Ito lifts Tigers past Japan


Following its only big-scoring game so far, manager Koji Yamamoto’s Japan lineup will face more scrutiny after being stymied by the Hanshin Tigers 1-0 in a World Baseball Classic tuneup game on Tuesday at Kyocera Dome.

Hanshin drew first blood in the bottom of the fifth inning on an RBI single by No. 9 hitter Hayata Ito off Seibu Lions ace Hideaki Wakui.

Brooks Conrad, however, did the dirty work. The new import drew his second leadoff walk of the game and was sacrificed to second. With one out, Ito rifled a single to center, and Conrad steamed through a stop sign from the third base coach and scored easily.

Hanshin’s happy mood, however, disappeared in an instant. Ito was picked off first base to end the inning, and was carried off on a stretcher to start the next.

On the first play in the top of the sixth, the left fielder collided with shortstop Hiroki Uemoto on a fly out to shallow left. Uemoto came out of the game under his own power.

Japan starter Tetsuya Utsumi of the Yomiuri Giants allowed a hit and a walk in three scoreless innings.

“I had good balance on the mound today,” Utsumi said. “That being said, I put the leadoff man on in the second and third innings, so I have some adjustments to make.”

Wakui didn’t make it through his three innings as side-arm southpaw Masahiko Morifuku of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks got the final out of the sixth after Wakui had thrown 47 pitches. The right-hander gave up four hits and a walk.

“I’ve been able to identify my pitches that are working and those that still aren’t,” Wakui said. “Although my form was a little better than it was in my last outing, I want to pick it up a little before the start of the tournament.”

Tadashi Settsu of the Hawks continued to look sharp with a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

Carp right-hander Takeru Imamura, however, issued a pair of two-out walks in the eighth before ending the inning with a strikeout.

Japan came within a hair of opening the scoring in the top of the fifth.

Katsuya Kakunaka of the Chiba Lotte Marines tripled with two outs off Tigers farmhand Hirokazu Shiranita. The Hawks’ Nobuhiro Matsuda, who doubled his first time up, smashed one up the middle but Shiranita knocked the ball down and threw Matsuda out to end the inning.

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles’ Kazuo Matsui, who had four RBIs in Japan’s 10-3 win over Australia, was scheduled to start at third base against Hanshin but was scratched due to slight tightness in his lower back.

“He would have been able to play, but we put a stop to it,” head coach Masataka Nashida said of the 37-year-old switch-hitter.

Earlier in the day, the Orix Buffaloes defeated Brazil 6-2. The Tokyo Yakult Swallows’ Rafael Fernandes, who is a candidate to start against Japan in Brazil’s WBC Pool A opener on Saturday, allowed one unearned run in two innings.

On Wednesday, Brazil and Japan will move to Fukuoka, while the other two Pool A teams will be in action at Kyocera Dome. China will play Orix at noon, while Cuba will take on the Tigers.

Japan’s final warmup game will be Thursday evening at Fukuoka Dome against the Yomiuri Giants. The same day, Brazil will play the Hawks.