Players ramp up training before camps


There were a number of NPB stars on the move during the first week of 2017.

With spring camps set to begin in February, some players are heading abroad in order to put the finishing touches on their pre-spring preparations. This despite many of them having already participated in fall workouts with the their teams soon after the season.

To that end, some players have headed for warmer locales than they would find in Japan this time of year, in the final weeks of an already short offseason.

Guam, for instance, has generally been a popular destination for Yomiuri Giants players. A group of Kyojin, including Shinnosuke Abe, captain Hayato Sakamoto and newly acquired reliever Masahiko Morifuku among them, recently arrived in the U.S. territory to train on their own before returning for camp.

Another Giants player, Shun Yamaguchi, acquired last month in free agency, left Japan on Thursday to train in Saipan. Also headed there were Yomiuri’s Ryuji Aikawa, and the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters’ Taishi Ota and a few others.

Fighters star Sho Nakata, meanwhile, was off to Hawaii.

While leaving Japan is a popular option, other players choose to train closer to home. A few of the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks headed to Okinawa, while Hanshin Tigers pitcher Shintaro Fujinami and Fighters reliever Naoki Miyanishi, returned to their respective high school alma maters to work out.

The Fighters’ Yuki Saito opened his 2017 training at the team’s decidedly not-Hawaii farm team facility in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture.

The offseason is much longer for fans than it is for the players, but NPB observers can take heart in the fact that this annual scattering of players means they’ll all be coming together again very soon.

WBC rule change: Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com on Thursday confirmed a rule change for the 2017 WBC that will create a “designated pitcher pool” of 10 players, from which up to two can be added after each round of the tournament.

The rule could make it more attractive for MLB hurlers Yu Darvish, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kenta Maeda and Masahiro Tanaka to suit up for Samurai Japan, and ease some of the reservations their teams may have about them potentially doing so.

With the semifinals and final to be held at Dodger Stadium, Maeda’s home park, in Los Angeles, those players being able to play without having to travel to Japan, and where their teams could keep a closer eye on them, could grease the wheels enough to give Japan a late boost if the team advances that far.

Dutch add NPB arm: The Netherlands, which reached the semifinals of the 2013 World Baseball Classic, got some good news earlier in the week when the Dutch federation announced Hawks pitcher Rik van den Hurk, will pitch for the country in the 2017 WBC.

Van den Hurk is 16-3 with a 3.14 ERA in two seasons in Japan, after spending parts of six in MLB and two in the Korea Baseball Organization. The right-hander pitched for the Dutch during the 2009 WBC (going 0-1, allowing three runs — one earned — in 5⅓innings in two starts), but didn’t pitch for the country in 2013.

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