3/7/2013 9:34 A.M. ET
Japan hopes to get bats going vs. Chinese Taipei
By Jason Coskrey / Special to MLB.com
TOKYO -- Slumping two-time defending World Baseball Classic champion Japan is hoping to get back on track during the second round of the 2013 Classic.
However, the Japanese won't get much time to regain their bearings. They'll have a showdown against Pool B winner Chinese Taipei on Friday at Tokyo Dome at 7 p.m. locally/5 a.m. ET in a game that can be watched live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
"Only two teams can take the next step," Japan manager Koji Yamamoto said. "The further you go, the competition gets tougher."
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Japan had more trouble than expected in wins over Brazil and China to open the Classic, and needed a meltdown by the Cuban bullpen to salvage a measure of respect in a 6-3 loss in its Pool A finale.
Chinese Taipei lost its final game in Pool B (3-2, vs. Korea), but finished first in the group by virtue of a superior Team Quality Balance (TQB), which broke a tie between the Taiwanese and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
"They have momentum," Yamamoto said. "We would never underestimate them."
Offensive woes have plagued Japan almost from the moment the team came together in Miyazaki, Japan, in February, and those issues have followed the Japanese into the Classic.
Japan has been mostly limited to singles thus far, with Yoshio Itoi's double against China its lone extra-base hit in the first round.
Hirokazu Ibata has been among Japan's most effective hitters, albeit in limited action, ending the first round 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs. Sho Nakata was 4-for-7, and Seiichi Uchikawa also produced three hits.
Manager Koji Yamamoto is hoping the move to the Yomiuri Giants' (Nippon Professional Baseball) home park helps get the team going, especially as it pertains to Giants trio of Shinnosuke Abe, Hisaysho Chono and Hayato Sakamoto, who have combined to go 3-for-30 with two RBIs.
While Japan looks vulnerable, Chinese Taipei remains wary of the threat the baseball power poses.
"Japan has a long history and they are very strong," Chinese Taipei manager Chang-Heng Hsieh said through a translator. "Everyone who made the national team has to be a very solid, high-level player. When we play Japan, we try to be as prepared as we can."
Hsieh will attempt to extend Japan's struggles by sending former Yankees and Nationals pitcher Chien-Ming Wang to the mound. Wang threw six scoreless innings and struck out two in Chinese Taipei's opener against Australia.
"I want him to throw until the fifth or sixth inning," Hsieh said.
Wang might do just that, with the pitch limit raised from 65 to 80 for the second round.
Wang will be opposed by left-hander Atsushi Nomi, who made one appearance in relief during the first round and struck out one in an inning of work against Brazil.
"Nomi's condition is the best among our pitchers," Yamamoto said.
The game also marks Taiwanese outfielder Dai-Kang Yang's return to Japan, where he's known as Daikan Yoh. Yang was an All-Star for Nippon Professional Baseball's Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2012 and has played a starring role for Chinese Taipei over the past week.
"I'm not a regular player, but I'm looking forward to playing against him," said Japan's Sho Nakata, another member of the Fighters.
Yang's home run was the highlight of Chinese Taipei's 8-3 victory over the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the outfielder was 4-for-12 with four RBIs in the first round, garnering MVP honors in Pool B.
"Yang is one of the key players," Hsieh said through a translator. "Yang has good experience, he has a lot of information. Yang knows everything about Japan."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.