Shohei Ohtani flirted with the idea of going straight from high school in Japan to American pro ball, with the Red Sox, Rangers and Dodgers among the teams in pursuit. Instead, Ohtani opted to stay in Japan and sign with the Nippon Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball.
With Japanese spring training underway, Ohtani made his first pitching appearance in an exhibition game for the Fighters today, throwing a scoreless inning of relief against Rakuten. Ohtani, 18, threw his fastball in the low-to-mid-90s and reached 98 mph, mixing in a solid mid-80s slider, although his control was erratic.
He gave up a single and made an errant pickoff throw, but the 6-foot-4 righthander struck out two batters, including a three-pitch strikeout to the first batter he faced, Casey McGehee, who had big league time last year with the Pirates and Yankees.
Ohtani stayed in the game and played right field, grounding out in his only at-bat. While Ohtani's major league future would be on the mound, part of the pitch the Fighters made to Ohtani appears to be that he will get a chance to be a two-way player for them.
SAN FRANCISCO—In the 2013 World Baseball Classic, Puerto Rico took out one baseball giant after another.
It beat Venezuela in the first round, the United States in the second and Japan in Sunday's semifinal at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
|The Dominican Republic went a perfect 8-0 to win the World Baseball Classic. Fernando Rodney picked up the final out of all eight games, a WBC record that will likely never be broken|
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But Puerto Rico got three shots at "The Republic of Baseball," as manager Tony Pena likes to call his homeland, the Dominican Republic. And it came up empty all three times.
It came up empty all night Tuesday against Dominican starter Sam Deduno and four relievers—Octavio Dotel, Pedro Strop, Santiago Casilla and finally Fernando Rodney—who combined to throw a three-hit shutout. Deduno tossed five scoreless, every reliever pitched a scoreless frame and Rodney got his seventh save in eight games as the Dominican Republic beat Puerto Rico 3-0 and won the World Baseball Classic.
"Samuel Deduno did a greaet job, not only tonight but throughout the WBC," Pena said. "He pitched three times for us, and all were successful games . . . He could have thrown 95 pitches easy tonight, but we have the horses (in our bullpen). As I said from the start, our bullpen is the root of our team. We only need five innings from our starters. After that, I turn it over to them."
It worked eight times in a row as the DR became the first nation other than Japan to win the WBC and redeemed itself from an embarrassing first-round exit in 2009. Moreover, the Dominicans became the first undefeated WBC champ, winning all eight of their games, including three matchups with Puerto Rico.
Tuesday night, on a rainy night with 35,703 on hand at AT&T, the Dominicans seized control early and survived as Puerto Rico couldn't plate a run despite getting the leadoff man on in five of the last six innings.
Jose Reyes doubled to lead off the bottom of the first and moved to third on Erick Aybar's sacrifice. After Puerto Rican starter Giancarlo Alvarado intentionally walked Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion smoked a double to right-center field. Reyes and Cano scored, with Aybar leading the cheering Dominican dugout contingent, spilling out onto the field to wave both home.
"When I did that, the first thing that come through my mind when I hit that double is that was going to pull not just my team, but the whole Dominican Republic in front of me, because we have a very good opportunity to score a run, and we did it," Reyes said through a translator. "We scored two runs right then in the first inning. That was huge.
"I can't describe this feeling right now because like I said before, right now in the Dominican Republic, they were waiting for this moment so bad, and we did it for the whole Dominican Republic."
Deduno also showed plenty of emotion, particularly when he ended the fifth by striking out Angel Pagan to end a two-on, two-out threat. Pagan didn't take kindly to the outsized reaction, but passion and pride played huge roles in the Dominicans' WBC unbeaten streak.
"The DR has huge talent," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said via a translator. "Other teams also had great talent and stars from the major leagues. But the DR has a passion, desire, the drive to really show this kind of amazing performance, and they did accomplish it."
Alvarado got out of the inning without further damage, and reliever Hiram Burgos held the DR to one run over 4 ? innings to keep Puerto Rico in the game. But Puerto Rico stranded eight runners and only got one runner to third base. That came in the third when Jesus Feliciano singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and moved to third on Angel Pagan's groundout. Irving Falu grounded out to pitcher Deduno to end that threat.
