Nelson Figueroa

Puerto Rico boots the U.S. out of the World Baseball Classic

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Puerto Rico starter Nelson Figueroa was in top form in an elimination game tonight against the United States. The well-traveled right-hander tossed six shut-out innings, holding the opposition to four base runners on two hits, one walk, and one error. He was staked to an early 1-0 lead when Mike Aviles hit a two-out RBI single to right in the top of the first, setting the tone.

U.S. starter Ryan Vogelsong was otherwise solid through five and two-third innings, allowing one runner on a walk in the sixth before being taken out in favor of reliever Vinnie Pestano. It was not Pestano’s night. He immediately surrendered a single to Aviles, then walked Alex Rios to load the bases. No matter what he did, he could not find the strike zone. He walked Carlos Rivera to force in a run, bolstering Puerto Rico’s lead to 2-0. Andy Gonzalez put the exclamation point on the offensive surge with a two-out, two-run double to left, chasing Pestano in the process. Jeremy Affeldt came in to get the final out of the inning, but it was too late.

With Figueroa out of the game in the bottom of the seventh, the U.S. finally got on the board against reliever Giovanni Soto. Joe Mauer tripled with one out and was promptly plated on a Giancarlo Stanton single to left. Adam Jones struck out looking — on a questionable judgment by home plate umpire Mark Wegner, it should be noted — representing the tying run with runners on first and second and two outs to end the threat.

The U.S. wouldn’t go down without a fight. Against Jose De La Torre, the U.S. strung together three consecutive hits — two singles and a double — to bring the score to 4-2. Xavier Cedeno came in to relieve De La Torre and walked Joe Mauer before being quickly lifted. The right-handed Fernando Cabrera came on for the favorable platoon match-up against Stanton and got him to pop up, preventing any runner advancement. However, he then walked Zobrist to force in a run and bring the game to 4-3. Puerto Rico brought in its fourth pitcher of the inning, lefty J.C. Romero. Romero got Eric Hosmer to ground out, squelching the threat at long last.

Romero came back out for the ninth, striking out Adam Jones and Shane Victorino, and getting Jimmy Rollins to fly out to center field to seal the 4-3 victory for Puerto Rico.

With the loss, the U.S. is eliminated from the Classic. The win keeps Puerto Rico’s hopes alive as they will play the Dominican Republic at 1 PM EST tomorrow for the right to play the Netherlands in the semifinals at AT&T Park in San Francisco on March 18.

Johnny Monell signs with KBO’s KT Wiz

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JULY 06:  Johnny Monell #19 of the New York Mets runs back to the dugout after he scored in the ninth inning against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on July 6, 2015 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Former Mets catcher Johnny Monell signed a contract with the KT Wiz of the Korea Baseball Organization, per a report by Chris Cotillo of SB Nation. The 30-year-old originally struck a deal with the NC Dinos on Thursday, but the deal appeared to fall through at the last minute, according to Cotillo’s unnamed source.

Monell last surfaced for the Mets during their 2015 run, batting a dismal .167/.231/.208 with two extra bases in 52 PA before the club DFA’d him to clear space for Bartolo Colon. While he’s had difficulty sticking at the major league level, he’s found a higher degree of success in the minor league circuit and holds a career .271 average over a decade of minor league play. He played exclusively in Triple-A Las Vegas during the 2016 season, slashing .276/.336/.470 with 19 home runs and a career-high 75 RBI in 461 PA.

The veteran backstop appears to be the second MLB player to join the KT Wiz roster this offseason, as right-hander Donn Roach also signed with the club last month on a one-year, $850,000 deal.

Phil Bickford suspended 50 games for drug of abuse

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 10:  Phil Bickford of the U.S. Team pitches during the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game at PETCO Park on July 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Brewers’ right-hander Phil Bickford received a 50-game suspension after testing positive for a drug of abuse, per the Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin. This is the second time Bickford has been suspended for recreational drug use, as he was previously penalized in 2015 after testing positive for marijuana prior to the amateur draft.

Bickford was selected by the Giants in the first round of the 2015 draft and was later dealt to the Brewers for lefty reliever Will Smith at the 2016 trade deadline. He finished his 2016 campaign in High-A Brevard County, pitching to a 3.67 ERA, 10.0 K/9 rate and 5.0 BB/9 over 27 innings.

Two other suspensions were handed down on Friday, one to Toronto minor league right-hander Pedro Loficial for a positive test for metabolites of Stanozolol and one to Miami minor league outfielder Casey Soltis for a second positive test for drugs of abuse. Loficial will serve a 72-game suspension, while Soltis will serve 50 games. All three suspensions are due to start at the beginning of the 2017 season for each respective minor league team.

Brewers’ GM David Stearns issued a statement after the Commissioner’s Office announced Bickford’s suspension (via Vince Lara-Cinisomo of Baseball America):

We are very disappointed to learn of Phil’s suspension, but we fully support the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Testing Program and its enforcement by the Commissioner’s Office. Phil understands he made a mistake, and we fully anticipate that he will learn from this experience.