Japan Beats China 5-2, But Concerns Grow For Reigning Champs

FUKUOKA, Japan—China kept the game close in the early innings, but Japan scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth en route to a 5-2 victory on the second day of the World Baseball Classic.

While Japan improved to 2-0, the 2013 national team hasn’t looked strong as the ones that won the two previous WBCs with Ichiro Suzuki, Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka. Games against Brazil and China should have been easy victories for Japan, but it took a late-inning comeback to beat Brazil and Japanese hitters had trouble handling well-below-average stuff from Chinese pitchers in a game in which some scouts before the game thought the mercy rule would have to come into play.

Chinese starter Xia Luo was only throwing 82-84 mph but managed to keep runs off the board, limiting Japan to one run over 3 2/3 innings. China manager John McLaren said that he shuffled around his pitchers before the game, so Luo didn’t know until game time that he would be getting the start.

“He was moving the ball around and he was changing speeds,” McLaren said. “He was getting ahead of them. When you get ahead, I don’t care what level you are, there’s a lot of pitchers in the big leagues who don’t throw hard that have feel for pitching. I was really proud of him.”

Luo gave up one run in the bottom of the second inning, when left fielder Sho Nakata singled on a ground ball to left field, scoring right fielder Yoshi Itoi. With Luo out of the game, Japan tacked on four runs in the fifth, with Seiichi Uchikawa driving home a run on a single to right field, followed by a Yoshio Itoi double that scored three runs.

Japanese starter Kenta Maeda posted a strong line with five shutout innings, one hit, one walk and six strikeouts. That had more to do with China’s lack of impact at the plate than anything special from Maeda, who sat at 87-90 mph and mixed in a sharp breaking ball.

“We have a long way to go,” McLaren said. “We strike out a lot and we don’t work the count, but give us time. Give us time.”

China’s hitters were quiet for the first eight innings, but they rallied to score two runs in the ninth inning after back-to-back singles by Weiqiang Meng and Xiao Cui along with a couple of wild pitches to move them along.

“We haven’t been playing baseball as long as Japan and Korea, but we’re going to get better,” McLaren said. “We’re working at it hard. They’re starting to play baseball on a regular basis in China, so we just want the fans in China and the young kids to see us playing on TV, give them inspiration to play the game.”