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WBC squad may be hurting for top-line pitching

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said his World Baseball Classic team would mirror previous Japan squads and be built around pitching and defense.

An admirable ideal, if not for the small issue of his best pitcher not wanting to play. What’s more, the second or third-best options might not be available either.

Yu Darvish announced earlier in the week that he wouldn’t help Japan in its quest for a third straight WBC title, opting to focus on his MLB pursuits.

“Given my substantial workload over the last few seasons and the numerous changes I’ve endured in my move to the United States, I have decided with my team of advisers that getting ample rest is the most important thing for me right now as I prepare for the 2013 season,” Darvish said in a statement issued Tuesday. “My ultimate goal is to help win a World Series with the Texas Rangers and to share that accomplishment with the great baseball fans in Japan.”

Like Darvish, the Seattle Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma is coming off his first season in the majors and could conceivably pull out citing similar reasons. Also, Daisuke Matsuzaka is searching for a new job and his status as a free agent could force him off the roster as he attempts to land with a new team.

Yamamoto may also face long odds should he call on Hiroki Kuroda, who like the manager is a former Hiroshima Carp star. A 37-year-old free agent and veteran of five MLB seasons, it would also seem to be in Kuroda’s best interests to sit this one out.

Japan took the field with an MLB-ready pitcher on the roster in the two previous editions of the WBC, following Matsuzaka’s lead in 2006 and featuring Darvish, Matsuzaka and Iwakuma in 2009 — that trio was still in NPB during the WBC but already had the attention of MLB scouts.

That type of player may be harder to come by this time around.

Quite the pedigree: When new Chiba Lotte Marines skipper Tsutomu Ito begins the new season, he’ll join two of his former Seibu Lions teammates, Hisanobu Watanabe and Koji Akiyama in the Pacific League managerial ranks.

The trio was together with the Lions from 1984-97, helping guide the team to 10 PL pennants and six Japan Series titles (from a pair of three-peats in 86-88 and 90-92).

All three have also experienced success in the dugout.

Ito was the Lions’ manager from 2004-2007 and guided the team to a Japan Series title in his first season in the dugout. Watanabe took over for Ito in 2008, and also led Seibu to the summit in his first season on the job. Watanabe is still in charge of the team. Akiyama was named manager for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in 2009, and was celebrating a Japan Series win in 2011.

The Marines are banking on that sort of quick turnaround from Ito this time around.

Fancy meeting you here: The Yomiuri Giants defeated the Australian Baseball League’s Perth Heat 7-1 during the Asia Series on Friday in Busan, South Korea.

Manager Tatsunori Hara installed outfielder Yoshiyuki Kamei in the leadoff spot for the Kyojin, and Kamei finished 1-for-3 with a run scored.

Kamei should have at least had a working knowledge of the Heat, having played in the ABL himself in 2010. Kamei played 16 games for the Melbourne Aces in 2010, in an attempt to hone his game, and hit .438 with seven home runs and 25 RBIs in 64 at-bats.