BASEBALL/ Japanese pitchers struggling to come to grips with WBC ball

February 05, 2013

By YUKI OMATA/ Staff Writer

During spring training camp, Japanese pitchers are getting their hands for the first time on the ball they'll be using at the upcoming 2013 World Baseball Classic and are giving it mixed reviews.

All 12 of Japan's professional clubs use the official ball made in Japan during the season, but during the WBC, players have to adjust to a ball that was made by a U.S. company and has a different feel.

The WBC balls feel more roughly made and vary in terms of seam position and even the width between the seams.

The leather feels dry, and many pitchers said the WBC ball slips from their hands.

Seibu Lions’ pitcher Kazuhisa Makita is trying to get adjusted to the balls in an effort to be selected as a national team member for the first time. He was given the balls at the end of last year and used them during voluntary off-season training sessions.

“I've felt stiffness in different parts of my arm,” Makita said, indicating he used different muscles than usual to deal with throwing the slippery balls.

In training camp, Makita enlists the help of other players and uses the WBC balls not only for playing catch but also in fielding drills.

During the first three days of spring training, Makita threw pitches in the bullpen with the WBC balls.

“When I try to throw high, the ball still does not go where I want it to,” Makita said. “It is difficult.”

On the other hand, pitchers who have played in the WBC said they do not care about the differences in the balls.

“No problem,” said Masahiro Tanaka of the Rakuten Eagles, who pitched in the 2009 WBC.

Yomiuri Giants pitcher Tetsuya Yamaguchi added, “What I only have to do is get used to the ball.”

Along with getting accustomed to the new ball, pitchers are noticing that their pitches are breaking more.

“Dropping balls fall more sharply than I thought they would,” said pitcher Atsushi Nomi of the Hanshin Tigers.

Tetsuya Utsumi of the Yomiuri Giants said whether he can throw changeups with the ball will be a key, since "a large part of the hand touches the leather when throwing a changeup.”

Another problem is that Japanese pitchers have been given only a small number of the WBC balls to work with.

“When the ball gets dirty, it become easy to throw,” said Takuya Asao of the Chunichi Dragons, who complained that he was given only a dozen balls at the end of last year. “I want to use new balls every day.”

The rosin bag, a small bag full of white powder that pitchers spread on their hands to keep them dry and improve their grip on the ball, is also different. The rosin bags used in Japanese professional leagues release powder but the rosin used in the WBC feels sticky, players said.

“When I throw a slider the ball gets caught in my fingers,” said Masahiko Morifuku, who pitches for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

By YUKI OMATA/ Staff Writer
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Seibu Lions pitcher Kazuhisa Makita, center, talks with Lions skipper Hisanobu Watanabe, left, and pitching coach Tadashi Sugimoto about the unfamiliar feel of the WBC ball and the rosin bag. (Yuki Omata)

Seibu Lions pitcher Kazuhisa Makita, center, talks with Lions skipper Hisanobu Watanabe, left, and pitching coach Tadashi Sugimoto about the unfamiliar feel of the WBC ball and the rosin bag. (Yuki Omata)

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  • Seibu Lions pitcher Kazuhisa Makita, center, talks with Lions skipper Hisanobu Watanabe, left, and pitching coach Tadashi Sugimoto about the unfamiliar feel of the WBC ball and the rosin bag. (Yuki Omata)

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