Tomohiro Anraku is just 16, but he's quickly become Japan's newest pitching sensation, both for his talent and his workload.
Anraku's 232-pitch outing on Tuesday in "Spring Koshien," Japan's major spring high school tournament, put him on the international radar. A sophomore at Saibi High in Ehime Prefecture, Anraku led his team to a 4-3 victory with a 13-inning complete game, touched 94 mph with his fastball and struck out 13.
The encore came today—on three days' rest—when Anraku threw 159 pitches in Saibi High's 4-1 victory in front of 43,000 fans at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya. The 6-foot-1, 185-pound righthander threw all nine innings for the complete-game victory, struck out eight, walked one, allowed seven hits and hit a pair of batters. He even helped himself at the plate as Saibi's cleanup hitter, going 2-for-4 with a double and a triple that gave Saibi the lead late in the game.
Anraku's fastball wasn't as crisp as it was on Tuesday, but he showed pitching intelligence beyond his years, with the savvy to cruise when the bases were empty, then turn it up a notch in key situations.
Early in the game, his fastball sat around 86-89 mph—impressive for a 16-year-old, but below his 88-94 mph working velocity early in Tuesday's game, likely due to fatigue. He took a comebacker to the mound off his right wrist in the first inning, shook it off and stayed in the game. When he got into a bases-loaded jam in the third, he reached back for 92 mph, eventually escaping the inning unscathed.
In the middle innings, Anraku's fastball parked at 84-88 mph, but every once in a while he flashed 90-91 mph. He worked quickly, often taking just five to seven seconds between pitches. He added and subtracted from a curveball that ranged from the low-to-high 70s.
For much of the day, it appeared Anraku was going to be in store for another 200-pitch outing in an extra-inning affair. Saibi gave Anraku a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning, but Anraku surrendered his only run of the game in the bottom of the fifth.
The score remained tied at 1-1 until the top of the eighth, when Anraku helped ignite the offense. With two outs, Anraku hit a two-run triple, then came around to score Saibi's third run of the inning when the next batter doubled.
With a 4-1 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, Anraku's fastball subtly crept up again to 86-89 mph and touched 91 in the eighth. On his 159th and final pitch of the day, Anraku unleashed a fastball for a swinging third strike—92 mph.
In the last 20 years, just three pitchers have thrown at least 159 pitches in a major league game. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield threw 172 pitches in 10 innings for the Pirates in 1993, then four years later threw 169 in a game for Boston. In 1996, Roger Clemens tossed 161 pitches despite allowing four runs in 7 2/3 innings for the Red Sox, while the year before Randy Johnson used 160 pitches in a complete game for the Mariners in which he allowed three runs (two earned), didn't walk anyone and struck out 13.
There are legitimate questions about whether it's right to allow a 16-year-old pitcher to throw 232 pitches in a game and 391 pitches in four days, but extreme workloads by modern major league standards are not uncommon among Japanese high school pitchers. Anraku's performance evokes memories of Daisuke Matsuzaka, but Anraku is younger than Matsuzaka was when he made his mark on the Koshien platform.
Saibi High’s next game is Monday, with the Spring Koshien semifinals on Tuesday and the championship game on Wednesday. So far Anraku is the only pitcher Saibi has used in the tournament. The majority of major league scouts might wince, but Anraku might just be getting warmed up.