SCOTTSDALE, ARIZONA – Masahiro Tanaka threw two innings of one-run ball Thursday for two-time defending champion Japan against the San Francisco Giants in what appeared to be potential dress rehearsal for the World Baseball Classic final next Tuesday.
The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles ace started and earned the win in a 6-3 victory over the reigning World Series champion in one of two exhibitions Japan will play in Arizona before moving on to San Francisco for the WBC final round.
“You could say he’s the natural choice to start in the final,” Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said after the game. “Depending on the particular pitch he is throwing, I think he’s in good form.”
Asked about who would start Sunday’s semifinal, Yamamoto said, “A guy who didn’t start today.”
Hiroshima Carp ace Kenta Maeda, who has allowed two hits and a walk, while striking out 15 in 10 scoreless innings over the first two rounds, would appear to be the likely candidate for the semis.
Tanaka allowed a run on three hits and a walk at Scottsdale Stadium, while striking out three.
“Although I allowed a run, it was a solid outing,” said Tanaka, who was making his first start since he allowed Brazil to get the upper hand in Japan’s first-round opener in Tokyo.
“The leadoff man got on with a single, but the problem was the walk that followed. If you challenge batters, sometimes you are going to give up hits. The walk was unnecessary. I got players to hit the ball on the ground and sometimes ground balls result in hits,” he said.
For three innings, Japan faced most of the regular position players that powered the Giants to the 2012 World Series title, although their starting pitcher was Triple-A journeyman Yusmeiro Petit, who allowed four runs on four hits and a walk over four innings.
“I was a little concerned about the jet lag, but I guess I shouldn’t have been,” Yamamoto said after his team outhit the Giants 11-5. “Since the second round, we have been getting runners on and advancing them. We’re in good form.”
In the second round, captain and cleanup hitter Shinnosuke Abe found his stroke and that has taken some of the burden off the rest of the players.
On Thursday, Abe went 2-for-4 with an RBI, while Sho Nakata, who played first against San Francisco, went 3-for-4 with an RBI triple and two runs scored.
“I have been able to swing the bat the way I like,” the 23-year-old slugger said. “Although I am getting results, there is still room for improvement.”
Takashi Toritani, whose first-inning, leadoff home run sparked a mercy-rule win over the Netherlands on Sunday at Tokyo Dome, led off against the Giants and belted a two-run double.
Yamamoto said the left-handed hitting Toritani would be his leadoff man against right-handed starting pitchers. Against southpaws, look to see Hisayoshi Chono, who went 1-for-3 with a run scored on Thursday. Yamamoto said infielder Hirokazu Ibata, who was named to the team to bring experience off the bench, but played himself into a starting role, would be his No. 2 hitter.
While most of the players on the field were unfamiliar with each other, that wasn’t the case for Giants infielder Kensuke Tanaka, who started at shortstop and went 1-for-3 with a strikeout.
Japan will play the Chicago Cubs on Friday afternoon in Mesa before traveling later that evening to San Francisco. Yamamoto’s squad will play in Sunday’s semifinal against the second-place team out of Miami’s Pool 2.