Among Central League players who have reached the batting average requirement, an unexpected player is vying for the bottom spot in the batting average ranking (results as of August 28).
Okamoto Kazuma (26), the Giants’ main gun, has sat at No. 4 since June 2006, and until last year had hit over 30 homers for four consecutive years. In 2008 and 2009, he won the home run and batting titles two years in a row. This season, however, there is no sign of him.
His batting average has been in the low .200s. He had a good start to the season, but his batting average plummeted to .180 in May, and although it recovered to .317 in June, it slumped again to .222 in July. In August, he relinquished the No. 4 spot to Sho Nakata and was demoted to No. 5 and No. 6 in the batting order. Some say that his weight gain last offseason had an effect on his performance, but no one knows exactly what the cause is, and he is still struggling.
The transfer of a famous coach has been a blow.
The lack of someone around him who can give accurate advice is also said to be a reason for his prolonged poor form.
The Giants’ hitting coach is Fumigaku Yokogawa, but he is not a highly accomplished player and has a short coaching history. With all due respect, I don’t think he can give effective advice to the Giants’ main gun. Takuro Ishii, who was a fielding coach until last year, would have been able to stay close to the players and give them accurate advice, but he has moved to his old team, DeNA, this season. For the Giants, this is a big blow.
Manager Tatsunori Hara has been harsh on Okamoto, calling him a “big baby. It seems that he dares to keep his distance in order to berate his main gun. Okamoto is not the type who can express his emotions well. He is probably suffering from not being able to release his stress.
Tetsuto Yamada (30) of the Yakult baseball team is competing with Okamoto for the lowest batting average. He is one of the best hitters in the Central League, having won the home run crown once, the stolen base crown three times, and the most hits once. However, this season, like Okamoto, his batting average has hovered in the low .200s.
The new coronavirus he contracted in July seems to have taken its toll on him. Yamada has a very strong sense of responsibility as captain. When the corona infection caused a number of players to leave the team, Yakult’s maximum savings, which had been 28 at one point, was reduced by about 10. Yamada felt responsible and returned to the lineup even though his health had not fully recovered.
However, his batting average for the month of August was in the 10% range, perhaps because No. 4 Munetaka Murakami was fighting a solitary battle, and his desire to “do something about it” was spinning out of control. Yamada’s specialty is to play with all his might without cutting corners offensively or defensively, but he may be suffering from accumulated fatigue over the years.
When will the two big hitters get back on track? The Giants’ and Yakult’s prospects for the last half of the season will likely be greatly affected by Okamoto’s and Yamada’s performances.
Photo： Kyodo News