As mister-baseball.com reported in November, former Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Dovydas Neverauskas, the first Lithuanian to play Major League Baseball, will be suiting up for the Hiroshima Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) in 2021, but the Japanese government’s coronavirus restrictions have kept him – and most other new imports – from joining their clubs for spring training in Japan.
When Neverauskus will manage to get on the field in an NPB game is anyone’s guess, especially as entrants to Japan, under current rules, must first serve a two-week quarantine. For a hard-throwing pitcher like Neverauskas in particular, a two-week break from high-level training can seriously interrupt preparations for the season.
Zach Neal, who has pitched for the Seibu Lions for the past two seasons and is also waiting to travel to Japan, recently told the Japan Baseball Weekly podcast that he expects to be on the mound, at the earliest, in mid May as a two-week quarantine will throw his preparations back by nearly a month. “A two-week quarantine really sets me back. I mean, they say that if you stop throwing for two weeks, it takes you four weeks to get back to where you were that two weeks ago,” Neal told podcast co-cost John E. Gibson.
The 28-year-old Neverauskas was released by the Pirates in November after logging 80.2 innings in 76 appearances over parts of four MLB seasons. Neverauskas throws a mid-90s fastball, but he struggled to use it effectively against major league hitters. Speaking to Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in November, Pirates’ general manager Ben Cherington had praise for Neverauskas, but also explained why the club decided to part ways with the right-handed pitcher. “He’s got good stuff. Obviously the curveball is really good. He just hadn’t gotten to a point yet where he really figured out how to use the fastball effectively at the major league level, even though the velocity’s good,” Cherington said.
With the physical tools needed to pitch at an elite level, Neverauskas hopes that time in Asia will allow him to refine his approach, perhaps opening a door for a return to the majors at some point. After all, Miles Mikolas, Merrill Kelly and Josh Lindblom, among others, have used an Asian sojourn to reboot their stalled MLB careers.
The NPB season is scheduled to start Mar. 26.
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