Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters ace/designated hitter Shohei Otani highlighted the list of players announced to the Samurai Japan roster on Tuesday for World Baseball Classic warmup games against Mexico and the Netherlands.
Japan will face Mexico on Nov. 10-11, and the Netherlands on Nov. 12-13. All four games will be played at Tokyo Dome, the venue for the Japan round of next spring’s World Baseball Classic. Japan, which won the title in 2006 and 2009, will be looking to reclaim it after falling in the semifinals in 2013.
Otani is coming off a regular season in which he was 10-4 with 174 strikeouts and a 1.86 ERA on the mound and hit .322 with 22 home runs at the plate. Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo is planning to use the 22-year old as both a pitcher and designated/pinch hitter.
“He’s a top player both as a pitcher and hitter,” Kokubo said. “We are going to have to talk about what we want to do with him. But he’s the rare player who can do both, and we want to take advantage of that if it’s not too much of a burden for him.”
Four members of the Hiroshima Carp team the Fighters will face in the Japan Series, which begins Saturday, were named to the roster, including outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who hit .335 with 29 home runs and 95 RBIs during the regular season and will be making his debut for the national team.
Other first-timers include pitcher Kodai Senga of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and PL ERA leader Ayumi Ishikawa of the Chiba Lotte Marines.
“(Senga) served as a middle reliever during the Climax Series and Japan Series last year,” Kokubo said. “We think his forkball could be a great asset for us at the international level.”
Yomiuri Giants lefty Kazuto Taguchi is also on the team for the first time, as are Yokohama BayStars hurler Kenta Ishida, Fighters reliever Naoki Miyanishi, Carp closer Shota Nakasaki and the Fighters’ Shota Ono, Otani’s regular catcher with Nippon Ham.
Many of the usual suspects were also called up. Among them is Yomiuri Giants shortstop Hayato Sakamoto, whom Kokubo has long held in high regard. Sakamoto won the CL batting title with a .344 average, hit 23 home runs and finished with 75 RBIs this season.
“Considering his potential, it’s promising to see how he’s played this year,” Kokubo said.
Players from 10 of the 12 NPB clubs were named to the roster. The Fighters led the way with six, while no Chunchi Dragons or Orix Buffaloes were called up.
The Hawks’ corner infielders, first baseman Seiichi Uchikawa, the lone member from the squad that won the title in 2009, and third baseman Nobuhiro Matsuda are on the roster. Yokohama BayStars slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, who hit 44 home runs during the regular season, made the team and Japan will have a position battle between the Carp’s Ryosuke Kikuchi and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Tetsuto Yamada at second base.
“There are two great players at second base, but obviously there is only one spot,” Kokubo said. “We are thinking about using players at positions other than what they usually play.”
The Mexican and Dutch squads are mostly made up of players from their respective domestic leagues with a few MLB farmhands mixed in. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles infielder Japheth Amador was named to the Mexican team. The rosters for all three teams could look different if the team’s manage to reel in a few of their MLB talents.
Noting the balls used in the WBC differ from those in NPB, and a few other WBC-centric quirks, Kokubo said he would manage his pitchers with the WBC rules in mind during the warmup contests.
“Since we’ll have pitch limits in next year’s WBC, we are going to use our pitchers with that in mind,” he said. “Also, the first and second rounds (of the WBC) will be played at Tokyo Dome, which will begin on March 7, and we’ll play at the same stadium. So the pitchers can get used to the ball and height of the mound, so we want our pitchers to get a good impression.”
Staff writer Kaz Nagatsuka contributed to this report.
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