FULL COUNT: Spring Training and World Baseball Classic under way

Baseball is back and that’s a good thing. The Arizona Cactus League and Florida Grapefruit League began play on Feb. 22, and the 2013 World Baseball Classic started on March 1.

San Francisco Giants infielder Kensuke Tanaka had a slow start in the desert, but on March 2 against the Chicago Cubs he went 2-for-5 and turned a nice double play with Brandon Crawford.

Tanaka has logged the majority of the time at second base with Marco Scutaro playing in the WBC, but it’s still too early to tell whether he’ll start the season in San Francisco or Fresno.

Kansas City Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie allowed two runs in two innings against the Giants split-squad on March 2. Guthrie will open the season as the No. 2 or 3 starter no matter how he performs this spring.

Recently signed lefty Hideki Okajima deserves to be on the Oakland Athletics opening day roster period. In three appearances, the one-time all-star has allowed no runs and three strikeouts. Okajima had a 0.94 ERA in Japan last season. The 2007 World Series champion could definitely help the defending AL West champs go deeper in the playoffs.

Athletics shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima has struggled at the plate, going 3-for-14 with eight strikeouts. His most exciting moment this spring came on Feb. 28 when he singled off his good friend Chicago Cubs reliever Kyuji Fujikawa. Fujikawa has been solid in his three outings, striking out three with no runs allowed. His possible pen-mate, left-hander Hisanori Takahashi, has a 2.25 ERA in four innings of work. Takahashi is looking to land a job as the club’s lefty-specialist. Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney has improved his offense and is batting .267 with three RBIs.

Seattle Mariners pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma has a 3.00 ERA in two appearances. He has displayed better command and control than he did last spring when he gave up 20 hits.

Texas ace Yu Darvish tossed two perfect innings in his first Cactus League action on Feb. 26 as the Rangers lost 14-8 to the Chicago White Sox. His teammate Yoshinori Tateyama is out with lower back stiffness and has one strikeout in his lone appearance.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim pitcher Jerome Williams has allowed six runs on seven hits in just four innings, and will likely end up as the long reliever. Non-roster invitee Hiroyuki Kobayashi pitched a perfect inning for the Angels helping his quest for a bullpen spot.

Los Angeles Dodgers closer Brandon League has given up four runs in two appearances thus far, but remains a favorite of manager Don Mattingly.

Milwaukee Brewers right fielder Norichika Aoki is batting a dismal .200 in 15 at bats.

Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki is 3-for-10 through five games in the Grapefruit League and has been nicknamed the “captain of the rotation” by the Nats staff.

Cleveland Indians pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka hurled two scoreless innings in his spring debut against the Cincinnati Reds on Feb. 24, but gave up two earned runs in his next outing. Dice-K looks to be recovered from his elbow injury, which means he as a good chance to take the No. 5 spot in Terry Francona’s rotation.

Ichiro Suzuki went 3-for-3 in the New York Yankees’ 4-3 win over the Philadelphia Phillies on Feb. 26. Three days later his teammate Hiroki Kuroda gave up four runs in 3-2/3 innings pitched in the Yankees’ 10-5 loss to Phillies. Suzuki actually homered off Kuroda in an intrasquad game on Feb. 22.

Boston Red Sox reliever Koji Uehara has shown why he is one of the best relievers in the game. Uehara has been perfect in his three appearances, striking out three. Potential closer Junichi Tazawa surrendered a two-run shot in the Red Sox 5-3 loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Feb. 27. Tazawa has given up five hits in 3.1 innings. Orioles first baseman Travis Ishikawa is 1-for-10 at the plate. No surprise there, as he is known more for his defensive skills.

Outfielder Shane Victorino left the Red Sox camp to join Team USA, which plays its first WBC game in Pool D against Mexico on March 8 in Phoenix, Ariz.

In Pool A, Japan is 2-1 in their quest to win a third WBC crown. On March 2, the Samurai had to rally to beat Brazil 5-3 in their opening game in Fukuoka. Relief pitcher Tadashi Settsu earned the win for Japan while Oscar Nakaoshi took the loss for Brazil.

On March 3, Japan defeated China 5-2 with a stellar performance by pitcher Kenta Maeda who struck out six batters in five scoreless innings.

Japan and Cuba advanced to the second round with Cuba’s 12-0 win over China on March 4. Cuba bombarded Japan 6-3 in their first-round Pool A finale at Fukuoka Dome on March 6.

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.

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