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Who is Japanese pitcher Roki Sasaki? Japan’s Ace starter against Mexico

Everything you need to know about Japan’s starting pitcher tonight against Mexico. The 21-year-old averages 100 mph with his fastball and wants to impress the MLB scouts

Joseph McMahon
Joseph McMahon
Roki Sasaki, la nueva joya de Japón que pasó de la tragedia al Clásico Mundial

Before the 2023 World Baseball Classic we knew some names from the Team Samurai, like Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish and Lars Nootbaar, but for most baseball fans, that was it. Some other names have popped up, but one player everybody has their eyes on is Roki Sasaki. He became famous in 2019 when he broke Ohtani’s high school pitching velocity record when he threw a ball 101 mph, in High School!

He started against the Czech Republic and pitched 3.2 innings allowing only two hits and striking out 8 batters. One of his 100+ mph fastballs got away from him and he hit Willy Escala. The Japanese player found Escala the following day and gave him some candy as a present to apologize for the hit-by-pitch.

Everything you need to know about Roki Sasaki

Japan’s star pitcher was born on Nov. 3, 2021. He plays professionally for the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Japanese NPB league where he went 9-4 with a 2.02 ERA and 173 strikeouts in his first season.

He is 6-foot-2, 187 pounds and throws right handed. He is known for his fastball and split-finger fastball. He has been clocked at 102.5 mph with his fastball, that’s got a little more zip on it than his teammate Shohei Ohtani, who has been clocked at 101.4 mph.

NPB debut and stats

He throws his slider and splitter at over 90 mph so he’s not just a one-trick pony. Those who know claim that his splitter is his best pitch and just drops off the table when approaching home plate. The comparisons to Ohtani aren’t unfounded as he became well known in high school after throwing 101 mph and also made a name for himself at a young age and was drafted as the no. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NPB draft.

He debuted in the NPB at the age of 19 and had a record of 3-2 with 68 strikeouts and a 2.27 ERA. On April 10, 2022 he pitched a perfect game with 19 strikeouts, tying the NPB single-game record at the age of 20.

Personal loss and tragedy in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami

Sasaki’s father and grandparents died in the natural disaster in 2011 and his family’s house was swept away. The following year he moved to Ofunato and played baseball for the high school there. On March 11, 2023 he debuted at the World Baseball Classic against the Czech Republic, exactly 10 years after the tragedy.

Tonight he will start for Japan against Mexico as Team Samurai as they look for a spot in the final against the United States.