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Japan eager to get pitcher Maeda back on track

Kyodo

The big questions on Japan’s final day of training camp on Thursday all revolved around the fitness of Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda.

From early on, Japan skipper Koji Yamamoto had tabbed Maeda to pitch the team’s second game of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, against China on March 3 in Fukuoka. Yet, Maeda’s inability to throw anywhere near full speed in camp has raised concerns over his readiness.

After struggling to throw his fastball at a pedestrian 135 kph in a game on Sunday, Maeda took to the bullpen on Thursday. Although the Carp ace demonstrated very little control from the practice mound, he and the coaching staff were quick to call it a step forward.

“Last time I didn’t throw hard. Today I was throwing at 80 to 90 percent, and it (my arm) felt good,” said the 24-year-old Maeda. “The ball felt good. Today I was able to throw well. Although I’ll admit the break on this (WBC) ball is a little different from what I’m used to.”

Chief pitching coach Osamu Higashio was evasive when asked about Maeda.

“I think you’d better let the manager answer that question,” Higashio said. “Maeda is coming along the way the manager expects.”

“There are certain expectations on him and those come with a certain anxiety. He (Maeda) is aware of the situation.”

Maeda, who is slated to start against Australia on Sunday in Osaka, was certainly aware of being in the spotlight.

“I’ve caused people to worry, so I want to pitch in a way that will put people’s minds at ease,” he said. “I’m going on the record. I’m fine.”

Although pitching coach Tsuyoshi Yoda called Maeda’s 41-pitch bullpen a success, he added a qualification.

“He was able to throw his best pitches,” Yoda said. “But I won’t say there are no problems.”

Yamamoto, who starred with and later managed the Carp, had few reservations about his old club’s current ace.

When asked to supply his prognosis, Yamamoto said, “He’s going to pitch fine. He’s going to have his same arm action as usual and pitch like he always does.”

Maeda said he had gradually improved since national team training began on Feb. 15.

“I’m getting there,” he said. “I’ve got one more game to pitch before the tournament begins for real. By the time the tournament starts, I intend to be pitching at 100 percent. It’s always like this for me (at this time of year).”