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Samurai Japan hopefuls set to report to WBC training camp

Kyodo

With the third World Baseball Classic less than three weeks away, the 33 invitees to manager Koji Yamamoto’s Samurai Japan training camp will gather Thursday in Miyazaki and begin training the following day.

The Chunichi Dragons, who didn’t send a single player to Japan’s 2009 championship squad, have four players coming to Yamamoto’s camp at Miyazaki’s Sun Marine Stadium, but only one of the four, veteran shortstop Hirokazu Ibata, appears to be in top shape at the moment.

Center fielder Yohei Oshima has been hampered by an elbow injury that required him to leave the Dragons’ camp in Okinawa briefly to have it examined in Nagoya. Right-handed relievers Takuya Asao and Daisuke Yamai have also been having issues.

Asao threw 20 pitches in the bullpen on Wednesday, but the Central League’s 2011 MVP — who missed much of last season with a rotator cuff injury — felt stiffness in his shoulder.

“My condition has been on a downswing, but I’m practicing in the belief that it will improve again,” Asao said.

Yamai threw situational batting and allowed one hit to the 10 batters he faced. He struck out two but also put two runners on through poor control.

He said he has been unable to shake his discomfort with the WBC ball.

“My command on each and every pitch is still all over the place,” said Yamai, who stabilized the Dragons bullpen last summer when Asao was unavailable and career saves leader Hitoki Iwase was ineffective.

Ibata and Oshima both took part in situational batting, with Ibata getting two hits in two at-bats and declaring he was a few weeks ahead of his regular pace.

“I’m ahead of where I usually am at the start of the exhibition season,” said the 37-year-old. “I’m looking forward to this, but I’m nervous, too.”

Oshima, however, went hitless in his first simulated at-bats of the spring but stated he was now in shape to play ball.

On Okinawa’s Miyako Island, 37-year-old shortstop Kazuo Matsui was leaving the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ camp to wear a Japan uniform for the first time since 2003, when he helped Japan qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics.

“My (practice) workload may have been heavier than it has been in past years,” Matsui said. “Despite that, I’ve been injury free.”

On a roster without any big leaguers, Matsui alone has major league experience, having spent seven seasons with three different clubs from 2004 to 2010.

In the Eagles’ third intrasquad game of the spring, Matsui was at second base, where he played 473 games in the majors and was able to glove some tough grounders headed for right field and turn them into outs.

“The important thing is to get chosen for the team,” Matsui said. “I want to get the job done in camp so that I can contribute to Japan winning its third straight championship.”

One player who appears a longshot to make the team is Giants third baseman Shuichi Murata, who suffered a finger injury on Saturday. The slugger hurt his hamstring during the quarterfinals of the 2009 WBC and was replaced on the roster before the final round at Dodger Stadium.