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Friday, July 31, 2009

NPB NOTEBOOK

Slugger Morino's tear keeps Dragons in Central League race


Staff writer

A few seasons ago, Chunichi Dragons third baseman Masahiko Morino earned the nickname "Mr. Three Run" for his uncanny penchant for hitting three-run homers.

A new moniker might be in order soon because recently — no matter how many men are on base — the runs are flowing almost every time he steps up to the plate.

The Dragons have demolished nearly anything and everything in their path in recent weeks and Morino has been the headliner of the Nagoya club's attack.

Despite a disappointing performance going 1-for-4 in a loss on Wednesday, Morino is still batting .451 with 14 RBIs over the past 11 games through Wednesday's games.

Morino's play has helped the Dragons put pressure on the first-place Yomiuri Giants, who the Dragons trail by 2 1/2 games in the standings. They've gone 12-2 over their past 14 games, a stretch that included a recently ended nine-game winning streak.

Morino is batting .279 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs this season (through Wednesday) for the Dragons. His numbers have him second in the CL in doubles and third in RBIs.

While Morino has been one of the main components of the Dragons' run, he's by no means alone. Tony Blanco has played well in recent weeks and hit his league-leading 30th homer of the season on Wednesday. Hirokazu Ibata, the CL leader in batting average (.323), and Kazuhiro Wada (.306, 21 home runs) have also played big roles.

The Dragons will need all their weapons this weekend, as they go straight from their series with the first-place Giants to a three-game set with the third-place Tokyo Yakult Swallows beginning Friday night at Jingu Stadium.

Black and blue: Orix infielder Gregg LaRocca is likely lost for the season after suffering a broken hand after being hit by a pitch on Tuesday against the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. LaRocca was batting .287 with 12 homers and 43 RBIs in 74 games.

The beaning marked the 100th time LaRocca had been hit by a pitch in his Japan career.

The Buffaloes slugger is being hit with alarming frequency and has already been hit more than any foreign player in NPB history.

LaRocca is currently in his sixth season in Japan, but already ranks among the all-time leaders in dead balls.

He became just the 13th player in NPB history to get hit 100 or more times and is just six away from tying active leader Hokkaido Nippon Ham outfielder Atsunori Inaba (106). Only Inaba and Softbank's Nobuhiko Matsunaka (105) have been hit more among active players.

Kazuhiro Kiyohara is the all-time leader, being hit with pitches 196 times during his 20 seasons with the Seibu Lions, Yomiuri Giants and the Buffaloes.

While it took Kiyohara 2,338 games to reach that number, LaRocca is almost halfway there in just 541.

Of the top 40 players all-time in the category, only three have played fewer than 1,000 games; LaRocca, Tadahito Iguchi (978, in Japanese baseball) and Yoshiyuki Iwamoto (856).



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