Roki Sasaki moves on from perfect game to focus on next start

The Lotte Marines’ 20-year-old pitcher Roki Sasaki said he enjoyed basking in the afterglow of his perfect game — Nippon Professional Baseball’s first in 28 years — but woke up ready for a fresh start on Monday.

“The reality is slowly starting to sink in. I spent last night immersing myself in the experience,” Sasaki said of his heroics on Sunday.

“That mark in history will always stand. A player is expected to perform throughout the season so I’m shifting gears and moving on,” he said after an hourlong training session which included core exercises and sprints.

On Sunday afternoon at his team’s home of Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba Prefecture, Sasaki threw a perfect game against the Orix Buffaloes. He struck out 19 of the 27 batters he faced in a 6-0 win.

At 20 years and five months, Sasaki is the youngest pitcher in NPB to throw a perfect game — one in which a pitcher allows no opposing player to reach base by any means.

It was the first perfect game in Japan since Hiromi Makihara did it on May 18, 1994, for the Yomiuri Giants, and the 16th the league has ever seen.

It was the first time Sasaki went the distance in his young pro career that started in 2020. Last year he posted three wins, including the first of his career, in 11 starts.

He for the first time won a spot in the starting rotation at the start of this season. He has made three starts so far and has three double-digit strikeout games.

Japanese players in Major League Baseball have been vocal in their praise of Sasaki, with Toronto Blue Jays lefty Yusei Kikuchi saying “He is now the best pitcher in Japan” and Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo saying “If we see more players like him it would bring excitement to Japanese baseball.”

Chicago Cubs rookie Seiya Suzuki was also impressed by the potential major league prospect.

“He’s still young, but he’s got speed and amazing sliders, forkballs and curveballs,” he said.

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