What was already an extremely lefthanded Canadian lineup lost its only significant righthanded power threat as Brett Lawrie had to drop out of the World Baseball Classic because of a rib injury.
The Blue Jays third baseman sustained the injury early in Wednesday's exhibition game against the Reds. He left the game in the fourth inning.
"We got the word this morning that the doctors feel that it is about on his 10th rib with maybe—it could be an oblique, it—he doesn't think it's very severe," Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt said. "But any type of injury like that, if you continue to play you could aggravate it and make it worse. And that's the last thing in the world we want to do. It's a young man that loves playing the game. He desperately wanted to play in this tournament, but for his career the right decision was made that we're going to withdraw him and let him go get some treatments and hopefully get that taken care of before Opening Day with the Jays."
Canada already was going without its most experienced righthanded hitter when Russell Martin pulled out two weeks ago. Brewers second baseman/third baseman Taylor Green will replace Lawrie in Canada's starting lineup. With Lawrie out, second baseman Jonathan Malo, shortstop Cale Iorg and catcher Chris Robinson are likely to be the only righthanded hitters in the lineup. The news could also lead to a larger role for Jimmy VanOstrand, the only other righthanded hitter on Canada's roster. VanOstrand took ground balls at third base in workouts on Thursday and could serve as an emergency backup at the position.
However Whitt constructs his lineup, Team Mexico, Italy and the U.S. will likely bring lefty after lefty to face the middle of the order of Justin Morneau, Joey Votto and Michael Saunders. The U.S. set up its rotation to ensure that lefthander Derek Holland faced Canada.
"I can't take away the fact that losing Brett is a big blow," Whitt said. "He's one of the few righthanded hitters that we have in this lineup. We were counting on him to protect Votto and Morneau, and obviously we have lost that, but you still–you've got some quality hitters in there. Votto and Morneau and Sanders, they're not platoon, they hit off lefties. So we move forward from that. Again, it's a big loss, but nothing we can do."
MOVING: With a rare spot of rain in the forecast for Phoenix for Friday, Pool D's afternoon game of Canada vs. Italy has been moved from the Diamondbacks/Rockies facility at Salt River Fields to Chase Field, where a retractable roof ensures that the game can be played rain or shine. To accommodate the move, the game has been moved up 30 minutes to 12 p.m. MT to ensure the facility can be cleared in time for the nightcap of Mexico vs. Team USA.
With the move, the first game will be general admission seating. Friday night's Mexico-USA game is expected to draw the best crowd of Pool D with Team USA possibly losing the homefield advantage to a large and loud contingent of Team Mexico fans.
However loud it is, closing the dome may give an advantage to Team USA starter R.A. Dickey, as his knuckleball is helped by the consistent conditions of a dome.
"Having a closed dome certainly I don't have to worry about wind gusts and rain and moisture and things like that that can be a challenge sometimes," Dickey said.
SET LINEUP: In an attempt to ensure that players got plenty of rest, Team USA has constructed its roster at previous World Baseball Classic's so that multiple regulars platooned at shortstop and other positions. Michael Young and Derek Jeter shared the shortstop job in 2006 while Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones did the same at third base. Jimmy Rollins and Jeter shared shortstop in 2009. That did keep everyone fresh, but it also forced the U.S. to do some bizarre lineup machinations, including putting catcher Brian McCann in the outfield.
Manager Joe Torre wanted to avoid that this time, so expect to see pretty close to the same lineup on the field for all three of Team USA's first-round games. Rollins is the shortstop. David Wright is the third baseman with Willie Bloomquist and Ben Zobrist filling the roles of versatile subs.
"I was fortunate enough to get Bloomquist and Zobrist and have them understand what we were trying to do, and so that's what my thinking was," Torre said. "I just felt that the guys who were going to play were going to play nine innings and it was going to be tough for me to try to get, say, two shortstops enough playing time to satisfy—satisfy me—in sending them back to their team hopefully the 20th of this month."
BUSY DAY: As the first round begins today in Pool C and Pool D, the second round will be starting in Japan tonight as Cuba and the Netherlands face off beginning at 10:30 p.m. ET. Japan will face Taiwan Friday morning at 5 a.m. in Pool 1's other opener.
As Ben Badler noted while in Fukuoka, the two-time defending champs from Japan do not look nearly as imposing this time. Scouts who have seen them recently would not be surprised if Taiwan knocks them off in the opener, noting Japan's rather punchless lineup looked unimpressive while scoring only 13 runs in three first-round games, including games against pitching-thin China and Brazil.
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