NAGOYA – Samurai Japan started its countdown to the 2017 World Baseball Classic on Saturday with a 5-0 win in the first of two exhibition games against Taiwan.
Yakult Swallows catcher Yuhei Nakamura broke the ice in the bottom of the second inning with a two-out, two-run double to put Japan in front. Former Yokohama BayStars lefty Wang I-cheng helped set up the inning with a one-out walk to Chunichi Dragons outfielder Ryosuke Hirata. With two outs, Ikuhiro Kiyota of the Chiba Lotte Marines lined the game’s first hit to center. Nakamura fouled off a 2-2 pitch to keep the inning alive before smoking a grounder past third to bring home the runners from first and second.
“He’s a pitcher with a good changeup, so I wanted to keep my swing compact and lay off low pitches,” Nakamura said.
Yomiuri Giants right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano came out with good command of his fastball and didn’t allow a runner until No. 9 hitter Wang Sheng-wei doubled with two outs in the third.
“I was able to throw the ball the way I thought I would and Nakamura did a good job of calling pitches,” Sugano said.
In Samurai Japan’s first game at Nagoya Dome, Hirata elicited a roar at his home park every time his name was announced. He gave the fans even more to cheer for in the fourth, when he singled in two more runs for Japan. With two outs, Sho Nakata of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters drew Japan’s third walk of the night, and BayStars slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo doubled off his former teammate Wang to put runners on second and third for Hirata.
Wang allowed four runs on four hits and three walks, while striking out none. His replacement, Wang Ching-ming, retired Japan in order in the fourth, but surrendered some hard-hit balls in the fifth.
Hayato Sakamoto of the Giants led off with a line single, and the Yakult Swallows’ Central League MVP, Tetsuto Yamada, followed with a booming double. With one out, Tsutsugo made it 5-0 with a line out to left for a sacrifice fly.
Dragons lefty Yudai Ono worked two scoreless innings in relief of Sugano, and Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro “Ryan” Ogawa worked two perfect innings.
Side-arming Swallows right-hander Ryo Akiyoshi struck out the side in the eighth. Fighters closer Hirotoshi Masui delivered a 1-2-3 ninth to close it out.
“This is the home ground for Dragons players and Ono and Hirata did well,” said Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo. “The Taiwan batting order was a collection of top players from the Taiwanese league and Japan’s pitchers produced their best for a shutout.”
In Sunday’s game at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome, Japan will send Fukuoka Softbank Hawks right-hander Shota Takeda to the mound against Taiwan lefty Ni Fu-tei.