Fukuoka – Kenta Maeda struck out eight of the 10 batters he faced for Japan in Thursday’s 8-3 Premier 12 warmup win over Puerto Rico, but it was another story for Shohei Otani, who is slated to start Sunday’s opener.
Maeda, fresh off winning his second Sawamura Award as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, allowed one hit but no walks in three innings. Otani, however, picked up where his season ended in a disappointing playoff loss on Oct. 10. The Nippon Fighters ace allowed two runs in two innings.
“Maeda pitched well and our guys got hits,” Samurai Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said after the game at Yafuoku Dome. “I’m not worried.”
“As for Otani, he made some mistakes, but his fastball was really running and I think he’ll be ready in Sapporo (for the opener against South Korea).”
Shogo Akiyama put Japan in front in the third inning with a two-run home run off Chicago Cubs minor leaguer Andres Santiago. Japan captain Motohiro Shima singled with one out, stole second but could trot home when Akiyama stayed back on a changeup and lined it to right for a home run.
Takeya Nakamura, wearing Japan colors for the first time since turning pro, doubled to open the fourth against lefty Luis Cintron, who issued a one-out walk to Sho Nakata. Nobuhiro Matsuda, playing in his home park, singled down the right-field line. Nakamura chugged around the bases, slid around the tag at the plate and was called safe. Ryosuke Hirata brought Nakata home from third with a sacrifice fly.
“We did well to hit against pitchers, whom we’re unfamiliar with and didn’t know what they would throw,” Kokubo said. “But we’ve got a lot of games ahead of us where it will be like that.”
Japan made it 5-0 in the fifth following a leadoff single by Shima and a two-out triple by Tetsuto Yamada. Otani entered in the fourth and struck out four of the first five batters he faced. But with two outs in the fifth, Puerto Rico scored twice on three hits and a throwing error by Otani to make it a 5-2 game.
Luis Rivera started the trouble with his second double. Otani made a good leaping stab of a high hopper but his throw short-hopped first baseman Nakata for an error. A single by Jose Rivera put the Puerto Ricans on the board, and Jay Gonzalez doubled in another run.
Japan, however, delivered a knockout blow in a three-run eighth inning, when Yoshitomo Tsutsugo led off with a home run, while Puerto Rico got one run back in the bottom of the inning against Nippon Ham Fighters closer Hirotoshi Masui, while wasting a golden opportunity in the ninth against Rakuten Eagles 20-year-old Yuki Matsui. The youngster gave up three hits but no runs thanks to left fielder Hirata who threw a runner out at home.
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