If Nippon Professional Baseball is serious about speeding up games this season, it should stop Makoto Kaneko from batting.
It takes less time to just let him start from second base.
The Hokkaido Nippon Ham shortstop is off to a scorching start to the season and he’s mainly doing it with an eye-catching number of doubles.
Through 14 games, Kaneko leads Japanese baseball with 12 two-baggers, five more than anyone else. That total is also four less than he had in 96 games last season.
The Fighters star looks well on his way to shattering his career high of 26, which he reached during the 2006 season when he helped lead the team to the Japan Series title.
Should he stay at or near his current pace, he would be a threat to Yoshitomo Tani’s record of 52, set during the 2001 season with the Orix Blue Wave.
Kaneko went on a tear with three doubles against the Seibu Lions on Sunday, including one in the ninth inning which drove in the go-ahead run in the 8-6 victory.
“Everyone talks about doubles,” Kaneko told reporters following that game. “But I’m not concerned with doubles. If people keep saying that, I get worried about hitting doubles. So please don’t say that.”
Kaneko has been one of the driving forces behind Nippon Ham’s suddenly high-octane attack at the plate.
Through 14 games, he’s batting a Japanese-baseball best .510 with two home runs and 15 RBIs. He’s recorded at least one hit in five of his last six games and posted RBIs in all five of those contests.
Earlier in the year he set a new Japanese baseball record by hitting at least one double in seven consecutive games. The seventh came with the bases loaded and drove in three runs in an 11-5 win over Orix on April 15.
Even though Kaneko is the league’s current standard-bearer in doubles, he’s far from the only Fighters player with double vision this season.
As a team Nippon Ham has 41 doubles, far ahead of the pace set by the 2003 Chiba Lotte Marines, who hold the single-season record with 283. The Fighters have had at least one double in each of their 14 games this season.
They tied the PL record for doubles with nine in a single game against the Lions on Sunday behind contributions from Kaneko (3), Eiichi Koyano (2), Atsunori Inaba, Yoshio Itoi, Shinji Takahashi and Tomochika Tsuboi.
That tied them with the 1955 Nankai Hawks, 1990 Daiei Hawks, 2004 Blue Wave and the ’04 edition of the Fighters, who all achieved the feat.
The Japanese baseball record is 15, set by the 1948 Yomiuri Giants.
“The ball goes to ideal places where nobody is fielding,” Kaneko said Sunday. “We have been able to do that naturally.”