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NPB All-Stars edge Team Japan

Ichiro 0-for-4 in warm up for World Baseball Classic

Ichiro Suzuki went 0-for-4 against the NPB All-Star squad on Saturday. (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

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FUKUOKA, Japan - Sometimes, small ball is a little too small.

Japan's offense sputtered, aside from a few infield hits, and a three-run home run from Yokohama BayStars third baseman Shuichi Murata was the difference as the Nippon Professional Baseball All-Stars topped Japan, 4-3, in a World Baseball Classic exhibition game Saturday at Yahoo! Dome.

Murata's shot came just as Japan pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka approached his 65-pitch limit, taking the Seibu Lions star deep to left field two batters before he reached the count.

"It showed all the bad points I have," Matsuzaka said of the performance. "That was about the worst outcome I could imagine. My delivery was off and the pitches were bad."

Japan manager Sadaharu Oh was less worried about Matsuzaka than he was about Japan's offense staying grounded against Yomiuri Giants pitcher Takahiko Nomaguchi, who gave up one unearned run and two hits on four innings while striking out four. Japan had just four hits that left the infield Saturday against NPB, something Oh knows his team must improve upon for next weekend's WBC games.

"Offensively, we're not as good as we expected yet," Oh said. "The pitchers are OK, and I'm not worried about Matsuzaka, but we can hit better than that."

Ichiro Suzuki was hitless, going 0-for-4. Nomaguchi struck out Ichiro in the third, breaking up some of the mystique surrounding the Seattle Mariners star, in Nomaguchi's eyes.

"I had the image in my mind before the game of him getting a hit," Nomaguchi said. "I was finding great spots. It became a good memory for me."

Ichiro had a chance to close NPB's lead in the bottom of the seventh, facing Katsuhiro Nagakawa with runners on the corners and two outs. Norichika Aoki stole second base to give Ichiro runners in scoring position, but he grounded out to Murata to end the inning.

Shinegobu Shima and Takashi Toritani both had two hits for NPB, while Munenori Kawasaki finished with a pair of hits to lead Japan. Nobuhiko Matsunaka had a pair of sacrifice flies to drive in runs for Japan.

Japan closes out action at Yahoo! Dome on Sunday against the Chiba Lotte Marines. Shunsuke Watanabe will start for Japan as the submarine pitcher takes on the team he helped lead to the Japan Series championship last season.

Stephen Ellsesser is a reporter for The Japan Times and a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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