Fernando Martinez and the Astros show why the World Baseball Classic still has so far to go

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Fernando Martinez stands as one of several players in the mix to make the Houston Astros’ outfield. But he has more up against him in that quest than just competition from Rick Ankiel, Justin Maxwell, J.D. Martinez and Brandon Barnes. He has up against him his participation in the World Baseball Classic, where he will play for Spain.

His general manager, Jeff Luhnow, admitted as much. From Brian McTaggart’s story at Astros.com:

“The big challenge is … a guy like Fernando Martinez, who’s trying to make our club, [being] gone for an extended period of time. I think that potentially hurts him, even if he does well in the Classic,” Luhnow said. “It hurts him because he’s not there with our coaches, being seen firsthand. It makes it a little bit more difficult. The fact he’s playing for Spain means he’s not going to be gone the whole month. Nothing against Spain, but they’re not likely to make it past the first round.”

I understand that we’re supposed to be all-in on the World Baseball Classic and that players who don’t take it seriously have the wrong attitude and are otherwise “idle heroes,”** but I’m sorry: if a general manager for a baseball team is saying that participating in it is going to have negative implications for you, you should not be playing in the WBC. If I’m Martinez’s agent I have him call the Spanish manager, say “smell you later,” and make sure my client’s butt is in Osceola County Stadium from the first day of Spring Training until the team breaks camp so as to give him the best chance to win a job.

As for what this says about the Classic itself, yes, I acknowledge that Martinez is a borderline major leaguer at best, and I acknowledge that Morosi’s point yesterday was that the big stars should be participating, not the Fernando Martinez’s of the world. But this little example is still telling with respect to the WBC’s true place in the baseball hierarchy and still explains why many big stars, quite understandably, choose not to participate.

For one thing, for Spain anyway, Fernando Martinez is a big star. He’s the best they can do in their outfield. And if the WBC is to become what Morosi and everyone who rah-rahs it wants it to be, every team has to put its best possible lineup out there. Watching all the American, Japanese, Korean, Cuban and Dominican superstars trounce the relatively empty rosters of other teams — which is what will happen if Jeff Luhnow’s sentiments are shared by GMs of other players like Martinez — will not turn this into the World Cup Part Deux, which is the ultimate aim Morosi and those who think like him about the WBC want it to be. It will keep it as a curious exhibition, best ignored until the late rounds at the most.

But more broadly, this little episode reveals that the teams and executives don’t value the WBC anywhere close to how they value the MLB season, even if they’re strongly encouraged to say they do by Major League Baseball and strongly wished to by WBC backers like Morosi. That has direct consequences for guys like Martinez, but you can’t tell me that superstars aren’t impacted by this too. They want to win in the MLB season and they want to be on the same page as their manager, their coaches and, yes, their front office.  No, Mike Trout and Bryce Harper won’t lose their jobs if they don’t play for Team USA, but it’s bleedin’ obvious that they have greater priorities and, if forced to be truthful, Jerry Dipoto and Mike Rizzo would prefer them to be in camp all spring rather than playing in the WBC.

It is not a lack of patriotism or a poor attitude that keeps all the superstars from playing in the WBC. It is the disconnect — the tremendous, tremendous gulf between the importance of the MLB season and the importance of the WBC — that keeps all the superstars from participating. And, contrary to what Morosi and other say, this gulf cannot be crossed merely by putting a nation’s colors on the uniform and simply asserting that it matters for flag and country.

**An earlier version of this post characterized Jon Paul Morosi’s criticism of players who do not participate in the WBC as one based on the players’ lack of patriotism. My reason for saying so was that it was my view, based on the entirety of his column, that he was, in fact, questioning players’ patriotism even if he did not intend to.  

In the past few hours Morosi and I have had an offline discussion in which he explained what he was getting at with yesterday’s column. Rather than lack of patriotism, he explained, he was criticizing the attitude of players who have an “insufficient perspective and awareness” of their obligations and the importance of the WBC.  While Morosi and I still likely disagree about all of this, I appreciate that questioning the patriotism of others is a serious charge and that, whatever my takeaway from Morosi’s column was, it was not his intention to do such a thing.

