Italy battles Japan in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals on March 16, 2023 at 6 am (ET)

Italy battles Japan in the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals on March 16, 2023 at 6 am (ET)
15/03/2023
Team Italy faces undefeated Japan at the Tokyo Dome on Thursday, March 16, 2023 at 6 am (ET). Azzuri manager Mike Piazza said, "It's a great honor for us to play here against this opponent, We'll do everything to bring home the victory."

Team Italy is the underdog against powerhouse Japan at the Tokyo Dome on Thursday, March 16, 2023 at 6 am (ET). The game will be broadcast live on FS2.  

The Italians practiced for the first time on the artificial turf surface at the Tokyo Dome yesterday. The iconic venue, which has hosted Japanese and international baseball games since 1988, and is the current home for the Yomiuri Giants. The sold-out contest between Team Italy and Japan is the final game of the World Baseball Classic quarterfinals. Cuba defeated Australia 4-3 last night at the Tokyo Dome to earn the right to advance to the semifinals in Miami. Team Italy wants to shock the world by beating Japan in front of over 50,000 fans to join Cuba in the WBC semifinals in Florida.  

The Azzurri have made a roster move for the big showdown against Japan. Left-handed reliever Brian Marconi, a Philadelphia Phillies pitching prospect who spent time in Triple-A last season, has replaced right hander Joe Biagini. The hot bats of Nicky Lopez (8-for-16, 7 RBI) and Brett Sullivan (6-for-15, 2 RBI) as well as the Fletcher brothers will be put to the test against Japan starter Shohei Ohtani, who threw four innings against China and hit .500 at the plate was selected as the Pool B MVP.  Team Italy will counter with starting pitcher Ryan Castellani, who was last seen as the starter against Chinese Taipei in Taichung, Taiwan on March 11, 2023.  All pitchers except Matt Harvey, who is forced to rest four days after throwing 57 pitchers to pick up the win against KIngdom of the Netherlands on March 12, 2023, are available to be deployed in the quarterfinal game against Japan.

Undefeated Japan enters the quarterfinals with four wins, during which time the offense scored 38 runs with 11 doubles and 4 home runs. The Japanese defense only allowed eight runs in 36 innings of play. The pitchers collectively struck out 54 batters, while issuing just four walks.  

Japanese manager Hideki Kuriyama recently called up right-handed pitcher Soichiro Yamazaki to take the place of Ryoji Kuribayashi. After Shohei Ohtani starts on the mound, pitcher Yu Darvish may serve as a reliever. Outfielder Lars Nootbaar, a favorite in the St. Louis Cardinals organization as well as in Japan, went 6-for-14 at the plate in his first four games, while utilityman Kensuke Kondoh went 7-for-15 with two home runs. Munetaka Murakami and Masataka Yoshida are also to be feared in the batter’s box. 

Japan has always entered the semifinals in the history of the World Baseball Classic. The Asian powerhouse won the 2006 and 2009 WBC. However, Japan lost to Puerto Rico in the 2013 WBC semifinals and again to USA in the 2017 WBC semifinals. 

Team Italy manager Mike Piazza said, "It's a great honor for us to play against Japan, a strong team with a tradition. We've just had a series of intense games and I think we're ready. If we play good baseball and limit mistakes as much as possible, we can have the same possibility. From a defensive point of view we showed good things, but we will have to be perfect in terms of defense and positioning against a team like Japan. Our condition is good, we are working with the staff to ensure that the boys are ready and that they come back without injuries. Facing Ohtani is a great opportunity with a player that comes your way once in your life. Is it an all-in game for them? Everything to bring home the victory"

Team Italy infielder David Fletcher said, "Playing at the Tokyo Dome against Shohei will be wonderful. It's a game without tomorrow and it doesn't happen many times in their career except in the playoffs. They have a lot of talent and level pitchers. For our part, we will bring our energy on the field and we will try to bring you to Miami. We spoke briefly with Shohei but there was no bellicose declaration... It will be fun to face him and we will try to do the best we can against him and the other pitchers." Forza #Italia!

by Roberto Angotti

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(Photo of Team Italy first baseman Vinnie Pasquantino by IABF)