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Japan tops Giants
March 15, 2013, 05:00 AM The Associated Press
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Japan manager Koji Yamamoto knows how difficult it will be for his country to win a third straight World Baseball Classic.

He feels his squad got off to a good start in its preparations for the semifinals.

Fighting through jet lag, Japan easily beat the San Francisco Giants 6-3 in an exhibition game Thursday.

Power-hitting first baseman Sho Nakata had three hits, and second baseman Takashi Toritani added two hits and two RBIs. Four of Japan's runs came against Giants starting pitcher Yusmeiro Petit, including three in the second inning when Toritani had a two-run double.

"It is not easy to win back-to-back. We're going for our third straight, and there is a lot of pressure on our backs," Yamamoto said through a translator. "Our goal was to come here to the United States. Once we get here, anything can happen.

"We made good adjustments today (to the new, outdoor environment), especially our pitchers. I think we are in a good situation now," he said. "I think we are on track."

Japan will play another exhibition game on Friday against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa, before heading trip to AT&T Park in San Francisco, where they will face the Pool 2 runner-up (either the United States, Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico) on Sunday night.

Team Japan ace Masahiro Tanaka allowed a run and three hits and struck out three in his two-inning appearance, and eight pitchers combined to allow five hits and strike out 10.

The Giants didn't field their best lineup, starting only five regulars, four of whom exited after two at-bats. But manager Bruce Bochy was impressed with Japan.

"They played well, they swung the bats well, they pitched well," Bochy said. "They played a good ballgame today. They certainly outplayed us."

Kenta Maeda, who did not pitch on Thursday against the Giants, is scheduled to start Sunday. The 24-year-old right-hander was 14-7 with a 1.53 ERA for Hiroshima in 2012, and led the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA.

Tanaka, who was heavily scouted on Thursday, is lined up to start the WBC title game on Tuesday. The 24-year-old right-hander led the Japanese Pacific League with 19 wins and a 1.27 ERA in 2011, and followed that with a 10-4 record and a 1.87 ERA in 2012 for Rakuten. There already is talk that his contract could be posted for MLB teams to bid on by next winter.

Excellent pitching is nothing new from Team Japan, who won the last two classics in San Diego and Los Angeles behind Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish, both of whom later landed big contracts from big league teams.

But the current Team Japan differs in two areas from its championship predecessors: The only player with any major league experience is 37-year-old infielder Kaz Matsui. And while Japan's WBC numbers have been solid so far, offense could be a problem when facing staffs of the Team USA and the Dominican Republic.

"Yes, of course it would be more meaningful (to win a third title without MLB players)," Yamamoto said. "You see these guys growing with more confidence, so I think this is motivating these kids right now.

"We're not worried too much about who's coming up (in San Francisco)," he said. "We try to stay focused on our team."


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