Kokubo omits Otani from Samurai Japan squad to face Taiwan


Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace Shohei Otani was not among those named to play against Taiwan in March, Samurai Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said Monday.

At a press conference in Okinawa, Kokubo named a squad in which Otani was conspicuously absent for the second straight spring, as the skipper declined to select pitchers likely to be on the mound when the regular season starts on March 25.

“As we look ahead a year from now (to the 2017 World Baseball Classic), these are the best players at the moment,” said Kokubo, whose team finished third at November’s Premier 12.

“These two are two valuable games. I want the time to be well spent.”

Kokubo picked five starting pitchers, including Yomiuri Giants right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano and Tokyo Yakult Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa, for the March 5 and 6 games at Nagoya Dome and Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, respectively. The pitching staff also includes three closers, the Fighters’ Hirotoshi Masui, the Chiba Lotte Marines’ Yuji Nishino and second-year Yokohama BayStars right-hander Yasuaki Yamasaki.

Kokubo’s regular captain, Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles catcher Motohiro Shima, is once more on the squad as is 2015 Central League MVP, second baseman Tetsuto Yamada of the Swallows.

With Pacific League MVP Yuki Yanagita yet to regain fitness following offseason surgery, Kokubo handed Marines outfielder Ikuhiro Kiyota his first national team call-up, while dynamic BayStars outfielder Takayuki Kajitani rejoins Samurai Japan for the first time since 2013.

“I’d thought I’d get the call eventually,” said Kiyota, who won his first PL Best IX Award in 2015 but failed to make the cut for the Premier 12. “I may not get many plate appearances, but I want to concentrate and play so I’ll have no regrets — and so I’ll be called on next time.”

The squad:

Pitchers: Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants), Ryo Akiyoshi (Tokyo Yakult Swallows), Daichi Osera (Hiroshima Carp), Hirotoshi Masui (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters), Yuki Nishi (Orix Buffaloes), Yudai Ono (Chunichi Dragons), Yasuaki Yamasaki (Yokohama BayStars), Yuji Nishino (Chiba Lotte Marines), Yasuhiro Ogawa (Swallows), Shota Takeda (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

Catchers: Ginjiro Sumitani (Seibu Lions), Motohiro Shima (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles), Yuhei Nakamura (Swallows)

Infielders: Kenta Imamiya (Hawks), Nobuhiro Matsuda (Hawks), Ryosuke Kikuchi (Carp), Shingo Kawabata (Swallows), Hayato Sakamoto (Giants), Sho Nakata (Fighters), Tetsuto Yamada (Swallows)

Outfielders: Ikuhiro Kiyota (Marines), Akira Nakamura (Hawks), Ryosuke Hirata (Dragons), Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (BayStars), Takayuki Kajitani (BayStars), Shogo Akiyama (Lions)