By Juan C. Rodriguez
MIAMI SPRINGS—Their World Baseball Classic semifinal spots already secured, Venezuela and the United States played what amounted to a tune-up on a rainy South Florida Wednesday night before this weekend’s Dodger Stadium finale.
Settling for the runner-up spot after a 10-6 loss at Dolphin Stadium was least among Team USA manager Davey Johnson’s worries. Several of his pitchers remain in early spring training form and the team is moving forward minus yet another key player.
Before the game, Johnson revealed first baseman Kevin Youkilis would be unavailable for the remainder of the event. The last few days Youkilis has been dealing with a sore left ankle. He returned to the Red Sox’s spring training facility in Fort Myers and an MRI revealed a mild sprain and mild Achilles tendonitis.
Johnson had no other choice but to play right fielder Adam Dunn at first Wednesday, and he looked anything but comfortable as he committed two errors in rainy conditions.
"We really didn’t have a first baseman to go to," Johnson said. "That is an issue of concern . . . We’ve had discussions about (the roster), but there are really not any good options. There aren’t a lot of people on the list capable of playing first."
The only other first baseman on Team USA’s provisional roster is the Cubs’ Derrek Lee. He has a tender quadriceps and was scratched from Tuesday’s spring training game. He isn’t expected back in the lineup for a couple of days.
Even without Youkilis, Team USA totaled 12 hits, but just two of those came in 14 chances with runners in scoring position. Conversely, seven of Venezuela’s 15 hits were with RISP.
"Our pitching is still behind," Johnson said. "That’s my main concern right now."
A David Wright RBI-groundout made it a one-run game in the sixth, but Venezuela immediately answered off LaTroy Hawkins. With two on and two out, Rangers catching prospect Max Ramirez deposited a 1-2 hanging breaking ball over the American League scoreboard in left.
Making his first WBC start and second appearance against Venezuela, Orioles righthander Jeremy Guthrie again had a poor outing. Guthrie pitched a scoreless first, but retired just two of nine batters during a six-run, six-hit Venezuela second inning. Henry Blanco, Jose Lopez and Miguel Cabrera each doubled and accounted for four runs.
Venezuela tagged Guthrie for 10 runs (six earned) on 14 hits in 3 2/3 innings in the two outings.
Team USA’s new first baseman didn’t help his starting pitcher. Dunn fielded a Gerardo Parra grounder and should have initiated a double play. Instead, he airmailed the ball over shortstop Jimmy Rollins for his first miscue.
Later that inning on a Cesar Izturis single to right with two out, Dunn failed to cut off Shane Victorino’s throw home. Had he done so, Dunn would have easily thrown out Izturis trying to take the extra base. Venezuela went on to score two more runs in the inning.
Sunday, Team USA will play the winner of tonight’s Korea-Japan/Cuba winner.
Said Mark DeRosa, who went 3 for 5 with a two-run homer: "I know for seeding purposes it plays a big part, but guys ultimately played hard tonight, got their work in and we’ll go (to Los Angeles) ready to roll."
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