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Yuki Matsui

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Yuki Matsui (松井 裕樹)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Pitcher Yuki Matsui has pitched in Nippon Pro Baseball and for the Japanese national team.

Matsui set a Summer Koshien record with 22 strikeouts in a game in 9 innings in 2012, breaking Yoshinori Toda's 49-year-old record by one. [1] In the 2013 World Junior Championship, he struck out 12 in a 3-hitter over Taiwan, beat South Korea and got the nod against the USA in the Gold Medal game. He dueled Brady Aiken through four but allowed three runs in the next two innings and took the loss. [2] He tied Tomohiro Anraku for the tournament lead with 27 strikeouts and tied for second in wins (one behind Se-woong Park). He did not make the All-Star team as teammate Anraku was picked as the top starter. It was still one of Japan's top efforts, their third Silver Medal in event history. He was the most popular player in the 2013 NPB draft as five of the twelve teams picked him first overall; the lottery assigned his rights to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. [3]

He made an immediate impact, making the rotation as a rookie and striking out 126 batters in 116 innings his first season; his first NPB whiff was Yoshio Itoi. [4] He was 4-8 with a 3.80 ERA. He tied Takayuki Kishi for 5th in the Pacific League in strikeouts though his 67 walks were also second to Kikuchi. He got two votes for the 2014 Pacific League Rookie of the Year Award, though his ERA was not that much higher (.32) than winner Ayumu Ishikawa. [5]

He moved to the bullpen and posted a 0.87 ERA with 33 saves and 103 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings in 2015. He allowed only 37 hits and was 3-2. He was 4th in the PL in saves, between Yuji Nishino and Tomomi Takahashi, 5th with 63 games pitched and led all full-time relievers in whiffs, one ahead of Dennis Sarfate. He made the PL team for the 2015 NPB All-Star Games; relieving Naoki Miyanishi with two outs, a runner on second and a 7-4 deficit in game 1, he allowed a triple to Kosuke Tanaka and struck out Hector Luna. [6] He was Japan's youngest player in the 2015 Premier 12; Shohei Otani was born over a year prior. He struggled in the first Premier 12 game, relieving Takahiro Norimoto in the 9th with a 5-0 lead over South Korea and allowed hits to Dae-ho Lee, Byung-ho Park and Ah-seop Son but struck out Jae-kyun Hwang and retired Eui-ji Yang and Sang-soo Kim to keep the shutout. He saved Yasuhiro Ogawa's 4-2 win over the Dominican national team. Against Venezuela, he tried to save a game, replacing Kazuhisa Makita with a 4-3 lead but allowed singles to Juan Apodaca and Francisco Caraballo, walked Renny Osuna and allowed a two-run double to José Yépez. He got the win when Japan rallied for two in the bottom of the 9th. He had a 6.00 ERA and a .467 opponent average when he got one more call in a key situation. In the finale, he relieved Norimoto with the bases loaded, no out and a 3-1 lead, but walked Hyun-soo Kim to force in a run. Hirotoshi Masui relieved and threw more gas on the fire as South Korea concluded their comeback to stun Japan. [7]

His ERA rose to 3.32 in 2016, but he still struck out 75 batters in 62 1/3 innings. He was 1-4 with 30 saves but walked 40 and allowed more hits (47). He finished third in saves behind Sarfate and Yoshihisa Hirano and he tied for 5th with 58 games pitched. He was much better in his second international tournament, 2017 World Baseball Classic, throwing 2 2/3 shutout innings with no hits and striking out five. He walked only one (Jurickson Profar). [8] He was again Japan's youngest player, over a year younger than Seiya Suzuki. Early in 2017, he made more history by becoming the 17th NPB hurler to strike out the side on nine pitches and the first Rakuten hurler to do so - he got Kei Hosoya, Matt Duffy and Daichi Suzuki. He was the first person to do it against the other team's 3, 4 and 5 batters. [9] He was voted into the 2017 NPB All-Star Games, and he relieved Kazuhisa Makita in the 9th inning in Game 1. Matsui retired Yoshihiro Maru, fanned Alex Guerrero then forced Seiya Suzuki to fly out to close the game. He ended up notching 33 saves with an elite 1.20 ERA, and ranked 2nd in saves (21 behind Sarfate). He was the first Rakuten player to collect 30 saves for three straight seasons. Matsui earned a 2nd-place vote in the 2017 PL MVP voting, tying with Yuta Kuroki 11th in vote points.

