Ichiro Suzuki and Hiroki Kuroda confirmed Monday what had already been brewing in the rumor mill: they will not play for two-time defending champion Japan in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Outfielder Ichiro and right-hander Kuroda are both free agents from the New York Yankees, and have yet to sign with anyone for next season. The two relayed their decision to pull out of the March 2-19 event to Nippon Professional Baseball, which made the announcement Monday.
“I appreciate being asked to play for Japan again at the WBC,” Ichiro said. “But after the second tournament in 2009, I never considered playing in the third event. My feelings have not changed to this day, and it’s where things stand.”
The 39-year-old Ichiro and the 37-year-old Kuroda are just the latest players to withdraw from Koji Yamamoto’s team.
The Texas Rangers’ Yu Darvish, the Seattle Mariners’ Hisashi Iwakuma and Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki have all turned down Yamamoto, citing the need for a full offseason to prepare for next year.
Kuroda was the Yankees’ most dependable starter this year, going 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA in almost 220 innings as New York reached the American League Championship Series where it was swept by the Detroit Tigers.
Considering his age and the workload he had this season, Kuroda said it would have been difficult for him to be in peak form by March.
“When I factored my age, the number of starts (33) I made and the innings I pitched this year, it was going to be a stretch for me to be in the right condition for March,” Kuroda said.
“I do feel bad that I won’t be able to help out a fellow former Hiroshima Carp in manager Yamamoto, who I hold in utmost regard.”
Yamamoto had made a strong push for the integral Ichiro who helped Japan win the title in 2006 and 2009.
Ichiro hit a leadoff homer against the United States in the second round of the inaugural WBC, and had the game-winning hit in the 10th inning of the 2009 final against archrival South Korea.
Yamamoto admitted the absence of Ichiro and Kuroda hurts, but said he had been braced for the possibility and will likely field an all-NPB team in Japan’s quest for a three-peat.
Japan has been grouped with Cuba, China and a team yet to be determined for the first round at Yahoo Dome in Fukuoka.
“It’s extremely disappointing but at the same time, I do understand their situation and how they feel,” Yamamoto said. “I’m sure it was a difficult decision for both players.
“But we were prepared for something like this, and we have been going over our options in meetings. We will have a pure domestic team now, but this has only strengthened my resolve to win a third straight championship with this group of players.”
Japan sweeps by Cuba
Samurai Japan improved to 2-0 under new manager Koji Yamamoto on Sunday with a 3-1 victory over Cuba.
Stymied for six innings by Cuban right-hander Freddy Alvarez, Shota Dobayashi broke the ice in the eighth, when the Hiroshima Carp youngster tripled and came home on a sacrifice fly by Yomiuri Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto.