Matsui named AL Player of the Month
Yankees slugger heats up in July with AL-high 13 homers
Yankees manager Joe Torre said with Jason Giambi out of the lineup with a foot injury, left fielder Hideki Matsui would need to play the role of the team's leading power hitter. Matsui certainly filled that role to the fullest and earned American League Player of the Month honors for July.In 28 games, the two-time All-Star batted .345 with 39 hits and 28 RBIs in 113 at-bats. He also led the league with a .735 slugging percentage, 13 home runs and 31 runs scored. Among his 18 extra-base hits last month, five were doubles. To cap off his brilliant July, Matsui slammed two home runs on Tuesday against the White Sox. "It would be ideal if I could start this kind of pace [in] April, but it seems like every year, right now is about the time I start to feel good at the plate," Matsui said through an interpreter in mid-July. "I have no idea [why]." Whatever the reason, Matsui exploded midway through the season, mounting an 18-game hitting streak (July 3-19) and hitting safely in 25 of the 28 games in July. He also walked 14 times and had a .411 on-base percentage. "My swing feels pretty good, and I just feel better at the plate," Matsui said. "I think the home runs and all that are just a result of that." Matsui had a five-hit game on July 22 against the Rays, matching his career high. Entering Thursday, Matsui was hitting .293 with 21 home runs and 74 RBIs. This marked his first career Player of the Month Award. He won the AL Rookie of the Month Award in June 2003. "I'm just happy. It's an honor to be chosen for an award like this," Matsui said. "I think from the [Japanese] fans' standpoint, it's certainly a positive -- to see players go abroad and be successful."
Other AL hitters had impressive Julys, but couldn't beat out the Yanks' reliable slugger. Matsui beat out fellow sluggers Adrian Beltre of the Mariners (.314, 11 doubles, six homers and 30 RBIs), Justin Morneau of the Twins (.347, .644 slugging percentage, six doubles, eight homers and 28 RBIs), Robinson Cano (.385, 42 hits, seven doubles, one triple, six homers and 24 RBIs) and Mark Grudzielanek of the Kansas City Royals (.429, five doubles, one triple, one homer and 11 RBIs).Even more impressive than his numbers was what Matsui did to amass them, as Torre said he battled some health problems with his knees through his hard-hitting streak. But whether he has been playing in the outfield or getting rest as the designated hitter, Matsui hasn't trailed off his pace. "Early on, he wasn't satisfied with his home run output and it looked like he tried to force it a little bit," Torre said. "But because of his reliability, he's been great. He's a producer."
Matsui did indeed begin to produce up to his capability. He hit safely in 23 of 24 games dating back to July 3, before taking an 0-for-5 collar in the Yankees' 10-6 victory on Sunday at Baltimore, a span in which he batted .364 with 22 RBIs and 25 runs scored."I've been able to make some small adjustments against pitchers, and that's probably helped quite a bit," Matsui said. "I haven't really changed that much. ... I think it was just a matter of time."
Geremy Bass is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.