I’ve already selected the opening game on March 29th next year…Ito, a former WBC CEO, made a surprise announcement in front of 30,262 fans of Shinjo, saying, “I was notified at the end of September.”

Nippon Ham Fighters manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo, 51, put on a “surprise show. At a season-ending fan fest with fans on the 23rd, he revealed the starting pitcher for next year’s season opener. When the emcee handed the microphone to Shinjo, saying he had a big announcement, the room erupted. “Next year is the third year of the season to be won,” Shinjo said. Hiromi Ito (26) will start next year’s opening game,” he announced.v

Ito then took the microphone and said, “Actually, after I pitched in the last game of the season, the manager asked me to pitch the opening game of next year’s season. I will throw with all my might to win.”

Ito made his final appearance on September 25 against the Rakuten Eagles at home, which means that he was selected to start the following year’s opening game six months ago.

Ito’s strong performance against Chiba Lotte this season may also have been a factor. He started two games and took one loss, but his ERA was a respectable 2.45. He pitched five scoreless innings in an away game at Marine Stadium.

The right-hander was a first-round pick in the 2021 draft. Won 10 games in his rookie season and another 10 last year (9-1).

Photo credit: Nihon Ham Fighters SNS
D (1 save). After posting double-digit wins for the second year in a row, Ito represented Japan at the World Baseball Classic (WBC) in March. He has made the leap to pitching for Niihon Ham.

He was the fourth and final pitcher against China on the first day of the group stage with fellow Nihon Ham senior Shohei Otani starting, tossing one inning of scoreless baseball with two strikeouts. He pitched ⅓ of a scoreless inning in the quarterfinals against Italy and a scoreless inning in the championship game against the United States.

In April, he started four games without a win, losing three and posting a 5.82 ERA. He gradually picked up his pace and kept his ERA in the double digits in June and July. In August, he threw two complete games. In 24 games this season, he went 7-10, 3.46, with three complete games and one shutout in 153 1/3 innings pitched.

In the last 10 years from 2014 through this year, only Ohtani in 2015 has earned a win as an Opening Day pitcher for the Nihon Hammers. No Opening Day wins in the last eight years.

This year has been particularly disappointing. He lost the opener against Rakuten on March 30 at Eskenfield, 1-3. It was the first opening game at Escon Field. Starter Takayuki Kato, 31, took the loss after giving up three runs in seven innings.

Nihon Ham players in batting practice at Escon Field. Photo credit: Niihon Ham Fighters social media
Right. The opposing starter was Masahiro Tanaka (35), who has a connection to Hokkaido, having graduated from high school there.

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