Japan beats China in opener

TOKYO -- Japan began the defense of its title with a 4-0 win over China in Thursday's opening game of the World Baseball Classic.

Seattle Mariners outfielder Ichiro Suzuki went hitless in five at-bats but Shuichi Murata homered in the bottom of the third inning to lead Japan's offense.

Playing before a near-capacity crowd of 43,428 at Tokyo Dome, Japan took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the third. Norichika Aoki hit a run-scoring single to center field before Murata connected on a 2-run homer to left field off China starter Li Chenhao, who took the loss.

Japan widened its lead to 4-0 in the sixth when Kosuke Fukudome came home from third on a balk by reliever Sun Guogiang.

Suzuki, who struggled in tuneup games leading up to the tournament, returned to the leadoff spot after batting third but still couldn't get a hit.

Japan starter Yu Darvish struck out three, walked one and gave up no hits over four innings to pick up the win.

China is managed by former major league manager Terry Collins, who also has managerial experience in Japan with the Orix Buffaloes.

Given the results of three years ago when it lost to Japan 18-2, Thursday's performance showed improvement by China.

China's batters managed five hits off Japan's pitchers.

Japan is in Pool A of the 16-nation tournament, along with Olympic gold medalists South Korea, China and Taiwan.

The top two teams advance to the second round, which will be played in the United States along with the final on March 23 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

South Korea faces Taiwan on Friday with the winner taking on Japan on Saturday.

Japanese home run king Sadaharu Oh, who guided Japan to the championship three years ago, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Oh was unable to manage Japan in this year's tournament due to health concerns.