• Kyodo


Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch expressed hope Tuesday that Norichika Aoki’s contact hitting will be a plus to his boom-or-bust offense.

The Japanese outfielder signed with the Astros this offseason after the American League club claimed him on waivers. Speaking to reporters at baseball’s annual winter meetings outside Washington, Hinch praised the 34-year-old’s ability to put the bat on the ball.

“He’s hard to strike out,” Hinch said. “There was a great attraction to his at-bat quality that he could add to our feast-or-famine offense. We had a lot of guys swing and miss and a lot of guys hit home runs. Aoki was one of the toughest guys to get to swing and miss and one of the toughest outs in the big leagues.

“Adding that kind of balance to our order was very attractive.”

Aoki, who moved to the majors in 2012, spent two seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers but has been with four clubs since then. Last year with the Seattle Mariners, Aoki essentially duplicated his career figures, batting .283 with a .349 on-base percentage.

He didn’t hit lefties well in 2015, but he has throughout his career and Hinch wasn’t keen to label his new left fielder a platoon player.

“I plan on playing him quite a bit,” Hinch said. “He’s really good against right-handed pitching and he holds his own against lefties. We expect good at-bats and we expect a competent defender in the outfield.”

The Astros failed to make the playoffs this year after advancing to the AL divisional series in 2015.

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