PHOENIX–At first blush, Mexico manager Rick Renteria's decision to start Yovani Gallardo against the United States on Friday could be considered a gamble.
Gallardo is Mexico's best pitcher, and Team USA is considered the favorite in Pool D. In a winner-take-all format, putting your best pitcher against the best team would be the obvious choice. But in the World Baseball Classic, where two teams move on, it might make more sense to pitch Gallardo against Canada, Mexico’s likely competition for the second team to advance out of the pool, or perhaps against upstart Italy, Mexico’s first opponent on Thursday.
But Renteria isn't necessarily gambling when he sends Gallardo, who went 16-9, 3.66 for the Brewers in 2012, to the mound against the U.S., because he has two pitchers behind Gallardo who spent the bulk of last season in the major leagues.
Canada manager Ernie Whitt has no such luxury. He doesn't have one starter who started a game in the big leagues last year.
Mexico likely will use Luis Mendoza, who went 8-10, 4.23 for the Royals in 2012, against Italy on Thursday, in the first game in Pool D at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, the spring training home of the Diamondbacks and Rockies. Marco Estrada, who went 5-7, 3.64 for the Brewers in 2012, will probably pitch for Mexico against Canada on Saturday.
Whitt will use Shawn Hill, who opened the 2012 season in independent ball and hasn't made a big league start since 2010, against Italy. Chris Leroux, a reliever who posted a 5.56 ERA in 2012 with the Pirates, will face Mexico, and premium Pirates prospect Jameson Taillon will face Team USA.
Because of the WBC’s pitch limits, Canada will team Scott Mathieson with Hill; Andrew Albers (Twins) with Leroux and potentially Mark Hardy (Padres) with Taillon, though Hardy pitched poorly in his final tuneup against Cincinnati on Wednesday. It's possible that Canada might limit some of its pitchers to less than 50 pitches so they will be eligible to pitch again later in the first round. Under WBC rules, pitchers who throw more than 50 pitches have to sit out for at least four days, while pitchers who throw 30-49 pitches have to sit out only one day before being eligible to pitch again. Pitchers who throw fewer than 30 pitches can be used in back to back days, though not more than two days in a row.
Taillon, 21, is the most intriguing choice. The righthander has made just three starts above Class A, but he has the best stuff on the Canadian staff. The decision brings back memories of 2006, when Canada started Adam Loewen against Team USA in the first World Baseball Classic. At the time, Loewen was considered one of the better prospects in baseball, and he also had not pitched above Class A. Loewen lived up to Team Canada's hopes, pitching 3 2/3 scoreless innings as Canada upset Team USA 8-6. Loewen is back on Team Canada as an outfielder now, having given up pitching due to injuries after the 2008 season.
Canada may need similar heroics to advance to the second round this year. The lineup features an imposing middle of the order with Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Brett Lawrie, but the thin starting pitching will make for a tough matchup against both Mexico and the United States.