Godzilla Set to Arrive in Durham

Nine years ago, Hideki Matsui was taking New York by storm during his rookie campaign. On Tuesday night, Matsui will begin the next phase of his career as he takes to the field with the Durham Bulls, looking to re-start a career that has been nothing short of very solid.

Three times he had been Japan's Central League Most Valuable Player, and was somewhat of a rock star in Japan. After mashing 332 home runs in Japan, including 50 in his final season, he was expected to be a consistent long ball threat in the Major Leagues. Though he drove in over 100 runs in his rookie campaign, he struggled with 2-seam fastballs, a pitch not commonly thrown in Japan, and finished with just 16 home runs, prompting New York headline writers to dub him ‘Groundzilla.' Matsui gave a hint of things to come, though, when he put together a solid performance in the 2003 World Series loss to the Marlins.

In 2004, Godzilla finally arrived. Matsui finished 2004 with a .298 average with 31 home runs and 108 RBIs, and was once again a solid postseason performer. In 2005, Matsui hit a career high .305 and drove in 116 runs. Injuries slowed Matsui in 2006, but he responded with 25 home runs in 2007, before injuries limited him again in 2008. In 2009, Matsui finished his run with the Yankees by batting .274 with 28 home runs, and winning a World Series MVP award with 6 RBI in the series-clinching game 6.

Matsui spent 2010 with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and 2011 with Billy Beane's Oakland A's. However, Matsui was not signed during the 2011-2012 offseason, after batting a career low .251 with just 12 home runs in 2011.

In April, Matsui agreed to a minor league contract with the Tampa Bay Rays, who hope that being thrust into a pennant race will help Matsui regain some of his former glory. After losing Evan Longoria to a hamstring injury, and with Carlos Pena` struggling, Matsui is looking to add a veteran presence to a lineup that is struggling to score runs for a top-notch pitching staff, yet still remains tied atop the formidable American League East.

Matsui should be in the line-up Tuesday night, if the weather allows the Bulls to play. The forecast is for heavy rains in the Durham area throughout the day. On Thursday night, however, Matsui will face off against the rehabbing Daisuke Matsuzaka, who will take the mound for the Pawtucket Red Sox as he recovers from Tommy John surgery last summer.

If all goes well, Matsui could be with the Rays in as little as a couple of weeks, assuming he has no setbacks and swings the bat well.

Derek Levandowski is the Durham Bulls beat writer for Rays Digest. You can follow Derek on Twitter at @DereksCurveball.


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