Anthony Rizzo: “our goal is San Francisco”

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The Team Italy-Athletics game just ended. The A’s won 4-3, with the final out coming when an Italian player was gunned down at the plate. Not too bad for a split squad major league team playing a WBC underdog.

I spoke with Anthony Rizzo on the field after the game. Rizzo hit a long homer off the scoreboard in right-center, which looked like it could have gone 50 more feet if it needed to.  While Rizzo will likely be back with the Cubs next week or so, he’s relishing his time with Team Italy.

“Our goal is San Francisco,” Rizzo said when asked what he hopes to get out of the WBC. Referring, of course, to the WBC final.  When asked if that was realistic he said “Absolutely. Anything is possible.” I wonder if he’d say that in a candid environment, but he seemed sincere in the moment. No, Team Italy is not expected to do much here, but Rizzo is certainly in the head space of a player who is playing meaningful games right now.

He said as much, noting that it’s nice to play games that matter. Which, having talked to a lot of players this past week, I think is something most of them crave. Spring Training is a time of renewal and all of that, but after a week or so, it also becomes a bit of a slog for some of these guys. Rizzo may not have as strong a connection to Team Italy as he does the Chicago Cubs, but the few WBC games he plays will have a greater sense of urgency and purpose to them than Cubs exhibitions, and I can imagine how appealing that is to these guys right now.

Oh, final note: I asked Rizzo how he liked being called “Anthony RIT-tso” by the P.A. announcer (and his name is phonetically-spelled that way in the press materials). He rather digs it. He said it a couple of times, rolling it off his tongue.

“I think I’ll enjoy that this week,” he said.

Julio Urias to undergo season-ending shoulder surgery

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The news has gone from bad to worse for Dodgers’ left-hander Julio Urias, who is scheduled for anterior capsule surgery on his left shoulder next Tuesday and expected to be sidelined through the middle of the 2018 season. His MRI came back negative on Wednesday, giving the Dodgers some hope that the 20-year-old’s bout of shoulder inflammation wasn’t masking any structural damage, but the pain lingered several days later and prompted further concern from the club. The procedure will be performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache.

Urias was optioned to Triple-A Oklahoma City in late May and placed on the disabled list with left shoulder discomfort several weeks into his assignment. At the major league level, he owned a 5.40 ERA, 5.4 BB/9 and 4.2 SO/9 through 23 1/3 innings, going 0-2 in five starts with Los Angeles. He made a brief rebound in Triple-A, posting three wins and striking out 17 of 67 batters in 17 1/3 innings before landing on the DL.

It’s a tough blow for the southpaw, who had yet to hit his stride in the majors before getting sidelined with shoulder issues. The Dodgers were especially mindful of this outcome for Urias, and had taken preventative measures to protect his arm by establishing a strict innings limit last season. According to club president Andrew Friedman, there’s a small silver lining here: while Urias’ injury will keep him out of work for at least 12 months, he doesn’t appear to have sustained any damage to his labrum or rotator cuff, and could be facing a much more streamlined recovery process as a result. Whether he’ll be able to rebound once he takes the mound again remains to be seen.

Tigers release Francisco Rodriguez

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Tigers’ right-handed reliever Francisco Rodriguez was released on Friday, per a team announcement. The club recalled fellow right-hander Bruce Rondon from Triple-A Toledo in a corresponding move.

The former closer got the boot after losing his closing role in early May, giving left-hander Justin Wilson a chance to impress at the back end of the bullpen. It’s been a rough year for Rodriguez, who manufactured six blown saves and a 7.82 ERA, 3.9 BB/9 and 8.2 SO/9 over 25 1/3 innings for the Tigers. The final straw, it seemed, came with Robinson Cano‘s grand slam in the seventh inning of the Tigers’ 6-9 loss to the Mariners on Thursday.

While the demotion to a clean-up role and an apparent lack of communication caused Rodriguez considerable frustration, he’s two years removed from his last dominant performance as a major league closer and has shown few signs of returning to form. His recent slump doesn’t diminish the impressive totals he’s racked up over his 16-year career — 437 saves and six All-Star nominations among them — but if he can’t break out of it soon, he may not receive the kind of high leverage role he’s seeking with another big league team, either.