© 2008 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

11/21/08 9:26 AM EST

Dice-K prepared to pitch in Classic

MVP of inaugural tourney hopes to defend title for Japan

BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka, the Most Valuable Player of the inaugural World Baseball Classic in 2006, says that he is ready to help Japan defend its title.

"I'll accept the offer if I'm asked to play," Matsuzaka told The Associated Press in Tokyo. "I'll pick up the pace of my training in December so that I won't have to scramble at the last minute."

Having Matsuzaka at the front of the rotation would certainly bolster Japan's chances of repeating.

Ever since high school -- when he starred in the famed Koshien Tournament -- Matsuzaka has craved the big stage and excelled on it.

In the 2006 Classic -- at a time when he wasn't well-known outside of Japan -- Matsuzaka put himself on the baseball map in emphatic fashion. He went 3-0 with a 1.38 ERA in three starts, including the championship game against Cuba.

Eight months later, Major League teams lined up to make blind bids to the Seibu Lions for the star righty, and the Red Sox prevailed with a record-setting offer of $51.1 million.

A month later, Matsuzaka signed with the Red Sox for six years at $52 million.

The Red Sox have enjoyed the return on the investment thus far. In Matsuzaka's first season, he won 15 games during the regular season and also posted victories in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series and Game 3 of the World Series.

Dice-K took it up a notch in 2008, going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA and finishing fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting. Matsuzaka pitched a gem against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 1 of the ALCS, firing seven shutout innings in a 2-0 victory. The Red Sox lost the series in seven games.

"I won 18 games, but in the United States, people severely look at the way you perform," Matsuzaka said. "I had a fulfilling season, though, with both good and bad experiences."

The second World Baseball Classic begins on March 5, and Pool A, the one Japan is slated for, will take place at Tokyo Dome.

Japan is likely to not only have Matsuzaka, but also Ichiro Suzuki, the Seattle Mariners' star outfielder who recently said he was intent on playing.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.