Cardinals shut down Adam Wainwright with right elbow impingement

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In the wake of Thursday’s disastrous outing against the Pirates, Cardinals’ right-hander Adam Wainwright will be shut down from throwing for 10-14 days after receiving a platelet-rich plasma injection in his right elbow, MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch reported Saturday. Wainwright was officially placed on the 10-day disabled list on Friday with a right elbow impingement, though the club doesn’t expect him to sit out for the remainder of the regular season.

It’s been a rough stretch for the 35-year-old righty, whose last two starts have been accompanied by a noticeable dip in his velocity. Thursday’s clunker was the most telling indication of trouble, with a fastball that failed to crest 89 MPH and five earned runs scattered over three innings. It’s another unfortunate downturn in an injury-riddled season that has seen a career-worst 5.12 ERA, 3.3 BB/9 and 7.1 SO/9 over 121 1/3 innings.

Injuries and velocity issues notwithstanding, the Cardinals can’t afford to lose another starting pitcher with the division lead a mere 1.5 games within their grasp. They’ll utilize fellow right-hander Luke Weaver in Wainwright’s rotation spot for the time being and hope that rest, rather than surgery, is the key to their starter’s return.

And That Happened: Friday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the rest of Friday’s scores and highlights:

Cubs 7, Blue Jays 4: Friday saw the Blue Jays return to Wrigley Field for their first game since 2005, and in the end, they may as well have stayed away. Jake Arrieta led the charge against Toronto, improving to a 13-8 record with 6 1/3 innings of one-run, six-strikeout ball, and even Kevin Pillar‘s eighth-inning rally couldn’t close the door against the Cubs.

Cardinals 11, Pirates 10: It just wasn’t Trevor Williams‘ night. The rookie right-hander was tagged for a career-worst eight runs in three innings, helping the Cardinals to a six-run lead by the time Steven Brault came in to relieve him in the fourth. Pittsburgh’s bullpen fared little better, propelling the club to their sixth consecutive loss and pushing them 6.5 games back of the division lead and nine games out of the NL wild card race.

Orioles 9, Angels 7: No one did more than Manny Machado on Friday night — and, during a game that saw a cumulative 10 home runs between the Orioles and Angels, that’s saying something. He started off with a two-run homer in the third inning, taking Andrew Heaney deep with a 418-foot blast into the right field stands:

In the fifth inning, with the Orioles trailing 7-4, Machado roped another 398-footer off of Heaney for Home Run No. 2:

The dinger brought Baltimore within two runs of tying the game, but they entered the ninth still down 7-5. Anthony Santander, Ryan Flaherty and Tim Beckham loaded the bases for Machado, who needed just two pitches before finding one to crush for a walk-off grand slam:

Dodgers 8, Tigers 5: The Dodgers made another push to pad their offense on Friday night, trading for Mets’ centerfielder Curtis Granderson following a decisive win over the Tigers. They didn’t appear to need any additional help toppling opposing starter Ryan Zimmerman, however, and racked up seven runs in the first six innings to earn their 86th victory lap of the year.

Marlins 3, Mets 1: Even two hours of stormy weather couldn’t put a damper on the Marlins’ road trip, which started with a bang following 5 1/3 solid innings from southpaw Justin Nicolino and a three-run spread from their offense. J.T. Realmuto stunned rookie starter Chris Flexen with a first-inning, two-RBI home run, setting a new career high with his 50th RBI of the year:

The Mets, on the other hand, extended their streak to five consecutive losses and now sit a distant 13 games out of postseason contention.

Red Sox 9, Yankees 6: The Red Sox moved a comfortable five games ahead of the Yankees on Friday, powering their second straight come-from-behind win with a monster seventh-inning rally from Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Mitch Moreland. While almost every Red Sox-Yankees matchup has felt like a nail-biter this month, don’t expect Boston to relinquish first place that easily. They’ve won 13 of their last 15 games and taken three of four from their AL East rivals.

