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Japan ready for Olympic qualifiers

Kyodo News

Japanese players will face the first test to prove their mettle since winning the World Baseball Classic in March 2006 as Senichi Hoshino’s men enter the Asian-zone qualifying tournament that started Tuesday for only one ticket to next year’s Beijing Olympic Games.

Japan manager Hoshino boasts a strong pitching staff, led by Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters sensation Yu Darvish, the probable starter against South Korea, arguably Japan’s biggest competitor in the Dec. 1-3 final round of the qualifiers in Taiwan.

Darvish struck out eight in four innings in the second of a two-game exhibition series against Australia last Friday, but it was a somewhat subpar performance, control-wise, considering he won Pacific League MVP honors. The 21-year-old right-hander gave up a run in the first inning on two doubles and admitted after allowing four hits and three walks with a hit batter that he struggled with his control.

Japan will take on the preliminary round winner, South Korea and host Taiwan, respectively, in round-robin play. China has earned an automatic berth as the Olympic host.