New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui is likely to play for the Japanese national team in this fall’s Asian qualifying tournament for next year’s Athens Olympics, baseball sources said Tuesday.

According to the sources, the Matsui-Yankees deal agreed on in December includes a clause allowing him to leave the team for the qualifiers to be held in October and November.

Matsui has shown interest in playing for Japan and manager Shigeo Nagashima said earlier that he plans to form a “dream team” of top professional players.

A baseball official familiar with the situation said Matsui, who played under Nagashima during his 10-year stint with the Yomiuri Giants, is included in his plans for the Olympic qualifiers.

Sasaki healing nicely

NARITA, Chiba Pref. (Kyodo) Seattle Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki appears to have returned to health since undergoing surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow at the end of October.

Sasaki left Japan on Tuesday for the United States saying he is fully fit and ready to move into high gear as soon as Seattle’s spring training begins in Peoria, Ariz., later this month.

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