With the second half of the MLB season underway, the six Japanese import players have settled into their roles. A couple of players continue to excel, one continues to scuffle, and the rest continue to produce inconsistent results.
Two-way star Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels continued to show off his skills on the mound but was less than awesome at the plate. Starting pitcher Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres had another solid month in a season of them. Fellow starter Yusei Kikuchi of the Toronto Blue Jays pitched only twice because of a stint on the Injury List, with one good performance and one bad one. The Chicago Cubs’ Seiya Suzuki rebounded somewhat from a weak May and a June in which he did not play because of injury. First baseman/DH Yoshi Tsutsugo of the Pittsburgh Pirates did not accomplish a lot after returning from injury, and Boston Red Sox reliever Hirokazu Sawamura had an up-and-down month.
Let’s start with Ohtani.
As a pitcher, Ohtani was 2-2 with a 3.20 earned-run average in July. He walked just six batters in 25.1 innings and struck out 44. The only blemish during the month was his July 22 outing against the Atlanta Braves, in which he allowed six hits – including two homers – and six runs, despite walking just one batter and striking out 11. For the season, he is 9-6 with a 2.81 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He has 145 strikeouts and has given up just 78 hits in 99.1 innings.
Ohtani has struck out 10 or more batters in six consecutive games, leaving him one game shy of tying Hall-of-Famer Nolan Ryan for the Angels’ franchise record. He also took home a couple of awards in July, winning the ESPY for Best Male Athlete and Best MLB Player.
With the trade deadline of 6pm, eastern time, August 2 nearing, there had been reports that the Angels were listening to offers for Ohtani, but a later report indicated that the team would keep him. Ohtani, 28, is in the second year of a two-year, $8.5 million contract. He is arbitration-eligible next year and is in line to reach free agency after the 2023 season.
Ohtani did not have a good month at the plate in July (at least by his lofty standards), hitting just .224 with five homers and 13 RBIs and posting a .718 OPS. In fact, despite some occasional prodigious feats as a hitter this season, June has been his only excellent month at the plate thus far (he batted .298 with six home runs, 17 RBI, and a .972 OPS). Otherwise, he batted .247 in May, .250 in April, and the aforementioned .224 in July. For the season, Ohtani has a .255 batting average, 22 home runs, 62 RBIs, and an OPS of .847.
Despite a shaky month at the plate, Ohtani maintained his knack for creating highlight-reel moments. After proclaiming to reporter Tom Verducci and the sell-out crowd at Dodger Stadium that he would swing at the first pitch from Clayton Kershaw, he did just that and hit a clean single off the Dodgers legend to lead off the game.
Moving to Darvish, he was 2-1 in July with a 3.18 ERA, striking out 45 batters and walking only six in 34 innings. His WHIP of 0.94 marked the third time in four months that he’s posted a mark of under 1.00. His only hiccup came on July 2 when he gave up five runs and three homers in six innings in a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Darvish posted a 4.44 ERA in April, but that was mostly due to one disastrous outing against the San Francisco Giants in which he allowed nine runs in only 1.2 innings. He was 2-1 with a 3.08 ERA in May and 3-1/2.52 in June. For the season, he is 9-4 with a 3.24 ERA and 0.97 WHIP.
After a hot start to the season, Suzuki fell into a slump and hit just .211 in May before going on the injured list on May 30 because of a left ring finger sprain. He was activated July 4 and celebrated America’s Independence Day by going 2-4 with an exciting, tie-breaking inside-the-park home run off Milwaukee Brewers All-Star closer Josh Hader.
Suzuki’s best game of the month came on July 22, when he went 4-5 with a homer and two RBIs against the Philadelphia Phillies. He had seven multi-hit games in July. He ended the month with a .286 mark; for the season, he has a slash line of .260/.335/.444, along with 68 strikeouts in 223 at-bats.
Kikuchi also lost time to injury, going on the 15-day Injured List on July 7 with a neck strain. He made a rehab assignment at AAA Buffalo and pitched five scoreless innings before returning to the Blue Jays on July 28 to pitch against the Detroit Tigers. His return was successful, as he gave up two hits and one run in a five-inning stint and earned the victory. His only other appearance during the month came July 7 against Oakland when he gave up five walks, and four earned runs in 2.1 innings and took the loss.
This season, Kikuchi has continued the inconsistency displayed throughout his MLB career. He had a poor April, a strong May, a very difficult June, and finished an abbreviated July on an upbeat note. His season marks are 4-5, a 4.89 ERA, 70 innings, 79 strikeouts, 42 walks, and a high WHIP of 1.50.
Kikuchi’s American League East rival Sawamura was having a decent July, but he finished with a couple of downers against Milwaukee on July 20 and 30, giving up three runs, three hits, and a couple of walks in 1.2 innings. For the month, he had a 4.60 ERA and allowed 13 hits and 12 bases on balls in 15.2 innings. Nonetheless, his WHIP for the season, 1.29, is still significantly lower than his 1.45 figure for 2021.
Tsutsugo had not played in the majors since May 24 because of a lower lumbar strain. He had a rehab assignment at AAA Indianapolis in late June and was activated by the Pirates on July 5. Since returning, though, his performance has not improved. He was batting .177 when he went on the injured list and has hit just .158 since being reinstated. His season mark is .171, and his OPS is .478.
NOTES: Minnesota Twins starter Kenta Maeda, out since last September because of Tommy John surgery, says there is a possibility he could return late this season, but it would most likely be in a relief role. He began throwing bullpen sessions at the beginning of July, and his recovery is said to be progressing on schedule . . . Former Cincinnati Red Shogo Akiyama is back with his former Japanese club, the Hiroshima Carp, and seems to be settling in. He was batting just .212 on July 18 but had upped that to .273 with an .871 OPS by the end of the month . . . Pitcher Kohei Arihara, who was with the Texas Rangers last season before being sidelined by shoulder surgery, has been struggling with the Rangers AAA Round Rock affiliate. By the end of July, he had appeared in 16 games (starting 12) and was 3-5 with a 5.31 ERA and 1.393 WHIP.