Nobuhiro Matsuda's progress toward becoming the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks' everyday third baseman has had its ups and downs.
After a dominant interleague batting performance sealed his first appearance on the Pacific League All-Star team, Matsuda has struggled.
"The pitching in the Pacific League is just so good," Matsuda told The Daily Yomiuri at Seibu Dome on Wednesday.
Matsuda, who entered this season with a .215 interleague batting average, hit .298 against Central League pitching this spring with eight doubles and five home runs in 84 at-bats. Hawks outfielder Seiichi Uchikawa won the interleague MVP award, but Matsuda was more deserving.
Since PL play resumed on June 24, however, the 28-year-old slugger has floundered. In his first 43 at-bats, he managed three singles and a homer, while continuing to strike out in a fifth of his at-bats.
As a whole, however, his production this season is as good as it's ever been.
Matsuda's 13 home runs are second in the league behind the 22 of Saitama Seibu third baseman Takeya Nakamura. His 15 doubles are tied for second best in the PL behind Sho Nakata's 21 for Hokkaido Nippon Ham.
"There's nothing special [about this year]," he said. "I treat every game the same, go out and play hard."
Matsuda narrowly beat Nakamura in both the fans' and players' ballots for the PL All-Star team.
He turned pro out of Tokyo's Asia University, joining the Hawks as a premium pre-draft signing in 2005. Matsuda started the Hawks' first 33 games as a rookie. But when his average dipped to .211 in June, he was exiled to the farm for the remainder of the year. It was in the Western League in 2007 that Matsuda found his feet
At the age of 24, he hit .331 with nine homers in 139 minor league at-bats and returned to the first team the next season with a bang.
Matsuda played 142 games with 17 home runs in 2008. He was the only PL batter to homer off Hisashi Iwakuma, that year's Sawamura Award winner.
Since then, however, it's been one step forward, one step back. His 2009 season ended on July 18 when a pitch from Lotte's Yuki Karakawa broke a bone in his right wrist.
In May 2010, he was batting .289 with 27 RBIs and 28 runs in 41 games when he broke a bone in his left wrist. Matsuda came back at the end of June but didn't hit well and started a number of games at first base and in left field.
The difference this year?
"I'm healthy," he said.
Through Thursday, Matsuda had started each of the Hawks' 63 games.
Asked when he actually felt the third base job really belonged to him, he said, "That's a recent development.
"It has taken a long time to get here."
In other baseball news:
--The Yokohama BayStars asked the commissioner to remove pitcher Brent Leech from the restricted list on Friday.
Leach, whose wife is pregnant, left Japan for personal reasons after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The BayStars placed him on the restricted list when he failed to return in April.
The team is hoping the lefty, who met with team officials in Yokohama upon his return to Japan, will be able to step into the starting rotation.