Samurai Japan, already thin in the outfield department, is getting ready to do without Seiya Suzuki, while Yu Darvish, who has been omnipresent at the team’s camp in Miyazaki, earns extra praise from the skipper, and Koji Uehara drew on his experience with infamous umpire Bob Davidson to offer some advice for this year’s team.
Let’s get to it, shall we?
Japan waits on Suzuki diagnosis
With Seiya Suzuki undergoing tests oblique tightness forced him out of the Chicago Cubs’ preseason opener, Samurai Japan skipper Hideki Kuriyama said he’s concerned and is looking toward other options.
“Of course, we’re going to check on his condition until the last minute,” Kuriyama said. “I’m extremely concerned. I hope it’s not a big thing for Seiya.”
Suzuki was not just a power bat in the lineup but a plus defender as well. Even with him, Samurai Japan was going to be average to below average defensively at third or in left field. So the names being pushed about as a possible replacement are both glove guys, Ryoma Nishikawa of the Carp or Koji Chikamoto of the Tigers.
Darvish the catalyst
Kuriyama was asked on Monday who he thought was the Samurai Japan camp MVP — this is a thing with some teams — and he didn’t hesitate to name Yu Darvish.
“He’s created a chemical reaction within the team,” Kuriyama said of Darvish, who skipped the Padres’ spring training to work out in Miyazaki, although like other MLB players is unable to appear in any exhibitions until March 6 in Osaka.
On the field and on the bench, he has been reaching out to all the players and playing the role MLB players had in past WBCs, that of being a rock and easing the pressure on the Japan-based stars.
On Monday, Darvish was working out with lefty Yuki Matsui, who struggled badly with the MLB ball in Sunday’s game against the Hawks, while he’s also taken somewhat shy right-hander Yuki Udagawa — who also had big issues with the ball this spring — under his wing.
Uehara: Don’t make enemies of the umps
Koji Uehara had some advice Sunday night for Japan’s players ahead of the WBC as he recalled umpire Bob Davidson’s embarrassingly bad calls in the quarterfinal in the quarterfinal round in Anaheim in 2006.
In Japan’s extra-inning loss to the United States, Davidson overruled another umpire, who had correctly judged that Tsuyoshi Nishioka had not left third base early on a fly out to left by Akinori Iwamura. Instead of a run on a sacrifice fly, the USA was gifted a double play that left the score tied 3-3 in the eighth inning.
“It was the blown call of the century,” said Uehara, who was watching with the rest of Team Japan in San Diego as the Mexico-USA quarterfinal pool finale was playing out on TV.
Davidson tried again to get the U.S. into the semifinals in that game. Umpiring in right field, Davidson called a fly that bounced downward onto the field from the foul pole — the only thing it could have struck to land at that angle–a ground rule double for Mexico.
Despite Davidson’s intervention, Mexico beat the USA, leaving all three teams tied with one win and two losses. Japan advanced on the tie-breaker of having a lower ERA, thanks to the extra-inning outs against the USA.
On Sunday, Uehara said, no matter what, don’t make enemies of the umps.
“First of all,” he said, “don’t make a face when the umps call pitches balls or strikes. You shouldn’t shake your head or gesture, either. Don’t show your emotions on your face.”
“A pitcher doing that will quickly get squeezed. Forget about it completely, and think about what’s best for the team.”