Baseball: Kokubo To Lean Heavily On Sugano Against Cuba

Baseball: Kokubo to lean heavily on Sugano against CubaThe day after an exhausting 11-inning World Baseball Classic marathon, Samurai Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said his plan for Tuesday's game against Cuba will be to get a big start from Tomoyuki Sugano.
Kokubo's team remained unbeaten in the tournament with its 8-6 win over the Netherlands in their second-round opener at Tokyo Dome on Sunday. But the perfect record meant little to Kokubo, whose only sure route to the final round in Los Angeles is a perfect 3-0 record in Pool E. The quarterfinal pool in Tokyo also includes Israel, a 4-1 winner over Cuba on Sunday.

"Our record is what we've already done. Everything is about winning tomorrow," Kokubo told reporters at Tokyo Dome. "Of course, it's great to have a winning atmosphere, but we're in a situation where one loss could eliminate you."

Against the Dutch, Kokubo used nine pitchers and will not have that luxury against the Cubans, whom they defeated 11-6 in their Pool B opener last Tuesday. Instead, Kokubo is banking on a big game from Tomoyuki Sugano, who will be caught by Yomiuri Giants teammate Seiji Kobayashi.

"Our starter tomorrow will be Sugano," Kokubo said. Yesterday I used up the bullpen, and hopefully he can throw all 80 pitches (allowed). If asked to say what I want, it's for him to get us into the late innings."

"He (Kobayashi) regularly catches Sugano, so I think it will be easier for him to call the game. I want him (Kobayashi) to be confident."

As far as defensive tactics go, Kokubo said he had two priorities against Cuba, both centering around veteran slugger Alfredo Despaigne, who is now entering his fourth season in Nippon Professional Baseball.

"In these few games, Despaigne's offense, that run production is what we need to be most cautious about," Kokubo said. "The first thing is don't put runners on ahead of him, so that makes it important to keep their leadoff man (Roel) Santos off base."

Despaigne, who will play this season for the SoftBank Hawks, has three homers and six RBIs in his first four games.