Tokyo Dome was mostly silent, with only the sounds of practice ricocheting off thousands of empty seats at the Big Egg, as the 2017 World Baseball Classic took a day off to prepare for the final push to the championship round.
Japan and Cuba, who spent the first round in Tokyo, were joined by Israel and the Netherlands on Saturday, as the four teams held practice sessions ahead of the second round, which begins Sunday.
“We have a good team atmosphere,” said Japan infielder Ryosuke Kikuchi. “So I want to stick to my style and have fun.”
Japan will begin the next round against the Netherlands on Sunday night. The teams met in the second round of the 2013 tournament, with the Japanese winning 16-4. Japan enters the second round this year having won all three of its first-round games behind an offense that produced 22 runs.
The Dutch could bring a strong offense to the plate as well, with a few active MLB players, as well as Tokyo Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien, in the mix.
“They have a great team over there,” Balentien said. “For me, it’s an honor to play for my country in front of all my Japanese fans. I’ve been here for seven years, I know a lot of the fans like me. I know they support me, but they don’t want me to beat Japan.
“We’re going to play hard. I’m going to try to do my best, get a couple of hits and try to win the game.”
Ayumu Ishikawa is set to get the start for Japan. Ishikawa was the starter in the team’s opening game against Cuba and was credited with the victory.
“Our starting pitcher has to have a good game,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said. “If we let them score first, it will be hard to come from behind. So I hope our pitchers perform well.”
Dutch manager Hensley Meulens wasn’t ready to divulge the identity of his starter before leaving Tokyo Dome. Many expect Rick van den Hurk, who pitches in Japan for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks, to get the call.
“I’ve played against them, they’ve played against me,” van den Hurk said of the Japanese players. “I know them, they know me.”
The Dutch finished as runners-up in Pool A, defeating host South Korea and Taiwan, but falling in their final game against Israel.
Japan and the Netherlands met in a pair of exhibitions in November at Tokyo Dome, with Japan winning twice. While a number of Japanese remain from that squad, the Dutch have beefed up their roster with players such as major leaguers Xander Bogaerts, Andrelton Simmons and Jurickson Profar.
“We played against them in November and we did well against them,” said Yurendell de Caster. “Now we’ve got more good players, I think we should do better now.”
Israel and Cuba open the second round earlier Sunday.
Israel, surprise winner of Pool A, has won all three of its games at the Classic so far.
“Physically, we’re prepared,” said pitcher Jason Marquis. “Mentally, we’re prepared. The travel, the accommodations have been pretty good. We got in at a good enough hour. Got ourselves a good dinner, and I think we’ll be able to get some good rest tonight. I think we’re excited about the opener tomorrow against Cuba. But all in all, we’re ready to go and ready to get this thing started.”
Manager Jerry Weinstein announced his starter, saying Marquis would get the ball. Marquis threw four shutout innings in two games for Israel in Pool A, finishing 1-0 in two starts.
“Every time he has the ball, we’re going to feel confident,” said infielder Tyler Krieger.
Cuba finished second in Pool B, beating Australia and China and losing to Japan.
“It’s a very important game, as always, and it’s the first game of the second round,” manager Carlos Marti said. “So we prepared ourselves, and we just intend to do the things we are supposed to do. It’s important to win each game to be able to go to the next stage.”
Marti said will be relying in part on second-hand reports about the Israeli team.
“I don’t have much information about Israel,” he said. But we heard things from people who know the Israel team well, and they say they have lots of players who have played in the major leagues.
“So our job for the game tomorrow is going to be a very tough one. We have to be prepared for that.”