Baseball / Japanese Baseball

Samurai Japan skipper Atsunori Inaba begins preparations for March series against Australia

by Jason Coskrey

Staff Writer

Atsunori Inaba managed a team of young players in his first tournament in charge of Samurai Japan. In March, he’ll get his first chance to step into the dugout with the top team.

Inaba will lead Samurai Japan against Australia in the two-game Enos Samurai Japan Series 2018 in early March. On Tuesday, he named six of the players who will be part of his 28-man roster for the games, which are scheduled for March 3 and 4.

“Australia is ranked seventh in the world,” Inaba said during a news conference on Tuesday. “There aren’t major league players, but there is a good chance we could see Australia in the Olympics. I think this will be a valuable experience.”

Pitchers Yasuaki Yamasaki (Yokohama BayStars) and Kodai Senga (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) were named to the team along with catcher Takuya Kai (Hawks), infielder Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima Carp) and outfielders Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (BayStars) and Yuki Yanagita (Hawks).

Inaba will scout other players when spring camps open next month and name the remaining roster at a later date.

“I really want to pay attention to their condition when they begin playing games,” Inaba said of potential targets.

The manager said he’d be looking for a mix of both speed and power when he goes about filling out the roster.

“It’s not good to only have speed, but it’s also bad to only have power,” he said.

Senga faced the Australians the last time the two teams met, during the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Tokyo Dome on March 9 of that year. He struck out four in two innings and earned the win in relief in Japan’s 4-1 win.

“We were together during the WBC,” Inaba said of Senga.

The Japan manager was one of Hiroki Kokubo’s coaches during the tournament. “His downward breaking pithes were very effective. That’s something we really need,” Inaba added.

Inaba said he was impressed with the way Yamasaki performed during the Asia Pro Baseball Championship last November and said Kai’s defense was a big factor in his selection. Inaba is also a fan of Yanagita’s full-swinging style and called Kikuchi one of the focal points of the team.

“I want to play with everything I have as a national team player and give myself a chance to be chosen for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics,” Kikuchi said in a statement released by the Carp.

The first game of the two-game series is scheduled for March 3 at 7 p.m. at Nagoya Dome. The teams will meet at the same time the next night at Kyocera Dome in Osaka. Japan will be the home team in the opener and the visitor in the finale.

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