Loki Sasaki, the “monster pitcher” of the Japanese professional baseball (NPB) Chiba Lotte Marines, will start in the “Korea-Japan Lotte Exchange Game” against the Lotte Giants in the KBO League.
Japanese media “Nikan Sports” reported on the 11th, “Sasaki will make his first start this season in a practice game against Lotte in the KBO League on the 25th.”꽁머니사이트
Lotte manager Yoshii Masato Chiba revealed pitchers who will start in two consecutive practice games against Lotte in the KBO League from July 24 to 25. Kazuya Ojima will take the mound as starting pitcher on July 24, and Sasaki will take charge the next day.
KBO League Lotte, which has been holding its first spring camp at a baseball stadium even though it is located in Guam since March 31, will start its second spring camp focusing on actual games in Okinawa, Japan from March 21. The team will engage in joint training with the NPB Chiba Lotte Group 1 team on March 22 and exchange games from March 24 to 25.
The KBO League’s exchange between Lotte and NPB Chiba Lotte resumed last year, seven years after 2016. The two teams were originally scheduled to play two games, but only one game was played due to rain. The result was a 3-0 victory for Lotte in the KBO League. Na Kyun-an pitched three scoreless innings to lead the team’s victory.
KBO League Lotte is continuously increasing its exchanges with NPB Chiba Lotte from a long-term perspective. In July last year, the team’s front office held a meeting with the Chiba Lotte Organization Management Department and the head of R&D Group through short-term training for the Japanese team.
In January this year, Lotte’s general manager Park Joon-hyuk, the head of the fostering team, and the head of the stadium business team visited the Chiba Lotte club in person to discuss developmental exchanges. In the future, the two teams plan to promote shared growth by promoting exchanges such as regular exchange matches between the first and second teams and sending training for the team.
As expected, the showdown between Sasaki and Korean batters is drawing keen attention at this year’s exchange games. Sasaki, who was away from the World Baseball Classic last year, is set to take the mound for the first time.
Sasaki, who joined the Chiba Lotte Giants in 2020, has been caught by scouts’ radar early on. Since his high school days, he has drawn attention with his extraordinary talent by throwing fast balls over 160 km/h, raising expectations that he will play a role in the mound of the Japanese national team as well as his team.
Sasaki, who did not play a single game in 2020, finished the season with three wins and two losses and an earned run average of 2.27 in 63 ⅓ in 11 games in the following year. His performances in 2022 and last year were 9 wins and 4 losses and an earned run average of 2.02 in 129 ⅓ in 20 games, and 7 wins and 4 losses and an earned run average of 1.78 in 91 innings in 15 games, respectively.
In particular, Sasaki set a milestone of being the youngest perfect game in the NPB with 19 strikeouts and no runs in nine innings against the Orix Buffaloes in April 2022, and struck out 13 consecutive batters in the game. Sasaki, who also showed his presence in international competitions, contributed to the Japanese national team’s victory by leaving one win and 3.52 ERA in seven ⅔ in two games (starting) at the WBC last year.
Such conflicts between Sasaki and Chiba Lotte began after the 2023 season. Sasaki conveyed his intention to challenge the Major League to Chiba Lotte. “It will not be too late to return the favor to the current team and advance to the U.S.,” Yoshii said, expressing opposition to Sasaki’s request.
There were two main reasons. First of all, Sasaki did not show as much as his team’s expectations. It was only once in the 2022 season that he exceeded 100 innings since joining the professional league. Sasaki should erase the question mark on his durability.
The second reason is the amount of money. According to the U.S.-Japan professional baseball agreement, Japanese players who want to play in the Major League before the age of 25 can only sign a minor league contract. Even if a player signs a contract, he or she can receive up to 5.75 million U.S. dollars in down payment. His or her team will also receive up to 1.44 million dollars in transfer fees. Sasaki, who was born in 2001, is no exception.
Sasaki, who did not give up despite the team’s opposition and cold public opinion, did not sign his seal until the end of the year. This year was the first time that Sasaki’s salary negotiations were not completed by the end of this year since his professional debut.
In addition, the news that Sasaki withdrew from the Japanese professional baseball team on the 25th of last month shocked the Japanese baseball community. Considering that most of the players playing in the league are in the team, Sasaki’s decision was somewhat unusual. Criticism of Sasaki’s willingness to challenge was growing in Japan, and Sasaki, who stepped back, eventually concluded his salary contract for the 2024 season on the 26th.
“It wasn’t easy to mention it publicly,” Sasaki said at a press conference on June 27. “First of all, I want to apologize for making our fans worried,” he said. “I am satisfied with my salary this season. I have always communicated with the team since I started playing baseball. Negotiations were made through agents, and I spent a lot of time talking with the team.”
Sasaki also said, “I want to play in the Major League in the future, but since I couldn’t play the season as planned last year due to injury, I think it’s important to focus on this season at a time when I am about to play in the 2024 season. I want to add a team to help the team win and have a better season.”
Although the seal was stamped after many twists and turns, it is true that there are concerns over the delay in preparation for the season. Ryota Igarashi, a Japanese baseball commentator who played for the Yakult Swallows, Softbank Hawks, and the New York Mets of the U.S. Major League Baseball, appeared on a radio program on Tuesday and said, “I think I hurt my side late last year, so I think that’s why my pitching form has changed. Side injuries are scary to players.”