PHOENIX — While Team USA is one of the favorites to win the World Baseball Classic, its pitching staff lacks some of the best available players. Manager Mark DeRosa said on Friday that getting elite position players to participate wasn’t a problem but it was a different story when it came to the top arms in the game.
“If this is going to go where it needs to go, then all teams, all countries would want their so-called best players,” DeRosa stated on Friday. “And it shouldn’t be as difficult as it was to put a roster together.
“But I completely understand. Over the course of 162 in the Major Leagues, you want your best players healthy, firing on all cylinders. It’s a big ask to get these guys rolling.”
Pitchers are used to a routine of getting their arms ready in February and March for the long MLB regular and postseason. Playing in the WBC means starting that process about a month earlier. Teams, as well as players and agents, are sometimes reluctant to risk health for the sake of the tournament.
Neither AL Cy Young winner, Justin Verlander, nor runner-up, Dylan Cease, is participating for Team USA which plays its first game on Saturday night.
“The Major League clubs are going to have to be willing to be a little bit more…okay, mindset-wise, with those guys playing,” DeRosa said.
Game 1 starter, Adam Wainwright, was asked how to maximize participation among pitchers.
“I think one thing for people to understand, fan bases to understand and teams to understand is that the training staff in there (Team USA) is a professional Major League Baseball training staff that knows how to keep its players the same way a normal training staff would,” Wainwright said. “When we come in here, we’re not with a lack of qualified professionals to keep us where we need to be. They’re ready to do — whatever program we have with our own teams — they’re ready to put those into action here.”
Wainwright is joined by Lance Lynn, Miles Mikolas and Nick Martinez as the top starters for Team USA. There are zero Cy Young awards among that group.
Another option, to potentially increase participation among pitchers, is to play the tournament at a different time of year when their arms are more in shape. The all-star break or after the World Series have been suggested in the past.
“How can you do it?” DeRosa asked. “How can you ask these guys to go through 162 games and then on the back end get into a serious competition like this? How can you expect the Major League season to take a break? “I thought about the All-Star break. So those four days off, when you come back from that first game, it’s like, ‘wow, I’ve lost all the calibration to the fastball,’ and it almost takes a minute to get back into the second half.
“So to ask these guys (non WBC players) to shut it down for two and a half, three weeks would be criminal. But I don’t know if there’s a perfect answer to that.”
Team USA plays Great Britain on Saturday, Mexico on Sunday and Canada on Monday. There are rest requirements based on pitch counts in order to keep pitchers healthy for – and beyond – the tournament.
“Yes, we’re going to try to win this,” Wainwright said. “But the other main goal is to come out healthy and ready for a Major League season also.”
Pitching staff lacks top players