There aren’t many ways to fool Brad Eldred any more. Eldred has been in Japan for four seasons and is currently working on a fifth with the Hiroshima Carp, so he’s almost seen it all.
The majority of Eldred’s time has been spent playing the other five Central League teams, with brief interludes for interleague play, which has allowed him to build up a sense of familiarity with the league’s pitchers.
“You get to know the pitchers a lot more,” he told The Japan Times. “You kind of know what they’re trying to do to you and the way each team likes to pitch you. Every team likes to pitch me a little bit differently, so you kind of have a good idea what you’re coming into when you come into a series.”
While the reverse should also hold true, CL hurlers haven’t been able to figure out what to do with Eldred this year. They can’t stray too far over the plate, because he might hit it out. Lately, Eldred has taken the inside of the plate away, adjusting his approach, focusing on putting the ball in play, and oftentimes getting positive outcomes.
Eldred is hitting .345 through 23 games, good for third in the CL. He had a 16-game hitting streak earlier in the season and has 30 hits overall to go with six home runs and 14 RBIs. He’s been walked nine times and also has a stolen base.
While opposing pitchers are keeping him in the park for the most part, Eldred is taking what they give him, getting on base and keeping the Carp in innings. Which allows one of his teammates to do some damage when he can’t.
“I feel I’ve been doing a pretty good job as far as getting good swings on good pitches,” Eldred said. “I’ve been trying to have more of a two-strike approach earlier in counts instead of being too aggressive. I think a lot of the time when I’m trying see the ball a little deeper and see the ball a little longer, I’m getting a little more contact. Not as many home runs, but it’s creating more base hit opportunities.
“I still want to be aggressive early in counts and try to get a good pitch to drive and get it out in front, but they’ve been pitching me pretty tough,” Eldred said. “It’s been hard to get anything out over the plate.
“I feel like where I’ve been doing a pretty good job is getting base hits on the inside pitches, just kind of pulling it through, pulling the hands in and just going that way. Not trying to do too much with it. That’s kind of been the key.”
Eldred is known mostly for his home runs in Japan. He’s hit 86 since joining the Carp in 2012, including a 37-homer year in 2014. While pitchers have tried to use his aggressiveness against him, Eldred has turned the tables by being more patient, even if instinct is pushing him to do the opposite.
“They (opposing pitchers) like to show in hard, try to get you off the plate, soft away, what every pitcher does to a bigger home run hitter type,” Eldred said. “So I think the better results are from laying off the ones that are off the plate and inside and trying get more in a squared-in zone over the plate.”
Whether he’s knocking balls out of the park or keeping his team in innings, Eldred is just hoping to help the Carp bounce back from a disappointing 2015 season. The team was expected by many to challenge for the Central League pennant but instead faded to a 69-71-3 fourth-place finish. The Carp lost ace Kenta Maeda to the major leagues, but Eldred said the club entered the season in a good frame of mind and with a lot of confidence.
“I think we still have a really good team,” he said. “We lost Maeda but overall we have a lot of good young players, we have a lot of good solid players. It showed to start the year, our hitting is going to be solid. We’re going to score a lot of runs. That seems to be the tough thing to do here in Japan. The pitchers are usually pretty tough, but I think we have a pretty solid lineup.”
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