Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Fans vote former major leaguer Daisuke Matsuzaka onto All-Star roster

Kyodo

Former major leaguer Daisuke Matsuzaka said Monday he is eager to play in this summer’s All-Star games after Nippon Professional Baseball’s announcement that the popular veteran had been voted onto his league’s roster by the fans.

The 37-year-old Chunichi Dragons right-hander received 394,704 votes and was selected for the annual All-Star series for the first time in 12 years and the ninth time in his career. Yomiuri Giants right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano was second in the Central League voting for starting pitchers with 244,188 votes. Sugano leads the CL in shutouts, innings pitched, strikeouts and ERA.

“It is an event all baseball players hope to participate in. I didn’t think I would come as far as to be selected for the All-Star roster,” Matsuzaka said. “It’s not like I’ve been a regular member of our rotation, so I feel apologetic toward those guys who have been doing enough to carry their full load.”

Matsuzaka missed his scheduled start on June 17 due to back trouble and has not played since but said he is aiming to return to the mound for the two-game series.

“I have mixed feelings because of my physical condition, but I want to be able to come back before the All-Star games so I can pitch,” he said.

Matsuzaka, who played eight years in the majors, with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, is 3-3 with a 2.41 ERA since signing with the Nagoya-based Dragons. In three seasons with the Pacific League’s Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks since returning to Japan in 2015, injuries and fitness issues had limited him to just one game.

He said that if he was not fit to pitch, he would still like to play.

“Even if I am unable to pitch, I’d like to step into the batter’s box,” Matsuzaka said, spurring memories of Shohei Ohtani, who in 2016 was selected a pitcher but instead batted due to blisters that prevented him from pitching.

Two other former major leaguers, Giants reliever Koji Uehara and Tokyo Yakult Swallows outfielder Norichika Aoki, will join Matsuzaka on the CL roster.

Uehara, who moved to the United States in 2009, returned to Yomiuri before the start of the 2018 season. He has allowed nine runs over 15 innings in 16 outings. In 1999, Uehara was the CL’s rookie of the year for the Giants and Matsuzaka was the PL’s rookie of the year for the Seibu Lions.

Aoki, who played with seven MLB ballclubs from 2012 to 2017, has a .280 batting average with 67 hits and 32 RBIs this season.

“I’m grateful a lot of fans voted for me. I hope they see me having fun during the games,” he said. “I want to be named the MVP if I get the chance.”

In the PL, Lions left-hander Yusei Kikuchi, who is 8-0 with a 2.57 ERA, was voted in as a starting pitcher. The PL-leading Lions won six roster spots through the fan ballot, the most of any team.

Yuki Yanagita, the center fielder for the reigning Japan Series champion Hawks, pulled in 619,150 votes, the most in either league. Yokohama BayStars closer Yasuaki Yamasaki topped the CL fan ballot with 476,185.

The fan vote is the first part of the selection process for the annual All-Star series. The results of the players’ vote will be announced Thursday. The players’ top picks who have not already been voted in by fans will be added to their leagues’ rosters.

The full rosters will be announced on July 10 for the July 13 game at Kyocera Dome Osaka and the July 14 game at Fujisakidai Stadium in Kumamoto Prefecture.

Fan all-star ballot winners:

Central League

Starting pitcher: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Chunichi Dragons

Middle reliever: Koji Uehara, Yomiuri Giants

Closer: Yasuaki Yamasaki, Yokohama BayStars

Catcher: Seiji Kobayashi, Yomiuri Giants

First Base: Kazuma Okamoto, Yomiuri Giants

Second Base: Tetsuto Yamada, Tokyo Yakult Swallows

Third Base: Toshiro Miyazaki, Yokohama BayStars

Shortstop: Hayato Sakamoto, Yomiuri Giants

Outfielders: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Yokohama BayStars; Norichika Aoki, Tokyo Yakult Swallows, Seiya Suzuki, Hiroshima Carp

Pacific League

Starting pitcher: Yusei Kikuchi, Seibu Lions

Middle reliever: Naoki Miyanishi, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters

Closer: Hirotoshi Masui, Orix Buffaloes

Catcher: Tomoya Mori, Seibu Lions

First Base: Hotaka Yamakawa, Seibu Lions

Second Base: Hideto Asamura, Seibu Lions

Third Base: Nobuhiro Matsuda, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks

Shortstop: Sosuke Genda, Seibu Lions

Outfielders: Yuki Yanagita, Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks; Shogo Akiyama, Seibu Lions; Masataka Yoshida, Orix Buffaloes

Designated Hitter: Kensuke Kondo, Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters