TOKYO >> As a measure against the coronavirus, Japan’s 12 professional baseball teams, which started the new season March 26, have decided to end regular season games this year in the ninth inning. A tie at the end of the ninth inning will mean the game ends in a draw.
Though the state of emergency for Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa prefectures ended March 22, authorities requested that businesses close at 9 p.m. through the end of March. Guided by those requests, the teams aim to finish night games by 9 p.m. Their plan includes starting games 15 to 30 minutes earlier.
With no extra innings even when scores are tied, team strategies are likely to change.
Clubs are expected to use their most reliable pitchers early in the game to start out strong, and to use pinch hitters in early innings to get on the scoreboard as quickly as possible.
The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, boasting one of the best rosters in Japanese pro baseball, has already developed its strategies.
“We might start using relievers in the fourth or fifth inning,” said Hawks pitching coach Ryoji Moriyama. “It would be nice if we could send them out there in the early innings.”
Said Yomiuri Giants manager Tatsunori Hara: “Since the game is over in the ninth inning, we will probably go with fewer pitchers.”