The discussion in baseball circles about both the potential and the workload of 16-year-old Japanese righthander Tomohiro Anraku isn't over.
Pitching in "Spring Koshien," Japan's major spring high school invitational tournament, Anraku threw 232 pitches last Tuesday over 13 innings, 159 pitches on Saturday and 138 pitches yesterday—all in complete-game victories for Saibi High.
In the Spring Koshien semifinal game today, Anraku threw a complete game for the second consecutive day, tossing 134 pitches in Saibi High's dramatic 3-2 victory in front of 12,000 fans at Koshien Stadium. Anraku allowed six hits, struck out seven and didn't issue any walks, bringing him to 663 pitches over the last eight days.
The victory puts Saibi High in the Spring Koshien final game today. Given that Anraku is the only pitcher Saibi has used for the entire tournament, it's likely that Anraku will be on the mound for a third straight day.
The fatigue from Anraku's workload has been hard to miss since his 232-pitch affair last week, when his fastball topped out at 94 mph and he showed a sharp but inconsistent curveball. A second-year student, Anraku hit 94 again late in the game yesterday, but today in the semifinal his fastball usually ranged from 83-89 mph today, topping out at 91 mph in the sixth inning and reaching 90 on his final pitch of the game.
Without his best velocity, the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Anraku relied heavily on his curveball through the first half of the game, throwing it just about as often as his fastball. The recent mileage on his arm took a toll on the quality of his curveball, which for most of the game was a slow, rolling pitch that lacked its usual sharp snap, although the 75 mph curve he threw to the final hitter he faced had tight break and was his best breaking ball of the day.
The game itself was dramatic down to the final pitch. A solo home run in the bottom of the eighth inning gave Saibi High the 3-2 lead, but it appeared almost certain that the lead would quickly disappear. Kochi High's leadoff hitter in the top of the ninth hit a fly ball to shallow right field, which the right fielder charged down, dove and caught in the web of his glove, but he couldn't hold on to the ball when he landed, causing the ball to bounce away and the batter to get to third base.
Yet Anraku was able to escape. The second hitter of the inning popped out to second base. With the infield drawn in, the next batter hit a sharp ground ball directly at the shortstop, who couldn't field it cleanly, which allowed the hitter to reach first base but left the runner at third unable to go home. On the next play, the runner at third took off on contact when the batter hit a first-pitch grounder to the third baseman, who fired to home to get the runner, with the catcher holding on to the ball on the collision at the plate. The next batter lofted a fly ball to right field for the game's final out.
Before the game, a Japanese reporter asked Anraku how he felt about his Spring Koshien workload, referencing the attention he's received in Baseball America.
“I don’t feel like I threw too much,” Anraku said. “This is Japanese baseball.”