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[NPB NOTEBOOK] Newcomer Elier Hernandez Off to a Sizzling Start for Yomiuri Giants

The former Texas Ranger kicked off his Yomiuri Giants career by hitting safely in eight straight games, including three straight games with three or more hits.

Elier Hernandez is off to an impressive start with the Central League's Yomiuri Giants.

Hernandez, a 29-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, made his debut with the Giants on Tuesday, May 28 and has been on a hitting tear ever since.

In eight games with the Giants through June 5, Hernandez is batting .441 with 15 hits, including two homers, and nine RBIs. He has eight strikeouts and two walks. 

Hernandez played briefly for the Texas Rangers in 2022, but he has otherwise spent his career in the minor leagues. In 14 games with the Rangers that year, Hernandez had six hits in 33 at-bats for a .182 batting average.

The Dominican was penciled into the lineup for Yomiuri's first interleague game of the season on May 28 and got a single to left for his first hit in Japan in the third inning against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. SoftBank won the game 2-0.

Yomiuri Giants
Yomiuri Giants slugger Elier Hernandez rounds the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning on May 30. (©SANKEI)

On Wednesday, June 5, Hernandez had his third consecutive game with three or more hits, the 20th player in Giants history to achieve the feat. The last player to do it was Alex Ramirez in 2009.

Hernandez is the first non-Japanese hitter in Yomiuri Giants club history to start off his career with a hit in eight consecutive games. The previous club record of six by a non-Japanese player was held by Lu Ming-tsu, also known in Japan as Meishi Ro (1998) and Phil Bradley (1991).

Yomiuri Giants
Yomiuri Giants outfielder Elier Hernandez participates in a post-game hero interview on May 30 at Tokyo Dome. (©SANKEI)

Impressions of Yomiuri Giants Newcomer

As luck would have it, Ramirez was at Wednesday's game against Lotte and said he was impressed by Yomiuri's new gaijin tsuketto (foreign helper).

"He's a player who has a compact swing and doesn't swing wildly at pitches," Ramirez told reporters.

Ramirez added, "He has enough power to hit home runs and he's a batter who can adapt to Japanese pitchers. I think his addition is a big deal for the Giants."

His presence must be having an impact. As of Wednesday, June 5, the Giants had moved into first place in the Central League standings with a record of 28 wins, 24 losses and four tie games. They are also a respectable 5-3 in interleague games.

Over the years, the Giants have often struggled to find gaijin players who can fit in to the rather rigid requirements of playing for Japan's most popular team. 

Some have succeeded but many have wilted under the pressure. It will be interesting to see how Hernandez holds up this summer with the Kyojin.

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Tokyo Yakult Swallows southpaw starter Masanori Ishikawa pitches to a Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles batter on June 2 in Sendai. (©SANKEI)

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Ishikawa Extends Win Streak

Veteran pitcher Masanori Ishikawa picked up a win on Sunday, June 2 to extend a significant longevity streak.

Ishikawa went five innings in a rain-shortened interleague game, a result that gave him a win in each of his 23 pro seasons as his Tokyo Yakult Swallows beat the Pacific League's Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles 4-0.

When the game was called after five innings, the 44-year-old lefty recorded his first shutout in nine years after striking out one and giving up four hits with no walks at Rakuten Mobile Park Miyagi. He improved to 1-1 on the season.

With the win, Ishikawa's ERA dropped 2.00 and his career record stands at 186 wins and 186 losses.

Swallows pitcher Masanori Ishikawa poses with team mascot Tsubakuro for a commemorative photo after winning a game for the 23rd consecutive season on June 2. (©SANKEI)

"If I'm asked which win is the sweetest, it's always the most recent win," Ishikawa told reporters after the game. "My next goal will be to win 14 more games to get to 200 wins."

Ishikawa tied the record for consecutive seasons with a win shared by Hall of Famers Kimiyasu Kudo and Masahiro Yamamoto as well as current Yokohama DeNA BayStars manager Daisuke Miura.

