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Baseball: Otani to be removed from WBC roster

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- Shohei Otani will be taken off the 28-man roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic, Samurai Japan skipper Hiroki Kokubo said Friday.

    Within the next few days Otani will be replaced with another starting pitcher on the final roster, which must be submitted by the Feb. 6 deadline.

    "The condition (of his ankle) hasn't reached a level we had hoped. We're not in a position where we can ask him to push it," said Kokubo, who revealed that he notified Otani of the decision over the phone.

    The two-way Nippon Ham Fighters player had been suffering from pain in his right ankle after he injured it while base running in Game 4 of the Japan Series on Oct. 26.

    The injury worsened during the national squad's warm-up games against Mexico and the Netherlands in November, eventually prompting him to train separately from his teammates in Arizona, where the Fighters' spring training officially began Wednesday.

    Otani said on Tuesday he would not pitch in the March 7-22 WBC, keeping alive hopes of him remaining on the roster as a designated hitter.

    A day later he voiced concern over the risk of delaying his preparations as a pitcher should he decide to take part in the WBC as a hitter, while Samurai Japan batting coach Atsunori Inaba had said "I don't know whether it's best for him to play or best to pull out rather than overdo it."

    Two-time defending champion Japan, with a current roster featuring 13 pitchers, faces Cuba in a Pool B game at Tokyo Dome on March 7. The playoffs begin March 16, and the final will be held March 22 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, United States.

    Fighters manager Hideki Kuriyama said Thursday that it is also unlikely Otani will start on Opening Day for the third straight year in the March 31 home opener against the Seibu Lions.

    The MVP of Japan's Pacific League in 2016, Otani also won the league's Best Nine Award for pitching and designated hitter.

    He posted a career low 1.86 ERA last season and went 10-4 with 174 strikeouts in 140 innings. He was just as productive at the plate, batting .322 with 22 home runs and 67 RBIs in 104 games.

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