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SPORTS COMMUNICATIONS - 第8回 日高亮、“お日様”の季節

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石田洋之「神宮つばメ〜ル」 : 第8回 日高亮、“お日様”の季節
投稿日時: 2012-07-16 20:21:25

 6月22日(金)〜7月15日(日)
 日日日−日日−日日日−雨△△雨△日−日日日雨日△
 豪雨で大きな被害も出ている日本列島なのに、圧倒的に“日”が多い。こんな“空梅雨”の場所が花の都の真ん中にある。東京ヤクルトのブルペンである。

 この“お天気表”の記号を説明しておこう。−は試合のない日、雨は雨天中止、△は登板なし。そして、もっとも目立つ“日”は4年目左腕・日高亮がマウンドに上がった試合を指す。なんと交流戦明けの17試合中13試合で投げている。その昔、中日の権藤博(現投手コーチ)が連投連投で起用され、「権藤、権藤、雨、権藤」なる言葉が生まれたが、これを先週(9日〜)の日高に当てはめると、「日高、日高、日高、雨、日高」である。

 現在のヤクルトが3位にいられるのは、梅雨時でも奮闘する“お日様”の力といっても過言ではない。ここまで39試合に登板して、1勝1敗、9ホールド、防御率2.35。左のワンポイントから勝ちゲームのセットアッパー、そしてビハインドの展開でも終盤の勝負どころになるとマウンドに送り込まれる。セットアッパーの松岡健一や、昨季はサウスポーで大車輪の働きを見せた久古健太郎が不在のなか、細腕左腕はひとりで何役もこなしている。

 140キロ台のストレートは対戦した他球団のバッター曰く、「球速以上に手許で伸びる」。かつナチュラルに変化するため、バットに当てても微妙に芯を外される。追い込むとスライダー、チェンジアップがウイニングショットだ。さらに本人が「コントロールが悪くなったり、故障するのを防ぐため、後ろを小さくまとめようと意識している」と解説するコンパクトなフォームは、バッターにとって球の出どころが見にくいという効果もある。

 181センチ、79キロと細身の21歳。昨季、1軍デビューを果たしたとはいえ、投げたのは16試合だ。これだけ連投が続くのは人生初の経験だろう。しかし、悲壮感のひとつやふたつも漂いそうな状況ながら、そのあどけない表情はカラッとした晴天のように明るい。うっすらと笑みを浮かべ、厳しい場面でのピッチングを楽しんでいるようにさえ映る。

「苦しくても笑ったらいいことがあると高校の頃から言われてきました。それに笑ったほうがリラックスできますからね」
 柔和な顔で投げる理由を日高に問うと、そんな答えが返ってきた。「笑う門には福来る」。高校時代の恩師からの教えを今も本人は大切にしている。

 大分・日本文理大付高時代から同期の赤川克紀(宮崎商高出身)らとともに九州では評判のサウスポーだった。ただ、そのピッチングには波があった。
「ハマった時には手がつけられないくらいのピッチングをする反面、崩れ始めると歯止めがきかなくなる。いい状態が長続きしないところが課題でした」
 高校最後の1年間、日高を指導した当時の監督、河本啓靖はそう振り返る。

 調子の良し悪しは顔を見れば一目瞭然だった。不調時は顔が真っ赤になり、ベンチからの指示も聞こえないほど冷静さを欠いた。「上のレベルを目指すには、好不調の波を小さくすることが大事」。河本はどうすればエースが安定したピッチングができるかヒントを探ろうと、彼の実家がある米水津村(佐伯市)を訪ねたこともある。

「信号もないような、のどかな漁師町でした。小さい頃から純粋に“プロ野球選手になりたい”“速いボールを投げたい”という気持ちで野球をやってきたんでしょう。こういう子は、今の段階で細かいことをあれこれ言うと良くない」
 そう感じた河本は、ひとつだけ日高と約束をした。
「どんなに調子が悪くても、どんなにピンチになっても笑っとこうや。笑っとったら、いいことあるけん」
 
 日高は監督との約束を守り、どんなに苦しい時もマウンドで笑顔を絶やさなかった。すると心の余裕がピッチングにも表れたのか大崩れしなくなった。走者を背負っても立ち直り、ゲームをつくる。甲子園には残念ながら縁がなかったが、2008年、ヤクルトからドラフト4位指名を受けた。まさに「笑う門には福が来た」のである。

 連日のフル回転でも苦しい顔をみせない日高だが、さすがにボールは疲労を隠せない。交流戦前までは自責点0ピッチングを続けていたものの、登板数が一気に増えた交流戦後は、防御率4.22。10日の横浜DeNA戦では、2点ビハインドの8回、2つの四球からピンチを招き、森本稀哲に今季初となる3ランを被弾した。

「疲れているとは思っていない。疲れたと感じた時点でダメになる」と本人はあくまでも健気だ。だが、あるチーム関係者は「開幕の頃と比べるとボールにキレがなくなっているのは事実」と明かす。それでも荒木大輔投手コーチが「疲れているなかでも投げなくてはいけない役割になっている」と語るようにベンチからの信頼度は高い。

「毎日、投げなくてはいけないポジションなので、押本(健彦)さんたちに教わって、いろいろと試しています。良くても悪くても引きずらないよう、心も体もリセットした状態で翌日を迎えることが大事。まだ僕にとっては毎試合がアピールの場です。結果が出なければ2軍に落ちるという危機感を持っています」

 疲労回復のため、食事や睡眠を重視することはもちろん、必要に応じてサプリメントも服用するようになった。また「体の状態によって前に突っ込む投げ方になることがある」と、その時々に応じてフォームを微調整しながらマウンドに上がっている。
「今はチームに貢献できていること、試合で投げられることのほうがうれしいんですよ」
 日高はニコリと笑って言い切った。

 もうひと踏ん張りすればオールスターブレイクがやってくる。それが明ければ、いよいよ夏本番だ。太陽の季節到来である。登板過多による無理は禁物だが、“お日様”の力投で、スワローズの夏の“お天気表”に快晴マーク=〇がたくさん並ぶことを願いたい。

(次回は8月6日に更新します)

(石田洋之)


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