Tetsuya Matsumoto is not the big reason the Giants are setting the Central League pace this season. The unheralded 1.70-meter outfielder, however, has found playing time and success on a roster that shouldn't have room for small fry.
A speedy center fielder with a strong arm and a .343 on-base percentage as of Sunday, Matsumoto first caught manager Tatsunori Hara's attention as a developmental player who hustled his way onto the regular roster in the spring of 2007.
But soon after signing his top-flight contract, Matsumoto cracked under pressure, lost his batting stroke and found himself spending his first year on the farm team.
"I felt I had no room for error," he said Sunday at Tokyo Dome.
Matsumoto got another chance in May 2008, but broke a bone trying to leg out a hit in his first at-bat.
"I was in shock after that, just getting promoted, and now this," he said. "I knew I had a lot of catching up to do and would need to practice as well as I could."
Matsumoto bounced back into farm action in August and worked overtime over the winter.
"Because batting is my weakness, I just swung and swung and swung," he said. "I also tried to build up my strength.
"My balance at the plate is better and I'm better able to stay back on pitches. I feel like I have some margin for error now."
Last season, pitcher Tetsuya Yamaguchi, the second Giants player to graduate from a developmental contract after Matsumoto, was named CL rookie of the year. His success highlighted Hara's commitment to players who get results, regardless of their pecking order in the organization.
Asked if he felt lucky to be where he was, Matsumoto said the atmosphere on the farm had been very positive.
"We know we have a chance with this team, that it's up to us to show something," said Matsumoto, who was one of five Giants position players making an Opening Day roster for the first time. Matsumoto came off the bench for the first two weeks before getting a chance to start on April 19 in Nagoya.
A week ago against the BayStars, Matsumoto showed something he wished he hadn't. With a suicide squeeze play on, he tried to bunt his way on and instead bunted into a double play.
"That was all my fault," he said. "I thought I could get it past the pitcher. But that wasn't a situation for me to be messing around."
The following day Matsumoto was out working on squeeze bunts standing a meter away from the plate, although he said it was just one of his regular routines.
"I do that now and then, but I was thinking about that [failed] bunt," he said. "I can't spend a lot of time thinking about it, though."
Despite his double suicide, Matsumoto was back in the lineup the next night. He drew two walks, had two singles, scored twice and drove in a run in a 10-4 win over the Chunichi Dragons.
"Right now, I feel like I have a little room for error and that makes all the difference."