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Hoshino makes gutsy decision by sticking with Uehara

by Jason Coskrey

Japan manager Senichi Hoshino took a gamble on Thursday afternoon.

Whether or not it pays off is up to Koji Uehara.

With pitchers such as Tohoku Rakuten’s Hisashi Iwakuma (12-3, 2.56 ERA), veteran setup man and World Baseball Classic team member Tomoyuki Kubota and others there for the taking, Hoshino named the currently out-of-form Yomiuri pitcher to the Olympic roster.

“I’ve not been able to settle down my mind to be honest,” Uehara told reporters on Thursday.

“I have a good feeling, but looking at the current situation, I’d just like to do something (to help the team).”

Uehara has had a nightmarish season to this point, going 2-4 with a 6.46 ERA in 14 appearances through Thursday. He’s struggled from the beginning and was demoted to the Giants’ farm team earlier in the season.

He’s since returned to the ichi-gun squad as a reliever but has continued to struggle, giving up five runs in his last three innings.

There is, however, something to be said for experience, which Hoshino listed as one of the deciding factors in naming him to the team.

While Uehara has struggled this season, he’s been nearly flawless in international competition.

Uehara was on Japan’s bronze medal-winning team in the 2004 Athens Olympics as well as the World Baseball Classic-winning squad in 2006. He recorded his first international save in December as a part of the Japan squad that won the Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in Taiwan.

Uehara is unbeaten in 23 international appearances with 12 wins to his credit.

When he’s on, Uehara is one of Japanese baseball’s best. His command of his pitching arsenal made him a superstar as a starter and helped him become one of the game’s top closers last season after an early injury kept him out of the rotation.

Uehara is expected to be a part of Japan’s relieving corps in Beijing as the likely precursor to Kyuji Fujikawa and Hitoki Iwase, Japanese baseball’s top closers. That could potentially put him on the mound at crucial points as “Hoshino Japan” attempts to win the gold in what may be the last Olympic baseball tournament.

Hoshino has vowed to “revive” the pitcher during Japan’s training camp, in hopes that Uehara can work out the kinks and put on a vintage performance in Beijing.

“It doesn’t matter how you’ve done in the past,” Uehara said. “You’ve got to abandon your pride. I’ll just do my best. I can only say that.”

UNFINISHED BUSINESS: Manager Kiyoshi Nakahata’s men brought home the bronze medal in baseball at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. With baseball scheduled to be eliminated from the Olympic schedule after the Beijing Games, four members of that team have one last chance to finish what they started.

Pitchers Koji Uehara, Tsuyoshi Wada, Hitoki Iwase and shortstop Shinya Miyamoto were each named to their second consecutive Olympic team on Thursday.

Additionally, current Japan pitching coach Yutaka Ono was on Nakahata’s staff as well.

While that group of players, and Ono, would certainly love to bring home the gold, captain Miyamoto wants something a little more personal as well.

“The first time I was not able to remember anything about it,” Miyamoto said. “This time I want to be able to make memories.”

TRADING PLACES: The Yomiuri Giants took to the road earlier this week for a home-away-from-home series against the Chunichi Dragons. After playing the Dragons in Asahikawa, Hokkaido, on Monday, the two teams met the next night at Sapporo Dome.

Meanwhile, Sapporo Dome’s regular tenants, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, returned the favor the same night, meeting the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, during the second game of their three-game series, at Tokyo Dome, the Giants’ home park.

Fighters country wasn’t too kind to the Kyojin, who lost both games on Japan’s northern island. The Fighters fared a bit better at the Big Egg, going 1-1-1 against the Eagles.