NPB announced the first Player of the Month awards of the season last week. No big surprises as the players who took home the awards, while nearly all first-time winners, were also outstanding in March-April.
Central League Hitter of the Month
Kazuma Okamoto, 25, 3B, Yomiuri Giants (first time)
Central League Pitcher of the Month
Daichi Ohsera, 30, RHP, Hiroshima Carp (second time)
Pacific League Hitter of the Month
Haruki Nishikawa, 30, OF, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (first time)
Pacific League Pitcher of the Month
Roki Sasaki, 20, RHP, Chiba Lotte Marines (first time)
A frontrunner for the May award is Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks’ righty Nao Higashihama, who threw a no-hitter on Wednesday night against the Saitama Seibu Lions. His 97-pitch masterpiece was the first “Maddux” no-hitter (fewer than 100 pitches) since Masa Yamamoto (Chunichi Dragons) accomplished the feat in 2006. Only one ball reached the outfield all night, which is an all-time record. He also became the first Okinawa-born pitcher to throw a no-no, which was the third in team history and 95th in NPB history.
Also standing out this month is Lions’ slugger Hotaka Yamakawa, who has only been slowed by injury this season. In just 26 games so far (out of his team’s 40), he has 14 home runs, 31 RBI, and an OPS of 1.320. This month so far, those numbers are 6, 12, and 1.300, respectively. No other PL hitter has more than six home runs on the whole year, which makes Yamakawa’s power display even more impressive.
This past week also saw some unlikely results from some teams. Case in point: the Eagles had only lost six games all year until they hit the brakes this past week, losing four of their matches. Aces Masahiro Tanaka (Tuesday CGSO) and Takahiro Norimoto (Sunday 7 IP 0 ER) prevented the week from being a full-on disaster. Also, who would have thought the last-place Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters would sweep the Hawks, who were on a seven-game tear, this past weekend?
One final side note: offense is down in Japan just as it appears to be in MLB. Teams have been shut out an average of nearly five times each, with the most frequent victims being the Hanshin Tigers (10) and the least frequent being the Yomiuri Giants (1). Interestingly, both of these teams are also tied for the fewest shutout wins this year, with two apiece.