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Fighters’ Otani laments not being able to play in WBC

Kyodo

Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters star Shohei Otani is shell-shocked by his injury withdrawal from the World Baseball Classic, saying on Friday he is sorry and is struggling to stay motivated.

The slugging ace, currently at spring trainingwith the Japan Series champions Fighters, has had to pull out of baseball’s international showpiece with a right-ankle injury he suffered last fall that has not improved.

Otani, who called Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo the previous night to apologize for having to miss the tournament, was replaced on Saturday by Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks right-hander Shota Takeda.

“I’ve lost sight of my goals,” Otani said. “It’s very difficult to stay motivated right now.

“From the beginning I was preparing, assuming the condition would improve. I feel sorry for dragging out (my decision), I couldn’t get it any better.”

“I grew up watching (the WBC) and really wanted to put on the jersey and play.”

Otani did some light running and played catch in his workout Friday. He went through a few hitting drills but there remains no return date for the 22-year-old two-way star, Nippon Ham manager Hideki Kuriyama said.

Otani will likely miss the Fighters’ season opener March 31, and surgery has not been completely ruled out.