Breakout day for Aoki
It was a breakout day for Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki, who entered a matchup against Yu Darvish and the Rangers with a .194 batting average and went 3-for-3 with three RBIs, a run scored and a stolen base. He also scored on a suicide squeeze bunt.
Aoki, a three-time Japanese batting champion, was probably due. A chat late last week with manager Ron Roenicke might have helped, too.
“It’s since then that I started doing better,” Aoki said. “It’s just an honor to have a conversation with him. … Playing in a different environment, it helped me relax and calm down. It reaffirmed that he’s a good person, and it made me want to play better for him and for the team.”
Roenicke said he checked in with Aoki to make sure he was getting enough at-bats in games, enough work in the outfield. He also told Aoki to relax.
“I understand he’s trying to impress us, but to do that, he needs to have a relaxed mind and a confident mind, like when he was playing in Japan,” Roenicke said Monday morning.
After Monday’s breakthrough game, Roenicke said, “I thought it was great. He needed to have that game, just so he could get back on the right track. Mentally, that does a lot for a guy. It sure should [help Aoki exhale]. I know he’s been pressing, I know he’s been trying to do well for us.”
Aoki accounted for the Brewers’ only hit in four innings against Darvish, an RBI single that bounced up the middle in the second inning. Aoki said he felt no extra adrenaline facing his countryman, but, “It brought be back to my days playing in Japan.”
“I’ve always hated facing him,” Darvish said. “The Brewers have a lot of good hitters in their lineup, and he seems just like one of them. He’s a very tough hitter to face.”
Aoki chalked up Monday as a positive day.
“I feel like I’m getting better and better every day,” Aoki said. “Today, I felt really good.”
Darvish was also very good, though he had to work around three walks in four innings. He allowed only Aoki’s hit, struck out four batters and pitched consistently in the 94 mph range.
He looks like the real deal.
“He definitely has good, pure stuff,” said Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, who went hitless in two at-bats against Darvish. “You can tell he’s confident out there, so I’m sure he’ll be successful. … And he looks like a pitcher. He’s big, he’s tall and he throws downhill. He definitely is a presence on the mound.”
Randy Wolf started for Milwaukee and saw something else in Darvish.
“The one thing I did notice,” Wolf said, smiling, “is that he may have been the quickest radar-checker I have ever seen in my life. I thought a couple of times he was going to drop the ball [from the catcher] because he was looking back to see how hard he threw. That’s something I’ve never had to worry about.”
It’s something most pitchers don’t worry about in the Cactus League. Wolf couldn’t think of another Arizona stadium with a radar reading on the scoreboard.
“I just wonder if he was doing the kilometers per hour in his head,” Wolf said.
Follow me on Twitter @AdamMcCalvy