Masaoka Takes Loss in Stars’ Season Opener
Hilo native Onan Masoka’s return to professional baseball didn’t go the way he was hoping it would.
The former Los Angeles Dodgers reliever lasted only three innings, allowing four runs, three of them earned, on two hits with six walks, three hit batters, and three strikeouts as the Hawai`i Stars dropped the opening game of the season to the Shinano Grandserows by the score of 5-3.
A crowd of 317 at Wong Stadium saw the former big leaguer struggle at the outset, missing the strike zone with his first seven pitches, resulting in a hit batter and a walk.
The 35-year-old would find his way out of trouble, however. Shoma Iryo popped up in foul territory to third baseman Taylor Oldham to record the first out. Kazuki Miyazawa, who reached base on a hit-by-pitch, got thrown out trying to steal third base by former Detroit Tigers catcher Dane Sardinha for the second out. Seiichi Ohira struck out to end the first inning threat.
It didn’t get easier for Masaoka in the second inning. Keita Nito reached on an infield single that Masoka struggled to field up the first base line and moved over to second base on Travis Higgs’ fielder’s choice. Masaoka walked Ryoken Niimura to put runners at first and second base with only one out in the inning.
After striking out Takahiro Suzuki, Masaoka deepened the hole he was in, hitting Daichi Takeuchi in the back with a pitch to load the bases. However, the left-handed hurler snaked his way out of trouble, forcing Miyazawa to hit a ground ball out to shortstop Glenn Walker to end the inning.
Shinano broke through against Masaoka in the third inning. After recording the first out, Masaoka labored, walking Iryo and Ohira before giving up a single to Nito.
Travis Higgs, an American-born player who spent a season in the Seattle Mariners organization, drew a bases-loaded walk to score Iryo to put the Grandserows up 1-0. Niinura followed up with a sacrice fly to left field, scoring one more run to put the Grandserows up 2-0 after the top of the third.
Masaoka (0-1) came out again in the fourth inning, but didn’t last long. He plunked Takeuchi to lead off the inning, watched him steal second base, and gave him third on a wild pitch. After another walk, this time to Miyazawa, Stars manager Gary Templeton II came out and ended his night, giving the ball reliever Mike Jackson Jr.
Jackson initially couldn’t get out of the mess Masaoka started. Yoshiro Kawaguchi singled to bring home Takeuchi to extend the Grandserows lead to 3-0. Three batters later, Nito’s sacrifice fly scored Miyazawa to push the lead to 4-0.
The offense for the Hawai`i Stars came alive against their Baseball Challenge League opponent in the bottom of the fourth. Darling Read walked to lead off the inning and stole second off of Shinano starter Brooks Belter, a former member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization. Walker singled to move him over to third.
Belter, who struck out 12 in the game over six innings of work, hurt his own cause when his pickoff throw to first base went offline, allowing Read to come home. Anthony Williams walked to put runners at first and second base, and two batters later, Hilo native Reece Alnas struck a double to right field, scoring Walker to cut Shinano’s lead to 4-2. A wild pitch by Belter later scored Williams to cut the deficit to 4-3 at the end of four innings.
Belter, who went 10-3 last year with Traverse City in the independent circuit’s Frontier League, settled in over his last few innings of work to pick up the victory. The 25-year-old from Greenwich, CT allowed only four hits in the game, although he walked six batters to balance out the 12 strikeouts he recorded.
The Grandserows added a run in the top of the seventh when Ohira scored on a wild pitch from Anthony York. Ohira reached on a walk by Jackson, who started the inning but failed to get an out before being replaced.
In the ninth, the Stars put together what appeared to be a rally against Takeyuki Ogawa, who was looking for the save. Taylor Oldham singled to left field to open up the inning. The Stars’ shortstop was running when Marshall McDonald singled into center field. Oldham took a big turn around second base and froze when the throw from center fielder Kawaguchi came in. He would be tagged out at second base after a short rundown. Tyler Krobetzky grounded into a game-ending double play to end the long, three hour and forty five minute contest.
Oldham, McDonald, and Walker each paired hits for the Stars. Sardinha, who is listed as a player/coach for Hawai`i, went 0-for-1 before being pinch hit for later in the game.
The Stars’ relief core looked reliable in long relief. Jackson worked three innings after subbing out Masaoka, allowing an unearned run on two hits with four strikeouts and a walk. York replaced Jackson in the seventh inning and struck out two batters. He also threw two wild pitches. Devon Ramirez pitched the final two innings, allowing a hit and a walk with three strikeouts.
Nito, the starting third baseman for Shinano, led the way at the plate with a 3-for-4 night. The Grandserows only accumulated five hits, but didn’t need much more thanks to the eight walks and three hit batters from Stars’ pitching.
Backing up Belter on the mound for Shinano was Kento Shibata. He pitched two innings and allowed only two hits with three strikeouts and a walk. Takeyuki picked up the save in the ninth inning despite allowing two hits.
Game two of the three-game interleague series takes place Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Wong Stadium. Former University of Hawai`i at Hilo pitcher Ronnie Loeffler will get the start on the pitcher’s mound for the Stars.
Shinano 002 200 100 – 5 5 2
Hawai`i 000 300 000 – 3 8 2