Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Sixth Man: Who is the Lions sixth starter?

The Saitama Seibu Lions have gotten away with having no six-game week until the end of April. for the first four weeks of the season (counting Opening Day Weekend), the Lions were able to roll with five starters with Yusei Kikuchi, Ryoma Nogami, Brian Wolfe, Shinsaburo Tawata and Kona Takahashi.

The final week of April is finally here, meaning a decision has to be made. Who takes the sixth spot? Here is a logical look at who could be there as the best candidates possible. For the record, there is one foreign spot available with only Wolfe, Ernesto Mejia and Brian Schlitter taking the roster spaces.


Frank Garces: Garces has been used as both a reliever and starter when in MiLB and MLB. The Lions had him start a handful of games in the preseason, However, it's likely that the Lions like him as a reliever for this season.

Alexis Candelario: Candelario was a low-risk signing by the Lions, but things do not look encouraging at the ni-gun level where he has struggled. At best, Candelario will probably be a spot starter for one or two opportunities he needs to make the most of in 2017.

Keisuke Honda: Honda received a spot start at the end of the 2016 season and had a strong offseason with both the U23 Samurai Japan team and the Melbourne Aces in ABL. He is likely to come up at some time this season, but he might not be ready yet for the ichi-gun level. So far, he has been productive down in ni-gun as a starter.

Chun-Lin Kuo: A forgotten import from Taiwan, Kuo spent the entire spring training session with the national team in preparation for the WBC. Unfortunately, Kuo didn't impress in his outing against Israel and it's likely the negative momentum carries over to the Lions management. Like Garces, Kuo could be seen as a reliever or spot starter, but not likely to be in the rotation full-time.

Yasuo Sano: A second-round pick from 2014, Sano has been a spot starter in the past, but is more likely to be a reliever.

Isamu Sato: Sato started a handful of games in 2016 after a strong ni-gun. However, he is likely serving a suspension by the team after getting into an auto accident in the offseason. He has not appeared in a single ni-gun game for 2017.

Ken Togame: The Lions have seen ups and downs with Togame in the rotation. He had an awful 2016 season, but has a chance to rebound after a strong start in ni-gun for 2017. He is the most experienced NPB starter among the group of Lions.

Ichiro Tamura: The Lions' 6th round pick from 2016 has starting experience, but is likely seen as a reliever with the team and is too raw for an immediate ichi-gun start.

Tatsuya Imai: This would be extreme to play a first round pick drafted out of high school this early. Imai will likely get his feet wet sometime in 2017, but he is still recovering from an injury he suffered in spring training and has taken it slow in ni-gun with only one inning pitched at the time of this writing.

Start the Tuesday starter on short rest and play him on Sunday: This is the extreme option which happened last year with Takayuki Kishi. A controversial choice, Kishi would end up tearing his adductor muscle and miss a significant amount of time before it was too late. If the trend continued based on starts, Kona Takahashi would be the pitcher for this option.



It's likely that Ken Togame probably starts the sixth game in the week starting on Tuesday, April 25. Togame is the most experienced and has the endurance to last for a whole season. The question is, which Togame shows up? He has not had two consistent seasons in his NPB career, good or bad. By trends, he would have a productive season in 2017 as it is an "odd-numbered year".

An announcement will come sooner or later, but right now, the Lions rotation has shown there's ups and downs with this unit. There's plenty of reasons to be optimistic, especially with the bullpen depth and offensive flare, but this season is a marathon, not a sprint.


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