Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Shun Yamaguchi has had his fair share of struggles early out of the gate.
After spending the past 14 seasons in the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan, pitcher Shun Yamaguchi decided to take his talents across the pond. He would sign a 2 year, $6.3 million pact with the Toronto Blue Jays after he was posted by his Japanese team, the Yomiuri Giants, during the 2019/2020 off-season.
Spending time as both a starter and a reliever in the NPB, Yamaguchi was very impressive in 2019, crafting a 2.91 ERA in 170 innings with 188 strikeouts in 26 games. For his NPB career, Yamaguchi would leave the league with an impressive 3.55 ERA with 1080.1 innings pitched while recording 414 walks, 1053 strikeouts, and 112 saves.
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When Yamaguchi first joined the Blue Jays this spring, he was having difficulty adjusting to life in the MLB. The Japanese pitcher was having trouble with the slightly larger MLB baseball, which was evident with his two rough outings and control issues during spring training. His pitches would be all over the plate, and his pitches would hang too far over the plate resulting in higher pitch counts and earned runs against him early in the game.
As the summer camp came to an end, Yamaguchi would find himself on the 30 man roster but as a member of the bullpen, with his first assignment being a pretty difficult task.
Manager Charlie Montoyo called on the right-hander in the 10th inning against the Tampa Bay Rays after he had exhausted a significant amount of his pitching options. He wouldn’t record a single out, surrendering 1 hit and 1 walk, while also allowing 2 runs to score which gave the Rays the win and Yamaguchi his first professional loss.
Montoyo then decided to call on Yamaguchi again in extra innings (surprisingly because Montoyo used quite a few bullpen arms), bringing him in this past Wednesday against the Washington Nationals to start the 10th inning. Yamaguchi would go on to strike out 2 batters, but would also surrender 2 walks and 2 hits, allowing 4 Nationals players to score and earning Yamaguchi another loss on the season and ERA that ballooned up to 36.00.
It would be easy to say that Yamaguchi is in a bit of a funk right now, and is most likely still having some issues with adjusting to baseball in North America, as well as probably some more nervousness with having two rough outings back to back to begin his Blue Jays career.
Part of the blame can also be attributed to his manager Charlie Montoyo, whose poor decision-making skills have put the Blue Jays pitcher into a position that was a high risk/high reward.
Throwing a player like Yamaguchi into an extra innings scenario, when he had a rough spring and had never thrown in the MLB before, was a bit of a gutsy call, but to then turn around and put him into the same position after his first outing was a disaster that was just asking for a repeat scenario. Poor pitching management by Montoyo forced the Japenese pitcher into both situations, and whether he thought Yamaguchi could handle it or not, was lost when the game was over and the Blue Jays put another loss in the record.
Do I think Yamaguchi belongs on the roster? Sure, he has quite a bit of potential and the Blue Jays are not necessarily loaded with depth in the bullpen at the moment.
Do I think Montoyo needs to put Yamaguchi into an easier role? Absolutely.
With the season as short as it is, every game is a “must-win” scenario, and Yamaguchi needs to pitch in a situation where the game isn’t on the line in extra innings and just focus on what he does best: throwing strikes. He needs a confidence boost to help him work through his issues, but in a game setting where he has a few runs to work with and the Blue Jays aren’t putting all their chips on the table when he steps on the mound.
While the Toronto Blue Jays do not have an easy schedule ahead of them, one can only hope that Shun Yamaguchi can get back on the mound and throw as he did in 2019, otherwise, the Blue Jays management team may have to make some tough choices on who belongs in the bullpen in a shortened 2020 season.