MIYAZAKI – Yomiuri Giants ace Tetsuya Utsumi and his teammates started spring training on Feb. 1 in the pursuit of a second straight Japan Series championship.
But for Utsumi, his role in the regular season is on the backburner as the lefty gears up for March’s World Baseball Classic.
“For now, the WBC is my No. 1 goal,” he said at the team’s spring training base in Miyazaki, where Japan’s WBC training camp will begin on Friday.
Utsumi made his WBC debut in 2009, when Japan won its second consecutive title, but pitched in just one game and he’s out to improve on that.
“Personally, it remains a bitter memory,” said Utsumi, whose tournament ended before he could fully adjust to the official tournament ball that is considered more slippery than those used in Japan.
Determined to play a bigger role this time, Utsumi asked his team to obtain regulation tournament balls. In December, he was among the first to get his hands on them. Since then, he’s gripped one as he walked and played catch with it over and over. On top of that, the Giants have used the WBC ball in their spring practices.
The steadfast efforts have borne fruit. Utsumi had a chance to work on his breaking pitches when he threw batting practice on Saturday. And on Monday, he pitched an intrasquad game, allowing a run in two innings.
Having failed to master his usual repertoire using the new ball, Utsumi threw a changeup to Ryota Wakiya in Monday’s game that was like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.
“That’s the kind of pitch I was throwing last year,” said Utsumi, who has led the Central League in wins the last two seasons.
“Did I pitch the way I imagined I could? In the areas I was concerned with, I was usually able to make my pitches.”
“When I’ve had a chance to shake some of my fatigue, I’ll do even better.”