Taiwan face tough battles for three straight days starting tomorrow in Group B of the Premier 12 tournament, hosting Japan, Venezuela and Puerto Rico as they chase a berth at next year’s Tokyo Olympics.
Taiwan have an all-star line-up from the nation’s professional clubs and players plying their trade in Japan and the US, although there are concerns regarding the depleted pitching staff.
Head coach Hong Yi-chung is expected to use Lamigo’s Chen Yu-hsun and Chen Hong-wen of the Fubon Guardians in late-innings situations, although there are questions over their consistency this season.
Hong will likely look to three overseas-based pitchers in his starting rotation: Chiang Shao-ching, a 3A player with Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, Chang Yi at Japan’s Orix Buffaloes and Hu Chih-wei, a 2A player with the MLB’s Chicago Cubs.
Hong, manager of this year’s CPBL championship-winning Lamigo Monkeys, has other options as starters, including Liao Yi-chung of the Brothers and Chen Kuan-yu from the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan, but he will not have veteran left-hander Chen Wei-yin, who is pitching for the MLB’s Florida Marlins.
Premier 12 reached an understanding with US baseball officials that players active on the 40-man rosters at MLB teams would not be named in national squads.
There are other notable absences. Hong named several top Taiwanese pitchers, including top-rated closer C.C. Lee of the Brothers, Sung Chia-hao from the Rakuten Golden Eagles in Japan and Liu Chih-jung, the outstanding 20-year-old who excelled for Taiwan as they won the Asian Baseball Championship last month and is heading to the US after signing with the Boston Red Sox, but they cannot play due to injuries.
Hong has the power hitters from this year’s Taiwan Series, including league MVP Chu Yu-hsien from the Monkeys, who hit 30 home runs this season, and shortstop Lin Li and first baseman Chen Chun-hsiu, who finished one-two in batting averages this year.
“The players are still making adjustments, some are not batting so well and kept getting struck out,” Hong said yesterday. “They have to get used to foreign pitchers, who have different styles than what they normally face.”
“Our pitchers also need more time to get into their groove, as they have to adjust the different brand of baseball at this tournament,” he said.
Group B opens tomorrow with Japan playing Venezuela at 6pm in Taoyuan, while Taiwan host Puerto Rico at 6:30pm in Taichung.
Taiwan pitching coach Wang Chien-ming, a former New York Yankees pitcher, called on players to go all-out to win their opener.
“Taking the first game is very important,” Wang said. “Winning the opener boosts confidence.”
“We have more young players this time. They can only learn and grow through the stimulation of international competition,” he said. “A victory will bolster the team spirit and lift the enthusiasm of fans at the ballpark.”
On Wednesday, Japan face Puerto Rico at 6pm in Taoyuan, while Taiwan play Venezuela at 6:30pm in Taichung.
Taiwan beat Australia 7-1 in a warm-up game in Taichung last night.