TAOYUAN, TAIWAN – Seiya Suzuki belted a three-run homer in the bottom of the third, while starter Rei Takahashi threw six innings of one-hit ball, as Japan overpowered Puerto Rico 4-0 in the WBSC Premier12 opening round on Wednesday.
Samurai Japan made it two wins in a row at the Olympic qualifying tournament at Taoyuan International Baseball Stadium, following an 8-4 comeback victory over Venezuela on Tuesday.
Japan automatically qualifies for the 2020 Summer Games as host but is using the 12-team competition, held jointly by Japan, South Korea, Mexico and Taiwan, to strengthen its bid for Olympic gold on home soil.
The win ensures the world’s No.1 team, skippered by Atsunori Inaba, will advance from Group B to the Premier12 “Super Round” involving the top six sides from the opening stage.
In the battle between the two-time World Baseball Classic winner and two-time runner-up, Japan did all of its damage in the third against Puerto Rico’s starting pitcher, former major leaguer Giovanni Soto.
With two outs, the southpaw walked Tetsuto Yamada, then gave up a groundball single to Ryosuke Kikuchi. A throwing error saw Yamada score and Kensuke Kondo reach first on a grounder, bringing Suzuki to the plate.
The Hiroshima Carp outfielder got the meat of his bat to Soto’s second pitch, a fastball just below the middle of the strike zone, sending it long to the stands behind left field.
Softbank Hawks right-hander Takahashi got the win after striking out three and walking one in his six-inning start. Shinya Kayama, Kan Otake, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Yasuaki Yamasaki contributed in relief as Japan restricted Puerto Rico to four hits for the game.
Soto took the loss after a five-inning start in which he gave up all four runs on four hits and a pair of walks while striking out six.
Japan will meet Taiwan at Taichung Intercontinental Baseball Stadium in their final opening-round game on Thursday.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5