Friday was a good news-bad news day for Samurai Japan.
Ahead of the third of the team’s six pre-WBC warm-up games, the mood was lively at Nagoya Dome with the arrival of two more MLB players, Shohei Ohtani and Lars Nootbaar.
The team practiced wearing shirts in Nootbaar’s honor emblazoned with his new Samurai Japan nickname, “Ta-chan” — taken from the first syllables of his double middle name, Taylor-Tatsuji — crossed bats and American and Japanese flags.
Fans mobbed the ballpark to snap up merchandise only for people arriving early in the morning to find themselves too late to get the coveted Ohtani and Yu Darvish shirts before they ran out.
The game was the bad news as the Dragons toasted the visitors 7-2, with Rakuten Eagles closer Yuki Matsui still puzzled by MLB’s baseball. The lefty had no luck throwing it where he wanted it or making it do anything when he managed to leave it in the strike zone. He allowed four runs on three walks and two hits, and has now walked five batters in 1-2/3 innings.
The hitters failed to do anything with runners on base, while new Dragon Aristides Aquino homered, and veterans Shuhei Takahashi and Takuya Kinoshita each doubled and singled.
“Time is short before the games begin,” manager Hideki Kuriyama said. “It’s good that we’re finding things out early, but I have to go forward thinking we’ll turn things around once we start for real.”
“We don’t have the MLB players yet, so it’s not a complete picture. So for now we’re picturing the team as it will look with them on board.”
Shota Imanaga was once more a bright spot for Japan, allowing a run on a walk and three hits, one on a broken bat, while striking out seven. Shosei Togo, who led the CL in strikeouts last season, worked three innings after pitching a single inning in Miyazaki, but gave up two runs after retiring eight of the first 10 batters he faced.
Dragons lefty Shinnosuke Ogasawara struck out five over five innings and was rewarded after the game when Chunichi skipper Kazuyoshi Tatsunami named him the Opening Day starter.