3/15/2013 8:55 P.M. ET
Team Japan catches up with big league countrymen
By Doug Miller / MLB.com
MESA, Ariz. -- Don and Charlie's is one of the most legendary Spring Training haunts around these parts, and while the specialties there are steaks, chops and ribs, the Scottsdale restaurant got a good helping of Japanese flavor on Wednesday night.
That's when Team Japan gathered for a meal on its first evening in the United States after wrapping up its third consecutive semifinal berth in the World Baseball Classic. And that's where the current members of the team, which does not feature a single active big league player, reunited with some of the Japanese Major League stalwarts who are in their Cactus League camps getting ready for Opening Day.
Indians pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, Cubs pitcher Kyuji Fujikawa, Brewers outfielder Norichika Aoki, A's shortstop Hiroyuki Nakahima and Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma were on hand, and, as current Team Japan starter Masahiro Tanaka said, it was a gesture that meant a lot to the team.
"It was nice to see our fellow big leaguers," Tanaka said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "They're actually seniors of ours. We're the juniors to them. So that was very nice for them to come over, and they made us all happy."
Team Japan feeling good about its offense
MESA, Ariz. -- Team Japan might have lost its final exhibition tune-up prior to heading off to the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic, but the club seems pretty satisfied with what went on in the hot desert air.
The Cubs beat Japan at HoHoKam Stadium on Friday on a walk-off home run, but Team Japan scored five runs one day after scoring six against the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants. That's right where they want to be for next week's Championship Round at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
"These two games in Arizona, we scored a lot of runs, we got a lot of hits, and that's exactly what we're looking for here," hitting coach Kazuyoshi Tatsunami said. "We want to go to San Francisco feeling good about our batting, feeling good that we're hitting the ball well and scoring runs."
Team Japan stacked the lineup with right-handed hitters against Cubs southpaw starter Travis Wood, and afterward Tatsunami said it was a strategic move to prepare for lefties the club might face in San Francisco.
Sho Nakata and Hayato Sakamoto each hit two-run home runs off Wood, opening the eyes of some Cubs who might have been expecting more of a finesse game from the Japanese.
"The first home run by the first baseman [Nakata], he was very quick and turned on that ball," Cubs bench coach and acting manager Jamie Quirk said. "I know Travis Wood was surprised he got to it, and our catcher was surprised."
It was all very encouraging for Tatsunami and Team Japan manager Koji Yamamoto.
"So that's what we got out of this, that feeling of coming to America with the time difference and the jet lag and everything is different," Tatsunami said. "We feel good now going to San Francisco that our bats are working."
Talented righty Tanaka not looking past Classic
MESA, Ariz. -- Starter Masahiro Tanaka has made more headlines in the United States than most of his Japan teammates, and for good reason. Reports have indicated that the right-hander might be posted, along with his teammate, starter Kenta Maeda, to Major League Baseball next winter.
Tanaka threw two innings in Thursday afternoon's exhibition against the Giants in Scottsdale, and on Friday he was hounded by autograph seekers in the stands at HoHoKam Park. He is slated to get the ball for the final game of the World Baseball Classic if Japan makes it that far next week.
On Friday, Tanaka, who pitches for the Rakuten Eagles in Japan, was asked if he is soaking in the Major League atmosphere here in America, if he's thinking about what it might be like to be in a Spring Training camp with a National or American League club next year, and if he's aware that scouts are watching his every move.
He laughed a bit, paused, and then delivered a media-savvy answer one can expect from a 24-year-old whose fastball was clocked at 96 mph in the last Classic in 2009.
"Right now, all that's on my mind is pitching for Japan in the World Baseball Classic," he said through interpreter Antony Suzuki. "That's all I'm thinking about."
• Cubs pitchers and Japanese natives Kyuji Fujikawa and Hisanori Takahashi spoke to the throng of over 100 Japanese media members prior to Friday's exhibition. Fujikawa was a member of the 2006 and 2009 Japanese World Baseball Classic teams but decided, along with the Cubs, not to participate this year in order to get better acclimated to the United States prior to his debut Major League season. Fujikawa, a 32-year-old right-hander who played for the Hanshin Tigers in Japan, signed with the Cubs in early December for two years and $9.5 million and figures to be the setup man for closer Carlos Marmol.
• Quirk, who was acting manager for Chicago during the exhibition, had Fujikawa, a Classic veteran, bring the lineup card to the umpires before the game began. "That was my idea," Quirk said. "Playing in Japan, I thought it would be an honor. He didn't know what it was all about, but I talked to our interpreter about it. I knew they'd be taking a lot of pictures and thought it would be fun for him to go out."
• Yamamoto played for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp for 18 years (1969-86) and was named MVP of the Central League in 1975 and 1980. He was a 14-time All-Star who ranks fourth all-time in Nippon Professional Baseball history with 536 career home runs. In November 1974, Yamamoto played against the New York Mets, who were on a Japanese tour. Team USA manager Joe Torre was playing first base for the Mets during that tour.
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.