Team USA keeps hope alive with 6-2 victory over Italy

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David Wright hit a grand slam in the fifth inning of tonight’s contest that resulted in a 6-2 victory for the U.S. over Italy, keeping their hopes alive in Pool D. The U.S. had stayed within striking distance of Italy, trailing 2-1 entering the fifth.

Italy scored twice, once in each of the first and second innings. In the first, U.S. starter Ryan Vogelsong uncorked a wild pitch with two outs, allowing Mike Costanzo to score from third base. In the second, Tyler LaTorre singled with two outs and scored on an Anthony Granato double.

The U.S. chipped away in the fourth after Italy replaced starter Luca Panerati with Marco Grifantini. Ryan Braun led off the inning with a single and quickly touched home on a Joe Mauer double to left. Grifantini lost control in the fifth, walking Adam Jones to lead off the inning, then surrendering a single to Jonathan Lucroy to put runners on first and second. Matt Torra came in to attempt to extinguish the flames, but with one out, Brandon Phillips singled to right to drive in Jones and tie the game. Joe Mauer walked with two outs to load the bases for David Wright, who fouled off a couple pitches before squaring up a change-up, promptly deposited beyond the fence in left-center. The U.S. went up 6-2 and never lost control from there.

Jeremy Affeldt tossed one scoreless inning of relief after Vogelsong’s exit, then Ross Detwiler threw four shut-out innings to close out the game and the victory for his team.

The win brings the U.S. to 1-1 in Pool D, tied with Canada. Italy has already clinched a berth in the second round, but seeding will be determined by run differential. The U.S. and Canada will play for the right to advance tomorrow at 4 PM ET.

Seattle Mariners to make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani

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Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a team-sponsored podcast the other day that the M’s will make a “full-court press” for Shohei Ohtani. To that end, Dipoto said that the M’s would be willing to let the two-way star to pitch and to hit, which is something Ohtani is interested in doing in the United States. Not all clubs are likely to let him do this, with most likely seeing him as a starting pitcher only.

Ohtani, who is expected to be posted by his Japanese team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, possibly as early as today, can sign with anyone he wants. He is, however, subject to the international bonus pool caps, so the bids on him will be somewhat limited. The Texas Rangers and New York Yankees have the most money available: $3.535 million for the Rangers and $3.5 million for the Yankees. The Twins ($3.245 million), Pirates ($2.266 million), Marlins ($1.74 million) and Mariners ($1.57 million) are the only other teams with more than $1 million left. Twelve teams — including the Dodgers, Cubs, Cardinals and Astros — are limited to a maximum of $300,000, having met or exceeded their caps for this signing period already.

Ohtani, however, is said to be less motivated by money than he is by finding the right situation. While a lot of guys say that, the fact that Ohtani is coming over to the U.S. now, when his financial prospects are limited, as opposed to waiting for two years when he is not subject to the bonus caps and could sign for nine figures, suggests that he is telling the truth. As such, a team like the Mariners that is willing to allow him to hit and pitch could make up for the couple of million less they have in bonus money to spend.

As for how that might work logistically, Dipoto said that the team would be willing to play DH Nelson Cruz a few days in the outfield to accommodate Ohtani, allowing him to DH on the days he’s not pitching. That might be . . . interesting to see, but given how badly the Mariners could use a good starting pitcher, they have an incentive to be creative.

Ohtani, 23, suffered some injuries in 2017, limiting him to just five starts and 65 games as a hitter. In 2016, however, he hit .289/.356/.547 with 22 homers in 342 at-bats and went 11-3 with a 3.24 ERA, and a K/BB ratio of 146/51 in 133.1 innings as a starter.

Five clubs have more money to spend on Ohtani than the Mariners do. None of those teams are on the west coast, which some Asian players have said in the past they preferred due to faster travel back home. The Mariners, owned for a long time by a Japanese company which still retains a minority interest in the club, and long the home for high-profile Japanese players such as Ichiro and Hisashi Iwakuma, likely have a better media and marketing reach in Japan than most other teams as well, which might be a factor in his decision making process. Is all that enough to sway Ohtani?

We’ll find out over the next couple of weeks.