Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Tied Japan Series opener the latest new experience for Carp’s Johnny Hellweg

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Johnny Hellweg’s first experience in the Japan Series didn’t exactly end the way he thought it might.

Of all the scenarios the 29-year-old reliever may have gone through in his head, it’s safe to say a tie game was pretty far down the list.

“I honestly still haven’t been able to comprehend it,” Hellweg told the Japan Times prior to Game 2 on Sunday at Mazda Stadium after his Hiroshima Carp and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks played a 12-inning, 2-2 tie in Game 1.

“It’s, a tie,” Hellweg said. “It’s the first tie in my professional sports career. I haven’t tied since grade school, I feel like. It almost feels like no one accomplished anything on either side, basically. It’s just kind of a wash.

“So it’s a weird feeling, but I know we pitched well, we hit well, had good at-bats. We saw their guys. So there were definitely positives to take away from it, but a tie is just different for me.”

Hellweg did his part to help the Carp avoid defeat in the 11th inning. He came on in relief of Jay Jackson with runners on the corners and two outs. He didn’t get off to best of starts, nearly hitting Seiichi Uchikawa with his first pitch and plunking him with the second.

Hellweg regrouped in time to retire Shuhei Fukuda with the bases loaded to prevent Hiroshima from falling behind. When the Carp failed to score in the bottom half and both teams were shut out in the 12th, that was that.

Japan Series contests used to go up to 15 innings if needed. This year, the extra-innings rule scaled that back to 12 to bring it in line with the format used during the regular season and Climax Series.

“They (the Carp coaches) told the whole team at the beginning of the game that Japan Series games will end after 12,” Hellweg said. “I was like, ‘man, I hope it doesn’t.’ It’s just so weird.

“The thing is, especially in the Japan Series (with) being able to change the roster all the time, I feel like you can kind of wear out a bullpen and swap out guys. So it almost seems easier than it would be in the States to play longer games. In the States, they played 18 innings a day ago (in Game 3 of the World Series), and they didn’t get any reinforcements. It takes a toll.”

Hellweg, who pitched for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2013, is in his first season in Japan. He was a midseason addition by the Carp and spent the first several weeks with the farm team getting adjusted.

“There was a lot the first couple of months, just culture and baseball,” he said. “Honestly the hardest thing for me was the mounds. I had to change my whole mechanics just to get through innings down there, and finally getting back up here it was back to baseball as normal.

“Everyone over here is as nice as can be. Culture was easy, just learning how to fit in was the hardest part. The Japan Series is kind of a little bonus for a midseason trip.”

Before coming to Hiroshima, Hellweg was pitching for the Indianapolis Indians, the Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates. He allowed six runs — four earned — across 27 innings there this season. In late June, the Pirates released him so he could pursue an opportunity in Japan.

Hellweg only made seven appearances for the Carp during the regular season, allowing one run in eight innings. He didn’t make an appearance during the Climax Series but has already gotten his feet wet in the Japan Series.

The first game also gave Hellweg, who made his NPB debut on Sept. 20, the chance to see the Hawks up close.

“They’re good,” he said. “They’re in the Japan Series for a reason. They have good guys over there. We have good guys over here. Everyone is just trying to go out and do their best and see whose weapons play better.”

Off the field, the mid-year adjustment from Indianapolis to Hiroshima has gone fairly smoothly.

“It’s kinda good, because Indy is the biggest city I’ve ever played in and lived in,” he said. “Indy is a great city. Living in downtown Hiroshima helped me adjust a little bit. There’s not as much food as I can go get, but that’s the biggest thing.

“I like Hiroshima, no complaints. I think I could do this for a while.”