By Leif Skodnick
World Baseball Network
With 18 days to go before the start of the 2023 World Baseball Classic, Japan plans to put a rotation of starting pitchers on the mound that could snuff out the offenses of any lineup they face.
It’s a daunting rotation for the four opponents in Pool B – China, Australia, the Czech Republic, and Korea – to have to face just to survive pool play, though that will be mitigated, at least somewhat, by rules at the WBC limiting pitch counts. In pool play, pitchers will be limited to just 65 pitches per outing, which will limit most starters to somewhere between four and five innings of action. Pitchers who reach the limit can finish the current at-bat before leaving the game.
In the quarterfinals, pitchers will be limited to 80 pitches, and in the semifinals and finals, pitchers can throw 95 pitches before having to come out.
Of the four likely starters for Japan, Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the one casual fans in the United States have probably heard the least about, though hardcore fans and scouts salivate over the thought of the day that Yoshinobu Yamamoto either asks to be posted or becomes an international free agent.
A 5-foot-10, 177 pound righty, Yamamoto throws a fastball that tops out at 99 mph, complemented by a splitter, a cutter, and a curveball.
The 24-year-old has compiled a 1.95 ERA in six seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball with the Orix Buffaloes, winning the Eiji Nakamura Award as the league’s best pitcher in 2021 and 2022 as well as the pitching triple crown and Pacific League MVP both of those years. He’s compiled a 54-23 record in 149 games with a WHIP of .947 and 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings, and threw a no-hitter on June 18, 2022, in a 2-0 win for Orix against the Saitama Seibu Lions.
Ohtani, Darvish, and Sasaki round out the Japan rotation, with Ohtani likely to take the mound when Japan opens pool play against China on March 9 at 5 a.m. ET. That game will be televised on Fox Sports 2.