Deduno, hoping to earn a spot in the Twins' big league rotation, went five scoreless for the victory, giving up two of Puerto Rico's three hits. He walked three but also struck out five. The four Dominican relievers got five more strikeouts and extended the bullpen's streak of scoreless innings in WBC play to 25 2/3 innings.
Pena hinted that he had hoped to avoid using Rodney, saying he hoped to get two innings out of Dotel and save Strop to close things out in the ninth. Because the Dominicans didn't lose in the first two rounds, they had not played back-to-back games until this championship game, coming on the heels of Monday night's 4-1 win against the Netherlands.
But Dotel ran into trouble in the seventh, giving up a leadoff single to Mike Aviles and walking Alex Rios. Pena summoned Strop early, and Strop responded by striking out 35-year-old Mexican League veteran Carlos Rivera and 40-year-old pinch-hitter Pedro Valdes. He retired Jesus Feliciano on a foul pop to third baseman Miguel Tejada to end the threat.
The Dominican had scored an insurance run in the fifth. Alejandro De Aza got a bunt single in the fifth with one out and used some savvy baserunning to foil a potential double-play grounder off the bat of Reyes. Irving Falu fielded the grounder and went to tag De Aza, but the White Sox outfielder held up, forcing Falu to throw to first to get the fleet Reyes and get at least one out. Erick Aybar then doubled De Aza home for the final 3-0 cushion.
Cano was named MVP despite an 0-for-3 showing in the finale that included a walk and run scored. He went 15-for-32 with two homers and six RBIs and a .469/.514/.781 slash line, and the Yankees second baseman and potential free agent at the end of the season was emotional in the postgame celebration.
"As Tony said, you always remember the first time for everything: your first hit, playoffs, everything," Cano said. "This is always going to be in our hearts for the rest of our lives. Everyone of us who played in this game will always remember the World Classic. This is such a thrill.
"We were always optimistic. We knew we had a winning team, and we were able to prevail for the DR, for our country, (in front of) the whole world."
SAN FRANCISCO—Seagulls circled the field at AT&T Park, some of them even landing on the playing field before the Netherlands' World Baseball Classic semifinal matchup with the Dominican Republic was officially over.
But the game was over for all intents and purposes after the Dominican scored four runs in the fifth inning, three of them coming after two were out. That gave manager Tony Pena a lead with 12 more outs to get, and with the likes of Kelvin Herrera, Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney on to relieve starter Edinson Volquez.
"They based that team on that," Netherlands manager Hensley Meulens said. "I think they only have a couple starters, and then most of the guys on the roster were bullpen guys. It showed tonight. Volquez had a shaky start but settled down and gave them five pretty good innings . . . and then they had Herrera and Strop and then Rodney finishing the game.
"It's a great bullpen. Those guys calmed down our bats." [...] Continue Reading »
SAN FRANCISCO—For four innings the favorite was on the ropes again during the World Baseball Classic semifinals.
One night after upstart Puerto Rico held onto an early lead against Japan, the Netherlands took an early 1-0 lead against the Dominican Republic. But the unbeaten Dominicans, silenced for four innings, figured out cunning lefthander Diegomar Markwell, scoring four runs in the fifth inning.
The Dominican bullpen held on and nailed down a 4-1 victory, as the DR improved to 7-0 in the 2013 Classic. The Dominican will play Puerto Rico at 8 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday night for the WBC championship.
"Whoever wins the Baseball Classic, it's really going to be the Caribbean's," Dominican Republic manager Tony Pena said. "It could be Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic, but it will belong to the Caribbean."
Edinson Volquez got the win for the DR, giving up the first-inning run but limiting the damage and tossing five innings while allowing just two hits. He walked the first two batters he faced but no one else and struck out five. [...] Continue Reading »
SAN FRANCISCO—Puerto Rico got a day off after its emotional World Baseball Classic semifinal victory against Japan, and Edwin Rodriguez didn't seem to mind. Remember, the Puerto Rican team played Saturday afternoon in Miami, flew cross-country, then played Japan last night in front of a fairly pro-Japanese crowd against a team that had been on West Coast time for several days.
