In a major upset, two-time defending champion Japan lost to Puerto Rico 3-1 in the World Baseball Classic semifinal at AT&T Park on March 17 before a crowd of 33,683.
The Samurai were held hitless through three innings by Puerto Rican starter Mario Santiago, a career minor-leaguer. Japanese starter Kenta Maeda gave up just one run, but Alex Rios’ two-run homer off Atsushi Nohmi in the seventh sealed the victory for Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico advanced to the semis after defeating Team USA in an elimination game on March 15. Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino struggled to produce throughout the tournament, going 1-for-11 with one RBI and five strikeouts.
Prior to the March 17 loss, Japan played a tune-up game in Scottsdale, Ariz. on March 14 against the San Francisco Giants, defeating the World Series champs 6-3. Giants infielder Kensuke Tanaka went 1-for-3 and turned two double plays in the contest. Batting just .233, Tanaka is still in the mix with Tony Abreu and Wilson Valdez to take the backup utility spot. Tanaka has three stolen bases and scored eight runs in 17 at-bats.
Meanwhile, Oakland Athletics lefty reliever Hideki Okajima gave up a two-run homer against the Chicago Cubs on March 17. The former all-star has a 5.87 ERA with six strikeouts and one save in seven appearances.
The veteran still has a chance to make the Opening Day roster.
Athletics shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima continues to struggle at the plate, batting just .194, but seems to be doing well defensively. He’s reportedly been working with A’s coach Mike Gallego to improve his throwing.
Chicago Cub Kyuji Fujikawa has seven strikeouts in 6.0 innings of work. Potential spot starter Hisanori Takahashi is 1-1 in five games with a 4.09 ERA in 11.0 innings. Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney continues to struggle at the plate hitting .214 in 42 at-bats.
Seattle Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has a 2.70 ERA in 10.0 innings, continuing to display good command.
Los Angeles Dodgers closer Brandon League is having a terrible spring, surrendering six earned runs in just 3.1 innings.
Despite allowing 12 hits in three games including two starts, pitcher Jerome Williams still seems poised for a long reliever role, especially after the Los Angeles Angels released pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi. The 34-year-old right hander will seek opportunities elsewhere.
Kansas City Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie is 1-0 in two starts this spring with a 6.00 ERA. The former Stanford standout is in contention for the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
Texas Rangers right-hander Yu Darvish has 10 strikeouts in 8.2 innings. Looking to land a spot in the Rangers bullpen, 37-year-old reliever Yoshinori Tateyama was sent down to the minors on March 19.
Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki has a .226 average in 12 games.
Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki has only struck out three times in 23 at-bats and is still the stabilizing force behind the plate.
Baltimore Orioles first baseman Travis Ishikawa is hitting just .179, but may still make the roster for his defensive prowess.
New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki appears to be in mid-season form with a .387 average and three stolen bases. Yankees pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is 1-2 in three starts with 10 strikeouts in 11.2 innings this spring.
Boston Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara has been perfect in his six appearances, striking out six. Potential closer Junichi Tazawa has a 2.25 ERA with six strike outs and one walk in 6.0 innings.
Pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka accepted assignment to Triple-A Columbus after the Cleveland Indians notified him March 18 that he will not be on the Opening Day roster.
Drew Morita, a Yonsei from the island of Kaua‘i, grew up rooting for the Oakland A’s but is now a loyal San Francisco Giants fan. He writes from San Francisco.