Kikuchi opts for Japan over U.S.

Kyodo

Hanamaki Higashi High School left-hander Yusei Kikuchi on Sunday announced his decision to play in Japan next year after recent interviews with all 12 domestic and eight major league clubs.

The announcement came at his school four days before the Japanese draft, where a number of teams are now expected to name the 18-year-old Kikuchi as their first-round choice.

“I’d like to play professional baseball in Japan,” Kikuchi said. “I was really unsure about what to do and made up my mind only yesterday. If selected, I’d like to play for whichever team wins the negotiating rights.”

Kikuchi helped Hanamaki Higashi to a runnerup finish at the national high school invitational tournament in April and to a semifinal finish in the national championship in August.

“I fell short of becoming No. 1 in Japan with my high school. I’ll try to aim for the top in Japan once again. I don’t think I have what it takes to complete at world level yet,” Kikuchi said.

Kikuchi had last month said he would leave open the option of signing with a major league club without playing professional baseball in Japan, a move Junichi Tazawa made last year.

Tazawa signed a three-year deal with the Boston Red Sox and made his major league debut on Aug. 7.

In addition to all 12 Japanese clubs, Kikuchi held talks with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox, the Texas Rangers, the San Francisco Giants, the Seattle Mariners, the New York Mets, the New York Yankees and the Cleveland Indians.

His fastball clocked as high as 154 km per hour during the championship, the fastest pitch ever thrown by a left-hander since the radar gun began being used in national high school baseball tournaments in 1980.

Oh meets Johjima

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Former Softbank Hawks manager Sadaharu Oh asked Kenji Jojima on Saturday to return to the team.

Oh held informal talks with Jojima, who has decided to play in Japan again after four seasons with the Seattle Mariners, over dinner in Fukuoka.

“It’s been 15 years since I had him on my team,” said Oh, who began to manage the Hawks in Jojima’s rookie season of 1995. “He is from the Kyushu region, so I’m sure he knows how much fans want him to come back.”