The Samurai Japan arrived in Phoenix Tuesday night, local time, after knocking the Dutch off their high horse and grabbing the top seed in Pool 1 of the World Baseball Classic.
Tuesday night in Tokyo, the Yomiuri Giants' Shinnosuke Abe homered twice--a solo shot and a three-run blast--in an eight-run second inning as Japan downed the Dutch 10-6 at Tokyo Dome in the second-round finale.
Japan arrived in the United States for two practice games, before moving to San Francisco for the semifinals.
Abe continued Japan's power trip over the Netherlands after Sunday's six-homer day in their first meeting, a 16-4 Samurai victory. The reigning Central League MVP tied the WBC record for homers in a game--equaling Karim Garcia's mark--and Yomiuri teammate Hisayoshi Chono doubled with the bases filled and singled to drive in two more for a five-RBI night.
Japan improved to 5-1 in the WBC, the offense has come to life and things seem to be lining up for a Samurai WBC three-peat in San Francisco's championship round.
The team scored in the second and eighth innings, but went a collective 1-for-18 in the other seven frames. And relievers Masahiko Morifuku, Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Hideaki Wakui each surrendered two hits in their short stints.
All was not perfect and skipper Koji Yamamoto made that clear in the postgame press conference.
"Chono came up with run-scoring hits tonight and I feel like the lineup is starting to come around," Yamamoto said.
"We had the big inning in the second, but we didn't score again until late and that's why the game turned out the way it did. Even if you have a big inning early, it's important to add on as many runs as possible."
SoftBank Hawks lefty Kenji Otonari served up a homer to the first batter of the game, but fanned six--including four straight--over three innings, but Yamamoto was naturally concerned about the bullpen.
"As for the relievers, no matter who you are, when you put leadoff batters on base with walks and things like that, it becomes difficult to get outs. I want the relievers to focus on that," Yamamoto said.
Through 10-plus innings against the Netherlands, Samurai Japan had hit eight homers. The two teams could only meet in the final if they win their respective semifinals in San Francisco.
Samurai Japan will play a pair of tune-ups before their semifinal on Sunday. They face Kensuke Tanaka and the San Francisco Giants on Thursday in Scottsdale, Ariz., and a Chicago Cubs split squad--with the possibility of facing Kyuji Fujikawa--in Mesa, Ariz., on Friday.
Even with the issues, Yamamoto is confident as he takes his team to the championship round.
"We had a tough game against Brazil in the first round, and the Taiwan game in the second round was another tough battle," Yamamoto said.
"But we got through it and we came together as a team, and I feel like the guys are starting to swing the bats well.
"Our aim is to first get to the final, and we know our opponents are going to be ready for us, but we want to play Japanese style of baseball and I feel like that will get us to the final."
Dutch suffer another injury
The Netherlands, which plays the Pool 2 winner at the semifinals, suffered another injury when reliever Jonatan Isenia left the mound in the fourth inning with elbow stiffness.
The Dutch, who had an emotional victory over Cuba on Monday, might get a boost with roster moves before the championship round. Skipper Hensley Meulens said the team is looking at replacing injured players before Saturday's deadline.
The main candidates who can be called up from the provisional roster include pitcher Jair Jurrjens, the former Atlanta Braves starter who recently agreed to a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, and infielders Jurickson Profar of the Texas Rangers and Didi Gregorius of the Arizona Diamondbacks.