Samurai Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama announced the first 12 players for his preliminary 30-man World Baseball Classic roster on Friday, a list that included the first three of Japan’s MLB players to commit, Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish and Seiya Suzuki.
They were joined by some obvious choices, Japan’s back-to-back MVPS, the Central League’s triple crown-winning Yakult Swallows third baseman Munetaka Murakami, and Pacific League pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who also grabbed his second straight Sawamura Award last autumn.
Roki Sasaki, too, made the first list of what will in the end include 30 names for the March tourney.
Kuriyama said the early announcement was not his choice.
“As a player, you want to know as early as possible if you’re on the team or not,” he said. “As manager, I’d like to wait until the last minute to decide. There are a few names on the final 30 I’m not yet decided on, and some players need to be told in advance, but I was asked to announce as early as possible so a poster could be produced.”
Ohtani, who said he’d long dreamed of playing in the event, was kept out of the 2017 version, the last before the pandemic, because he rolled his ankle running the bases in the 2016 Japan Series and aggravated it later that autumn while playing for Japan against Mexico and the Netherlands.
While there is little doubt Kuriyama was chosen because he had a solid and recent managing track record and because he was Ohtani’s mentor, the two-way star said it didn’t matter.
“It may be rude of me to say this with him here, but I would have played for Japan regardless of who the manager was,” Ohtani said. “Kuriyama being the manager is a plus, but it wasn’t a big factor.”
Kuriyama had posed the question at the 2022 All-Star Game, when Ohtani said he’d like to play. But Friday he said it wasn’t serious.
“He talked to me about it during the season, and I really wasn’t in a position to think about what I might be up for prior to the next season. I talked about the WBC with other (MLB) players and the consensus seems to be that it’s pretty cool. After the season, when I could weigh it carefully, I reached out to the manager.”
Whether he’ll add pitching and hitting in a preseason tourney to his already amazing season-long grind as a starting pitcher and everyday designated hitter, remains to be seen. Kuriyama has said he expects him to do both in some form, but also said how players will be used requires some negotiation with their clubs.
“With Japan’s best players on board, my only thought is winning,” Ohtani said. “I want to do all I can to contribute to that end.”
Kuriyama told the Tokyo press conference he expects the MLB players to provide experience and stability to his fairly young team.
“There is going to be a lot of pressure on the young players, and having the MLB guys there will give them a little room for error, but make no doubt about it, they (the Japan-based players) are guys I am confident in and trust and know they will do their part,” Kuriyama said.
“I believe in Darvish, in his pitching, his knowledge, his presence, and I expect he will be able to communicate lots to the rest of the team.
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