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.