February 01, 2017

TOKYO (AP) Shohei Otani will not pitch for Japan in next month's World Baseball Classic because of injury, although he may still hit.

Since helping the Nippon Ham Fighters win the Japan Series last fall, the 22-year-old Otani has been struggling to recover from soreness in his right ankle.

''It would have been difficult in terms of getting ready in time. It's unfortunate but I won't be able to pitch in the WBC,'' said Otani, who is in Arizona where the Fighters are holding a spring camp.

Otani played a key role as a batter when Japan faced the Netherlands and Mexico in exhibition games in November. Last season, he batted .322 with a career-high 22 home runs.

Tuesday's decision was made by Nippon Ham manager Hideki Kuriyama. The Fighters' training staff said if the ankle got any worse, Otani may have needed surgery.

Otani was tentatively scheduled to start Japan's first WBC game on March 7 in Tokyo against Cuba.

Japan won the inaugural WBC in 2006 and defended its title in 2009. The Dominican Republic won in 2013.

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