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Rob Smaal

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'09 WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC: Samurai Japan cut to 34

by Rob Smaal (Dec 16, 2008)

Ichiro: check. Dice-K: check ...

Manager Tatsunori Hara on Monday announced a list of 34 players invited to a training camp to determine the team that will defend Japan's title at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

Samurai Japan will convene in Miyazaki from Feb. 15-22 in preparation for Japan's opening Asian group game March 5 against China at Tokyo Dome.

"In Miyazaki, we will trim the team down to the final 28 players," Yomiuri Giants skipper Hara said at a news conference at a Tokyo hotel. "I fully expect all 34 of these guys to show up at camp in good condition and ready to give it their best effort to make the team."

Many of the usual suspects are on the list, with 2006 team leader and Seattle Mariners star Ichiro penciled in for a spot in the outfield and Boston Red Sox 18-game winner Daisuke Matsuzaka--the '06 WBC MVP--a lock for a spot in the starting rotation.

The other 15 pitchers invited to Miyazaki are Japan Series MVP Takayuki Kishi and Hideaki Wakui of Seibu; Pacific League Rookie of the Year Satoshi Komatsu of Orix; Nippon-Ham ace Yu Darvish; Marines submariner Shunsuke Watanabe; PL MVP and 21-game winner Hisashi Iwakuma and Masahiro Tanaka of Rakuten; Tsuyoshi Wada, Toshiya Sugiuchi and Takahiro Mahara of the Hawks; the Central League's top rookie Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Tetsuya Utsumi of the Giants; Hanshin reliever Kyuji Fujikawa; Hiroki Kuroda of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Takashi Saito, former Dodgers relief ace currently a free agent.

The four catchers in camp will be Toru Hosokawa of the Lions, the Giants' Shinnosuke Abe, Yoshiyuki Ishihara of the Carp and Ichiro's Mariners teammate Kenji Jojima.

The infielders are comprised of shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima and Yasuyuki Kataoka of Seibu; veteran Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Munenori Kawasaki of the Hawks; Michihiro Ogasawara of the Giants; Kenta Kurihara of the Carp; Shuichi Murata of Yokohama, and the Tampa Bay Rays' Akinori Iwamura.

Joining Ichiro in the outfield will be Atsunori Inaba of the Fighters, Yoshiyuki Kamei of the Giants, Norichika Aoki of Yakult, Seiichi Uchikawa of the BayStars and Kosuke Fukudome of the Chicago Cubs.

Thirteen of the players named by Hara are holdovers from the '06 champions, but a lot of key contributors from that club will not be suiting up in March. Among the notables are middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and catcher Tomoya Satozaki of the Marines; Giants free-agent pitcher Koji Uehara; Hanshin's Takahiro Arai, who is recovering from a back injury; Swallows veteran infielder Shinya Miyamoto, and Chunichi Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige.

No Dragons, in fact, were named to the squad. Chunichi brass were not too pleased when closer Hitoki Iwase and ace Kenshin Kawakami returned from Japan's dismal showing at the Beijing Olympics with their confidence shot, leading the club's top players to pull out of contention for the WBC.

Boston setup man Hideki Okajima was overlooked and Yankees slugger Hideki Matsui is rehabbing from knee surgery.


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