Gio Gonzalez pitches brilliantly and David Wright drives in five as USA defeats Puerto Rico

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Gio Gonzalez was in mid-season form and David Wright continued his recent run of heroics as Team USA topped a punchless Puerto Rico squad 7-1 on Tuesday night at Marlins Park in Little Havana.

Gonzalez went five scoreless innings, allowing only three hits, walking none and fanning five. His fastball hit 93-94 mph consistently and his curve looked as sharp as it did throughout his dominant 2012 major league campaign with the Nationals. The Miami native threw 48 of his 69 pitches for strikes (the pitch-limit in the second round of the WBC is 80).

Wright plated a run on a groundout in the bottom of the third inning, added an RBI single with the bases loaded in the fifth inning and slugged a double to deep right-center with the bases loaded in the eighth inning, scoring more three runs. “Captain America,” as MLB Network play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian has taken to calling him, now boasts 10 RBI in just four 2013 World Baseball Classic games. Joe Mauer drew three walks and drove home a run with a double to left-center in the first inning and Adam Jones added a tally on a single up the middle in the seventh.

The defense from Team USA was sharp all around. As was the bullpen, with Jeremy Affeldt throwing a scoreless sixth and Vinnie Pestano tossing a scoreless seventh. Puerto Rico’s Jesus Feliciano was hit by a Steve Cishek pitch in the eighth inning and came around to score after Eddie Rosario doubled and Angel Pagan hit into a fielder’s choice groundout. But that was the only run that Puerto Rico could muster.

Team USA will face the Dominican Republic on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. ET for a berth into the WBC’s four-team Championship Round, which will be hosted at San Francisco’s AT&T Park from March 17-19. Puerto Rico will take on Italy in a winner-stays-alive game on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. ET in Miami. It’s all on MLB Network.

32,872 fans showed up to Tuesday night’s game. Marlins Park averaged 27,401 fans per game in 2012.

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Nationals activate Stephen Strasburg off the disabled list

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The Nationals officially activated Stephen Strasburg off the 10-day disabled list, the team announced Saturday. They’ll pencil him into the starting lineup for their second set against the Padres on Saturday night. Strasburg is expected to assume Max Scherzer‘s roster spot after Scherzer landed on the disabled list with neck inflammation prior to Friday’s series opener. No other roster moves appear to be necessary for the time being.

Strasburg, 28, is finally looking stable after serving a 26-day stint on the DL with a right elbow nerve impingement. It’s the first serious injury he’s sustained since last August, when he missed 20 days with inflammation in his right elbow, and one the Nationals are taking seriously as they juggle multiple stints for their elite starters. He’ll enter Saturday’s competition with a 10-3 record in 20 starts, supplemented by a 3.25 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 10.4 SO/9 through 121 2/3 innings.

Elbow issues are nothing to be played around with, but Strasburg’s performance in his lone rehab outing relieved any residual apprehension the Nats might have had about his activation this weekend. He tossed 66 pitches for High-A Potomac, hitting 95 MPH with his heater and logging three hits, one run, one walk and five strikeouts over five innings. Club manager Dusty Baker is hoping for a similarly dominant start against the Padres, and told reporters that he’ll hold Strasburg to a performance count as the righty works his way back to a full-time gig.

MLB umpires will wear white wristbands to protest “escalating verbal attacks”

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The World Umpires Association is dissatisfied with the punishment meted out to Tigers’ second baseman Ian Kinsler following his lengthy criticism of MLB umpire Angel Hernandez on Tuesday. Kinsler’s comments were sparked by a confrontation on Monday night, when the infielder was ejected after arguing balls and strikes with Hernandez in the fifth inning.

“It has to do with changing the game. He’s changing the game. He needs to find another job, he really does,” Kinsler told reporters. “Candidly, leave the game. No one wants you behind the plate anymore. No one in this game wants you behind the plate any more, none of the players.”

Kinsler was fined an undisclosed amount for the remarks, but did not receive a suspension. Hernandez, meanwhile, returned to cover second base the next day and appeared to resolve the conflict with a brief conversation and a handshake.

Whether or not the comments speak to underlying truths about Major League Baseball’s flawed umpiring system, they clearly got under the skin of the World Umpires Association. The union released a statement Saturday condemning Major League Baseball for choosing to overlook the “escalating attacks” on the men in blue:

This week, a player publicly and harshly impugned the character and integrity of Angel Hernandez – a veteran umpire who has dedicated his career to baseball and the community. The verbal attack on Angel denigrated the entire MLB umpiring staff and is unacceptable.

The Office of the Commissioner has failed to address this and other escalating attacks on umpires. The player who denigrated Hernandez publicly said he thought he would be suspended. Instead got far more lenient treatment – a fine. He shrugged that off and told reporters he has ‘no regrets’ about his offensive statements calling for an end to Hernandez’s career.

The Office of the Commissioner’s lenient treatment to abusive player behavior sends the wrong message to players and managers. It’s ‘open season’ on umpires, and that’s bad for the game.

We are held accountable for our performance at every game. Our most important duty is to protect the integrity of the game, and we will continue to do that job every day. But the Office of the Commissioner must protect our integrity when we are unfairly attacked simply for doing our jobs.

Starting Saturday, umpires will don white wristbands in protest of the Commissioner’s lack of support, and will continue to do so until their concerns are addressed.

Kinsler’s comments may have been in poor taste, but given the established in-game ramifications for challenging an umpire’s decisions, it’s difficult to tell where the union wants MLB to start drawing the line. If players already face ejections for questioning the parameters of a strike zone (often immediate ones, without any room for a productive or non-confrontational discussion), it seems unfair to hit them with suspensions for venting their frustrations after the game. Until Major League Baseball finds a way to start automating calls, however, the “human element” of the game will continue to pose problems for players and umpires alike.