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Cubs’ Shota Imanaga takes no-hitter into sixth inning vs. Rockies in MLB debut after signing out of NPB

On Monday afternoon, the Chicago Cubs opened the Wrigley Field portion of their 2024 schedule with a win over the Colorado Rockies (CHC 5, COL, 0). They also debuted new left-hander Shota Imanaga. The 30-year-old joined the Cubbies on a four-year, $53 million contract this past offseason. He spent the first eight years of his career with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball.

If Monday is any indication, that $53 million contract will be a steal for Chicago. Imanaga took a no-hitter into the sixth inning against an admittedly weak Rockies lineup on a cold and rainy afternoon, and finished the day with two singles allowed in six shutout innings. He struck out nine and did not walk a batter. Imanaga let out a roar after his ninth and final strikeout.

Charlie Blackmon broke up Imanaga’s no-hit bid with a solid single to center field with two outs in the sixth inning. According to MLB.com, Imanaga had the longest no-hit bid by a Cubs pitcher in his big league debut since Amaury Telemaco on May 16, 1996. Telemaco, a nine-year big leaguer, also went 5 2/3 innings before surrendering a hit.

Imanaga was a stathead favorite in Japan because he gets incredible ride on his low-90s fastball up in the zone, though it was his splitter that stood out most Monday. He threw 24 splitters, Rockies hitters swung at 15 of them, and they missed with 12 of their swings. That 80% whiff rate is astronomical, even in a single-game sample. Imanaga threw 92 pitches overall.

Of course, Imanaga was in danger of leaving Monday’s game with a no-decision because the Cubs got shut down by sinkerballing righty Dakota Hudson. It wasn’t until the bottom of the sixth inning that Chicago put runs on the board courtesy of a Nolan Jones error and Christopher Morel’s Little League home run. This gave the Cubs a 3-0 lead and Imanaga his first MLB win:

Imanaga’s debut was excellent and the Cubs need him to be excellent too. Ace lefty Justin Steele will miss several weeks with a hamstring strain, and Jameson Taillon is sidelined with a back issue as well. The Cubs are running out of starting pitchers early this season. Imanaga serving as a rotation stabilizer every fifth day would be welcome.

In his eight seasons in Japan, Imanaga pitched to a 2.96 ERA and averaged 141 innings and 148 strikeouts per season. He had a higher strikeout rate (29.5% of batters faced) than Yoshinobu Yamamoto (26.7%) in 2023, and Imanaga started the World Baseball Classic Championship Game last spring.

The Cubs dropped two of three to the defending World Series champion Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field to begin their season this past weekend. Monday’s win evened their record at 2-2.


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