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Sunday, June 27, 2010

NPB NOTEBOOK

Catchers stepping up contributions at plate


Staff writer

What a month it's been for catchers.

June has seen many of Japan's backstops go on a tear at the plate, with most putting up their best numbers of the season.

The player who has seen the biggest jump in production is Seibu Lions catcher Toru Hosokawa.

Hosokawa is hitting .350 with four homers and 15 RBIs in his last 15 games (through Thursday). It's a complete turnaround for Hosokawa, who was batting .168 with two home runs and 12 RBIs entering the month.

His high point was a three-game stretch from June 18-20, during which he hit three homers — two grand slams — and drove in 12 runs.

With slugging third baseman Takeya Nakamura likely out until August with an elbow injury, the Lions will be hoping Hosokawa's play carries over into the rest of the season.

Another catcher on the rise is the Yomiuri Giants' Shinnosuke Abe. The Yomiuri captain, who heated up during interleague play, is hitting .350 with 10 home runs and 14 RBIs through 16 games this month.

He's slugging .867 with an .385 on-base percentage in June, swinging the bat so well he recently told reporters he feels like a foreign player.

Abe also went on a tear from June 18-20, crushing four homers and driving in five runs. His two-run blast on June 20 against the Chunichi Dragons was his 20th of the year, making him just the fifth catcher in NPB history to have four consecutive seasons with at least 20 home runs.

Across town, Ryoji Aikawa of the Tokyo Yakult Swallows is enjoying his best month of the season, hitting .339 with four home runs and 10 RBIs.

Elsewhere in the Central League, Kenji Johjima is hitting .333 with three homers and nine RBIs this month for the Hanshin Tigers.

Over in the Pacific League, Motohiro Shima, of the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, continues to play well (.351 with a pair of homers and nine RBIs in June), while Tomoya Satozaki of the Chiba Lotte Marines is batting .317, enjoying his best month in terms of batting average.

Not to be outdone, Orix Buffaloes backstop Takeshi Hidaka is hitting .340 with a homer and eight RBIs this month.

Deep drives: Yomiuri Giants slugger Alex Ramirez recently joined Tuffy Rhodes as the only foreign players to hit 20 or more homers in 10 consecutive seasons.

Another 20-homer campaign next year would put Ramirez alone as the only foreigner to hit at least 20 in 11 straight seasons.

Surpassing Rhodes in total homers will prove to be more difficult.

Rhodes played 13 seasons in Japan and hit 464 career circuit clouts. Rhodes, who didn't play in 2006, never finished a season in the NPB with fewer than 22 homers.

Ramirez hit two roundtrippers on Thursday against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, bringing his career total in Japan to 309.

Return to action: Keeping with the trend of chasing foreign players with experience in Japan, the Seibu Lions brought back Jose Fernandez, a veteran of seven NPB seasons. The move was announced on Friday.

Fernandez is a career .289 hitter in Japan with 174 homers and 591 RBIs. He is a former Lion (2004-05) and also played with the Chiba Lotte Marines, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles and Orix Buffaloes.

The Lions are in the market for another bat while Takeya Nakamura recovers from elbow surgery.



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