MIAMI — Roki Sasaki, potentially the best pitcher in the world who’s not in the major leagues, will take the ball for Japan in its World Baseball Classic semifinal matchup against Mexico from LoanDepot Park on Monday, Japanese manager Hideki Kuriyama announced after his team’s workout Sunday.
Sasaki, 21, has posted a 1.95 ERA in 212⅔ career innings for Nippon Professional Baseball, striking out 260 batters and walking 42 while overwhelming hitters with a 100-plus-mph fastball and a devastating splitter.
Last April, while starring for the Chiba Lotte Marines, Sasaki threw 17 consecutive perfect innings, retiring 52 consecutive batters in the process. Sasaki struck out 19 batters in a perfect game — the first for Japan’s top professional league since 1994 — and was pulled after eight perfect innings in the start that followed. The next time he took the mound, he surrendered a hit on the first pitch.
Sasaki, who will face Team Mexico left-hander Patrick Sandoval, allowed an unearned run in 3⅔ innings in a rout over the Czech Republic earlier in the World Baseball Classic on March 11. Sasaki has said he longs to play in the major leagues, but there have been no indications of when — or if — his team will post him.
“He’s very young, if you look at the age, but he’s a very talented pitcher,” Kuriyama said through an interpreter.