Japan not concerned by Ichiro's slump

Outfielder goes 0-for-9 in tuneups for World Baseball Classic

Ichiro Suzuki will participate in his second World Baseball Classic. (Shizuo Kambayashi/AP)

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Ichiro Suzuki is battling a mini-slump, but he remains optimistic about Japan's chances in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

The Mariners outfielder went hitless in five at-bats Sunday as Japan defeated the Yomiuri Giants, 2-1, in a warmup game for the World Baseball Classic in Tokyo. Ichiro went 0-for-4 in Saturday's 7-2 loss to the Seibu Lions.

The All-Star was moved into the leadoff spot Sunday after batting third in Japan's previous warmup games. He has three hits -- all infield singles -- in 23 at-bats in six games for Japan this year.

"I'm not worried about him at all," Japan manager Tatsunori Hara told the Daily Yomiuri. "He's healthy, he can run at full speed and throw, although it's true he hasn't turned it all on yet."

On Sunday, Japan scored the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning on a wild pitch by Yomiuri reliever Wirfin Obisbo. Also in the game, Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka entered in the third inning and pitched three scoreless frames, allowing just one hit.

"His velocity was not up to spec, but his command was very good," Mariners catcher Kenji Johjima told the publication. "Although I didn't catch him before, he wasn't hanging anything like he did last time. I think he'll be up to full speed pretty soon."

Japan will begin the defense of its title on Thursday against China.

"Japan triumphed in the inaugural World Baseball Classic and South Korea won the title at the Beijing Olympics last summer. I think it has a great meaning for world baseball that Asian teams have won the two most recent meets," Ichiro told The AP. "To improve the level of world baseball, it is indispensable that the level of Asian ability improves."

Japan is in Group A with South Korea, Taiwan and China. The top two teams of the pool advance to the second round of the tournament at PETCO Park in San Diego. The semifinals and finals will be held at Dodger Stadium.

"Of course, we will aim to win the Asian round," Ichiro said. "Then, the Asian representatives will go to America and grab victory there. That will be very important for baseball in Asia and baseball in the world."

Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.