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There were two 2021 debuts that merited attention in NPB on Saturday, writes Jason Coskrey in The Week in NPB.

One was the return of Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, who stepped back on an NPB mound for the first time since 2013. Tanaka was given a rough welcome by the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Saturday at Tokyo Dome, and was left with plenty to think about.

The other debut was a relief appearance by Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks pitcher Carter Stewart Jr. against the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome in Saitama Prefecture. While Tanaka garnered most of the headlines, Stewart’s first steps in NPB could have a greater impact in the long run, Coskrey argues.

Rakuten pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (left) watches Sho Nakata's first-inning home run for the Fighters on Saturday at Tokyo Dome. | KYODO
Rakuten pitcher Masahiro Tanaka (left) watches Sho Nakata’s first-inning home run for the Fighters on Saturday at Tokyo Dome. | KYODO

On Monday, the chiefs of both the NPB and the J. League said that despite a rise in new COVID-19 cases across Japan, neither league is considering going back to playing behind closed doors, reports Kaz Nagatsuka, even in the event of another state of emergency.

Meanwhile, with the Tokyo Games edging closer, Samurai Japan manager Atsunori Inaba unveiled the team’s uniforms last week, including a red ensemble he hopes will fire the team up to clinch Japan’s first baseball gold, Coskrey reports.

Finally, catching up with Japanese players Stateside over the past week, Shohei Otani is still on a fine run of form with the Angels, Rangers rookie Kohei Arihara got his first MLB win (and got to wear a cowboy hat to boot), while Yu Darvish came out worst in a duel with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

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