Baseball: Samurai Japan Blanks Taiwan In Series Opener

Baseball: Samurai Japan blanks Taiwan in series openerSamurai Japan started its countdown to the 2017 World Baseball Classic on Saturday with a 5-0 win in the first of two games against Taiwan.
Yakult Swallows catcher Yuhei Nakamura broke the ice in the bottom of the second inning with a two-out, two-run double to put Japan in front.
Former DeNA BayStars lefty Wang I-cheng helped set up the inning with a one-out walk to Chunichi Dragons outfielder Ryosuke Hirata. With two outs, Ikuhiro Kiyota of the Lotte Marines lined the game's first hit to center. Nakamura fouled off a 2-2 pitch to keep the inning alive before smoking a grounder past third to bring home the runners from first and second.

"He's a pitcher with a good changeup, so I wanted to keep my swing compact and lay off low pitches," Nakamura said.

Taiwan manager Hong Yi-chung said his pitchers appeared to be intimidated by the loud crowd of 34,910.

"Japan's pitchers were able to shut down our lineup, but our pitchers couldn't do that to theirs, and that was pretty much the game," Hong said. "It was a great experience for us to play in a dome with such a full crowd, but I feel it put our pitchers off their game. They lacked their usual control and I think some velocity as well."

Yomiuri Giants right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano came out with good command of his fastball and didn't allow a runner until No. 9 hitter Wang Sheng-wei doubled with two outs in the third.

"I was able to throw the ball the way I thought I would and Nakamura did a good job of calling pitches," said Sugano.

"Last season and that includes the Premier 12, I was not able to pitch up to my standards and frankly it was embarrassing. Although this was a friendly, wearing the Japan uniform makes it special. "

"I may be a key pitcher in my club's rotation, but on the National team I've been surrounded by guys a level above me, Shohei Otani and Kenta Maeda and others -- and I think I tried to do too much, got too tight. Now I want to take this experience and the thought of next year's WBC and do good work this season."

In the first Samurai Japan game at Nagoya Dome, Hirata elicited a roar at his home park every time his name was announced. He gave the fans even more to cheer for in the fourth, when he singled in two more runs for Japan. With two outs, Sho Nakata of the Nippon Ham Fighters drew Japan's third walk of the night, and BayStars slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo doubled off his former teammate Wang to put runners on second and third for Hirata.

Wang allowed four runs on four hits and three walks, while striking out none. His replacement, Wang Ching-ming, retired Japan in order in the fourth, but surrendered some hard-hit balls in the fifth.

Hayato Sakamoto of the Giants led off with a line single, and the Yakult Swallows' Central League MVP, Tetsuto Yamada, followed with a booming double. With one out, Tsutsugo made it 5-0 with a line out to left for a sacrifice fly.

Dragons lefty Yudai Ono worked two scoreless innings in relief of Sugano, and Swallows right-hander Yasuhiro "Ryan" Ogawa worked two perfect innings.

Side-arming Swallows right-hander Ryo Akiyoshi struck out the side in the eighth. Fighters closer Hirotoshi Masui delivered a 1-2-3 ninth to close it out.

"This is the home ground for Dragons players and Ono and Hirata did well," said Japan manager Hiroki Kokubo. "It's a special experience to play in that environment. And they responded."

"The Taiwan batting order was a collection of top players from the Taiwan league and Japan's pitchers produced their best for a shutout."

In Sunday's game at Osaka's Kyocera Dome, Japan will send SoftBank Hawks right-hander Shota Takeda to the mound against Taiwan lefty Ni Fu-tei.