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Hiroshima’s Maru has learned a walk is as good as a hit

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Yoshihiro Maru is getting on base more by swinging his bat less.

The Hiroshima Carp outfielder is still pretty good at the plate, but after refining his approach the 25-year-old has become a more selective hitter and is beginning to draw more and more walks. It’s something he added to his game last season that so far has carried over into 2014.

“It’s not my goal to draw walks,” Maru told The Japan Times, “but if it continues to result in good outcomes, I’ll keep doing it.”

Maru walked twice during Sunday’s 10-0 drubbing of the Yomiuri Giants and is third in the Central League with 28 walks, six fewer than Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien, who leads the CL with 34.

But Balentien is a 185-cm, 100-kg, walking home-run factory, and big, strong, walking home-run factories tend to be walked on occasion.

Maru, on the other hand, has never hit more than 14 home runs in any of his three full seasons and has to work a bit harder to get a free ride to first. For him, it’s about plate discipline and not swinging at pitches in difficult-to-reach spots. More or less, he’s used the same formula that’s helped keep Hanshin Tigers shortstop Takashi Toritani, even less of a power threat than Maru, among the leaders in walks the last several seasons.

“I’m patient and I try not to swing at difficult strikes,” Maru said. “I have it in my mind what pitches I want to hit and those I shouldn’t swing at until there are two strikes.

“I’m not saying that I’m always looking to draw a walk. When a pitch is in a good location, I’ll try to hit it even if it’s the first pitch. I’m determined to hit balls in good locations, and to not swing at the tough ones.”

Maru drew 92 walks over the course of 251 games from 2010-2012, his first three professional seasons. He then nearly matched that total in 2013 alone, walking 85 times — fourth most in the CL and just one shy of a tie for third place — over the course of 140 games.

Maru is .299 with a .404 on-base percentage, six home runs and 20 RBIs, so he’s hardly contributing through walks alone, but the fact he’s on base more has given the Carp’s other hitters more chances to make something good happen.

“With him getting on base, it just creates a lot of different things,” said Carp slugger Brad Eldred, who usually hits behind Maru and is also tied for the CL lead with 15 home runs. “You put the pitcher in the stretch, which a lot of pitchers aren’t as good from the stretch, though some guys only pitch from the stretch, and you’ve got them worried about the runner. So sometimes they might just leave that pitch over the plate a little bit more than they might have wanted to, and that’s the mistake pitch that you hit.”

Maru can also be an effective base-stealer, he has seven stolen bases, and is a smart baserunner, which makes him that much more dangerous once he’s on base.

“That helps me a lot I think,” said Eldred, who has an NPB-best 47 RBIs. “I feel like he’s put me in a lot of situations to drive guys in. He’s getting on second base quite a bit, so it’s always creating an RBI situation for me if I get a base hit. If I just get a single, then we’ve got two guys out there. So it’s been a big deal to have him in that spot.”

For his part, Maru says his goal in every at-bat is to get a hit and get on base, but that if opposing pitchers want to put him there themselves, he’ll gladly take the free pass.

“I’m not the type of player who hits home runs and gets a lot of RBIs,” Maru said. “I’m more of a player who gets on base and scores. So I think it’s important to get on base not just by hitting, but also by drawing walks.”