Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Otani puts talents on display in All-Star opener


In one of the more entertaining All-Star games in years, teenager Shohei Otani ratcheted up the radar gun from the mound and then took his turn at bat as the Pacific League’s left fielder in a 1-1 tie with the Central League on Friday.

Otani, the versatile 19-year-old phenom for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, was voted onto the PL squad by fans as an outfielder, but entered the game as a pitcher in his home park, Sapporo Dome.

The right-hander allowed two hits and struck out a batter in a scoreless fifth inning when he threw 13 pitches — all fastballs — and reached 157 kph on the gun.

At bat, Otani grounded out and flied out to end the game.

The PL got on the board in the bottom of the first on a triple by Nobuhiro Matsuda of the Softbank Hawks and a single by Yoshio Itoi of the Orix Buffaloes.

Itoi, who was traded from the Fighters to the Buffaloes in January, got the loudest ovation from his former fans during introductions. He lined a pitch from Hiroshima Carp ace Kenta Maeda over short to make it 1-0 to the delight of the crowd.

Rakuten Eagles ace Masahiro Tanaka, who has won all 13 of his decisions this season, needed 16 pitches to work two perfect innings for the PL.

Fighters lefty Mitsuo Yoshikawa allowed a hit in his two innings, before Nippon Ham and PL manager Hideki Kuriyama gave the fans what they wanted — a taste of Otani.

Otani got Yokohama BayStars slugger Tony Blanco to pop up before clocking 157 kph against BayStars veteran Norihiro Nakamura, who struck out swinging.

The teenager, who is batting .305 with 13 doubles and two homers among his 29 hits so far this season, left the mound after one inning but took over in left field.

It did not take long for Otani to show off his arm again. With a runner at second, the youngster caught a liner for the second out and came within a hair of doubling off the Hanshin Tigers’ Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who had been much too casual about returning to base.

Otani batted in the bottom of the sixth with Fighters teammate Sho Nakata on first. But after fouling off a couple of fastballs from 38-year-old Yokohama ace Daisuke Miura, Otani was fooled on an eephus pitch for a comebacker to the mound.

The CL tied it in the seventh against Fighters middle reliever Toshiyuki Yanuki.

The right-hander walked Blanco to lead off the inning before Chunichi Dragons pinch hitter Yohei Oshima stole second and scored on a single by Nakamura.

Another Fighters middleman, Hirotoshi Masui, worked the eighth for the PL, while Buffaloes closer Yoshihisa Hirano pitched a scoreless ninth.

Maeda allowed a run in his two innings and was followed to the mound by the Yomiuri Giants’ Hirokazu Sawamura, who prevented the PL from adding to its early lead for three innings.

Miura worked the sixth and seventh, and Dragons closer Hitoki Iwase, Japan’s all-time saves leader, took the mound in the eighth.

Giants closer Kentaro Nishimura pitched the ninth. With two outs, he faced Otani and sealed the tie in a game that does not feature extra innings.

Sawamura, whose three innings were the longest of the game, was named the game’s MVP.