Yuki Matsui's early life, childhood and career in Japan

yuki's pitching in high school yuki's pitching in junior high school

The origin of Yuki's baseball career is in high school baseball.

Yuki Matsui(松井 裕樹 in kanji) was born on October 30, 1995 in Yokohama, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. He started playing baseball when he was in the second grade of elementary school. It all started when his father was watching a baseball game on TV and Yuki said, "I want to play baseball!" Yuki joined the Motoishikawa Thunderbolts and played second and third baseman at first. In the third grade, he became a pitcher and began his life as a pitcher.

What prompted Yuki to get serious about baseball was when he was selected out of the BayStars Junior team when he was in the 5th grade. BayStars Junior is a selective team of 12 professional baseball teams for 5th and 6th graders. Yuki practiced seriously so that he would surely join the selected team when he was in the 6th grade of elementary school.

yuki in elementary school

Yuki played for the Aoba Midori Higashi Little Senior team after entering junior high school. He was coached by Mr. Kotani, a former professional baseball player. The team's practices focused on the basics, but there were also some unusual practices. For example, he practiced gripping rice to strengthen his grip, and running with a firm grip on the dirt while wearing spikes.

Yuki said of those days, "Practice was all about basics. Also, the way I pitched back then and the way I pitched in high school have not changed. I always pitched the way I wanted to pitch. I think it was good that my coaches didn't correct me in any strange ways." The team won the national championship when Yuki was in his third year of junior high school.

yuki's pitching in junior high school

After graduating from junior high school, Yuki went on to Toko Gakuen in the prefecture, but he had to live in a dormitory from high school because his family moved away. Although this environment allowed him to concentrate on baseball, Yuki was a picky eater at the time and ate very few vegetables in the dormitory. He made up for this by drinking vegetable juice and eating 2.2 lb of rice per meal to bulk up.

He started pitching in qualifying tournaments in the summer of his first year in high school. In the semifinals, as the starting pitcher, he contributed to the team's advancement to the finals by allowing one run in four innings. In the final game, he also pitched well, allowing no runs in four innings, but the team lost 1-2 in extra innings after 10 innings.

Yuki's baseball career took a major turn in the summer of his second year of high school. Yuki and his team won the preliminary tournament and advanced to the national tournament. In the first round of the national tournament, Yuki struck out 10 consecutive batters, the most in tournament history, and struck out 22 batters in one game. He also struck out 19 in the second round, and recorded 12 strikeouts in the third round. In the quarterfinals, he also struck out 15, but after both teams had scored no runs, he gave up three runs in the eighth inning and was eliminated.

In the tournament, he pitched 36 innings with a 2.25 ERA(earned-run average) and a 17.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio, for a total of 68 strikeouts in one tournament. His 68 strikeouts were the most ever by a left-handed pitcher in a single tournament. Yuki talked about that time, "After the first game, I woke up in the morning and it was on the front page of all the sports papers. From there, the media came pouring in every day."

yuki's pitching in high school

Yuki practiced without loosening up after his sophomore year of high school. However, in the final qualifying tournament of his senior year of high school, his team lost in the quarterfinals, even though he pitched eight innings, gave up three runs, and struck out 10. Mr. Ogura, the coach of the opposing team, Yokohama High School, said that he had thoroughly prepared for Yuki before the game. Ogura said that he went into the game after analyzing Yuki's slider and fastball countermeasures (Yuki was throwing at 92 MPH at the time), as well as Yuki's pitch distribution bias, quirks in his pitching form, and quick motion pitches.

Yuki did not advance to the national tournament as a senior in high school, but was selected first overall by five teams in the 2013 draft. He joined the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles through a lottery due to overlapping picks. He chose his baseball number, saying, "The origin of my baseball career is in high school baseball. I wanted to start with the number 1 that I was allowed to wear for a long time there.

yuki's pitching in Japan as professional

Yuki's rookie year in 2014, he was selected to start the season in the first team by the manager. He was the first high school graduate rookie since Masahiro Tanaka. Yuki made his first professional appearance on April 2, but gave up three runs in six innings and was the losing pitcher. He continued to make starts, but he often gave up a walk in the early innings, and was dropped to the farm in the middle of the season. After being reassigned to the first team, he pitched in relief, and as a result, he went 4-8 with a 3.80 ERA and 126 strikeouts.

Yuki switched to closer in 2015 at the manager's request. He picked up his first professional save in a game on March 28 and steadily built up his save points, becoming the first teenager in history to record 30 saves. This made him the absolute closer of the team. He followed that up with another 30 saves in 2016 and another 33 saves in 2017. However, he had a poor 2018, failing to get saves more often than not and even being demoted to the farm. He shrugged off the previous year's slump in 2019, racking up saves and earning his first career title for most saves with 38 saves.

yuki's 200 saves celemony

Yuki tried starting pitching again in 2020, but without success, he became a reliever again. He pitched in 43 games in 2021 and earned 24 saves, bringing his total to 150 saves. He recorded 32 saves in 2022 and 39 saves in a season in 2023, winning the title of Most Saved Pitcher for the second year in a row. He achieved 200 saves in total at the youngest age of 27 years and 5 months, the youngest in history. It was reported on October 25 during the off-season that he was going to move to MLB, and he officially announced it on November 8.

At the press conference, Yuki said, "There is still a stage where I can grow. I made the decision to try out at a higher level," he added. "I started out not doing well as a starter, and now I'm trying out for MLB as a reliever, which I never envisioned when I became a professional baseball player. You never know what can happen."