Rodriguez was more welcoming of the "mental rest" for his players than the "physical rest, but there's no doubt that it will help."
Not surprisingly, Rodriguez announced righthander Giancarlo Alvarado as his starter. The former Dodgers farmhand went to Carlo Alvarado as a minor leaguer and went 13-10, 3.49 in his last season in the States, at Triple-A Albuquerque. Since then, he has pitched in Japan's NPB, spending two years with the Hiroshima Carp and another with the Yokohama BayStars.
After pitching well for Ponce in the Puerto Rican League this winter (3-2, 3.04), he's been effective in the WBC so far, striking out eight and walking one in 8.1 innings. He's 1-0, 2.16 in the Classic, beating Spain with four scoreless innings on March 8, then tossed four more scoreless innings before giving up three runs in the fifth during a 4-3 win against Italy in Pool 2. [...] Continue Reading »
The Cubs have signed Cuban righthander Armando Rivero to a contract with a $3.1 million bonus.
International sources last year in July said the Cubs were going to sign Rivero for the same terms, so it appears the agreement may have been in place for several months. However, the Cubs did not officially submit the contract until this month. BA correspondent Phil Rogers first reported Rivero's signing.
Rivero was among the Praver Shapiro Sport Management clients who were living and training in the Dominican Republic but used permanent Haitian residency papers to sign, causing visa delays for players like Yankees lefthander Omar Luis and Orioles outfielder Henry Urrutia. Cubs outfielder Jorge Soler, another Cuban player of Praver Shapiro Sport Management, signed with Chicago last year in June.
Rivero, 25, has middle relief potential. Rivero was a reliever in Cuba's Serie Nacional for Industriales, where was a teammate of Cubs lefthander Gerardo Concepcion. In his final season in Cuba in 2010-11, Rivero had a 3.06 ERA with 38 strikeouts and 21 walks in 47 innings. Rivero also pitched briefly at the FISU World University Championships in Japan in 2010, when he threw 10 pitches and struck out two batters in a scoreless inning for Cuba.
At 6-foot-3, 180 pounds, Rivero's best pitch is his fastball, which sits in the low-90s and peaks at 96 mph. He doesn't have a plus secondary pitch but he has a solid splitter with late tumble. He'll drop to a low three-quarters arm slot, which may be why he has trouble throwing a reliable breaking ball. Some scouts have said Rivero throws a curveball and a slider, while others think he's just manipulating the same pitch. His low slow makes it difficult for him to stay on top of the ball, giving his breaking ball more side to side action. He also has a slight hook in his arm action that affects his command.
Since Rivero is 25 and has four seasons of professional experience in Cuba's top league, his bonus will be exempt from Chicago's 2012-13 international bonus pool. For the current signing period, Cuban signings are exempt from the international bonus pools as long as they are at least 23 and have played in Serie Nacional for at least three seasons.
The Cubs haven't said where Rivero will begin his career, but he's advanced enough that Double-A Tennessee would seem to be an option.
SAN FRANCISCO—Koji Yamamoto will have some explaining to do when his World Baseball Classic team gets back to Japan.
Yamamoto faced the Japanese media alone Sunday night after his team lost 3-1 to Puerto Rico. No players to take questions—just the manager, alone, with his headset for translations.
His predecessors as Team Japan managers, Sadaharu Oh and Tatsunori Hara, were on hand and threw out the first pitches, and they had returned to Japan at the end of previous Classics as champions. Yamamoto will return not just without a championship, but with several curious decisions to explain.
The first postgame question set the tempo for the session, as a reporter asked in Japanese, "It was very unfortunate. First of all, could you please tell us the reason for losing?" [...] Continue Reading »
SAN FRANCISCO—Japan's run of World Baseball Classic dominance is over, ended in a sloppy display of poor baserunning, jumpy hitting and Puerto Rican passion.
