FUKUOKA – Reigning Pacific League MVP Yuki Yanagita looked in midseason form on Sunday, when he homered twice and drove in six runs in a 10-3 preseason win over the Hiroshima Carp.
Yanagita, who grew up in Hiroshima as a fan of the Carp, hit his first homer off Carp legend Hiroki Kuroda in the first inning. The right-hander tried to go inside with a 2-1 fastball to the left-handed-hitting slugger, but missed up and over the plate. Yanagita drilled it five rows back into Yafuoku Dome’s remote permanent seats in left center.
“I felt he (Kuroda) had an aura. He looked big,” Yanagita said. “I couldn’t believe it went so far.”
Yanagita, who hit a career-high 34 homers last year and is aiming for 40 this season, drilled an RBI infield single in the third inning and walked in the fourth.
In his fourth plate appearance, against reliever Jumpei Ono, Yanagita put a compact swing on a fastball down the middle and once more reached the permanent seats in the opposite field. The homer was his Japan-best fifth of the preseason.
Yanagita had elbow surgery in the offseason that had prevented him from taking his usual place in center field. But with Opening Day approaching on Friday, Hawks manager Kimiyasu Kudo wanted his man to test himself in the outfield and has now started Yanagita in center the last two days.
“You could see he found his rhythm, fielding and hitting,” Kudo said.
If it was a joyous day for Yanagita, Kuroda was less than happy after allowing five runs in four innings.
“My condition was too awful,” said the 41-year-old former big leaguer who is scheduled to start the Carp’s second game of the season next Saturday.
Asked about all seven of the hits he allowed coming from left-handed hitters, Kuroda said it comes with the territory.
“Because I’m a right-hander, those kinds of results will happen . . . Going into the season like this is not OK.”