He also becomes just the fifth pitcher in NPB history to get a win at 44 years or older.

The Chiba Lotte Marines celebrate Aito Takeda's walk-off double in the 11th inning against the Hanshin Tigers on June 1 at Zozo Marine Stadium. Takeda (50) stands in the middle of the crowd with his arms raised high. (©SANKEI)

Marines Marching On

It's been quite a season so far for the Chiba Lotte Marines.

The Marines are the first team in NPB history to tie four consecutive games in the ninth inning to force extra innings.

On June 1, the Marines tied their game against the Hanshin Tigers at 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth inning at Zozo Marine Stadium on a double by Atsuki Tomosugi.

Marines shortstop Atsuki Tomosugi hits a game-tying double against the Tigers on June 1 at Zozo Marine Stadium. (©SANKEI)

It was the fourth straight game in which they tied the score in the bottom of the ninth.

The Marines then won the game on a pinch hit double by Aito Takeda in the 11th inning as Lotte won its 11th straight game for the first time in 19 years. 

On Friday, May 31, the Marines leveled the score in the ninth against the Tigers and then won 5-4 in the 10th inning.

The previous day, Lotte tied it in the ninth and their game against Yakult ended in a 3-3 tie after 12 innings.  That followed a game on May 29 in which Lotte pulled even in the ninth against the Swallows. That game also finished in a 3-3 draw after 12.

Through Wednesday, June 5, the Marines had moved into second place in the Pacific League standings with a record of 28 wins, 20 losses and five ties, six games back of the front-running Hawks.

Hiroshima Carp reliever Daisuke Moriura in action against the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on June 1 at Mizuho PayPay Dome (KYODO)

Moriura's Immaculate Inning

Hiroshima Carp pitcher Daisuke Moriura threw a rare "immaculate" inning against the Hawks in the seventh inning on June 1 at Fukuoka's Mizuho PayPay Dome.

Lefty Moriura struck out Tatsuru Yanagimachi on three straight strikes and then did the same thing against Naoki Sato and Kenta Imamiya. That's three batters, nine pitches.

In NPB, it was the first time this happened since Yuta Muto of the Chunichi Dragons achieved the feat in September of 2014. 

The Hawks, however, won the game 2-0.

It was all the more impressive given that in his previous outing on May 30, Moriura gave up three runs on four hits in the ninth inning of an 8-2 loss to the Orix Buffaloes.

The Carp even came up with a special T-shirt to commemorate the achievement. Moriura became just the 19th pitcher in NPB to throw an immaculate inning.

Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters pitcher Sachiya Yamasaki slaps an RBI single in the fourth inning against the Hanshin Tigers on May 30 at Koshien Stadium. (©SANKEI)

Yamasaki a Big Factor for Nipponham

One of the contributing factors to the success of the Hokkaido Nipponham Fighters this season has been their pitching and Sachiya Yamasaki is a standout in the rotation.

Yamasaki revisited his days as a high school star when he went seven scoreless innings and also had an RBI single in the Fighters' 6-0 interleague win over the Tigers at Koshien Stadium on May 30.

In his high school days, Yamasaki tied a tournament record with 13 hits as his team's slugging ace at the 2010 National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament. 

So he felt right at home against Hanshin when he lined a high fastball for a single that drove in the game's first run.

"Coming back to [Koshien] and playing for all of you brought back memories of my amateur days, [and] it's the ultimate feeling," Yamasaki said, according to Kyodo News.

Yamasaki struck out eight while walking two and allowing just three hits against the defending Japan Series champions. He improved to 6-1 since leaving the three-time defending Pacific League champion Orix Buffaloes as a free agent in the off-season.

Sachiya Yamasaki (©SANKEI)

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Author: Jim Armstrong

The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for over 25 years. You can find his articles on SportsLook.

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