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Aoki eyes big impact on return to American League

Kyodo

Outfielder Norichika Aoki said Sunday he wants to return to the American League with a bang this year.

“I want to win an individual title this year, either a batting or stolen base crown,” the 34-year-old Aoki said after training in Tokyo.

Aoki signed a one-year deal with the Seattle Mariners in December and will enter his fifth big league season in the AL after spending 2015 in the National League with the San Francisco Giants.

Although he won three batting titles in Japan’s Central League and was productive in the leadoff spot the last two seasons, Aoki has yet to bat .300 in the majors. Aoki’s career high in average is .288, when he finished 20th in the NL with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2012. He stole 30 bases that season, to finish ninth in the league.

On Sunday, Aoki took batting practice one-handed, alternating between gripping the bat with his left and right hand, and also did extensive work off a tee.

“I know what I need to do to hit more,” said Aoki, one of few major leaguers whose game is about targeting and hitting the ball to different parts of the field.

Last year, Aoki’s season was derailed by errant pitches. On June 20, a pitch broke a bone in his right leg, and sidelined him for five weeks. On Aug. 9, he was hit in the head by a pitch that triggered concussion symptoms and ended his season early.

“Even though I’ve been training hard, I’ve had no signs (of concussion),” said Aoki, who is 153 hits shy of having 2,000 hits combined from his time in the majors and Nippon Professional Baseball.

“If I do what I usually do, I’ll clear those figures.”