‘Wilkerson perfect game + Reyes homerun’ LOTTE upsets Chiba LOTTE…will face Sasaki on Friday

The Lotte Giants took home a meaningful win in an exchange game against the Chiba Lotte First Team of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB). The team’s foreign players, who are supposed to be the pillars of the team, performed well, raising expectations for the 2024 season.

Lotte lost 3-7 in an exhibition game against the Chiba Lotte First Team on April 24 at Nishizaki Baseball Stadium in Okinawa, Japan. With a 3-2 lead, the bullpen collapsed late in the game and the team was unable to secure the win.

Lotte started with Wilkerson, who dominated the Chiba LOTTE lineup with a two-hit, one-strikeout, no-hit shutout. His fastball topped out at 144 mph and he also checked in with a curveball, slider, changeup, and cut fastball. He was efficient, throwing 26 strikes.

Wilkerson was one of Lotte’s bargains of the 2023 season. After joining the team late in the season as a replacement foreign pitcher for the underperforming Dan Straily, he went 7-2 with a 2.26 ERA in 13 games and 79⅔ innings. His stats were also impressive, with one quality start, a 1.09 WHIP and a .223 batting average.

Manager Kim Tae-hyung, who took over the reins of Lotte in October of last year, spoke highly of Wilkerson. He emphasized that it would be difficult to find a better foreign pitcher than Wilkerson and hoped to re-sign him.

Wilkerson accepted Lotte’s offer to re-sign him. In good shape, he joined the team’s first spring training camp at the Dededo Sports Complex in Guam on March 31 and showed off his physical condition in a practice game against Chiba Lotte.

Na Gyun-an, who took over for Wilkerson on the mound, allowed one run on one hit and one walk in one inning. One of the runs was earned on a wild pitch.

Jeon Mir, Lotte’s highly touted rookie, struggled with one run on two hits and two walks in one inning. His fastball topped out at 146 km/h, but he struggled with his control and was unable to get outs easily against the Chiba Lotte lineup.

The veteran bullpen did their job, with Jin Hae-soo pitching one scoreless inning and Kim Sang-soo pitching one scoreless inning with one walk and one strikeout. Kim Sang-soo was impressive, throwing out a runner at first base with a perfect throw.

At the plate, Jose Reyes, a newcomer to the team this season, shined. Reyes started at third base and center field and went 2-for-3 with two doubles, a home run, one home run, one RBI, and one run scored.

Reyes launched a solo home run over the right-center field fence in the bottom of the fourth inning with Lotte trailing 1-2. In the bottom of the sixth, he pulled a 149-kilometer fastball low and away for a two-run double.

Reyes, a native of Venezuela, was born in 1994 and is a right-handed hitting outfielder. He began his professional career with the Atlanta Braves in 2011 after joining the organization through international amateur free agency.

He made his big league debut in 2018 with the Detroit Tigers. In 100 games, he batted .222 with 47 doubles, one home run, 12 RBI, 35 runs scored, and nine stolen bases. For his career, Reyes is batting .264 with 321 hits, 16 home runs, 107 RBIs, 147 runs scored, 33 doubles, and a .673 OPS in 394 games.

Manager Kim Tae-hyung plans to use Reyes in the middle infield and center field. Reyes has lived up to expectations from his first game in Okinawa, Japan.

Na Seung-yeop, a prospect returning from military service, also impressed the coaching staff with his multi-hit performance. Starting in the No. 7 spot and batting first base, he went 2-for-4 with a double.

Han Dong-hee, who started at third base and batted fifth, also had an RBI single. In the bottom of the sixth inning, when Lotte tied the game 2-2, Lee was replaced by pinch-hitter Lee Hak-joo after a clothesline single brought home a runner from second base.

Lotte’s only regret was that its bullpen collapsed in the top of the seventh. Choi Jun-yong gave up two runs on two hits and one walk in ⅓ inning, and Kim Jin-wook gave up two runs on two hits and one walk without recording an out.

Lotte was held scoreless in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, but in the top of the eighth, Koo Seung-min struggled with one run on two hits and one walk in one inning to cut the deficit to 3-7. The final offense in the bottom of the ninth also ended fruitlessly.

Meanwhile, Lotte will play the second game of the exchange against Chiba Lotte at the same venue on the 25th. Park Se-woong is expected to start for Lotte and Roki Sasaki is expected to pitch for Chiba.

Roki Sasaki is a fireballer who throws up to 164 mph. He also has a forkball in the low 140s, making him one of the most promising pitchers in Nippon Professional Baseball to reach the major leagues.

Meanwhile, Lotte will hold its second spring training camp in Okinawa, Japan, from the 21st of this month to the 5th of next month, focusing on practice games. The team held a joint training session with the Chiba Lotte first team at Nishizaki Baseball Stadium on the 22nd, and will play two exchange games on the 24th and 25th.

Lotte also held a joint training and exchange game with Chiba Lotte 2nd team at Ishikagi Municipal Stadium in Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in February last year. “With the full support of the group, the club plans to make the exchange game with Chiba Lotte a regular event in order to fully utilize the benefits of a brother club,” said Lotte President Park Joon-hyuk. “In addition to the exchange game, we will continue to communicate to share various know-how, including exchanging players and coaches.”

It has been 17 years since the Lotte Giants and Chiba Lotte played a first-team exchange game in 2007. “It’s not easy to arrange a practice game with an NPB team, so I’m grateful to the club for organizing such an exchange game,” said Lotte head coach Kim Tae-hyung. “There will be more than just practice games with Chiba Lotte in the future, so it will definitely be a good experience for the players.”



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