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Fighters outfielder Taishi Ota receives fan vote for All-Star Series, but out with hand injury

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Taishi Ota was announced as the Pacific League winner of the All-Star Series’ plus one fan vote a little after 4 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon, making him a first-time All-Star.

His happiness, however, was probably rendered bittersweet by the black cast covering part of his hand.

Ota was forced to decline his spot on the Pa League roster shortly after the results were made public due to a fractured left hand. The outfielder suffered the injury when he was hit by a pitch during the sixth inning of the Fighters’ game against the Chiba Lotte Marines on Saturday.

“In baseball, you have hit by pitches and you have injuries,” Ota said. “We’re all human. It’s just one of those things. My feeling now is I want to try to make it next year. But I feel sorry for the fans who voted for me that I won’t be able to play.”

Ota is currently in his 10th NPB season and second with the Fighters, having also played for the Yomiuri Giants from 2009-2016. The 28-year-old was off to the best start of his career, hitting .272 with 13 home runs and 47 RBIs in 75 games, before the injury.

“I was bummed out for him,” third baseman Brandon Laird said. “He’s having a good season. He’s a big part of our lineup.”

Ota is likely to miss 3 to 4 weeks due to the injury.

“I want to do my best to get better and try to carry my play into the second half of the season,” Ota said.

The Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Tomotaka Sakaguchi won the vote in the Central League.

Sakaguchi has played in 72 games for Yakult and is batting .326 with a pair of home runs and 20 RBIs. Sakaguchi, who is in his 16th season, will be making his second All-Star appearance.

The first game of the All-Star Series, at Kyocera Dome, will be a homecoming of sorts for Sakaguchi, who played many of his home games there during his time with the Orix Buffaloes.

This season’s All-Star Series is scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Following the opener in Osaka, the series will shift to Kumamoto for Game 2.