Kenta Ishida, one of two young lefties at the heart of the Yokohama BayStars’ pitching renaissance, was announced as the Central League’s May pitcher of the month on Tuesday.
But Ishida was just one of four first-time winners as unheralded Hanshin Tigers catcher Fumihito Haraguchi was the CL’s player of the month.
The Pacific League awards went to Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks closer Dennis Sarfate and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters third baseman Brandon Laird.
Ishida, a 23-year-old who was the BayStars’ second draft pick in 2014, went 4-0 in four starts, allowing one run in 27 innings while striking out 24 and walking four. He and rookie top draft pick Shota Imanaga have made a huge contribution toward the BayStars’ CL-best 3.06 ERA.
Ishida, whose rookie season was affected by elbow pain he experienced in his senior year at Hosei University, didn’t make his first-team debut until last July. Still, he pitched effectively over 71-2/3 innings.
“I came into this season determined to do everything I had to do,” Ishida said on Saturday. “During the season, I don’t pay much mind to numbers, but people around me began talking about the number of innings I’d thrown (without allowing a run), and I had to notice it. Obviously, we have a long way to go but I want to maintain this image in my head and go on to have a good season.
“I didn’t pitch the way I thought I could in April, ruined some games we should have won. If my pitching has matured, it’s because I was able to rethink various things that had an impact the following month.”
A year ago, while he was getting fit, right-hander Yasuaki Yamasaki, the BayStars’ No. 1 pick in Ishida’s draft class, was making a name for himself en route to winning the Rookie of the Year Award.
“Last year, when Yasuaki succeeded as the closer, my emotions were mixed between joy and frustration. Mostly, I was happy for him and cheered him on. But I also really didn’t want to be surpassed. But little by little I turned that feeling into positive motivation.”
This year, Ishida was in danger of being surpassed by Imanaga. Imanaga pitched great from the start of the season, but Yokohama scored only six runs in his first five starts.
In May, with better run support, Imanaga went 4-0 with an ERA of 0.68, just a shade higher than Ishida’s 0.33.
“I was also conscious about Imanaga’s success, but rather than be down about it, he, too, is motivating me with his performance. And because we’re both lefties, we have a bond that extends off the field. We push each other and we support each other,” Ishida said.
The 24-year-old Haraguchi, whose .380 batting average in May led both leagues and hit five homers, literally came out of nowhere. He is the first hitter of the month to begin his career on a developmental contract.
“We always knew he could hit,” Tigers batting coach Tom O’Malley told Kyodo News last month. “The question was finding a position for him.”
In the PL, Laird led the nation with 12 home runs, while batting .326 with 21 RBIs. It was just another step on Laird’s path after he turned his season around last July.
“Last year, I was below .200 with eight home runs,” Laird said. “Last year helped a lot. I’m more familiar with the league and with the pitchers. It really helped my confidence.”
Sarfate, who went 0-1 but set a league record for saves in a month with 12, recorded his 150th save in Japan on May 31. He was a surprise selection over Hawks starter Shota Takeda (4-0, 2.23 ERA) since the award rarely goes to a reliever unless there are no starting pitchers with three or more wins.