Baseball: Hirano among 9 pitchers named to Japan's DP pool for WBC
Orix Buffaloes right-hander Yoshihisa Hirano was assigned to Samurai Japan's designated pitcher pool allotment on Wednesday, when each team's final rosters were announced in New York.
The closer was originally named to manager Hiroki Kokubo's roster and is now the only pitcher who can be switched out after the first round to take advantage of the tournament's new designated pitcher pool rule.
Organizers announced the finalized rosters for all 16 participating teams who qualified for pool play for the 2017 tournament, including the 10-man designated pitcher pools. Each team can have up to two "designated pitchers," who are the only players who can be replaced for reasons other than injury.
Kokubo could have named another pitcher on his roster to the designated pool for greater flexibility, but opted not to. He had earlier expressed his intention to use the DPP only in case of player injury -- when a pitcher could be replaced anyway upon making a request to the tournament organizers.
Hirano could be replaced after either of the first two rounds without injury by another of the other eight pitchers in Kokubo's pool. If Kokubo does switch out Hirano after the first round, the closer could not later be activated, although his replacement could be substituted ahead of the tournament's final round in Los Angeles.
Norichika Aoki is the sole major leaguer on the Japan squad, who is hoping to win its third WBC title after a semifinal exit in 2013.
Nippon Ham Fighters two-way player Shohei Otani was forced to withdraw due to a lingering ankle injury.
Foreign players registered in Nippon Professional Baseball were released by their respective teams for the WBC, including Yakult Swallows' Wladimir Balentien and SoftBank Hawks' Rick van den Hurk, who were both named to the Dutch team.
Pacific League home run champ Brandon Laird and Fighters teammate, pitcher Luis Mendoza will join Luis Cruz (Yomiuri Giants) and Japhet Amador (Rakuten Eagles) with Mexico, while pitchers Chen Kuan-yu (Lotte Marines) and Kuo Chun-lin (Seibu Lions) are with Taiwan.
Robert Suarez (SoftBank Hawks) is playing for Venezuela and Scott Mathieson (Giants) for Canada.
The WBC begins March 6 with South Korea facing Israel at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Japan's first game is at Tokyo Dome on March 7 against Cuba, which will feature new SoftBank Hawks Alfredo Despaigne. The outfielder and designated hitter spent the past three seasons with the Lotte Marines.
The roster (+denotes active designated pitchers pool, ++denotes designated pitchers pool):
Pitchers -- Ryo Akiyoshi (Yakult Swallows), Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers), +Yoshihisa Hirano (Orix Buffaloes), ++Kenta Ishida (DeNA Baystars), Ayumu Ishikawa (Lotte Marines), ++Yuta Iwasada (Tigers), Kazuhisa Makita (Seibu Lions), ++Tatsushi Masuda (Lions), Hirotoshi Masui (Nippon Ham Fighters), Yuki Matsui (Eagles), Naoki Miyanishi (Fighters), ++Masahiko Morifuku (Yomiuri Giants), ++Yusuke Nomura (Hiroshima Carp), Takahiro Norimoto (Rakuten Eagles), ++Daichi Osera (Carp), Toshiya Okada (Chunichi Dragons), ++Hirokazu Sawamura (Giants), Kodai Senga (SoftBank Hawks), Tomoyuki Sugano (Giants), Shota Takeda (Hawks), ++Yasuaki Yamasaki (BayStars)
Catchers -- Seiji Kobayashi (Giants), Shota Ono (Fighters), Motohiro Shima (Eagles)
Infielders -- Ryosuke Kikuchi (Carp), Nobuhiro Matsuda (Hawks), Sho Nakata (Fighters), Hayato Sakamoto (Giants), Kosuke Tanaka (Carp), Tetsuto Yamada (Swallows)
Outfielders -- Shogo Akiyama (Lions), Norichika Aoki (Houston Astros), Ryosuke Hirata (Dragons), Seiya Suzuki (Carp), Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (BayStars), Seiichi Uchikawa (Hawks)