Matt Murton had originally hoped for just a single season in Japan. But the way he has played, the Hanshin Tigers may have other ideas.
Hanshin has an option to extend the right-handed-hitting outfielder's contract through 2011. Murton said he was a little hesitant about that clause, but after shuffling around the minors for a few seasons, he wasn't going to pass up on a chance for a full season of at-bats.
"I thought about it and decided that if I did come, I wanted to go all out," he said Friday at Jingu Stadium before Hanshin's game against the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
Murton started the season hot and has not really cooled off through the process of opposing teams adjusting to him.
Entering play Friday, he led the Central League in hits, and the second-place Tigers in batting average (.351), on-base percentage (.403), runs (95) and stolen bases (nine).
Being alert to changes in the pitching patterns is always part of the game, and Murton has become accustomed to looking for any pitch in any count and the knowledge that full counts are as routine as daily practice.
"You might get to a certain count and expect fastball, but here you might see anything," he said.
"It forces you to do things you didn't have to do in the past," said Murton, who is learning to change gears better.
"Slow yourself down where you're able to stay on offspeed pitches and not just be geared toward one pitch all the time. Most of the time in the States, you're going to get fastballs. Here you just never know."
The full counts, he believes, are a function of Japan's focus on control.
"Pitchers look to get ahead in counts and then look to get you to strike out [on pitches out of the zone]," he said. "As a hitter, there are going to be times when you're going to chase. But if you can find a way to lay off the ball, you're going to find yourself back into a full count.
"But when they fall behind...they have the ability to get back in the count. They'll throw any pitch in a 3-1 count to get back to a full count. I think that's one of the reasons you see as many deep counts here."
In a perfect world, the experience gained here might help him earn him another shot in the majors. Murton, a regular with the Chicago Cubs at the age of 24, isn't looking too far ahead.
"I don't even know if the team will want me back next year," he said.
If he continues to stay on his toes and produce, there is little chance Murton will be anywhere else in 2011.
Fernandez returns to Seibu
The Saitama Seibu Lions have acquired infielder Jose Fernandez, the team announced Friday.
The 35-year-old Fernandez, who played with the Lions from 2004-05, started his career in Japan with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2003. The Domincan native has played in 900 games and has a career .289 average, 174 homers and 591 RBIs here.
Fernandez, who was with the Orix Buffaloes last year, was playing in Mexico before signing with Seibu.