• Kyodo

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Former Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters skipper Hideki Kuriyama, the one-time mentor of American League MVP Shohei Ohtani, will be the new manager of the Japan national team, sources close to the matter said Tuesday.

Kuriyama’s appointment was reportedly approved during a Samurai Japan committee meeting after he was tapped to succeed Atsunori Inaba, who stepped down in September following the team’s gold medal-winning performance at the Tokyo Olympics.

Japan’s next major tournament will be the fifth World Baseball Classic, scheduled to take place in 2023. Kuriyama will be tasked with steering the two-time champion Samurai Japan to its first title since 2009.

The 60-year-old is credited with masterminding Ohtani’s development as a two-way star while a member of the Fighters, before his move to the Los Angeles Angels. Kuriyama’s presence is seen as a potential draw for Ohtani returning to national team duties.

An outfielder in his playing days, Kuriyama joined the Yakult Swallows in 1984 and retired in 1990. He worked as a pundit before taking charge of the Fighters in 2012.

He guided them to the Pacific League pennant in his first season in charge and again in 2016, when Nippon Ham also won the Japan Series.

Kuriyama stepped down at the end of the past season with a 684-672 record and 54 ties during his 10 years as manager.

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