• The Associated Press

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Japan professional baseball on Thursday said it has tentatively agreed to take part in the inaugural 16-nation World Baseball Classic subject to the approval of the Japanese baseball players’ association.

Japanese baseball officials were responding to an end-of the month deadline set by Major League Baseball for Japanese owners and players to decide on whether to take part in the World-Cup style tournament set for March 2006.

The Japanese players’ association will hold a meeting on July 22 to decide whether to take part.

MLB and its players’ association have already approved the tournament.

MLB officials and its union traveled to Japan earlier this month and set an end-of-the-month deadline for Japan to reach a decision. MLB wants to make an announcement about the tournament on July 11, the day before the All-Star game in Detroit.

Masashi Tsunoda, an official with the Softbank Hawks, told reporters that a letter sent to the MLB included a counterproposal from Japan’s players on when to hold the tournament.

Players in Japan have proposed holding the qualifying games in March and the finals in July, during the All-Star break.

Several Japanese players, including Atsuya Furuta, the head of the Japanese players’ association, have said they don’t want to commit to a tournament before the start of their regular season.

Japanese baseball officials have objected to both the timing of the event and the distribution of revenue, which they say overwhelmingly favors the major leagues.

Under the plan formulated by the commissioner’s office and the players’ association, Japan would host one of the four first-round groups of the 16-team tournament.

Giants beat Swallows

Koji Uehara pitched a two-hit shutout for his first complete-game shutout in two years as the Yomiuri Giants blanked the Yakult Swallows 1-0 in the only Central League game held Thursday.

Uehara (6-5) equaled a career-high with 14 strikeouts, the first time he struck out in double figures this season, and walked just one in a 130-pitch outing at Tokyo Dome to outduel Ryo Kawashima (5-6), who held the Giants to a sole run over seven strong innings.

Tamura in car smash

Yokohama BayStars outfielder Hitoshi Tamura will be hospitalized for at least two weeks and is not expected to return before the All-Star break after he injured his left shoulder and left side of his face in a car accident, officials of the Central League club said Thursday.

According to chief trainer Masazumi Masunaga, Tamura, whose eyes are bleeding internally, does not know how long he will be hospitalized. No immediate damage was found in his brain after Wednesday’s one-car accident, but his sight in the left eye has temporarily weakened, causing double-vision.

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