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Healthy Takahashi hits it big again

by John E. Gibson (Aug 18, 2011)

For the Yomiuri Giants, Yoshinobu Takahashi's reemergence must feel like hitting the lottery.

The veteran, who has missed more than 300 games over the past 10 seasons, has helped fuel a Yomiuri rise from fifth place to second in the Central League.

Takahashi, an outfielder by trade who has played nine games at first base to save wear and tear on an injury-riddled body, is on a hot streak that corresponds with Yomiuri's recent success.

Through Tuesday, he is hitting .346 and slugging .654 with five homers and 10 RBIs since play resumed after the All-Star break on July 26, helping lead the charge for the Giants, who are 12-5-2 during that span.

A career .297 hitter, the Chiba native's production has never been questioned. His ability to stay on the field, however, has always been in question. He was deactivated in May with three fractured ribs, but has come back strong.

"He's one of the best players in the Central League, very good hitter," said 11th-year star Alex Ramirez, whose consecutive games played streak ended last month at 985. "He gets hurt a lot, but he's that good. If he plays every day, he's capable of putting up 20 to 25 home runs, hitting .300--he's one of those players," Ramirez said Saturday at Tokyo Dome.

"It's been kind of hard for him to just stay healthy. That's the main reason why it's hard to see him on the field every day. But when he's healthy, the guy can produce, he can help the team."

Takahashi, who has played in 51 of the team's 93 games, has a newfound appreciation for being on the field.

"I'm not doing anything in particular as far as training goes, just continuing to do what has gotten me back on the field," said the 36-year-old, who isn't taking his recent hot streak for granted.

"I'm just extremely happy just to be able to go out there and play in games every day," he said. "I'm doing well at the moment and I'll try to keep it going as long as I can."

Takahashi belted a career-best 35 homers when he played in 133 games in 2007, but he was slowed to 91 games the next season. After appearing in just one game--actually, just one plate appearance--in 2009, he was limited to 116 games last year.

He has appeared in every game in only one season, back in 2001, when he played 140.

In recent years, shoulder and back injuries have gnawed away at his playing time. As Takahashi pointed out, it takes just a moment to get injured, but the recovery period can be lengthy.

"It takes patience," he said. "It's a demanding process, but you don't get better instantly, you have to be satisfied with making small strides and just keep working patiently."

Ramirez, a two-time league MVP, and second-year standout Hisayoshi Chono have locked down two spots in the outfield, but Takahashi has used his bat to nudge his way over some young speedsters and into the mix.

"He's been getting a lot of opportunity recently," Ramirez said. "He should be playing, especially against righties, but we have so many outfielders. Even though we have so many outfielders, he should be one of the guys there."

As long as he's healthy, that is.


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