Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki throws eight perfect innings in first start after 19-strikeout perfect game

Last weekend, Chiba Lotte Marines phenom Roki Sasaki threw Japan’s first perfect game in 28 years. He struck out a record-tying 19 batters, including a record-breaking 13 in a row at one point. It was one of the greatest pitching performances ever, in any professional league.

On Sunday, Sasaki nearly did it again.

The 20-year-old right-hander fired eight perfect innings in his first start since the perfect game. He struck out 14 batters. Sasaki was pulled after throwing 102 pitches to protect his arm — he threw 105 pitches in the perfect game — with the game scoreless. The Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters went on to win the game 1-0 in 10 innings.

“This was so exciting, I don’t have words. Our guys just hung in there, and we kept saying on the bench let’s get something going,” outfielder Chusei Mannami, who hit the game-winning home run for the Fighters, told the Japan Times after the game. “(Sasaki) is just too tough. The way that forkball drops? Forget about it.”

Sasaki has gone 51 up, 51 down with 33 strikeouts in his last two starts. He has retired 52 consecutive batters overall, setting a new record for Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. The MLB record is 46 consecutive batters retired by righty Yusmeiro Petit with the San Francisco Giants in 2014.

Four starts into the season, Sasaki has allowed four runs on seven hits and two walks in 31 innings. He has struck out 56. Our RJ Anderson wrote a scouting report of Sasaki following his perfect game. Here’s a snippet:

According to data obtained by CBS Sports from Sunday’s start, Sasaki’s fastball averaged better than 99.5 mph and featured 19.8 inches of induced vertical break and 15.4 inches of horizontal break. That’s an elite, unmatched combination.

Sasaki’s splitter checks in at 91.2 mph with 2.30 inches of induced vertical break and 7.80 inches of horizontal break. That velocity would rank as the second fastest, trailing only Hirokazu Sawamura of the Boston Red Sox. Sasaki’s break numbers, meanwhile, compare most favorably to those of Blake Parker (2.9, 7.40). Parker’s splitter last season generated a 36 percent whiff rate and a .232 average against .

MLB clubs reportedly pursued Sasaki when he was still in high school. He opted to remain in Japan and was the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NPB draft. Sasaki made his debut with the Marines last season, throwing 83 1/3 innings with a 1.84 ERA and 87 strikeouts.

When — and if — Sasaki will come over to MLB is unknown. He must accrue nine years of service time to be eligible for international free agency, and while he could request the Marines post him for MLB teams earlier than that, they are not obligated to do so. The Marines have posted only one player in their history: infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2010.

Even if the Marines do post Sasaki, MLB’s international free-agent system would subject him to the bonus pools, limiting his earning potential (the largest bonus pools are in the $6 million to $7 million range each year). Sasaki will have to wait until he’s 25 to avoid the bonus pools. An international draft, which is being discussed, would limit his options and earning potential even further.

The best opportunity for MLB fans to see Sasaki will be next spring’s World Baseball Classic. The tournament will return next year and Japan typically takes its very best pro players to the event. Sasaki is, obviously, one of the best pitchers in his league.

No MLB pitcher has thrown two perfect games, let alone perfect games in successive starts. Johnny Vander Meer, with the 1938 Cincinnati Reds, is the only pitcher in history to throw no-hitters in successive starts.

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