For the most part, August was not a good month for the Japanese import players in Major League Baseball.
Two-way all-star Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels continued to be the AL MVP frontrunner, ending the month with a major league-leading total of 42 home runs. He became the first player in Angels history to hit at least 40 home runs and steal at least 20 bases in a season; he also stole home for the first time in his MLB career.
As a pitcher in August, Ohtani was 3-0 in four starts with a 2.88 ERA and 0.84 WHIP. The only blemish was when he gave up three home runs to the Orioles on August 25 as Baltimore halted a 16-game losing streak. On the season, Ohtani is 8-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 1.06 WHIP.
His batting slipped quite a bit on the month, however; he posted a .207 mark that dropped his season average to .262. In addition, Ohtani missed his August 31 start against the New York Yankees after being hit with a pitch on his right (pitching) hand/wrist three days earlier.
The debate is now whether Ohtani is having the best season ever by a major league player, drawing comparisons to the likes of Cal Ripken, Jr., Willie Mays, and Babe Ruth. You be the judge.
With the other import players, it was mostly a story of difficulties.
Let’s start with Kenta Maeda of the Minnesota Twins, whose frustrating season ended September 1 when he underwent Tommy John surgery. Maeda had gone onto the injury list twice this season, most recently on August 23 because of right forearm tightness. At the time, Twins manager Rocco Baldelli raised the possibility of surgery, and his concerns were later validated.
After a July in which Maeda seemed to turn things around (a 2.15 ERA and 0.82 WHIP), he struggled in August. Though he earned two victories in three decisions, he posted a 5.75 ERA and 1.28 WHIP.
The 2020 Cy Young runner-up finishes the 2021 season with 6-5 with a 4.66 ERA and as many hits allowed (106) as innings pitched.
Maeda’s fellow countryman Yu Darvish of the San Diego Padres has had a rough time since the July the all-star break. His ERA was 2.13 in April and 2.20 in May; it held steady in June, at 3.07, before ballooning to 7.36 in July and 6.32 in August. During that time, he posted an 0-6 mark as the Padres have steadily fallen out of contention in the National League West race and are in serious danger of missing the playoffs.
Darvish had a good seven-inning outing against Arizona on August 7, giving up just four hits, striking out 12 and issuing no walks, but that was his only bright spot. In July and August, he gave up 43 hits in 41.1 innings. Compare that to April, May and June, during which he allowed just 67 hits in 96 innings. He’s also been more susceptible to the home-run ball recently, allowing 12 across eight starts in July/August, compared to just 10 in 16 starts during April/May/June.
Darvish was on the IL in August with lower-back tightness. He returned on August 26 and gave up four runs on five hits over six innings in a loss to his former team, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This brings us to Yusei Kikuchi of the Seattle Mariners, who had a solid May performance and a very good June that punched his ticket to the American League all-star team. But he regressed during July and August. After recording a 1-3 record and 6.11 ERA in July while surrendering seven home runs across 28 innings of work, he fared only slightly better in August, going 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. He did finish the month strong though, throwing seven shutout innings against the Houston Astros on August 31.
Elsewhere, outfielder Shogo Akiyama of the Cincinnati Reds continued to struggle at the plate, batting just .200 in August with a .562 OPS. Those figures are roughly in line with his season marks of .201 and .530, respectively.
Akiyama, 33 – the first Japanese player signed by the Reds – is in the second year of a three-year, $21 million contract. He is known as a strong defender, but has had consistent problems producing with the bat.
Reliever Hirokazu Sawamura, in his first season with the Boston Red Sox, ran into a bit of trouble in August after four solid months on the mound. He pitched eight innings over 11 appearances in August, allowing four runs on seven hits and nine walks to accumulate a disappointing WHIP of 2.00. Sawamura continues to have issues with allowing bases on balls, having now issued 29 walks in 46.2 innings for the season.
On August 31, after he became the fifth Red Sox player to test positive for Covid-19 during a recent clubhouse outbreak, Boston placed Sawamura on the Covid-19 injury list.
But, despite the August struggles of some imports, there was still some good news.
Pitcher Kohei Arihara of the Texas Rangers got back into action in August after spending time on the 60-day injury list. He originally went on the IL on May 9 because of what was termed a contusion to the middle finger of his right (pitching) hand. He was later diagnosed with an aneurysm in his right (pitching) shoulder, which was said to be the source of the pain in his finger.
Arihara began pitching in simulated games in mid-August and did rehab assignments at Class AA Frisco and Class AAA Round Rock later in the month. He gave up three hits and one run while striking out two batters in four innings of work. If all goes well, he’ll likely re-join the Rangers in a relief role.
Prior to going on the injury list, Arihara was 2-3 as a starter with a 6.59 ERA and 1.53 WHIP and had walked 12 batters in 28.2 innings.
And there was good news, too, regarding Yoshi Tsutsugo. The 29-year-old, power-hitting first baseman has had a rough go since signing a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Rays before the 2020 season, but a recent stretch has given reason for optimism.
Tsutsugo was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers on August 14 and two days later was signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates – his third MLB team this season. In his first 31 at-bats in the black and gold, he’s hit .290 with five home runs and 11 RBI. Including a strong July for the Dodgers’ AAA Oklahoma City squad, Tsutsugo has had two productive months in a row.