NAGOYA – Japan opened its two-game series against Australia with a 2-0 victory Saturday night at Nagoya Dome, giving six pitchers a workout in the exhibition game.
After five scoreless innings, Samurai Japan broke open the game in the bottom of the sixth, driving home a pair of runs and getting Australian reliever Steve Kent pulled from the mound after only a handful of pitches.
Shogo Akiyama reached first on a walk, before a sacrifice bunt from Ryosuke Kikuchi moved the Seibu Lions outfielder into scoring position. Yuki Yanagita then opened the scoring with an RBI single to center.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo doubled the lead moments later with an RBI double to right field, leading Australian manager Steve Fish to replace the beleaguered Kent with Matt Timms.
In a game that opened with a moment’s silence for former Japan national team skipper Senichi Hoshino, who died of pancreatic cancer in January, it was the visitors who started one of the Japan Series-winning manager’s former charges on the mound.
Journeyman pitcher Travis Blackley, whose 17-year career has included stints with multiple major league teams, played for Hoshino with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2014.
The 35-year-old lefty offset his lack of heat with pitch variety and veteran wiles, which he demonstrated early by picking off Hideto Asamura at first base, moments after the Seibu infielder registered the opening hit of the game in the second inning.
Blackley, who now plies his trade with the Brisbane Bandits of the Australian Baseball League, gave up just two hits by the time he was replaced by Kent after the fifth inning, with the game still scoreless.
Japan had moved onto its third pitcher by the same stage, replacing starter Kodai Senga with Shota Imanaga at the start of the third, before sending Nao Higashihama to the mound to begin the fifth.
Japan manager Atsunori Inaba sent Shinji Tajima to the mound in the seventh, before replacing him with Sho Iwasaki in the eighth. Yasuaki Yamasaki closed out the game for Samurai Japan.
Senga set the tone for the Japanese pitching corps with two perfect inning to begin the game. The Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks right-hander struck out all six batters he faced to start the game. Senga was similarly dominant against the Australians during last spring’s World Baseball Classic. Senga came on in relief during the first-round meeting between the teams at Tokyo Dome and tossed a pair of scoreless innings during which he struck out four and allowed just one hit.
All six of Japan’s pitchers recorded at least one strikeout during Saturday’s game and combined for 16 overall.
Higashihama, another Hawks right-hander, earned the victory in relief after striking out three and allowing one hit in two innings. Yamasaki retired all three batters he faced in the ninth for the save.
Kent went down as the losing pitcher with two runs allowed in one-third of an inning.
Tsutsugo had two of Japan’s six hits, while Robert Glendinning had of pair of hits for Australia, which finished with four as a team.
The two teams were set to meet again Sunday at Kyocera Dome in Osaka.