Baseball: Yamamoto looks to prove doubters wrong in Japan Series

Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto will attempt to bounce back from his Japan Series-opening loss and silence people who say he often disappoints in the playoffs.

The three-time winner of the Sawamura Award, a Japanese version of MLB's Cy Young award, is expected to start Game 6 on Saturday, with the Buffaloes trailing the best-of-seven series 3-2.

He does not want to lose again in an expected matchup against Shoki Murakami, the Hanshin Tigers' Game 1 starter, who earned the win by throwing seven shutout innings.

Yamamoto has not earned a win in his four Japan Series starts between 2021 and 2023, losing twice with a pair of no-decisions.

Yamamoto has been particularly shaky this postseason, giving up five runs in seven innings against the Lotte Marines in Game 1 of the Pacific League playoff final stage and surrendering seven runs in 5-2/3 innings in Japan Series Game 1.

In each of the past three regular seasons, Yamamoto never gave up three or more runs in consecutive starts.

"I'll just prepare well for whenever I get a chance to pitch," Yamamoto said after his team dropped Thursday's Game 5.

Yamamoto threw pitches in the bullpen during the game.

Asked by a reporter if he could make a relief appearance, Yamamoto said, "I don't know. Every game is a must-win game, so I'm ready to pitch when I'm told to."

"It wasn't a full preparation or anything. I threw some pitches and then rested. I kind of repeated that."

Yamamoto is expected to be one of the most sought-after players of the offseason by major league clubs, along with two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani, if the Buffaloes allow him to move to the major leagues via the posting system before he becomes a free agent.

On Wednesday, Major League Baseball's official website published an article entitled, "Is Yamamoto primed to cash in for more than $200 million."

"As anticipation continues to build for Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto's expected run at MLB free agency, the right-hander's potential value has started to come into focus," said's Mark Feinsand ranked Yamamoto second only to Ohtani among players available in the offseason market.

"Mike Puma of the New York Post spoke to someone connected to the front office of a team that may pursue Yamamoto, and they indicated the bidding will start somewhere in the $200 million range for six or seven years," it said.

Yamamoto has a career 70-29 record with a 1.82 ERA over seven regular seasons in Japan.

He won 18, 15 and 16 games in the past three seasons, respectively. In 2023, Yamamoto had a career-best 1.21 ERA while striking out 169 in 164 innings and becoming the third pitcher in Japanese pro ball to hurl no-hitters in consecutive seasons.

© Kyodo News