With Major League Baseball's regular season in limbo, Japan's major leaguers are riding out the coronavirus pandemic, waiting for word on when and how they will be able to play ball once again.
If any single player can be said to benefit from the layoff, in which players have been sent home, it is Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels. Ostensibly a two-way player, Ohtani had Tommy John surgery in 2018 and spent most of that Rookie of the Year season and all of 2019 as a designated hitter.
The Angels had expected Ohtani to start 2020 as a DH before returning to the starting rotation after building his pitching strength back up. But since no one knows when the season will start, there's a good chance Ohtani will be in the Angels' rotation from the get-go.
Ohtani is training at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, where he resumed throwing on April 13, a month after spring training camps were suspended. He is now training twice a week, throwing 35 to 40 pitches at about 80 percent of full strength.
He is expected to be able to pitch live batting practice as early as this month if California's current stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Outfielder Shogo Akiyama, who joined the Cincinnati Reds this year, is training in Los Angeles at his interpreter's home, hitting off a tee and building his strength.
The Reds are the only major league team that has yet to field a Japanese player, but Akiyama's highly anticipated debut is on hold like everyone else's season.
"Everyone is in a difficult situation," said Akiyama, who didn't miss a game in his last five seasons with the Pacific League's Seibu Lions.
"Since I am playing as a pro, I need to be ready even when I can't see where the goal is."
Kenta Maeda has been at his home in Los Angeles. His February trade to the Minnesota Twins gives him a chance to fulfill his dream to be a full-time starting pitcher, a role that eluded him during his four seasons for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yu Darvish, a candidate to be the Chicago Cubs' Opening Day starting pitcher, has remained in Arizona, close to the Cub's spring training facility.
Second-year Seattle Mariners pitcher Yusei Kikuchi is also working out in Arizona along with new teammate Yoshihisa Hirano, who spent his first two big league seasons in Phoenix with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Three players chose to return to Japan during the pandemic.
Pitcher Shun Yamaguchi had been in Florida preparing to start his first season with the Toronto Blue Jays after being posted over the winter by the Yomiuri Giants.
He said he would have liked to work out in Toronto, where his family already was, but travel issues meant it would have been difficult for him to travel to Canada. So he decided to return to Japan, where he is playing catch in a park.
"I don't know when the season will start, but I have no choice but to believe it will," he said.
Pitcher Masahiro Tanaka left Florida in March with his family after expressing concern for his safety. Tanaka, who moved to the big leagues in 2014, is entering the final year of a seven-year contract with the New York Yankees. He has posted 10-plus wins in six consecutive seasons and is the only Japanese pitcher to do so in the majors.
Like Akiyama and Yamaguchi, outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is waiting to make his big league debut.
He signed with the Tampa Bay Rays over the winter after hitting 205 home runs during his time with the Central League's DeNA BayStars. Tsutsugo will be in position to take aim at Hideki Matsui's 2004 single-season record of 31 home runs by a Japanese player in MLB when the season begins.
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