Nishino was drafted out of high school in 2008 as an ikusei (training) player and he did not make his NPB debut until 2013. After being used as a starter in his first year for the Marines (9-6, 3.80 ERA, 106 K in 139.2 IP), Chiba Lotte decided to roll the dice and convert Nishino to a closer in 2014 despite the return of incumbent Naoya Masuda, who led the Pacific League in saves in 2013 with 33 (Masuda is now one of the team’s primary setup men). The experiment paid off for Chiba Lotte, as Nishino posted a 1.86 ERA in 58 IP (57 appearances) with 31 saves, nine holds, and 63 Ks in 2014. He followed that up in 2015 with an almost identical 1.83 ERA in 54 IP (54 appearances) with 34 saves, four holds, and 71 Ks.
Nishino uses a fastball/splitter combo that generates strikeouts and keeps the ball on the ground…and in the ballpark. After giving up only four HRs in 2014, he gave up only one in 2015, and he has yet to surrender a long ball in 22.2 IP so far in 2016 (2.28 ERA, 12 SV, 20 Ks). An appropriate MLB comparison would be his fellow countryman Koji Uehara (RHP, Red Sox). Like Uehara, Nishino generally sits 88-to-90 mph with his fastball, but he generates enough deception with his splitter, and the occasional breaking ball, to consistently keep hitters guessing.
MLB hitters have already seen Nishino first-hand as he served as the closer for the Japanese team that played in the 2014 MLB Japan All-Star Series. Given Uehara’s success in MLB and their similar style of pitching, Nishino, who is 16 years younger than Uehara, is likely generating interest from major league teams. However, although Nishino is already in his eighth season of professional baseball, he does not have enough service time to qualify for domestic or international free agency for at least few more years*. Therefore, a move to MLB will require Chiba Lotte to post Nishino, something they have only done once before, when they posted Tsuyoshi Nishioka (INF, Twins, 2011-12) after winning the Japan Series for the fourth time in franchise history, in 2010.