CHIBA – Mike Bolsinger ended his first year in Japan with a 13-2 record and 3.06 ERA in 117⅔ innings for the Chiba Lotte Marines.
As he prepares for the 2019 season, the right-hander isn’t looking for an encore. He’s aiming to be even better the second time around.
“To me, it could’ve been better,” Bolsinger said of his 2018 campaign on Tuesday at Zozo Marine Stadium. “That last outing, I think that left kind of a bad taste in my mouth. Because I really wanted to end the year on a sub-3.00 ERA. That last outing put it above it.
“I’ll try and set goals for myself again. I want to make the All-Star team again, that’s definitely a goal of mine, and just beat those numbers that I had last year.”
Bolsinger, 31, is off to a decent start. He’s pitched in two spring training games, allowing just a run in seven innings. Pitching at home against the Chunichi Dragons Saturday, he tossed four scoreless innings, striking out two and allowing one hit.
“To have a good outing my last time was definitely a confidence booster,” he said. “I feel like I found that release point I was looking for, so I’m pretty excited to get the season started pretty soon.”
“Saturday Bolsinger” was the Marines’ best pitcher last season. In addition to his team-high 13 wins, Bolsinger tossed a pair of complete games and posted a 1.22 walks plus hits per innings pitched.
He ran off a streak of 11 straight winning decisions at one point and was also an All-Star. In July, the Marines began selling shirts with the kanji character “shin” (god) inserted in the katakana spelling of his name on the front, and the pitcher’s number and “God of Victory” on the back.
Most of those victories came on Saturdays, when Bolsinger’s turn in the rotation usually came up. He was 11-0 with a 2.71 ERA in Saturday games.
“Wins and losses, that’s kind of out of your reach,” Bolsinger said. “To me, what I really enjoyed looking at stats-wise, was the quality starts (13) that I had. That’s a goal of mine, to go out there and give a quality start each game and keep the team in the ballgame.”
Bolsinger is entering this season with a year of experience and a better understanding of the Japanese game. One of the adjustments he made last season was to avoid trying to pitch for strikeouts in an environment where so many players are just trying to make contact. By ending at-bats earlier, Bolsinger can keep his pitch count down.
Having already made those types of adjustments last season is a small leg up for the hurler this year.
“In a way, you feel confident because of what you did last year,” he said. “But baseball can change so quickly. So it feels good to be really prepared. It’s just like your first year in the big leagues back home. It’s a learning experience going into the next year, then that’s a learning experience going into the next year. So every year, you’re kind of learning something different about yourself and about the game out here.”
He’s also working on the curveball that worked to great effect last season. According to Deltagraphs, he threw the pitch 22.3 percent of the time, with only Shuta Ishikawa and Brandon Dickson throwing a higher percentage among pitchers who threw at least 90 innings.
“What me and my catcher have worked on is not only just throwing the pitch for a strike and trying to get a strikeout, but locating the pitch, throwing inside, throwing it out(side),” Bolsinger said. “To throw an inside curveball to a righty is pretty uncomfortable for a hitter. “If you can really locate your offspeed pitches, if you can locate a slider or a curveball, you’re ahead of the curve.”
That also goes for his other pitches.
“What I was working on last year was an outside slider for a strike to lefties,” he said. “In my eyes, a lefty is already going to give up on a ball out of the strike zone up and away. To have it come back in the strike zone is huge.
“Obviously for me, it’s also important to locate and have better control of my fastball. Once I have that, my offspeed is just as good. “
Even with his success on the field, Bolsinger said the most enjoyable part of his experience in Japan has been how friendly everyone is and the safety of the area where he and his wife live, a neighborhood where they’ve bonded with other parents.
He’s also developed quite a fondness for tonkostsu ramen.
“I’m a huge ramen guy, that’s been my thing,” Bolsinger said.
Bolsinger was introduced to tonkotsu (pork bone broth) ramen, which originated in Fukuoka, last season.
“At the stadium here,” he said. “Then we went to Fukuoka, and they’re pretty famous out there (for ramen). My translator took me to a place and I fell in love with it out there. I keep hearing I need to go to Ramen Street in Tokyo.
“It’s hard, I eat it everyday,” he said with a laugh. “Last year when I went home, I had eaten so much ramen and so much meat, for a month I just ate vegetables just to let my body recover from it.”
He loves it so much, when the Marines wear nicknames on their uniforms later this year, Bolsinger will proudly be “Tonkotsu” for the day.
“I thought that was pretty funny,” he said. “That’s just what I like. I thought I’d put it on the back of my jersey.”