For pitchers facing shortstops, usually the main worry is letting them get on base, where their speed can create problems.
Against Hayato Sakamoto lately, just keeping the ball in the park can be considered a victory.
In his third full season, the Yomiuri Giants star is developing into quite the power hitter and becoming an outlier among a group of players generally known more for their small ball aspects than slugging. Among the current crop of shortstops, Sakamoto is the only one with over 20 home runs.
Sakamoto’s sayonara shot against the Yokohama BayStars on Tuesday was his 30th of the season home run. He hit No. 31 the very next night against the BayStars.
At 22 years old, he’s the youngest shortstop in NPB history to hit at least 30 home runs in a single season.
Overall, only 10 players age 22 or younger have had a 30-homer season. Kazuhiro Kiyohara is the youngest to do so, hitting 31 as a 19-year-old for the Seibu Lions in 1986.
Among Giants players, only Sadaharu Oh and Hideki Matsui, who each hit 38 at age 22 in 1962 and ’96, respectively, have reached 30 at such a young age.
Sakamoto has been able to come through in the clutch as well, his blast on Tuesday making him the 15th player to hit at least three sayonara home runs in the same season.
His power makes him one of the more dangerous leadoff men in Japanese baseball, and his speed makes him a legitimate threat to steal when on base (he has 12 this season).
Sakamoto is still developing and his best years might be in front of him. Entering Thursday’s games, he had 57 career home runs and was a .292 hitter.
He has made strides in his fielding and where he’s lost a little on his batting average, he made up by adding some power.
The young shortstop has long been considered one of the Giants stars of the future, but he’s fast becoming one of the top players of the present.
Two hundred-hit club: Hanshin Tigers outfielder Matt Murton slugged his way into the record books on Thursday afternoon, notching his 200th hit of the season with a home run against the Chunichi Dragons.
Murton becomes the fourth player in NPB history to record a 200-hit season.
Ichiro Suzuki owns the single-season record with 210 hits in 1994 for the Orix BlueWave, Alex Ramirez had 204 in 2007 for the Yakult Swallows and Norichika Aoki, another Swallow, had 202 in 2005.
Those four may soon welcome one more to the club as Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka currently has 198.
Aoki is also in the mix with 197, leaving him three away from away from becoming the first NPB player to have two 200-hit seasons.
Both the Tigers and Swallows have 11 games remaining on the schedule, giving Murton and Aoki a real shot at challenging Ichiro’s single-season record. The Marines have just five games remaining.
Shorter seasons prevent NPB players from reaching the 200-hit plateau as much as their MLB counterparts. Though it should be noted Ichiro’s record-setting total in 2004 came during a 135-game campaign.
Three the hard way: Nishioka may not top Ichiro’s single-season hits record (though he still has a chance) but he’s already tied one of the former BlueWave star’s other marks.
On Tuesday, Nishioka went 3-for-6 in a win over the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, to record his 26th three-hit game (or modasho) of the season. That ties the Lotte captain with Ichiro (who had 26 in 1996) for the most in a single season.
Ichiro would seem to still have the upper hand, however, as it took Nishioka 138 games to tie the record. Ichiro did it in 124 games.