Tomohiro Kuroki

From BR Bullpen

Tomohiro Kuroki (Johnny) (黒木 知宏)

  • Bats Right, Throws Right
  • Height 5' 10", Weight 175 lb.

Tomohiro Kuroki was a 3-time All-Star in 11 seasons for the Chiba Lotte Marines and was in the Olympics. Ichiro Suzuki once called him the toughest pitcher to hit.

After high school, Kuroki played for Oji Seishi Kasugai in the industrial leagues. One day, he fell asleep during a team meeting and had his hair cut as a punishment. His appearances was compared to that of Joji Yamamoto, an entertainer and he got the nickname "Joji", which later morphed to Johnny. The Marines took Kuroki in the second round of the 1994 draft.

Kuroki had a 5-7, 3.71 record as a rookie in 1995. He improved to 8-7, 3.58 in 1996. Kuroki lowered his ERA to 2.99 in 1997 but his record fell to 12-15 as the Marines finished last in the Pacific League. The right-hander paced the PL in innings (240 2/3), batters faced (995), complete games (13), wild pitches (13) and losses while making his first All-Star team. He finished 6th in the circuit in ERA, between Hideo Koike and Fumiya Nishiguchi.

Tomohiro went 13-9 with a 3.29 ERA in 1998, making his second All-Star team. He tied Takashi Ishii for second in the circuit in ERA behind only Satoru Kanemura. He led the league with 89 walks and 12 wild pitches. He tied Kazuhiro Takeda and Nishiguchi for the win lead even though his club finished dead last. He became the youngest Marine to make 100 million yen.

Johnny had an even better season in 1999, probably his best. He went 14-10 with a 2.50 ERA and 171 K in 212 2/3 IP. He allowed just a .216 average with 164 hits in 212 2/3 innings. Somehow, he failed to make the All-Star team. He again finished second in ERA, between Kimiyasu Kudoh and Daisuke Matsuzaka. He also placed second to Kudoh in whiffs.

In 2000, Kuroki hurt his ankle right before the season began. He took the mound when he was not in top form and had his ERA go over 10.00 before settling to 10-12, 5.18 with a .286 opponent average. He led the PL in hits allowed (181), runs allowed (103) and earned runs allowed (92). He did strike out 134, second to only Matsuzaka (who had 10 more). He still made the Japanese team for the 2000 Olympics, in which he was 1-1 with a 3.00 ERA and 13 K in 15 innings; only Matsuzaka whiffed more for the Japanese team. He pitched well in a 3-0 loss to Cuba and beat Australia. He also beat a MLB All-Star team that year.

The Hyuga native rebounded to go 11-4 with a 3.02 ERA and .223 opponent average in 2001, making his final All-Star team. On March 24, Kuroki beat Matsuzaka on Opening Day to get the first Nippon Pro Baseball win of the 21st Century. Shoulder problems shut down Kuroki in the second half. Had he qualified, he would have paced the league in ERA but that honor instead went to Nate Minchey. Johnny opted against surgery and tried to recover from his shoulder problem by doing weights and changing his delivery; he would never be as good a pitcher.

Tomohiro did not get into a game in 2002 or 2003. He returned to go 1-3 with a 4.41 ERA in 2004 and 2-1 with a 4.50 ERA in 2005, when he hurt his elbow.

Kuroki allowed three runs in four innings in 2006 and notched his only career save then tossed 1 1/3 shutout innings to wind up in 2007. The Marines released him and nobody else wanted to sign him, so he retired, only 33 years old but reduced by injury from his peak.

Kuroki had gone 76-68 with a save and a 3.43 ERA in 199 NPB games.

He was an announcer in retirement. His hobby was fishing.

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