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Monday, July 12, 2010

Healthy Tamura makes steady start for Hawks


Staff writer

The story of Hitoshi Tamura's career thus far has been a tale littered with injuries and bad luck.

News photo
Flying high: Hitoshi Tamura has gotten off to a fast start for the Hawks this year. KYODO PHOTO

He's looking for a decidedly happier ending to the latest chapter.

The often-injured Tamura has been one of the leaders at the plate for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks this season. He's also an All-Star for the first time. More than anything, Hawks fans are just happy he's healthy.

"I don't really feel like my condition has changed a lot," Tamura said. "I feel good and my mental condition is good as well."

The Fukuoka outfielder is on pace to have his best year as a professional as he rejuvenates a career that has been hampered by various aliments.

Tamura leads Softbank with a .326 average and is tops in slugging percentage (.535), on-base percentage (.375), and doubles (21).

He's second on the team with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs, trailing only Jose Ortiz, who leads the Pacific League with 20 home runs and has 64 RBIs.

"Well, I wonder what it is," Tamura pondered when asked about his performance. "I haven't changed anything. As for my defensive play, I try to make catching balls as easy as possible."

The big change is that he's been able to keep himself on the active roster. Tamura has been dogged by injuries since his debut in 1997, with the Yokohama BayStars, and has appeared in over 100 games just three times.

"Tamura is a good player," Ortiz said. "Everybody knows he's a good player. It's just, when he played, he got hurt a lot. This year, he's been able to stay healthy and not get hurt.

"So now he's pretty much playing everyday. He's hitting well and having a good year. A great year."

When healthy for long periods of time, Tamura has shown he can put up big numbers. His best season came in 2004, when he played in 123 games and hit .305 with 40 home runs and 100 RBIs — all career highs — for the BayStars.

He hit .304 with 31 home runs and 79 RBIs over 117 games in 2005, despite missing a month after being injured in a car accident in June.

Tamura was limited to 39 games for Yokohama in 2006 after injuries to his wrist and ribs, but appeared in 132 games for the Hawks in 2007, hitting .271 with 13 home runs and 68 RBIs.

He only played in 39 games in 2008 and 93 last year.

So far, Tamura has appeared in 81 of the Hawks' first 84 games this season.

"When he's healthy, that guy can be really good," Ortiz said.

Not only is Tamura healthy, he's also finally an All-Star.

The outfielder's sensational start has landed him on this season's All-Star team for the first time in his career. Fittingly, the first game of the All-Star Series is being held at Fukuoka's Yahoo Dome.

As has been his mantra all season, Tamura's not planning on changing a thing in his debut appearance in the All-Star series.

"I'm going to play the way I usually do," Tamura said. "I'll play my game."



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