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Inaba, Kokubo should be among next to reach 2,000 hits

by Jason Coskrey

Michihiro Ogasawara finally ascended into the 2,000-hit club on May 5, getting the job done with a single up the middle against Hanshin Tigers pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi.

So as the club welcomes its newest member, the next question becomes, who’s next?

Exempting the four active players to have already reached the milestone (active hits leader Takuro Ishii, Tomoaki Kanemoto, Tomonori Maeda and Ogasawara) there are seven current players with at least 1,700 hits.

The players to reach 2,000 in the near future will come from this group, though upon further inspection, it’s likely not all of them will make it.

Going down the list in order, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks infielder Hiroki Kokubo (1,883 career hits) and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters star Atsunori Inaba (1,867) should both get to 2,000.

Kokubo is aging and the injury bug is biting, but there is enough life left in his bat to make it to the finish line sometime next season at the latest.

Inaba might actually get there this year if health issues don’t drag him down.

The Fighters veteran is still going strong and coming off back-to-back 150-hit years. Inaba has finished with at least 112 hits in each of the last seven years, playing an average of 132 games per season over that span.

Like the above-mentioned, Tokyo Yakult Swallows veteran Shinya Miyamoto (1,861) is worthy of virtual-lock status, having had at least 129 hits, and playing in more than 116 games each of the last four years. If not next season, Miyamoto should be celebrating in 2012.

Our next stop brings up the first real question mark in Chunichi Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige.

Tanishige has 1,824 hits, but hasn’t had a 100-hit year since 2006. He’s also trending downward, finishing with 90, 77, 62 and 75 hits from 2007-2010.

Also troubling is the beating he takes behind the plate for a team that’s already sitting pretty in terms of corner infielders.

Tanishige, may ease his way to the mark, but it will be a laborious journey.

Yomiuri Giants outfielder Yoshitomo Tani is next on the active list with 1,820 hits, but is a longshot to reach 2,000.

The Kyojin are bursting at the seams in terms of talent and Tani’s chances of being in the starting lineup on an everyday basis seem to be a thing of the past.

Talent-wise Tani can get it done, but unless he changes uniforms the plate appearances might not be there.

Rounding out the top 10 on the active list is another Giants player who should be a lock, Alex Ramirez.

Ramirez (1,738) is still raking at 35 years old and at his current pace should reach the goal sometime in late 2012 or 2013.

Ramirez is locked in on that goal and doesn’t want to be remembered as having 2,000 hits combined between his career in MLB and NPB. Having risen to superstardom in Japan, the Kyojin slugger wants to record 2,000 hits in Japanese baseball alone.

The final player with at least 1,700 hits, and another who may not make it the rest of the way, is Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles slugger Takeshi Yamasaki.

Yamasaki currently has 1,721 hits. He’s also 42 years old and rapidly declining.

Reunited with his old manager Senichi Hoshino this year, the veteran has showed vigor in the early stages of 2011.

His skills are leaving him though, and his value with his bat and his glove is something the team will have the assess in the very near future.

Possessing a decent power stroke, Yamasaki will remain a major player for the Eagles this year.

Still, at this stage in his career, it’s likely Yamasaki will run out of gas on the road to 2,000.