Puerto Rico scored a run in the first, added two more on a long homer by Alex Rios in the seventh and used six pitchers to hold off Japan, winning 3-1 in the first WBC semifinal at AT&T Park. Puerto Rico gets a night off and plays the winner of Monday's second semi between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rico now has eliminated Venezuela (first round), the United States (second round) and Japan (semifinals). It's quite a string of success for a team with more active minor leaguers (11) than major leaguers (10).
"There's a lot of emotions," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "We know that a lot of people down in Puerto Rico are watching and this win is huge. The way these guys have been playing and performing is a huge . . . accomplishment for the people in Puerto Rico—not only for the players and youngsters, but also for the whole country."
Japan won the first two WBCs, beating Cuba in the 2006 final and South Korea in 2009. But Japan couldn't reach the final this year as minor league veteran Mario Santiago stymied the Samurai offense into the fifth inning before departing with forearm tightness. [...] Continue Reading »
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—The Dominican Republic, the most efficient producer of baseball talent in the world, is on the hunt for its first WBC title. And, with the way the Dominicans are playing, maybe this is their year.
On Saturday afternoon, the Dominicans completed a perfect run through the first two rounds of the tournament, defeating Puerto Rico, 2-0, to win Pool 2 before 25,846 fans. The total attendance for the six-game tournament was 153,115.
Both Puerto Rico and D.R. had already advanced to the WBC semifinals, but this game determined seeding for the next round. It means Puerto Rico must travel cross-country tonight and play Japan, winner of Pool 1 and the defending two-time WBC champion, Sunday night at 9 p.m. ET. The DR, with a six-game Classic winning streak, gets a day off and plays the Netherlands at 9 p.m. ET Monday. The winners of those games plays for the WBC championship Tuesday night at 8 p.m. ET. [...] Continue Reading »
By Walter Villa
MIAMI – Team USA scored three runs in its final three innings, but it was what happened at the beginning of the game that doomed the Americans.
They couldn’t hit Nelson Figueroa.
That, in a nutshell, is why the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico, 4-3, Friday night, getting eliminated from the World Baseball Classic, just one win shy of the semifinals.
Puerto Rico, which knocked out another one of the tournament’s favorites, Venezuela, in the first round, advances from Miami along with the Dominican Republic. They will be joined in San Francisco next week by Japan and Holland.
Figueroa’s career numbers in the majors are not impressive. He is 20-35 with a 4.55 ERA, and he hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2011. But the 38-year-old righthander was on Friday night, according to American second baseman Brandon Phillips.
“He kept us off balance,” Phillips said of Figueroa. “He hit his spots. I’ve faced him plenty of times, and that’s the best I’ve seen him pitch.” [...] Continue Reading »
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—It’s do or die for both Team USA and Puerto Rico tonight in Pool 2 of the World Baseball Classic, and both managers have made a change in their starting lineups.
Team USA’s Joe Torre, still adjusting to Thursday’s injury to third baseman David Wright, will try Ben Zobrist at the hot corner. Zobrist has played 20 innings at third over four games (two starts) in the major leagues in his career. Willie Bloomquist got the emergency start on Thursday.
In addition, Shane Victorino will DH instead of Zobrist.
“It gives us probably a little more offense with Ben being a switch-hitter,” Torre said. “I didn’t want to drop it on (Zobrist) last night because I think he’ s played about four games in three years at third base, even though he played a few innings for us in Arizona at third. He’s willing to do anything for us.”
If the U.S. were to win tonight at Marlins Park, Padres third baseman Chase Headley has reportedly accepted an invitation to play for the Americans in the semifinals in San Francisco.
Headley won Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards last season, when he led the NL with 115 RBIs.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez has inserted Jesus Feliciano into his lineup in left field and as the second batter.
“He is coming off the flu and is doing OK,” Rodriguez said. “The change is because of Feliciano’s experience and ability. He knows how to handle the pressure of these types of games.”
Tonight’s pitching matchup of righthanders remains unchanged—Ryan Vogelsong for Team USA and Nelson Figueroa for Puerto Rico.
Remember the unnamed converted catcher profiled in Baseball America last month from a recent private workout in the Dominican Republic? His name is Jose Santiago, and he has signed with the Mariners for $205,000.
