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Japan defeats Cuba 8-5, improves record to 2-0 in second round of WBC

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Team Japan is atop Pool E in the second round of the World Baseball Classic after defeating Team Cuba 8-5 on Tuesday morning. The game was a back-and-forth affair, but Japan was able to rally when it mattered most to remain undefeated.

Tetsuto Yamada set Japan up with an early lead, swatting a solo home run to left-center in the bottom of the first. Cuba responded in the second thanks to a two-run home run from Yurisbel Gracial. In what would become a theme, Japan tied the game again shortly thereafter in the third inning when Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh singled in a run, knotting the game at 2-2.

Cuba plated two more in the fourth on a two-run single from Victor Mesa. Japan rallied again for a tie in the fifth when Norichika Aoki drove in a run with a ground out and Tsutsugoh singled in another run, making it a 4-4 contest.

Cuba’s Yosvani Alarcon broke the tie with an RBI single in the sixth and Japan re-tied the game in the bottom half on Seiji Kobayashi’s RBI single.

In the bottom of the eighth, Japan regained the lead for the first time since the first inning. The rally began when Nobuhiro Matsuda reached safely when first baseman Willian Saavedra couldn’t scoop a low throw on a routine grounder. Shogo Akiyama singled to left-center, pushing Matsuda to third. Seiichi Uchikawa then lifted a sacrifice fly to right field, giving Japan a 6-5 lead. Tetsuto Yamada followed up by swatting a two-run home run to left field — his second homer of the game — bumping Japan’s lead to 8-5.

Japan reliever Kazuhisa Makita started the ninth inning protecting a three-run lead. He struck out Yosvani Alarcon, got Jeferson Delgado to ground out, then struck out Mesa to end the ballgame in an 8-5 victory.

Japan will play Team Israel on Wednesday morning. A win will certainly push them into the semifinals against the runner-up of Pool F. Cuba will attempt to stave off elimination when they play Team Netherlands on Tuesday night.

Bryce Harper to Little League players: “No participation trophies, first place only”

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Nationals’ star outfielder Bryce Harper had some words of advice for a local Little League team on Saturday, telling a crowd of young players and their parents that winning matters far more than any participation trophies they might receive for their efforts on the field.

“As much as they might tell you, ‘Oh, it’s okay, you guys lost…’ No, Johnny, no,” Harper explained. “No participation trophies, okay? First place only. Come on.”

The panic over participation trophy culture has swelled over the last few years as studies continue to suggest that children are happier when they’re praised for their accomplishments, rather than rewarded for simply trying their best. The general idea is that kids aren’t motivated to succeed when they know they’ll receive a ribbon or medal celebrating their efforts at the end of the day — regardless of whether they win or lose. (Granted, it stands to reason that every kid can feel the difference between winning a championship trophy and receiving a participation ribbon.) Some have taken the idea to an extreme, claiming that when a child receives too many accolades for mediocre or poor performances, it can warp the way they view the world by generating a sense of undeserved entitlement.

Harper kept his tone light during the Q&A session, however, drawing cheers and applause from the majority of parents and a few of the kids. The 2015 NL MVP has routinely taken his own advice over the years, earning Rookie of the Year honors, four All-Star nominations and a Silver Slugger award since he broke into the major leagues in 2012. Next on his list? A World Series championship.

Indians to move Danny Salazar to the bullpen

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MLB.com’s William Kosileski reports that Indians starter Danny Salazar is being moved to the bullpen and will be available as soon as Wednesday or Thursday. The Indians will go on a five-game road strip starting on June 2, and manager Terry Francona said that Salazar could get a start during that trip.

Salazar, 27, has struggled to a 5.50 ERA over his first 10 starts this season. While none of those starts were absolute disasters, he failed to finish the sixth inning in seven of those 10 starts. It’s a far cry from his performance over the last two seasons, when he finished with a 3.45 ERA and 3.87 ERA.

Salazar’s walk rate is up to a career-high 11.9 percent, per FanGraphs, and he’s allowing many more line drives at the expense of ground balls. Compared to 2016, his line drive rate is up 8.9 percent and his ground ball rate is down 10.4 percent. All of that could explain Salazar’s struggles to some extent.