• Kyodo

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Right-hander Nao Higashihama combined with five pitchers for a four-hit shutout as the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks blanked the Japan national team 2-0 in a practice game on Saturday.

Hiroshima Carp infielder Ryosuke Kikuchi, a member of the 28-man Samurai Japan squad preparing for the March 6-22 World Baseball Classic, went 3-for-4, but the visitors’ bats were otherwise silent for much of the day, disappointing the crowd of 27,003 at Sun Marine Stadium.

Hawks lefty Yuya Iida, who replaced Higashihama in the fourth inning, earned the win for retiring all three batters he faced.

Shota Takeda (Hawks) started for Samurai Japan and threw three scoreless innings, but Kodai Senga (Hawks), who was tagged with the loss, allowed SoftBank to get on the scoreboard on an RBI single by Masayoshi Tsukada with one out in the fifth.

Taisei Makihara added another run in the eighth when he singled to center off Yuki Matsui (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles).

Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers), Yoshihisa Hirano (Orix Buffaloes) and Ryo Akiyoshi (Tokyo Yakult Swallows) also took the mound for Japan, which was without Houston Astros outfielder Norichika Aoki, the only major leaguer on the roster.

“I’m still trying to figure out the best options for (our WBC opener on) March 7,” Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo said after the game.

Samurai Japan is holding a training camp in Miyazaki until Sunday.

Japan, a two-time WBC champion, will play exhibition games against the Taiwan all-star team on Tuesday and Wednesday at Fukuoka’s Yafuoku Dome, and another two games against Hanshin and Orix on Friday and March 5, respectively.

The WBC begins March 6 with South Korea facing Israel at Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul. Japan’s first game is at Tokyo Dome on March 7 against Cuba.

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