Quite a Development: SoftBank Hawks Starter Shuta Ishikawa Hurls No-Hitter

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks starter Shuta Ishikawa, left, smiles with a bouquet of flowers he received after pitching a no-hitter against Saitama Seibu Lions in Fukuoka on Friday.

FUKUOKA — “I always go out with the serious aim of pitching a perfect game,” said Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks right-hander Shuta Ishikawa, who seemed far from perfection when he was enduring a three-month winless slump and a demotion to the farm team.

But the determination that turned him from a developmental player into a Pacific League starter paid off on Friday night, when he joined one of Japan pro baseball’s most elite clubs by tossing the first no-hitter of the season.

Ishikawa kept the Saitama Seibu Lions hitless in an 8-0 victory at Fukuoka PayPay Dome, making him the 88th pitcher to toss a regular-season no-hitter in Japan pro baseball history. It was the 99th no-hitter overall.

It marks the pinnacle of an incredible journey for the 31-year-old Ishikawa, whose pro career started by being selected by the Hawks in the 2013 developmental draft for players who were overlooked in the regular draft but seen as having potential.

Ishikawa became the second player to rise from the developmental level and achieve the feat. He followed Kodai Senga, the current New York Mets starter who did it in 2019 for the Hawks and played a key role in helping Ishikawa work out of his recent pitching woes.

On Friday night, Ishikawa faced 31 batters, recording eight strikeouts, nine grounders and 10 flyouts. He walked three and hit one batter in a 127-pitch outing.

Taking the mound in the ninth inning, Ishikawa tuned out the raucous home crowd as he struck out the leadoff hitter, Takuya Hiruma. After hitting the next batter with a pitch, he struck out Manaya Nishikawa for the second out.

When Takeya Nakamura grounded out to end the game and complete the no-hitter, Ishikawa finally allowed a smile to come to his face. “I felt so relieved,” he said.

Dating back to interleague play in June, Ishikawa had been tagged with four straight losses. Expected to be one of the mainstays of the starting rotation, he instead found himself sent to the farm team to work out his troubles. The bashing he took on social media further took a toll on his confidence.

But he received encouragement from Senga, who had been the Hawks’ ace before leaving for the Mets after last season. The two regularly exchanged text messages, and Senga’s accounts about the major league sparked a fire in Ishikawa.

“In the majors, even if you throw 100 mph [161 kph], they can still hit it,” Ishikawa said. “My pitching is weak and I’m ashamed that I cannot overwhelm batters.” But he converted such frustration to energy.

Ishikawa said his goal is to become “a pitcher that fans want to go see” and compete against Japan’s top fastball pitchers such as the Orix Buffaloes’ Yoshinobu Yamamoto and the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Roki Sasaki.

“It’s no good if I pitch well only today,” Ishikawa said. “The next start is important and I will aim higher.”

The milestone in his 10th year as a pro is just one stage in the process.