USA TODAY Sports’ Jorge Ortiz takes a look at how the major teams will fare in the second round of the World Baseball Classic.
USA TODAY Sports
While Team USA’s top relievers were striving to keep Friday night’s game close and enable a comeback that eventually fell a run short, their Dominican counterparts had the night off to enjoy the Gaslamp District and any other of San Diego’s attractions.
That difference in rest could prove critical in tonight’s World Baseball Classic elimination clash between the Dominican Republic and the U.S., in which a spot in the championship round will be at stake.
The last time these two powerhouses met, a week ago amid a raucous environment at Miami’s Marlins Park, the DR overcame a five-run deficit to pull out a dramatic 7-5 victory thanks to Nelson Cruz’s three-run blast in the eighth and a bullpen that held the U.S. hitless over the final three innings.
That bullpen, featuring the likes of Jeurys Familia, Dellin Betances, Fernando Rodney and Alex Colome, will be fully rested tonight. Team USA used top relievers Andrew Miller and David Robertson for one inning each Friday as it tried to claw back from an early 4-0 deficit against Puerto Rico, which eventually prevailed 6-5.
Relievers are used to pitching on back-to-back days in the regular season, but not so much in mid-March, and U.S. manager Jim Leyland acknowledged that balancing the competing interests of the players’ major league teams with the desire to win the tournament can get tricky.
“I know they want to get their players as many at-bats (as they need). I understand they want their pitchers to pitch. I understand they don’t necessarily want them back-to-back,’’ Leyland said before Friday’s loss. “We’re trying to win this thing and we’re trying to send everybody back healthy and happy.’’
Team USA will have Sam Dyson and Tyler Clippard available, but perhaps not its full complement of relievers when facing the loaded Dominican lineup.
Left-hander Danny Duffy, who pitched four shutout innings of two-hit ball as the U.S. routed Canada on Sunday to advance to the second round, will take the mound opposite Ervin Santana, who didn’t pitch in Miami.
Duffy will be dealing with a predominantly right-handed-hitting lineup featuring Manny Machado, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Cruz and Starling Marte, a challenging task for anybody, let alone a pitcher who yielded a .760 on-base-plus-slugging percentage when facing righties last season, compared to .449 vs. lefties.
Santana won’t have it easy either against Team USA, which is averaging five runs a game and has banged out six home runs.
The veteran right-hander joined the Dominican club for the second round and hasn’t pitched since completing four innings on March 9. And he probably won’t have the benefit of a huge pro-Dominican turnout at Petco Park, where the sellout crowd figures to lean much more in favor of the U.S. than it did in Miami.
But in a tournament played at a time when starters are still getting stretched out, the relievers are often the difference-makers. They played a key role in the Dominicans’ undefeated run to the championship in the 2013 WBC and could give them an edge again tonight.
“We’re fortunate to have three or four relievers who have closed in the big leagues,’’ DR general manager Moises Alou said before the tournament started. “We watched a documentary of the last Classic and we saw some games where the bullpen was huge. It’s really important.’’