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Japan to start Darvish against China

by Jim Allen (Feb 5, 2009)

Tatsunori Hara will pull no punches in today's World Baseball Classic opener at Tokyo Dome.

The Japan manager announced Wednesday he would send one of his very best, right-hander Yu Darvish, to start the game against China, the tournament's underdog.

"Darvish's form is getting better with each practice," Hara said.

China manager Terry Collins said his game plan will remain the same, regardless of the quality of the opposition.

"Be patient, get a strike, look for a ball you can hit and put the best swing you can on it. Don't expand the strike zone," Collins said.

"I think Yu Darvish is one of the top pitchers in the world. When you get a ball to hit, don't miss it. Because you're not going to get many."

After two warmup games and three more practices, Collins said his team is as ready as it's going to get.

"We've had three very good workouts leading up to tomorrow," he said. "The health of our team is good and it's just a matter of going out and playing."

Hara, whose team was soundly beaten in one of its weekend warmups and barely squeaked out a win in the other, acknowledged concerns about his biggest star Ichiro Suzuki.

The Mariners leadoff man had just three infield singles in six games for Japan so far, but took extended batting practice at Jingu Stadium on Monday and Tuesday.

"Ichiro is the team leader, but he's not going it alone," Hara said. "As the leader, he'll be in the front line, of course.

"I expect him to meet the expectations of the people and the expectations of the team."

Collins said he would send right-hander Li Chenhao to start against the defending WBC champions.

"We selected him because of his variety of pitches," Collins said. "You have to change speeds. You can't fall behind in the count and he throws strikes."

Li, who pitched against South Korea and the United States in the Beijing Olympics, said he only throws a fastball and curve, and chuckled when asked if he threw a slider.

"My condition is getting better and better," Li said. "I will be ready [against Japan]. Of course all 28 players are of proven quality.

"No matter what, all I can do is pitch the way I've practiced and establish my own rhythm."

Collins relayed a tip he received from China's previous skipper, Jimmy Lefebvre: "The one thing he said was, 'You've got to try and get them over their nervousness, try to get them to relax and play.'

"So it's fun to see how they'll react. I told them...to enjoy it, to respect the sport, respect their abilities and don't be intimidated by anybody."

South Korea and Taiwan will face off in Friday's second game.

After Taiwan struggled defensively in its two Tokyo warmup games, manager Yeh Chih-shien ordered his pitchers to put their troubles behind them.

"Yesterday is over, today is today," he said. "I told them not to pick up a ball, to just clear their minds.

"I have concerns about the pitching and fielding. We are, however, hitting quite well."

The Koreans, on the other hand, did not hit well on Tuesday night in a 3-0 shutout defeat to the Yomiuri Giants.

"The opposing pitchers worked us hard inside last night, and we just need to cope with that," said Kim In Sik, who managed the team to a 6-1 record in the 2006 WBC.


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