Seven of his teammates are preparing to play college baseball next season, so Makani Tanaka just might be among the best No. 8 hitters in any ILH lineup.
The 6-foot-2 left-handed junior had a day on Friday, tying the game with a two-run triple in the second inning, and contributing to ‘Iolani’s go-ahead fifth inning with an RBI single. The Raiders’ 6-3 comeback win over Damien was tougher than the final score might indicate.
Tanaka took it all in stride. As a tall lefty at the plate facing Damien’s southpaws – Peter Pappalardo and Francis O’Connor — it could have become a difficult afternoon at Ala Wai Field. For whatever reasons, lefty versus lefty has rarely favored the batter through baseball history. ‘Iolani’s lefties were a combined 3-for-11 against the Monarchs’ southpaws with one walk and two hit by pitches. Raider right-handed hitters were 4-for-6 against Pappalardo and O’Connor.
On a breezy, warm afternoon, Tanaka felt quite ready, getting swings against a teammate during practice.
“Definitely. Brayden Hiraki, one of our lefty pitchers. He’s 6-1 and he throws some gas, and his curveball is definitely tough,” Tanaka said. “For me, yes, I’d say that it’s definitely tough, but with those situations you’ve got to get ahead in the count or if the balls going to be there, you’ve got to swing. When I have the mentality up at the plate, I try swing fastball so I don’t have to see the curveball later on.”
Tanaka’s first hit was an interesting at-bat, figuring out what to make of Pappalardo’s sweeping curve.
“At that point, I was trying to figure out how to get the next guy up. The pitch before that I kind of hesitated a little bit. Didn’t really know what I wanted, but the next pitch I saw it and swung the bat hard. It was a fastball, but it was definitely away so I had to able to get in front of it, hit it early so it didn’t get too much away from me,” he said.
His second run-scoring hit came against Damien’s ace, right-hander River Iaea. Tanaka finished with three RBIs was the only Raider to pair hits.
“For me, it’s definitely interesting here in Hawaii. A lot of the pitchers see a bigger hitter like me and they try to find ways to work me off by throwing curve balls, things outside, things low. That’s why I’ve got to learn to expand myself a little bit, work with things I’ve got. If they make a mistake and throw me the ball down the middle, I’ve got to be able to take those opportunities,” he said.
He is a fan of the game, of course, and of premier lefty hitters.
“I like to say Bryce Harper. I love the way he swings the bat. Every time he swings, he wants to kill it. He’s hitting for average, but when pitchers make that mistake and throw it down the middle, he makes them pay,” Tanaka said.
Just like that, he doubled his hit total through the young season and is now batting .364.
“He picked us up. That was big for us,” Raiders coach Kurt Miyahira said. “Everybody’s different. Everybody’s got different leverage.They have to be able to figure it out. So we empower them to do that. We don’t just teach one style.”
(See the game story in Saturday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser.)