scored. Kei Nomoto also had three hits and drove in two runs at Nagoya Dome.

Swallows 7, Tigers 1

At Jingu Stadium, Hiromitsu Takagi took a shutout into the seventh inning as Yakult beat Hanshin to extend its winning streak to six games.

Yuichi Matsumoto broke a scoreless tie with a two-run double in the sixth inning and Yakult piled on five runs in the next frame.

Carp 9, BayStars 5

At Mazda Stadium, Tetsuya Kokubo and Jun Hirose combine to drive in five runs and starter Takahiro Aoki benefited from an early seven-run cushion in Hiroshima’s win over Yokohama.