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Atherton's confidence soaring after impressive start

MLB.com

It was the kind of performance Australia needed to have a chance at overcoming a powerhouse like Japan.

Yes, the Aussies' lost their first game of the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday, 4-1, but the resiliency of starter Tim Atherton kept Australia within striking distance.

It was the kind of performance Australia needed to have a chance at overcoming a powerhouse like Japan.

Yes, the Aussies' lost their first game of the World Baseball Classic on Wednesday, 4-1, but the resiliency of starter Tim Atherton kept Australia within striking distance.

Atherton started off slow, allowing the first two Japanese hitters to reach on singles. After getting Astros outfielder Norichika Aoki to ground out, the right-hander welcomed slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh to the plate with three straight pitches out of the zone.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

Seemingly trying to work around Tsutsugoh, who hit a Japan Central League-leading 44 home runs for the Yokohama Bay Stars in 2016, Atherton came back with a belt-high fastball for strike one. He followed with a knee-buckling breaking ball for strike two and then cranked up the heat to retire Tsutsugoh on a swing and a miss.

Atherton induced a groundout to escape the first-inning jam, and he scattered two more hits without walking a batter through his final three innings and left the game in the fifth inning with a 1-0 lead.

"These are some of the best hitters in the world," Atherton said. "To go out and pitch the way I did was awesome for me, personally."

It was the 27-year-old's first World Baseball Classic appearance for an Australia team that has never advanced past pool play and is 1-8 in World Baseball Classic play since the tournament's inception.

Atherton suffered a right shoulder injury while pitching in the Oakland Athletics' organization in 2015, but he rebounded with a 3-0 record and a 1.37 ERA in 16 starts for the Canberra Cavalry of the Australian Baseball League in '16.

Atherton thrived against Japan, a two-time World Baseball Classic champion. With more performances like the one Atherton staged on Wednesday, the future of Team Australia in the World Baseball Classic could be looking a bit brighter.

"It gives me confidence," Atherton said of his performance. "Obviously, not totally happy with the end outcome, but if you look too much at the result, we forget about the process."

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Oliver Macklin is a reporter for MLB.com.

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