The Yomiuri ShimbunAbout one month has passed since the national team, known as Samurai Japan, lost to the United States in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, and some of the players who appeared in the tournament are seeing brighter days after returning to their Nippon Professional Baseball teams, while others are in dark times.
Among hitters, Hayato Sakamoto of the Yomiuri Giants had the second-highest average on the Japan team during the WBC at .417. He is hitting .375 as of Monday.
Seiichi Uchikawa of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks has maintained his form, hitting .340, as both players pointed to the mental adjustments for the reasons for their success.
“I’m playing well because the WBC was a good motivator,” Sakamoto said.
Said Uchikawa: “The surroundings changed, but it was easy for me to get refocused.”
Meanwhile, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars proved his worth by clubbing three homers and driving in eight runs as the cleanup batter for Samurai Japan. However, he has yet to go deep for the BayStars and has just one RBI.
Nobuhiro Matsuda of the Hawks hit .333 in the WBC, but is struggling at .192 for SoftBank.
The Saitama Seibu Lions’ Shogo Akiyama, who’s hitting .239, said the situation is different than in normal years.
“I was trying things during preseason games, like hitting the first pitch or going after offspeed pitches,” Akiyama said. “In the WBC, it was all about the results.”
It’s possible that Akiyama’s limited at-bats during the preseason are impacting his play since the season opener.
Among pitchers, starters are struggling in the regular season.
The Giants’ Tomoyuki Sugano, the Samurai Japan ace, is 1-0, but his ERA is 4.26. Ayumu Ishikawa of the Chiba Lotte Marines is 0-2 with a 5.63 ERA.
The WBC employed pitch-count limits of 65 in the first round and 80 in the second round. The championship round saw the figure bumped up to 95, but part of the reason for the struggles might be because of a lack of opportunity for pitchers to get enough work on the mound.
However, pitch limits were low for relievers, and they are in form.
Yuki Matsui of the Tohoku Rakuten Eagles is 2-0 with six saves and has an ERA of 0.00, the same ERA as Yakult Swallows reliever Ryo Akiyoshi, who is 2-0 with one save.
“I had never felt as much pressure in my baseball career as I did in the game against the Netherlands,” Matsui said. “Nothing can top that.”
The players who are struggling after appearing in the WBC all refuted the notion that the tournament was the cause of their poor results so far.
However, a former WBC participant, who was an all-tournament selection in the third event, had a different take.
“It’s difficult to try and play every game of the [long] baseball season at 100 percent emotionally, even if you want to,” said Giants base running and fielding coach Hirokazu Ibata. “Every WBC game takes 100 percent. That indeed causes fatigue.”Speech