Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kenji Tomura, from Big 6 to the sticks

While I've been going to Tokyo Big 6 college games since 2007, the first year I really truly dove headfirst into becoming a Big 6 Bleacher Bum was 2009. Hosei won the spring semester despite two of their best pitchers sustaining injuries, mostly by way of their bats getting really hot out of nowhere. Meiji won the fall semester in a bizarre turn of events where Keio beat Waseda at Soukeisen and thus Meiji got the league title. It was a somewhat crazy year in that a few 4th-years came into their own, but a lot of them basically faded out of the spotlight due to bigger names on their team, or injuries. A lot of the teams were carried more by underclassmen, and the 4th-years got to play in a few games mostly out of courtesy.

People kept saying last year that "oh, the big college draft year is going to be next year, when Yuu-chan graduates..."

If you had asked me in mid-October who I expected to get drafted from the Tokyo Big 6 class, of the guys who filed letters of intent, I would have basically said Hosei's ace Kazuhito Futagami and Keio's lefty ace Nobuaki Nakabayashi, definitely. Hosei's fireball reliever Hisashi Takeuchi was a maybe, so was Rikkio's ace Kenji Tomura. Most of the other guys were long shots if anything.

Shows what I know, as Futagami did get drafted, but so did Takeuchi and Tomura, and Waseda's Kenta Matsushita. Crazier, Tomura was a first-round pick, which really surprised me at the time. And Nakabayashi was skipped over entirely and is now at JFE Higashinihon.

Matsushita had a reasonable college pitching line, actually, it's just that he had a lot of playing time taken away due to having the bad luck of being there at the same time as Yuki Saitoh. And another interesting thing about him that I hadn't realized is that his father, Tateo Matsushita, was also a professional baseball player, who was signed outside the draft by the Hiroshima Carp in 1976 and spent 3 years as a ni-gun outfielder, though he never made an appearance at the ichi-gun level.

Anyway, given the four that WERE drafted, if I had to rank them in terms of who was most likely to make their ichi-gun debut first, I would have ranked them as Futagami, Takeuchi, Tomura, and Matsushita, in that order. Futagami is a solid pitcher and a starter at that. Takeuchi, for all of his injuries and whatnot, is a really big kid with a really fast fastball, which makes him perfect for relief or being a closer, something the Carp actually need. Tomura and Matsushita are both decent pitchers but I figured they'd need some time in the minors to adjust; while Tomura was pretty solid for a Rikkio pitcher, he wasn't particularly overpowering; I always saw him as being a big tangle of skinny arms and legs that could be leveraged well to throw a baseball.

So, apparently I was entirely wrong yet again. While Takeuchi WAS the first to be added to an ichi-gun roster -- he was on the Carp roster for 4 days last week -- he didn't actually make an appearance.

And Kenji Tomura just made his first ichi-gun start. On Wednesday April 21st. In Koriyama, against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

I didn't get to watch this game -- couldn't go there as it's a bit too far for an after-work trip, and didn't get to see it on TV. But from what I understand from reports on Where Eagles Dare and such, Tomura had some good moments and some bad moments, struck out a bunch of guys and walked a bunch of guys and some runs scored on silly things like wild pitches, and basically, he lasted slightly under three innings in his first start at ichi-gun.

I'm a little surprised he made a start so soon, and it is really kind of weird to realize that only 6 months ago I was watching him pitch at Jingu in a college uniform. (At pretty much every game, too. Tomura pitched 74 out of the 128 innings his team fielded, last semester. Yikes.) Hopefully I'll get to see him pitch in a Rakuten uniform one of these days.

Either way, congrats on being the first one out of the gate, Tomura! May you have a long and skinny career.

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