Santiago, a 19-year-old righthander, is 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and has only been pitching for less than a year but has shown impressive aptitude in picking it up fairly quickly. He throws a heavy 91-93 mph fastball and the ball comes out of his hand without much effort. His 77-81 mph breaking ball has three-quarters break that may eventually turn into a true slider. He throws a firm changeup, but given how new he is to pitching he's mostly a two-pitch guy with his fastball and his breaking ball. Santiago's trainer in the Dominican Republic is known as "Titico."
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—With unlikely heroes Nelson Cruz and Erick Aybar, the first-ever World Baseball Classic meeting between the United States and the Dominican Republic did not disappoint.
Playing before an enthusiastic crowd of 34,366—the fourth largest in Marlins Park history—the Dominicans defeated the Americans, 3-1, to clinch a spot in next week’s WBC semifinals in San Francisco.
The U.S. will play Puerto Rico here Friday night. The winner of that game also advances to San Francisco. [...] Continue Reading »
The Netherlands got reinforcements for its bid to win the 2013 World Baseball Classic, adding No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to its roster for the semifinals.
Both Jansen and Profar were on the Netherlands' provisional roster in January. They replace pitcher Jonatan Isenia, out with an elbow injury, and Yurendell DeCaster (leg). Both players are significant upgrades, with Profar providing power and athleticism in the middle of the diamond. He'll play second base, teaming with shortstop Andrelton Simmons, shifting Jonathan Schoop to third base and giving the team an incredibly athletic infield.
Jansen, who played catcher for the Dutch in 2009 before converting to the mound, gives the team a power arm at the back of the bullpen to complement 7-foot-1 Loek Van Mil.
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—David Wright met with the media during Thursday night’s game and reported that he has sore ribs—not a bad back.
“For about a week now, I’ve had some discomfort in my rib area,” he said. “Every time I go in and get treatment for something like that, the team finds out about it, which is correct.
“Between USA Baseball and the Mets, they decided to put me out of the lineup today.”
Wright will leave for Port St. Lucie, Fla., after the game to be examined by the Mets' team doctors on Friday:
“I’m optimistic they will allow me to come back and rejoin the team,” Wright said. “I wanted to play tonight, but I understand the decision that was made by the Mets and USA. I’m disappointed. I think that goes without saying. I completely understand the direction that they’re going.”
MIAMI—Third baseman David Wright, Team USA’s MVP so far in this year’s World Baseball Classic, has been scratched due to a sore back.
He will be replaced at third, by Willie Bloomquist, who bats ninth.
Wright has 10 RBI in four WBC games. His status beyond tonight has not yet been disclosed.
Power hitter Giancarlo Stanton, who had been scheduled to hit seventh, will now bat in Wright’s five hole. Stanton certainly has the power to make a positive out of a negative.
MIAMI – Advantage, USA?
The retractable roof at Marlins Park has been closed due to windy conditions and temperatures that could dip—brrrrrr—to 54. (Hey, that’s cold for Miami!)
The closed dome figures to help R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball, judging by his 2012 numbers. He had a 1.22 ERA in domes (five game, 37 innings) and a 3.02 ERA outside.
Catching Dickey tonight will be J.P. Arencibia, who also caught the National League Cy Young Award winner in last week’s loss to Mexico. Dickey allowed four runs in four innings–in a dome, for what it’s worth.
Dickey and Arencibia both live in Nashville, and the catcher has caught him four times.
“Every time you catch him, it’s a new experience because you never know what will happen with the knuckleball,” said Arencibia, who played his high school ball at Miami’s Westminster Christian. “His numbers in a dome are unbelievable, but it’s a small sample size.”
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Italy spent much of the World Baseball Classic’s second round leading. But instead of a 2-0 record, the Italians are leaving Marlins Park winless.
Puerto Rico rallied to defeat Italy, 4-3, in front of 25,788 fans Wednesday night, putting up three runs in the eighth inning against four pitchers.
