Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Tigers' Pierce Johnson striving to improve his Japanese

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Sitting in the Hanshin Tigers’ bullpen has given Pierce Johnson a chance to pick up some new things. Namely, his teammates have been teaching him some Japanese during their downtime, and he’s already imagining the possibilities of having a new language in his arsenal.

“This is such a unique language that none of my family and friends know,” Johnson told The Japan Times.

“So it’s kind of like, this is cool, I’m going to go home and talk about ’em, but they won’t have any idea what I’m saying,” he joked.

As far as baseball goes, the 28-year-old Denver native is already pretty fluent in that. The right-hander, who played in 37 games for the San Francisco Giants in 2018, has gotten off to a good start in his first NPB campaign.

He entered Friday’s game having made 20 appearances with two runs allowed in 20⅓ innings. He had 11 holds, second-most in the Central League, and 26 strikeouts over that span.

“My teammates have been phenomenal behind me,” Johnson said. “To them I give all the credit. For me, it’s really trusting my stuff. I got guys out in the big leagues back home and I really just had to trust my stuff here.”

He’s also placed a lot of faith in catcher Ryutaro Umeno.

“Umeno is phenomenal behind the plate,” Johnson said. “He’s got a very good grasp of the game and knows all the hitters. That gives me a lot of confidence on the mound knowing this guy has my back.

“Baseball is a universal language for all of us anyway. Fastball, curveball, slider, the fingers say it all. He does a phenomenal job and has helped me on the mound. Like I said, my teammates deserve all the credit and Umeno is a huge piece of that.”

Starting well is great, but maintaining it is an even bigger challenge.

“There’s gonna be waves,” Johnson said. “Thankfully, I’ve started on a really high note. There’s going to be a time where it’s going to be hard to me to get outs. Because baseball is a game of failure and there will be a time of failure for everybody out there, including myself.

“So, it’s having a good routine, sticking to that routine and adjusting as the game adjusts. For me, mixing in a third and fourth pitch. Which I have, and I haven’t thrown a ton of, but maybe in July when it’s super hot and my fastball is not doing well, maybe throw my changeup a little bit more or my cutter or whatever it may be. So really kind of having a good feel for the game and a feel for the other team and adjusting every day.”

Overall, Johnson is enjoying playing in Japan so far and soaking up as much of the culture as he can.

“I love how respectful and professional everybody is,” he said. “That’s just a cultural thing too, everyone here is so respectful just in their everyday life. Little different than in the (United) States, not that guys aren’t that way, but guys just approach the game a little bit differently here. They’re truly dedicated and I love being around those types of guys.”

Johnson’s wife Kristina is experiencing everything with him and the 28-year-old is hoping to get as much out of being in Japan as he can.

That includes mastering the local tongue.

“I’m actually trying to learn as much Japanese as I can,” he said. “It’s been fun, because guys try to teach me things and I try to teach them stuff in English. In the bullpen, we’re all just hanging out there watching the game anyway. It’s a great time to practice my Japanese. It’s kind of like I’m learning all day.

“But I have a hard time because they speak so fast and abbreviate things. Like in the morning, when you say ohayo gozaimsasu (good morning), they just say osu (an abbreviated version) and I’m like wait, what? That’s a saying?”