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Hara: Japan right on schedule

by Jim Allen (Feb 28, 2009)

National team manager Tatsunori Hara said preparations were moving ahead for the World Baseball Classic.

With six days remaining before Japan opens the tournament against China on March 5, the two teams held their first practices at Tokyo Dome.

"There are things we need to build up, things we need to create, so the key thing is not to waste any time," said Hara, whose squad won a pair of practice games in Miyazaki followed by back-to-back wins over a raw Australia side in Osaka.

"Today we accomplished some things, and tomorrow we'll accomplish a little more."

China, managed by former Orix Buffaloes manager Terry Collins, will open Saturday's doubleheader at Tokyo Dome with a noon game against the Central League champion Yomiuri Giants. At 7 p.m. Japan will face the Japan Series champion Saitama Seibu Lions.

Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma is the likely starter for Japan and said he was eager to go.

"I just want to let it all hang out in a real game," said Iwakuma, who went 21-4 last season for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, allowing just three home runs in 201-1/3 innings. "I've prepared completely for this, so I want to pitch well.

"Now that we've reached Tokyo at last, it feels like this thing is coming to a head. This is going to be my final check."

Hara would like to see more from Iwakuma than Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka delivered in Osaka. Japan's biggest guns were out of form against Australia and anything but awe-inspiring.

"Their condition is fine," Hara said. "They'll be fine. Of course, those results need to be considered but that's all."

Collins would love to be in the position of not worrying about his guys' condition, but the squad he first saw in February was coming off a long layoff and were wiped out by the year's first workouts in Florida.

"They were late coming over, and because of Chinese New Year, nobody had played," Collins said.

Within a few days, he said, half his players' arms were sore, so the club had to do its drills at half speed.

"We're not used to game speed, so these next two games are going to be very important for us," he said.


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