How do you improve on perfection? Roki Sasaki is doing his best to find out.
In his first start since throwing the first perfect game in Nippon Professional Baseball since 1994, Sasaki, 20, almost did it again for the Chiba Lotte Marines, as he was pulled after eight perfect innings in a 1-0 loss to the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Sunday.
The right-hander amassed 14 strikeouts before he was pulled from a scoreless game after throwing 102 pitches. Of note: He was taken out after he struck out the side in the eighth inning with his pitches reportedly still reaching 101 mph.
Sasaki hasn’t allowed an opposing hitter to reach base in an NPB-record 52 consecutive plate appearances.
Through four starts this season, Sasaki has a 1.16 ERA, 56 strikeouts and has allowed seven hits and two walks in 31 innings pitched.
“He [Sasaki] is just too tough,” said Chusei Mannami, whose game-winning home run — the Fighters’ only hit of the game — came in the 10th inning off the third Marines pitcher. “The way that forkball drops? Forget about it.”
In his last start, Sasaki tied an NPB record with his 19 strikeouts against the Orix Buffaloes as he completed just the 16th perfect game in league history. He also struck out 13 consecutive batters, a record in Japanese pro baseball, according to Kyodo News.
Sasaki rose to prominence as a high school pitcher thanks to his high-velocity fastball and reportedly drew widespread interest from Major League Baseball teams before signing with Chiba Lotte in 2020 at age 18.