Shohei Ohtani worked four scoreless innings and hit a two-run double before Japan opened the late-inning floodgates in an 8-1 win over China in their World Baseball Classic Pool B opener Thursday.
Ohtani's command was not sharp, but he struck out five while allowing no walks and just one hit in a 49-pitch outing, aided by his fielders who robbed two hitters of third-inning hits at Tokyo Dome.
Japan opened the scoring with a leadoff single and three straight walks in the first. Ohtani doubled with two out and two on in the fourth to give Japan some breathing room.
"It was a great game won with a team effort," Ohtani said. "I want to keep this momentum going (into Friday's game against South Korea)."
Ohtani also had a single in the eighth.
Lars Nootbaar went 2-for-4 with two walks and two runs scored. He also made a great sliding catch in center field to help prevent a China rally.
"All of us here are there to go all out, to give 100 percent," said Nootbaar, who twice reached on routine grounders to first.
"Hopefully, I'm not grounding out to the first basemen too many times (going forward)."
China's Liang Pei's sixth-inning home run off Shosei Togo made it 3-1 before Shugo Maki homered to open Japan's seventh for a 4-1 lead.
Japan broke the game open with a four-run eighth, capped by a two-run double by Takuya Kai.
"I'm glad we won because international games are never easy," said Japan manager Hideki Kuriyama, who added that Ohtani was far from 100 percent.
"His condition is not that good but he kept us in the game."
Japan plays South Korea on Friday, with the Koreans looking to bounce back from an 8-7 loss to Australia earlier Thursday.
Japan men's football manager Hajime Moriyasu threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
"In the middle of the game, we had a legitimate chance to win," China manager Dean Treanor said. "We knew Ohtani was going to be a tough challenge, but we had some good swings against him."
World Baseball Classic Japan player profiles