Two years after producing one of Japanese pro baseball's greatest offensive seasons, Munetaka Murakami is too busy moving forward in his own way to try and replicate the magic of his 2022 Triple Crown campaign for the Central League's Yakult Swallows.

The 24-year-old third baseman is expected to move from Japan's majors to America's in 2026, but before that he is focused on making across-the-board improvements after a disappointing 2023.

Yakult Swallows slugger Munetaka Murakami responds to cheers from fans after hitting his season's first home run, against the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium on April 14, 2024. (Kyodo)

"Last year is over," he told Kyodo News recently at the Swallows' home park, Tokyo's historic Jingu Stadium. "I can't go back to how I was before that (in 2022). It's simply not possible since my body has changed as a result of my training. Instead of trying to recapture that, I'm looking to go forward."

"I want to improve in every way as a hitter."

In 2022, Murakami began slumping after tying Hall of Famer Sadaharu Oh's highest season total of 55 on Sept. 13. And though he surpassed Oh with No. 56 in his final at-bat, Murakami struggled early in 2023 -- with the exception of two critical hits that led to Japan's World Baseball Classic championship.

Murakami's walk-off game winner overturned a ninth-inning deficit in Japan's semifinal over Mexico. His solo home run in the final evened the score after the United States took an early lead.

"(From the WBC) I came away with the experience of winning a world championship, and that was great," Murakami said. "But I also learned about those areas where I was weak. I could understand how extremely important it is to hold on to your convictions."

He learned that last lesson the hard way.

"Being among all these different amazing players and watching them, I tried to incorporate some of the good things they did, but it did not go well at all," Murakami said.

Although Yakult plays in a hitter-friendly park, Murakami's Triple Crown season was largely built with unbelievable results on the road, highlighted by hitting seven of the 33 home runs allowed that year by the Chunichi Dragons in their home games.

In 2023, Murakami's remarkable stats on the road and against the Dragons returned to normal levels.

Munetaka Murakami hits a walk-off two-run double in the ninth inning of Japan's World Baseball Classic semifinal game against Mexico at loanDepot park in Miami, Florida, on March 20, 2023. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"I tried to change many different things, including my conditioning methods, and my way of thinking," he said.

As to how those changes affected his performance, Murakami declined to delve into specifics. But it was evident that against right-handed pitchers, his performance was noticeably different, proving disastrous.

Facing right-handers in 2023, Murakami began pulling the ball and striking out much more often, while hitting the ball hard with less frequency.

While Murakami said last year was a tremendous learning experience, he zeroed in on one thing.

"What I learned from my experience is that you can't lose your individuality, your style," he said.

So far, 2024 has tested his patience and self-belief. Murakami has seen few hittable pitches in a spring when home runs have been extremely scarce across Japanese pro ball, although he has been leading both leagues in walks.

"I diligently re-evaluated my batting process, and things will be OK when I get locked in," he said.

On April 13, Murakami was moved from his customary No. 4 spot in the Swallows' batting order to No. 2, which Japanese managers still often reserve for small, speedy, slap-hitting guys who can get down sacrifice bunts.

That day, in his 53rd plate appearance, Murakami drove in his first run of the season. The next day, he was back in the No. 2 spot when he hit his first home run of the season, launching a fat pitch high out to dead center at Yokohama Stadium.

"I've been seeing the ball well, and have hit a lot of them well but right at people, so I haven't been thinking I was doing poorly," he said after the home run.

Later in the game, Murakami had a well-hit single back up the middle in the heart of a long seventh-inning Yakult rally.

"Because I've had more (good) at-bats like that, I think I'll be fine if I can keep it up," he said.

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