Italy was eliminated. Puerto Rico, aided by sloppy Italian defense, will play another elimination game Friday night against the USA-Dominican Republic loser. [...] Continue Reading »
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—What Team USA and the Dominican Republic are hoping to develop, starting with Thursday’s WBC showdown, Italy and the Netherlands already have – a fierce rivalry based on repeated confrontations in international baseball.
Italy had long been the most dominant team in European baseball, but the Dutch have been coming on of late in larger-scale international events.
Italy has won 10 European Championships, including the two most recent titles, in 2010 and 2012.
The Netherlands won four straight from 1999 to 2007, reached the second round of the 2009 World Baseball Classic, won the 2011 World Cup in Panama and has already made it to the WBC semifinals.
Italy is still alive in the WBC quarterfinals, but the Italians are in serious trouble. They face Puerto Rico tonight at 7 in an elimination game for both teams. [...] Continue Reading »
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Four scoreless innings, four wasted opportunities—two for each team.
That’s the story so far in this World Baseball Classic second-round elimination game between Puerto Rico and Italy.
Puerto Rico’s best chances came in the first and fourth innings. In the first, Angel Pagan was stranded after he led off with an opposite-field double to left.
In the fourth, Puerto Rico wasted a first-and-third opportunity with one out. Mike Aviles popped out, and Alex Rios hit a slow roller to short and was thrown out on a nice play by Anthony Granato.
Italy’s threats were in the second and third innings. In the second, Michael Costanzo pulled a line-drive double that short-hopped the fence in the right-field corner, But he failed to advance.
In the third, Chris Denorfia hit a one-out double over the head of left fielder Eddie Rosario. He was stranded when Anthony Rizzo and Alex Liddi both hit hard outs to second base and left field, respectively.
MIAMI—It was a case of great athletes watching great athletes.
Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano were among a handful of Dominican players who went from beating Italy Tuesday afternoon at Marlins Park to watching the Miami Heat defeat the Atlanta Hawks Tuesday night at American Airlines Arena.
Thursday night at 7, it will be back to serious business for the Dominicans, who will have their first-ever World Baseball Classic matchup with Team USA.
The Americans will throw reigning National League Cy Young R.A. Dickey against Reyes, Cano and the rest of that powerful Dominican lineup. [...] Continue Reading »
By WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—The stage is set for Team USA vs. the Dominican Republic.
Dominican manager Tony Pena repeatedly has referred to the United States as the favorite in this four-team WBC second-round Pool 2 at Marlins Park.
On Tuesday night, the Americans lived up to that hype, defeating Puerto Rico, 7-1, before an enthusiastic crowd of 32,872. Puerto Rico now plays Italy at 7 p.m. Wednesday in an elimination game.
The U.S. and the Dominicans will match up Thursday night at 7, and the winner of that game is guaranteed a trip to the semifinals that begin Sunday in San Francisco.
Team USA got five RBIs from David Wright and one each from Joe Mauer and Adam Jones. It was a close game, 4-1, until Wright’s long fly to right-center field barely eluded the grasp of his ex-Mets teammate Angel Pagan, resulting in three runs.
It was the third time in the game Wright hit with the bases loaded. He had a run-scoring groundout and a run-scoring single in his two other chances.
BY WALTER VILLA
MIAMI—Before Tuesday’s game, Dominican manager Tony Pena talked about the “hole” in his starting pitching rotation and his confidence in his bullpen, loaded with strong arms.
As it turned out, the bullpen produced 4 2/3 innings of shutout baseball, playing a key role in a come-from-behind, 5-4 win over Italy in the opener of the second round of the World Baseball Classic at Marlins Park.
Jose Cedeno, Lorenzo Barcelo, Pedro Strop and Fernando Rodney provided the one-hit relief in front of a pro-Dominican crowd that—complete with drums, horns and vuvuzuelas—was announced at 14,482. Strop got the win, and Rodney got the save. Nelson Cruz provided the game-winning hit with a run-scoring single in the bottom of the eighth to break a 4-4 tie.
The Dominicans, who fell behind, 4-0, in the top of the first inning, got back in the game with solo home runs by Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano (featured here) and then took over with a three-run seventh inning. [...] Continue Reading »
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