The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, who last season won their first Japan Series in the franchise’s ninth year of existence, started spring training Saturday in Kumejima, Okinawa Prefecture, in preparation for the start of the regular season on March 28.
The Eagles and seven other teams got down to work in Okinawa, while four clubs, including the Yomiuri Giants who are aiming for their third consecutive Central League pennant, opened camp in Miyazaki Prefecture.
“I definitely want to have our players return again with the championship flag,” said Eagles manager Senichi Hoshino.
Rakuten will have a huge gap to fill after losing ace Masahiro Tanaka to the New York Yankees following the right-hander’s startling 24-0 season in 2013. Hoshino has high expectations of last year’s Rookie of the Year, Takahiro Norimoto, and No. 1 draft pick Yuki Matsui.
“Everyone will have to join hands and see how much we are able to fill the hole.”
The Chunichi Dragons, led by newly appointed player-manager Motonobu Tanishige, practiced in Okinawa’s Chatan, while the Seibu Lions got started in Nichinan, Miyazaki Prefecture, under skipper Haruki Ihara, who is back at the helm after 11 years.
“I want to experience each day and think about how to approach the season,” said Tanishige, who will also act as the team’s regular catcher in his 26th season.
Hanshin Tigers second-year right-hander Shintaro Fujinami mixed up his fastball and changeup in a bullpen session from the first day at the club’s camp in Okinawa’s Ginoza.
The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, who have done some heavy-duty bolstering of the team roster during the offseason, got their training under way in Miyazaki.
Preseason will start with a game between the Chiba Lotte Marines and Orix Buffaloes on Feb. 16.