Mariners 7, Rays 1: The Mariners picked up their third straight win with a seven-run charge against the Rays, capping their efforts with Nelson Cruz‘s mammoth solo shot in the ninth inning:

It marked the slugger’s 30th blast of the year, making him just the fourth Mariner to record 30+ home runs in three consecutive seasons. More impressively, the homer set a new Statcast record for the longest home run recorded at Tropicana Field, at a whopping 482 feet.

Reds 5, Braves 3: It looked like it was all over for Zack Cozart in the seventh inning, when the shortstop took a fastball to his left shin. He remained on the ground for several seconds before walking to first base, but made his exit after the half inning and figures to be day-to-day while the swelling in his leg subsides. Even without their star infielder, the Reds continued to dominate the Braves, coasting to a 5-3 finish with a handful of home runs from Adam Duvall, Eugenio Suarez and Jesse Winker.

White Sox 4, Rangers 3: Nicky Delmonico is having himself quite the rookie campaign, slashing .382/.452/.691 with five home runs and a 1.143 OPS through his first 15 games in the majors. He padded his big league resume with his first inside-the-park home run on Friday night, clearing the bases on a first-pitch slider from Ricardo Rodriguez for his second home run of the game and the game-winning knock.

Not only did the homer help power the White Sox’ win, but it was the first rookie-engineered inside-the-park home run in almost 15 years:

Twins 10, Diamondbacks 3: Speaking of speedy outfielders legging out inside-the-park home runs, Byron Buxton stole the spotlight during the Twins’ six-homer night with his second career inside-the-parker in the fourth inning:

His 13.85-second charge around the bases set a new Statcast record for the fastest home-to-home sprint, which would be even more meaningful had he not already broken that record with a 14.05-second dash on his first inside-the-park home run last October.

Astros 3, Athletics 1: It didn’t take a big offensive surge to back Dallas Keuchel‘s gem on Friday night. The Astros’ ace held the Athletics to three hits and three strikeouts in seven strong innings, extending an impressive rebound after blowing an eight-run loss to the White Sox earlier this month. Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve swatted a pair of home runs in the third inning, giving Houston just enough of an edge to clinch their 75th win of the season.

Indians 10, Royals 1: The Indians kept spinning their carousel of injured pitchers on Friday, swapping out a healthy Andrew Miller for Corey Kluber after their starter twisted his ankle during the Royals’ attempted rally in the sixth inning. Kluber’s loss didn’t slow Cleveland down for long, however, and they completed their seventh win in eight games after taking a nine-game lead over their division rivals.

Rockies 8, Brewers 4: The Rockies still top the NL wild card standings, and this time, they’re not sharing first place with anyone. They slugged their way to eight runs on Friday night, banking on big shots from Gerardo Parra and Carlos Gonzalez to secure a one-game lead over the Diamondbacks. The Brewers’ Keon Broxton and Domingo Santana, meanwhile, had more modest goals, each reaching 20 home runs in the Brewers’ losing effort.

“All my life, I’ve always wanted to hit 20 home runs,” Broxton told reporters following the loss. “I’ve never done it, and it’s nice to actually do it in the big leagues.”

Nationals 7, Padres 1: We don’t always get to pick and choose our moments in the spotlight, and for rookie right-hander Matt Grace, his moment coincided with an untimely injury to Max Scherzer. The Nats’ ace was scratched with neck inflammation prior to the game, accelerating Grace’s big league debut against San Diego. He turned in 4 1/3 scoreless innings, holding the Padres to just two hits and registering his first major league strikeout against Dusty Coleman to help the Nationals to a cushy 14-game lead in the NL East.

Giants 10, Phillies 2: The Giants could face the rest of the season without closing pitcher Mark Melancon, but at least on Friday, a solid start from Matt Moore and an explosive run by the offense was enough to single-handedly shut down the Phillies. Moore kept the Phillies off the board for 7 1/3 innings, backed by a handful of base hits and home runs from Hunter Pence and Brandon Crawford to establish the club’s first double-digit win in two weeks.