Spring training set to start


Spring training officially kicks off on Sunday for all 12 of Nippon Professional Baseball’s teams in Miyazaki and Okinawa prefectures.

Miyazaki will get much of the early focus with both the Japan Series and Pacific League champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks sharing the city with the three-time defending Central League champion Yomiuri Giants. The Orix Buffaloes, who missed winning the PL pennant by the narrowest of margins, will be training in Miyazaki this year after a long spell at Miyakojima, Okinawa Prefecture.

The Giants may be league champions, but they were swept out of the Climax Series’ final stage in four games.

Manager Tatsunori Hara’s club will also have a new look at first base, where longtime catcher Shinnosuke Abe will be stationed. Abe’s captain’s role has been passed to shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, who due to back stiffness did not arrive in Miyazaki until Saturday.

Sakamoto is slated to train apart from his teammates until Thursday, the first scheduled day off.

“I’m not going to overdo it but I want to join the team as soon as possible,” said Sakamoto, who in his new role as captain led the ritual at Miyazaki Shrine as the team prayed for a successful season.

“It felt strange doing what Abe had been doing until now.”

The other eight clubs begin their spring camps in Okinawa, including the Hanshin Tigers, who were the Japan Series runners-up. Hanshin got the best news of its offseason this month when shortstop and captain Takashi Toritani abandoned his pursuit of a major league job and returned to sign a five-year contract.

Also in Okinawa are the Hiroshima Carp, who finished third last season. New manager Koichi Ogata may have lost starting pitcher Bryan Bullington — who joined Orix — but he gained veteran major leaguer Hiroki Kuroda, who is now training in the United States and will join the club in the middle of the month.