During the opening weekend of the 2023 MLB season, Athletics and Mets fans were treated to the North American debuts of Shintaro Fujinami and Kodai Senga. Both Fujinami and Senga did have some difficulties in their opening outings in the Majors, but their debuts couldn’t have ended any differently.
A Look at Fujinami’s First Start
Athletics starter Shintaro Fujinami had a nice start to his first MLB appearance on April 1, as he threw two scoreless innings and struck out four. The right-hander flashed a hard fastball that sat in the upper-90s in Saturday’s game, and a tricky splitter that got whiffs early on. But, things went south after the first two frames.
The 28-year-old yielded five hits, walked three, and had eight earned runs put on his ledger during the third inning in what was an ugly 13-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Here’s a look at Fujinami’s pitch chart (via Baseball Savant):
A lot of pitches out of the zone — and a lot of non-competitive pitches — helped lay the groundwork for what was a very difficult first start of the season. Not to mention, he did leave the splitter and slider up in the zone a little too much. One of those hanging sliders led to an RBI single off the bat of Taylor Ward.
Fujinami showcased good swing-and-miss stuff, but the control and command problems that we heard about from scouting reports in Japan bore out to be true. It was one start, though, and nerves can be discounted. Still, the first game that the righty had at the Major League was rough — no matter how one slices it up.
A Look at Senga’s First Start
Much like Fujinami, Kodai Senga did deal with control problems in his first Major League game. But as far as Senga’s first start was concerned, he had his control problems during the first inning of the game on Sunday against the Marlins. After sitting in the dugout for nearly half an hour, Senga labored in a 36-pitch first frame for the Mets. In the first four days of the 2023 campaign, that total ranked as the third-highest total for most pitches thrown in the opening frame of a game. Only Alex Cobb of the Giants (38) and Miles Mikolas (37) had higher totals.
After that Senga, settled down considerable. The 30-year-old threw 4.1 scoreless frames after the rough first inning, en route to his first win the Majors.
Granted, it helped that Senga was facing a very aggressive Marlins lineup. Nonetheless, the 30-year-old rookie put up strong results. Senga struck out eight over 5.1 IP, and he had a staggering 64.3% Whiff% rate on the “ghost fork” that just has the bottom drop out right before it hits the plate.
Here’s a look at Senga’s pitch chart from Sunday, courtesy of Baseball Savant:
We know that Senga had the high velocity, and we knew that the splitter can be a highly-effective weapon. What we didn’t know, though, was whether that splitter would have the same bite with the larger baseball. But after Senga’s start on April 2, it can play up at the Major League level.