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Nakamura thriving despite new baseball


Staff Writer

Takeya Nakamura is making a mockery of the NPB’s new ball.

Earlier this year, one Central League slugger wondered aloud whether or not anyone would make it to 30 home runs.

The better question is, can Okawari-kun hit 50?

While many players are struggling with the effect the new ball — which doesn’t carry as far — has had on power numbers, Nakamura is actually thriving.

Going into Sunday’s games, the Seibu Lions star had an NPB-leading 26 homers and was on pace to hit 54.

He’s swatting balls out at a torrid pace, leading Japanese baseball with an 11.5 home run rate. The next best, among players with at least 200 at-bats entering Sunday were Tokyo Yakult’s Wladimir Balentien’s 16.2 and Yokohama’s Terrmel Sledge’s 19.7.

The way Nakamura’s mashing, 40 is a real possibility and 50, while extreme, can’t be completely ruled out.

In his last two fairly healthy years (2008 and 2009) he played 143 and 128 games, respectively. He finished the ’08 season with 46 homers, or one every 12.8 at-bats. In ’09 he hit 48 and registered a rate of 11.7.

So it’s feasible to think he could keep his home run rate under 13, which would give him a great shot at breaking at least 40.

Nakamura seems to have lapsed back into his 2009 form. That year he hit .285 and drove in 122 runs in addition to leading Japan in homers.

He missed all but 85 games of 2010 after injuring his hand, but he’s up to his old tricks again. Which makes his play seem more akin to him naturally getting better, than a fluke.

It’s not just the long ball pitchers have to fear either. Nakamura has started to come around at the plate, drawing more walks and raising his average from .234 on May 31 to .271 on Sunday. Nakamura also led Japan with 53 RBIs and an .982 OPS.

He had an abnormally high .316 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) in 2009. So it’s unlikely he’ll repeat a .285 batting average if he trends closer to his to his career BABIP of .276.

Still, anything close would mean one heck of a show for Lions fans.

Little help please: Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles pitcher Masahiro Tanaka shut down the league-leading Fukuoka Softbank Hawks on Thursday, throwing 10 shutout innings and striking out nine.

He picked a bad night for his heroics, as an inept Eagles offense scratched out just one hit over 12 innings of a scoreless tie. Which meant Tanaka didn’t earn a decision for his efforts.

It’s not the first time that’s happened this month.

Chunichi Dragons hurler Kazuki Yoshimi tossed 10 scoreless against the Hanshin Tigers on July 7 and finished outside the decision when the Dragons went on to lose to Hanshin in 11 innings.

Road warrior: Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters outfielder Yoshio Itoi is hitting .328 with 13 doubles and eight home runs and was recently named to the Pacific League All-Star team.

Sapporo Dome fans must be estatic with his play, but he’s really done the bulk of his damage on the road.

Through 33 road games, Itoi’s batting average/on-base percentage/slugging numbers were .359/.476/.566 vs. .301/.379/.415 at home.