By Dic Humphrey
The third edition of the World Baseball Classic kicked off this weekend with pool play. Japan has won the first two Classics, but defends their title without many of the key players that contributed heavily to their previous wins, players such as Ichiro Suzuki and Yu Darvish. The initial 16 qualifying teams are divided into four pools of four teams. The first round involves round robin play with the other three teams in the pool. The teams with the two top records advance to the next round.
The four pools of teams are:
Pool A: Japan, China, Cuba & Brazil
Pool B: Korea, The Netherlands, Australia & Chinese Taipei
Pool C: Venezuela, Puerto Rico, The Dominican Republic & Spain
Pool D: United States, Mexico, Italy & Canada
Play began this weekend with Pool A games in Fukuoka, Japan and Pool B games in Taichung, Taiwan. In Pool A, Japan is 2-0, Brazil is 0-2, while Cuba is 1-0 and China is 0-1. In pool B Chinese Taipei is 2-0, the Netherlands is 1-1, while both Australia and Korea are 0-1.
The United States opens play next weekend playing Mexico, Italy and Canada in that order on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, March 8-10 in Phoenix. Team USA was knocked out in 2009 in the semi-finals by eventual champion Japan. The U.S. lost in the second round of the first World Baseball Classic in 2006, but not before beating eventual champion Japan.
Pool C first round games are scheduled in San Juan, Puerto Rico beginning March 7. Second round games are scheduled in Tokyo and Miami, with the championship round being played March 17, 18 and 19 in San Francisco’s ATT Park.
The WBC was the brain child of baseball commissioner Bud Selig. It’s a great idea, but the problem is that there is really no good time of the year to play it. Major League teams are not going to shut down the regular season for two or three weeks to accommodate it. This time frame of working it around spring training is about the only feasible time; but even so, the U.S. team and others are not composed of the best Major League players. Players such as Joe Nathan chose not to participate as the competition did not mesh with his program to get ready for the regular season.
Texas loses six players from Major League training camp, plus one minor leaguer. Elvis Andrus is one of the six, playing for Venezuela, and his absence will open up spring training playing time for Jurickson Profar, who opted to stay in camp, rather than play for The Netherlands. Derek Holland is the only Ranger on the U. S. team. He arrived in camp on an accelerated training schedule in order to pitch for his country. While most starting pitchers throw no more than two or perhaps three innings in their first spring outing, Holland was far enough along to throw four sparkling innings this past Thursday in his first Ranger spring game action. He blanked the Indians with 54 pitches, barely 13 per inning, allowing three hits, striking out two and walking none. He was SHARP!
Meanwhile, back in Surprise…
After Sunday’s 7-6 loss to Seattle, the Rangers are 2-7-1 for their first 10 games of Cactus League action. Lance Berkman made his spring debut last Thursday with a hit and a walk in two official at-bats. However, after this weekend’s play, Berkman is just 2-7 in three games. The other middle of the order Ranger bat – Adrian Beltre is scheduled to make his spring debut on Monday against San Diego. Mitch Moreland is the only Ranger that has hit more than one home run (he has two) and Nelson Cruz, who now leaves to join the Dominican Republic team, leads the Rangers with six RBI. The two highly touted prospects – Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt – are hitting .211 and .167 respectively. They may make the decision to send them to AAA Round Rock a no-brainer.
In the all-important starting pitching area, Martin Perez suffered the most serious injury of camp so far when he was struck with a line drive in Sunday’s game. X-Rays showed a small fracture of the ulna bone in his left forearm. He will not resume throwing for four weeks, and is likely out of the competition for the fifth starter spot. Matt Harrison had a solid performance in his second spring outing after struggling in his first. Alexi Ogando, however, has not thrown well in two spring games (0-1, 8.10), and when coupled with a poor showing in an intrasquad game there is reason for concern. It’s possible that two rotation spots are up for grabs. Robbie Ross is putting his hat in the ring for the rotation, having completed five innings while allowing a pair of earned runs in two spring outings. Cody Buckel, Neil Ramirez and Justin Grimm have been hit hard, and have likely been eliminated from starting rotation consideration.
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan made his debut Sunday, completing an inning while allowing a hit and a walk, but no runs. Jason Frasor gave up two hits, but no runs in his lone inning of work. Michael Kirkman has been impressive, tossing four scoreless innings in two games allowing just a pair of hits. He has been targeted for the bullpen, but with starting rotation candidates faltering he could get consideration as a starter.
- Last Friday, Jon Daniels was named President of Baseball Operations, while Rick George was named President of Business Operations for the Rangers. Nolan Ryan’s title is now simply CEO, not CEO/President.