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.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.