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Cubs Starter Shota Imanaga Shines in His MLB Debut

Former BayStars standout Shota Imanaga tossed six scoreless innings and struck out nine in the Cubs' 5-0 victory over the Rockies in their home opener.

Shota Imanaga had an MLB regular-season debut that he'll never forget on Monday afternoon, April 1 at Wrigley Field in the Chicago Cubs' 5-0 victory.

The veteran left-hander, who previously pitched for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars (2016-23), took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies.

With two outs in the top of the sixth in a scoreless game, the Rockies got their first hit off the 30-year-old known as "The Throwing Philosopher." Charlie Blackmon, who batted leadoff, broke up Imanaga's no-hit bid with a line-drive single to center.

Brendan Rodgers followed with another line-drive hit to center.

Imanaga then slammed the door on Colorado's scoring threat, striking out Nolan Jones on a four-seam fastball for the third out. He left the game after throwing 92 pitches (65 strikes).

"It was a unique atmosphere, especially [on] the last strikeout," Imanaga was quoted as saying through his interpreter by The Associated Press. "And it might have not been the best pitch [with] regards to pitch speed, but getting the support from the fans I was able to get that strikeout."

Shota Imanaga
Shota Imanaga threw 65 of 92 pitches for strikes. (KYODO)

Imanaga Exhibits Pinpoint Control

Imanaga, who signed a four-year contract with the Cubs in January after leading NPB in strikeouts (174) in 2023, struck out nine batters. He didn't issue a walk. In Chicago's home opener, his dominant pitching carried over from spring training, where he fanned 25 in 12⅔ innings.

What's more, Imanaga became only the second pitcher in Major League Baseball history to work six scoreless innings, strike out nine and allow no walks in his debut, MLB.com reported. The first? Nick Kingham of the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019.

"It was clear that this is a player who's been in big moments," Cubs manager Craig Counsell said of Imanaga, according to MLB.com. "He's been through this before and, again, that was part of what went into all this."

Imanaga effectively used his split-finger fastball to complement his heater.

Shota Imanaga
Cubs pitcher Shota Imanaga (left) and Seiya Suzuki cheer for their team from the dugout. (KYODO)

'An Awesome First Performance'

Cubs left fielder Ian Happ was impressed with Imanaga's first MLB start.

"That was an awesome first performance," Happ said, according to MLB.com. "I'm excited that he's on our team."

On a chilly day, the temperature was 6.1 C (43 F) when the game started, and Imanaga didn't wear a long-sleeve shirt under his jersey.

"If I wasn't pitching and I was just in the dugout, I might wear something a little warmer, but I've always pitched in short sleeves in Japan and it wasn't something I'm going to change," Imanaga told reporters, according to the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper.

"When I'm out there, my body's warm."

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Cubs Grab the Lead in the 6th

Chicago scored three runs in the sixth and two more in the seventh to earn a shutout victory before 40,072 spectators at the iconic Windy City ballpark.

Designated hitter Seiya Suzuki went 1-for-3 with a walk and scored a run. Center fielder Cody Bellinger drove in a pair of runs.

Cubs reliever Yency Almonte, who replaced Imanaga, worked a scoreless seventh and Drew Smyly preserved the shutout, pitching the final two innings.

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Author: Ed Odeven

Find Ed on JAPAN Forward's dedicated website, SportsLook. Follow his [Japan Sports Notebook] on Sundays, [Odds and Evens] during the week, and X (formerly Twitter) @ed_odeven.

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