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石田洋之「神宮つばメ〜ル」 : 第63回 ドラフト4位・寺田哲也、大器晩成の右腕へ
投稿日時: 2014-11-03 21:05:12

 今年のドラフト会議で東京ヤクルトは育成含め8選手を指名した。うち投手は6名。真中満新監督が「いいピッチャーがたくさん欲しい」と要望した通り、ピッチングスタッフの充実に重点を置いたラインアップとなった。「年齢はいっていても、すぐに1軍で使える選手を」と指揮官が会議後に語ったように、その中には27歳の右腕も含まれている。4位指名を受けた四国アイランドリーグPlus・香川の寺田哲也である。
(写真:担当の岡林スカウトは「制球力も良く、完成度も高い」と評価する)

 1年前、寺田はBCリーグ・新潟で15勝2敗、防御率1.35で2年連続最多勝、最優秀防御率と、おおよそ考えられる最高の成績を残していた。しかし、ドラフト会議で名前はどこからも呼ばれなかった。NPB入りの夢を諦め、現役生活にピリオドを打つつもりだった。

「ただ、最後の悪あがきで新潟でのボストン・レッドソックスのトライアウトを受けたんです。その練習をするうちに、今年よりも来年は、もっといいボールが放れるかもしれないと感じました」

 もう1年だけ――ラストチャンスの場に選んだのがアイランドリーグの香川だ。香川は年間優勝5回、独立リーグ日本一3度を誇る独立リーグの雄。ドラフト実績も抜群で、ヤクルトの三輪正義や星野雄大ら17名をNPBに送り込んでいる。昨年のドラフトで中日から2位指名を受けた又吉克樹はセ・リーグ2位の67試合に登板し、ブルペンに欠かせない存在となった。

 新天地で勝負をかけるべく、寺田はオフに地元の栃木で高校(作新学院)の先輩である千葉ロッテの岡田幸文、福岡ソフトバンクの細川亨、北海道日本ハムの赤田将吾らと自主トレを実施。弱かった体幹強化にも取り組み、今季に臨んだ。

 しかし、前期は思うような結果を残せなかった。先発で4勝4敗、防御率3.49。103奪三振はリーグトップだったものの、NPB行きへ最後のアピールをするには少々、物足りなかった。 

「どうすれば彼の良さを出し切れるか。リリーフで短いイニングを投げてもらおうと考えました」
 香川・西田真二監督(元広島)のアイデアで後期からはリリーフに回った。40試合中、3分の2近い26試合に登板。これが大きな転機となる。毎試合のようにブルペンで肩をつくり、マウンドに上がる日々を重ねるうち、27歳は「昨年までと違うものが見えた」のだ。

「短いイニングだと、ストレートも思い切って投げられる。それを中継ぎで毎試合のように繰り返すことで、ストレートの質がアップしました」
(写真:元ヤクルトの香川・伊藤秀範コーチは「質のいいNPBのボールなら、より回転がかかり、ストレートが走るはず」と予想する)

 ストレートの球速はMAX147キロ。取り立てて速いほうではない。寺田の持ち味は、そのキレにある。回転が良く、バッターは手元で差し込まれる。10月にアイランドリーグ選抜の一員として参加した、みやざきフェニックス・リーグでもストレートでNPBのバッターを打ち取り、手応えをつかんだ。

 そして、このストレートを生かす大きな武器もできた。フォークボールだ。寺田はフォークのほか、スライダー、チェンジアップ、シュート、カーブと多彩な球種を持っているものの、精度に課題を残し、ウイニングショットとするには決め手に欠けていた。

 香川に来て寺田はフォークを改良し、少し浅く握ってコントロールしやすくした。いわゆるスプリットに近い握りである。夏場までは実戦で思うように投げられなかったが、リリーフに転向したことが新球に磨きをかけた。

「それまでは追い込んでからの決め球で使おうと考えていたので、どうしても力んで、うまく投げられなかったんです。でも中継ぎでカウントに関係なく放るようにしたら、うまくストライクからボールゾーンに落とす感覚を得られました。それからはフォークで空振り三振をとれるようになりましたね」

 ストレートの向上に、決め球となる変化球。シーズンを通じての成績は43試合、6勝4敗6セーブ、防御率2.91。決して特筆すべき数字ではないが、奪三振はイニング数(148回3分の1)とほぼ同じ145個(リーグ1位)。確かなレベルアップが認められ、即戦力として指名を勝ち取った。

 寺田はヤクルトに縁を感じている。新潟時代、交流試合で何度か登板し、好投をみせているからだ。とりわけ一昨年7月には山田哲人、上田剛史などが並んだ打線を7回2安打無失点に封じた。このピッチングが、当時2軍を率いていた真中監督の印象に強く残っていた。ちなみに真中監督とは同じ栃木県出身でもある。

 何より、高津臣吾投手コーチからは新潟時代に選手兼任監督として指導を受けている。
「高津さんからはマウンド上で意識することを教わりました。カウントを有利にすること、球数を減らすために相手の打ち損じを誘うこと……。投球術の基本をアドバイスしていただきました。また同じチームで指導していただけるのはうれしいです」

 作新学院大卒業後、新潟で4年、香川で1年。長い回り道をした末のドラフト指名ゆえ、「1週間経っても、まだ、はっきりと実感が湧かないんです」と率直な思いを明かす。4位指名も「そんなに評価されているとはビックリしました」と、自身の名前が呼ばれた瞬間は口をアングリと開け、驚きの表情を見せた。

 だが、これは夢ではない。自らの実力でつくりあげた現実である。来季の目標を訊くと「最初は中継ぎからのスタートになるでしょうが、50試合以上投げてチームの勝ちにつながるピッチングをしたいですね」と力強く宣言した。
「(2年連続最下位という)チーム状況だし、監督も代わって、チャンスはあるはず。そこで勝ち残っていけるように、これからの時間で準備をしっかりしていくつもりです」

 同学年にはヤクルトでは川端慎吾、村中恭兵がおり、他球団を見渡してもT−岡田(オリックス)、平田良介(中日)、銀次(東北楽天)、炭谷銀仁朗(埼玉西武)と各チームの主力になっている選手も多い。周回遅れでNPBの世界に飛び込む右腕は、同世代のトップに躍り出ることができるのか。185センチ、92キロと体格は申し分ない。文字通りの大器晩成を目指してほしい。

>>香川・寺田哲也投手へのインタビュー「理想は完全試合右腕・八木沢荘六」はこちら(2014年7月掲載)

(次回は11月17日に更新します)


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