Baseball / Japanese Baseball | NPB NOTEBOOK

Potent Hiroshima lineup tearing up Central League in early going

by Jason Coskrey

The Hiroshima Carp look unstoppable. That’s a bit hyperbolic this early in the year, yes, but it doesn’t feel that way when the Carp have been busy taking apart opposing pitching staffs after falling behind by a run or two.

On Thursday night at Tokyo Dome, the Carp entered the ninth inning trailing by a run. They put seven on the board to win 11-5. On Wednesday, they were down 2-0 after the first inning and responded with two runs in the second and four in the third. The night before that, Hiroshima entered the sixth inning trailing 3-0 and proceeded to score six in the sixth and three more in the seventh.

“We have a great bunch of hitters who never give up,” said outfielder Yoshihiro Maru, who struck the tiebreaking blow Thursday night. “The come-from-behind victory is our specialty.”

Whether it’s catching teams from behind or simply front-running, the Hiroshima offense has been bludgeoning opposing pitchers for most of this young season. The team scored 80 runs in its first 12 games (and posted a 10-1-1 record), during which no other NPB team had more than 54. The Carp have already won seven games by three or more runs.

“We have a pretty good lineup top to bottom,” said slugger Brad Eldred, who hit two home runs on Wednesday night. “You’re going to get a lot of comebacks. It’s a tough lineup to pitch to. I think we have a lot of power throughout the whole lineup.”

Through Thursday, the Carp already had three players with 10 or more RBIs in Takahiro Arai (13), Eldred (11) and Seiya Suzuki (10), and Maru was right behind them with nine. The Giants and Hanshin Tigers were the only other CL teams that even had one such player.

“Honestly, they’re crushing the ball,” Carp pitcher Ryan Brasier said of the team’s hitters. “We’re scoring a lot of runs, putting them together at the right time.”

The Carp have weapons up and down the lineup, from players such as Kosuke Tanaka and Ryosuke Kikuchi, who can get on base and make things happen on the basepaths, to the players later in the order who can knock them in. The Carp led Japan with 649 runs scored last season, so this early burst looks less like a surprise and more like a team picking up where it left off.

Their ability to score will put pressure on opponents who fall behind early. It’s also going to make things stressful for teams trying to protect leads, because the Carp are never out of a game, and it doesn’t take much to get them going.

“I think we always have a chance to come back,” Eldred said. I think that’s kind of the identity of the team. I feel we come from behind a lot. I don’t think there’s any worries. We always have a good positive vibe going on and we always seem to put together some good at-bats.”

Golden age

Wednesday night in Japanese baseball was one for the old (in baseball years at least) guys. That night saw four teams use a cleanup hitter age 38 or older. Tadahito Iguchi (42) hit fourth for the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Hiroshima Carp’s Takahiro Arai (40), the Hanshin Tigers’ Kosuke Fukudome (39) and the Yomiuri Giants’ Shinnosuke Abe (38) all did the same.

Arai had the best night of the bunch, hitting a pair of home runs and helping lead his team to a victory. Abe also homered, while Fukudome had a double in his game and Iguchi finished with a single.

Long time coming

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters infielder Tatsuya Morimoto singled to center in his first at-bat on Thursday against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. It didn’t seem particularly special in the box score, but it was a base knock that was a long time coming.

Morimoto was finally making his ichi-gun debut after having been the Fighters’ second choice in the 2012 draft. He’s been plugging away on the farm team while the Fighters chosen directly ahead of and behind him, pitchers Shohei Otani and Yohei Kagiya (Thursday’s winning pitcher in relief), have made numerous appearances with the top team since being drafted.

Morimoto finally got his shot on Thursday, and ended up with a hit to make his first at-bat a memorable one. In that same game, 2015 draft pick Yushi Shimizu earned his first career RBI in the 3-2 win.

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