Hotaka Yamakawa is the hottest hitter in Japan, and his torrid run at the plate during the Golden Week holiday period could signal a return to glory for the former home run king.
Yamakawa sent five balls over the fences during a six-game homestand at Belluna Dome last week, nearly matching the eight homers he hit in 54 games at the Seibu Lions’ home park last season.
“I did not really hit at all here last year or the year before,” Yamakawa said after a 5-1 win over the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on Sunday. “So I especially wanted to hit here this time. I’m happy I hit five home runs.”
Two of those homers came on Sunday. The first was a two-run shot in the first inning, and Yamakawa then connected on a three-run homer in his next at-bat, in the third.
He drove in all five of the Lions’ runs, and the team improved to 11-0 this year in games when he hits a homer. It was also Yamakawa’s third two-homer game this season.
Yamakawa is hitting .372 at this early juncture and leads NPB with 14 home runs — no other PL player has more than six. His 31 RBIs tie him with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Munetaka Murakami for the most in Japan. Yamakawa is also currently in the middle of an 11-game hitting streak. He has been dangerous with runners in scoring position as well, with a .438 average and five homers in 20 plate appearances.
“I think the average and home runs are a product of his precise and compact swing,” Tsuji said.
The Lions star looks like he has busted out of a two-year slump during which he battled injuries and poor performance. Yamakawa batted just .205 in 102 games in 2020 and hit .232 in 110 last season.
Right now, however, the 30-year-old looks a lot like the hitter who hit 47 home runs in 2018 while leading Seibu to the Pacific League pennant and claiming MVP honors. His fast start has ignited hopes among fans that he can return to the top of the home run charts after taking the crown in the PL with a pair of 40-homer seasons in 2018 and 2019. Yamakawa is already more than halfway to his 2021 total of 24 homers.
He made some adjustments during the offseason after his poor 2021 campaign, paying careful attention to his hip placement and his ankles.
So far, he is reaping the benefits.
“He’s going into his at-bats with confidence,” Lions manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji said Sunday.
If Yamakawa maintains a good average — a part of his game he has said he wants to focus on — he will be in the thick of the MVP race at the end of the year.
Yamakawa’s early numbers are even more impressive considering he has only played in 22 games after missing 14 due to a thigh injury earlier in the year.
He was already playing at a high level after coming back from the injury, but caught fire over the Golden Week period from April 29 to May 8. He recorded 13 hits, six home runs and 12 RBIs for the Lions in nine games over that span.
He’s so hot that Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo sought him out before Sunday’s game to get some tips he could pass on to one of his young players, Chusei Manami.
Yamakawa has been doing everything right at the plate recently but still jokingly issued an apology after his big day on Sunday, when he used his regular bat instead of a special one for Mother’s Day.
“I hate doing different things,” Yamakawa said according to Nikkan Sports. “So I did not use the pink bat.”
Lions fans, however, won’t care what he uses as long as he continues to burn up the league at the plate.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.