The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Nippon Professional Baseball have signed right-hander Cody Ponce, the team announced. This will mark Ponce’s third straight season in NPB, as he pitched for the Nippon Ham Fighters in both 2022 and 2023.
Ponce posted a solid 3.47 ERA over 135 innings for the Fighters over the last two seasons, though he missed about a month of the 2023 campaign due to injury. His 18.76% strikeout rate and 6.88% walk rate basically matched his work over six minor league seasons, as Ponce relies on good command and soft contact to generate outs, rather than missing a lot of bats. Ponce’s tenure in NPB was highlighted by a no-hitter on August 27, 2022, making him the seventh foreign-born player to toss a no-no in NPB since 1950.
A second-round pick for the Brewers in the 2015 draft, Ponce had a 3.93 ERA over 476 career frames in the minors, pitching in both the Milwaukee and Pittsburgh farm systems. The Brewers dealt Ponce to the Pirates in a 2019 deadline deal that brought Jordan Lyles to Milwaukee, and Ponce then made his Major League debut the following season. Over 55 1/3 career innings in the big leagues, Ponce has a 5.86 ERA, 19.6% strikeout rate and 6.9% walk rate, working mostly as a long reliever but with a few spot starts on his resume.
Pitching in Japan has allowed Ponce more of an opportunity as a regular starter than he likely would’ve received in North America, not to mention a steadier paycheck. It isn’t surprising to see Ponce stick around for another year in NPB, and since he doesn’t turn 30 until April, there’s still plenty of time for the righty to consider a return to the Show down the road.