The Yokohama native struggled in 2018, and Frank Herrmann replaced him as the new closer for Rakuten. After spending a month in the ni-gun, Matsui came back and became the youngest pitcher to notch 100 career saves when he reached the mark on September 16. Since Herrmann was solid as the closer, the Golden Eagles let Matsui try to start in October. In his second game as the starter, Matsui struck out 14 on October 4 against the Fighters, and set the team record for striking 7 straight batters. He took back the closer spot in 2019. The young closer collected a league-leading 38 saves with a solid 1.94 ERA, and also ranked 2nd in appearances (13 behind PL record holder Katsunori Hirai). He was also selected into the 2019 NPB All-Star Games and pitched a shutout inning in Game 1. In the 2019 PLCS, he pitched a shutout inning to notch the save in Game 1 against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, then struck out all 3 batters he faced in Game 3 (Shuhei Fukuda, Kenji Akashi and Yuki Yanagita). However, the Hawks still eliminated them with Seiichi Uchikawa's game-winning solo shot off Chia-Hao Sung. He won 3 points in 2019 PL MVP voting, and tied for 16th with Kenta Imamiya. He was selected into Japan's roster for the 2019 Premier 12, but he withdrew before the tournament due to a left elbow injury.

Matsui announced that he would became a starter in 2020, but the attempt failed. He only started 10 games, and came back to the bullpen again. He ended up collecting 8 holds with a 3.18 ERA in 25 appearances. Their new manager Kazuhisa Ishii then announced that Matsui was their closer in 2021. He perfectly met his manager's need, collecting 24 saves with an incredible 0.63 ERA. He was selected into the 2021 NPB All-Star Games, relieving Sung in Game 2 and collecting a save with a shutout inning. He went 1-2-3 against Teruaki Sato, Koji Chikamoto and Ryosuke Kikuchi. He ranked 4th in saves, 14 behind Naoya Masuda). In the first stage of the 2021 PLCS, he allowed a solo shot to Adeiny Hechavarria of the Chiba Lotte Marines for a blown save in Game 1. He then pitched a shutout inning in Game 2, but the Marines still ended their postseason with a 4-4 tie.

Rakuten's closer was still reliable in 2022. He relieved Liván Moinelo in 2022 NPB All-Star Game 1, pitched a shutout inning and got the win thanks to Kotaro Kiyomiya's walk-off home run. Matsui then replaced Moinelo again in Game 2, fanning Takumu Nakano to get a hold.[10] He ended up collecting a league-leading 32 saves with a 1.92 ERA in 53 games, and became the only PL pitcher to reach 30 saves for 5 seasons.

Matsui then made it onto Japan's roster for the 2023 World Baseball Classic. However, he said that he couldn't adapt to the ball for the event, so he only pitched one inning in the entire event - a shutout inning against South Korea. He won Gold with Japan. He became the youngest pitcher to collect 200 career saves in 2023, breaking Yasuaki Yamasaki's record. Matsui led the PL in saves again, and he collected 39 saves with a 1.57 ERA in 59 games. He won 9 points in the 2023 PL MVP voting; he ranked 10th, between Soichiro Yamazaki and Gregory Polanco. He then announced that he would become a free agent with the objective being to sign with a team in Major League Baseball.

On December 23rd, he came to an agreement with the San Diego Padres on a five-year contract worth $28 million. The Padres had been pursuing him all along and the deal came only days after the top free agent pitcher on the market, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, signed a huge deal with the Padres' biggest rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers. He made his debut against the Dodgers in the first game of the season, played exceptionally in Seoul, South Korea on March 20th; he pitched two-thirds of an inning, issuing a walk and striking out one batter. Unusually for a pitcher, he wore uniform number 1.

Sources[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Brian Murphy: "Padres near agreement with Japanese closer Matsui", mlb.com, December 19, 2023. [1]
  • Brian Murphy: "Padres sign Japanese closer Matsui to 5-year deal", mlb.com, December 23, 2023. [2]

Related Sites[edit]