Baseball: Sasaki brings heat as Okamoto leads Japan past Hawks

Roki Sasaki's fastball had mid-season velocity, and Kazuma Okamoto drove in three runs as Samurai Japan beat the Pacific League's SoftBank Hawks 8-4 in its first World Baseball Classic warm-up game Saturday.

Before a sell-out crowd of 26,212 at southwestern Japan's Sun Marine Stadium Miyazaki, Sasaki quickly ratcheted the radar gun up to 162 kilometers (100.7 miles) per hour. The right-hander allowed one infield single while striking out three in two scoreless innings.

"My fastball had good life on it today," Sasaki said. "My feel for the ball with my breaking pitches was better than it was in (last November's) exhibitions."

Okamoto broke up the scoreless game in the bottom of the fourth with a two-run double. An error on the play made it 3-0 before Okamoto scored on a groundout.

Kensuke Kondo walked and singled twice, driving in a run in the fifth inning before an Okamoto single made it 6-0.

Lefty Shota Imanaga worked two scoreless innings for Japan, and Hiromi Ito kept SoftBank quiet through the fifth before the game got sloppy.

Another Japan southpaw, Hiroya Miyagi, allowed four runs, three unearned on four hits and two walks over 1-2/3 innings, but the Hawks gave away a pair of unearned runs in the seventh to complete the scoring.

"Of course, these are talented players. They battle back when things aren't working," Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama said, adding that the MLB ball, slicker than those used in Japan, is a prime concern.

"The pitchers' feel for the ball is huge. Because it can disrupt their tempo, it's something that can get into their heads. Time is short and everyone's working diligently on that."

Samurai Japan will play the Hawks again Sunday, and take on the Chunichi Dragons in Nagoya next Friday and Saturday.

After those games, Japan's five-player MLB contingent will be eligible to participate in the two official exhibitions in Osaka on March 6 and 7, against the Hanshin Tigers and Orix Buffaloes, respectively.

WBC Pool B play, between Japan, Australia, China, the Czech Republic and South Korea, starts at Tokyo Dome on March 9.

© Kyodo News