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Japan gets in final WBC workouts

by Jason Coskrey

The upcoming World Baseball Classic has generated excitement throughout Japan.

Just not in catcher Kenji Johjima. At least not yet.

“No, I’m not excited yet” Johjima said during a recent workout. “If I’m already excited, then I won’t be able to sleep for three days. Maybe the day before I’ll get excited. That’s enough.”

Johjima and Japan were practicing in chilly conditions at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium on Monday, hoping to work the kinks out following a pair of uninspiring exhibitions at Tokyo Dome the past weekend.

“We still have a few more days to go,” shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima said. I hope we can continue to have good practices today and tomorrow.”

Seibu star Nakajima has been one of the players who hasn’t quite lived up to expectations at the plate during the team’s warmup contests.

“I’ve been preparing well,” Nakajima said. “All I want to do is contribute to the team as much as possible.”

Ichiro Suzuki, who has been mired in a sub-.200 slump during the warmup games, didn’t seem pleased with himself after batting practice. Ichiro left practice a half hour before the scheduled end of the session.

The Japanese team will have one additional practice before the start of the WBC on Thursday at Tokyo Dome.

Japan’s got more than Yu: Pitcher Yu Darvish’s exploits have not gone unnoticed on the other side of the Pacific. Hokkaido Nippon Ham’s star pitcher has made quite the name for himself over the past four seasons, compiling a 48-19 record, a Pacific League MVP Award, Sawamura Award and Japan Series title.

With many in America calling him the second coming of Daisuke Matsuzaka and just as many saying he’s better, the anticipation of a possible future move to the MLB has Darvish on many fans’ radar.

China manager Terry Collins, who is a former Orix Buffaloes skipper, has seen Darvish up close and personal many times and agrees. Collins, however, says there are many other Japanese players worth a look.

“Darvish is getting all the press back home (in the U.S.),” Collins said. “But there are other good players here besides Darvish.

“Guys like (Atsunori) Inaba and (Munenori) Kawasaki are good ballplayers. These are guys who need to be seen. They’ve got a couple of guys here that are going to be seen. This tournament is going to give them that.”

What’s your handicap?: As part of his preparation for the WBC, Johjima watched China play a pair of exhibitions at Tokyo Dome on Saturday and Sunday.

The Seattle Mariners backstop came away impressed by the nation’s progress.

“They are improving very fast,” Johjima said. “It’s a completely different team from what I saw in 2004 (during the Athens Olympics).”

When asked if the improvement was a surprise, Johjima turned to golf to get his point across.

“It’s easy for someone who shoots 150 to shoot 120,” he said. “But it’s harder for someone who already shoots 80 to improve.”

Taking care of No. 1: Darvish isn’t fazed by the prospect of facing the best players the world has to offer in the WBC. According to the Fighters star, as long as he’s OK everything else will fall into place.

“I am only concerned with my motivation and keeping my condition good,” Darvish said. “Fortunately, I have international experience, so I am only concerned with myself.”

Darvish, who competed in the Beijing Olympics, also said he is looking forward to making his long-awaited debut in the WBC.

“It’s different from the Olympics,” Darvish said. “However, we will play against national teams . . . So I am looking forward to seeing the style of baseball from each country.”