Otani says he won’t pitch in World Baseball Classic

In this Nov. 12, 2016 photo, Japan's designated hitter Shohei Otani swings during his team's batting practice prior to an international exhibition series baseball game against the Netherlands at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo. Otani says he will not pitch for Japan in next month's World Baseball Classic due to injury, although he may still hit. Otani, who is in Arizona where his team Nippon Ham Fighters are holding a spring camp, said Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017: "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." (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)

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.