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Iguchi's simple approach paying dividends

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Iguchi's simple approach paying dividends

by Jim Allen (Jun 10, 2011)

Tadahito Iguchi may be 10 years older than when he won his first Pacific League Best IX Award, but it's hard to tell from his production at the plate.

The way the Chiba Lotte Marines second baseman has been hitting, one could be misled into thinking the game gets easier with age.

What's his secret?

"At this stage, I try to ignore extraneous thoughts, keep things simple," the 36-year-old told The Daily Yomiuri at QVC Marine Field on Wednesday.

"There are so many things you can think about that really don't help. I've settled on the idea that simple is best."

Iguchi, the PL's player of the month for May, entered Thursday's game against the Hanshin Tigers leading the league in on-base percentage (.465) and walks (33) and second in batting average (.351) and fourth in slugging average (.520).

The most significant thing Iguchi has lost over the years has been his speed. From 2001 to 2003, he stole a total of 107 bases for the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks.

"I don't think we need to go back there," he said with a laugh.

Iguchi's 2010 effort was beyond solid. He batted .294 and set career highs with 44 doubles and 99 walks. It was arguably the second best season of his career.

"[A year ago] I talked over different things with the batting coach and he advised me to not change too much," Iguchi said. "I maintained essentially the same approach throughout the season. That was probably a plus."

He said he has adjusted to his lack of foot speed, but his total of 17 home runs last season was a disappointment to him.

"I was brought here with the expectation that I would hit home runs, so I thought I could have done better in that department," he said.

"When I was looking ahead to this season, however, with a ball that wasn't expected to fly, I thought it [hitting home runs] might not be possible. Instead, I thought I could maintain a high on-base percentage and keep my average above .300."

So far, things have gone according to that plan. Although the Marines fell flat in May, winning six and losing 11, Iguchi batted .386 with 20 walks, 11 runs and 17 RBIs.

Much of what Iguchi has lost in athleticism, he has made up by his ability to mentally stay ahead of the game.

After playing five years in the majors, Iguchi was not really fazed by the prospect of a less-lively ball this season. He said the biggest change this year has been putting umpires from both leagues into the same pool to call games in either league.

"I think the CL umpires have made the strike zone really big," he said. "For the Pacific League pitchers, it's been a great help. They are getting zones that are wider by the width of one ball.

"Although you don't see good pitches early, it seems that before you know it, you're behind in the count. There are really very few .300 hitters right now. So often there's a pitch [you think is a ball] and 'bam,' it's called a strike. You can say, 'That's tough.' And it is."

The numbers back up Iguchi's claim. Through Wednesday's games, the batting average with former PL umps calling a game is .249, with ex-CL guys it is .238.

Yet, Iguchi is making the most of the changing landscape. Pitchers eager to exploit a bigger strike zone by working inside more have found Iguchi ready to rock and roll.

Iguchi has hit .388 in games with big-zone former CL umps, .325 in games called by former PL guys--who supposedly make it harder on hitters.

"This year there have been more inside strikes and more pitches closer to you body," he said. "You have to assert yourself in this game, and if they are going to come at you hard, you have to be able to do something about it.

"I had been preparing to do that, and I really have been hitting the ball well."

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