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Matsui frets for his Japan homeland

    PHOENIX _ Despite the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan early Friday morning, the A’s new Japanese designated hitter, Hideki Matsui, was in the lineup for Oakland’s spring training game here against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But Matsui was well aware of the catastrophe, first learning of the earthquake on the Internet Thursday night and staying up until midnight to try and get more details of the extensive damage.
Speaking through interpreter Roger Kahlon, the 36-year-old DH expressed concerned and sympathy for the people of his native country.
“I heard about it last night, actually, but I didn’t have much information about it at first,” Matsui said. “As time went on, I started to understand the caliber of the situation. It is disturbing. I’m a bit worried, especially for the people who live in the area.”

Matsui said he has yet to communicate with any family members or friends in Japan. Even though he resides in Tokyo, most of his family is in Ishikawa, which is located in the southwest part of Japan, a significant distance from the earthquake’s offshore epicenter in the northeast part of the country.

“I haven’t spoken to anybody,” he said. “But they (his family) are not really close to the area, so I think they’re OK.”

He did admit that even though he believes the people he’s closest to are safe, he is still concerned for their mental well-being, especially after seeing some of the footage of the devastation on television.

“It is a bit difficult to watch,” he said. “Even though you’re away, it’s hard to see all that’s going on and knowing that you have much family and people you know (in Japan).”

Matsui has long been concerned about earthquakes in Asia. He donated $500,000 towards relief efforts for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.

The 30 or so Japanese media members covering Matsui’s first spring with the A’s were on hand Friday as well. Many said communication to Japan is virtually impossible at the moment since telephone lines are either overtaxed or out of service as a result of the quake.

The A’s announced that the team will help raise funds to aid victims of the disaster.  The A’s open the 2011 season with a three-game series at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum against the Seattle Mariners and plans are being made to add a fundraising component for Japanese Heritage Day, scheduled for the series’ final game Sunday, April 3.

Details of the benefit game, which will feature Japan’s two greatest modern-day players in Oakland’s Hideki Matsui and Seattle’s Ichiro Suzuki, will be announced at a later date.

Matsui also issued an official statement through the organization: “I am deeply concerned and affected by what is happening in Japan. I pray for the safety of all the people that have been affected and continue to be affected by this disaster.”

 

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It’ll be another day of rest for first baseman Daric Barton. Manager Bob Geren thought Barton would be ready to play the last two days, but the nagging calf injury suffered in a game collision Sunday is still troubling him. Geren said he was unsure when Barton might be able to play, but noted that if it were the regular season, he probably could play but there is no sense in pushing it with so much time left in spring training.

Elsewhere, fifth-starter candidate Rich Harden has been making good progress in his long-toss sessions and his next step will be to throw off the mound, although not in a game. There is still no word when reliever Craig Breslow (hamstring strain) might be available to pitch, but Breslow is still getting conditioning work in and throwing lightly on the side. Backup infielder candidate Eric Sogard has a thumb injury that has kept him out of games the past two days and limited his activity.

The A’s play split-squad games today. Here are the lineups:

In Phoenix vs. the Dodgers: CF Crisp, 2B Ellis, DH Matsui, LF Willingham, 1B Carter, SS LaRoche, C Powell, RF Miller, 3B Tolleson. Gio Gonzalez starting on the mound.

And in Maryvale against the Brewers: CF DeJesus, 2B Weeks, RF Jackson, DH Carson, C Donaldson, 1B Timmons, Lf Taylor, SS Green, 3B Cardenas. Tyson Ross starts, with fifth-starter Josh Outman also slated to pitch.

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A’s general manager Billy Beane confirmed the signing of 17-year-old South Korean catching prospect Seong-Min Kim, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound prep out of Yatap High in Seoul. Kim is noted for his right-handed power.

Beane said Dan Kantrovitz, the A’s coordinator of international operations, had been closely monitoring Kim’s potential availability and pounced when it became evident he wanted to turn pro. The A’s reportedly signed him to a deal worth $510,000.

“We’re pretty excited,” Beane said.

Carl Steward