Puerto Rico’s 6-5 win sets up must-win for U.S. against Dominican Republic

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SAN DIEGO (AP) Puerto Rico is squeezing every bit of fun it can out of this World Baseball Classic.

Come Monday night, the party moves on to Dodger Stadium.

Yadier Molina and Puerto Rico advanced to the WBC semifinals after scoring four runs in the first inning and then holding on for a wild 6-5 win against the United States on Friday night.

When Edwin Diaz struck out Josh Harrison to end the game with Brandon Crawford standing on third base, players raced out of the Puerto Rico dugout to join the celebration on the infield. After a few minutes in the clubhouse, the team returned to the field waving small flags and ran over to celebrate with a large group of fans on the first-base side who were chanting, beating drums, rattling noisemakers and waving flags.

“We are happy for the job all the guys have done,” Carlos Beltran said. “I think the boys have done a good job playing for their country. We’re happy for our country and for our people. They are very proud of us and we hope to God we finish the mission.”

Puerto Rico advanced to the championship round for the second straight WBC. It reached the championship game in 2013 before losing to the Dominican Republic.

By clinching Pool F with a day to go, Puerto Rico (2-0) will play the Netherlands on Monday night at Dodger Stadium.

The other semifinal spot from Pool F will go to the winner of Saturday night’s game between the United States (1-1) and the Dominican Republic (1-1). That team will play Japan on Tuesday night.

Puerto Rico took a 4-0 lead in the first, watched Buster Posey and Adam Jones hit impressive home runs, and then benefited from a two-run, two-base, two-out throwing error in the sixth by third baseman Nolan Arenado, who won the Gold Glove Award in each of his first four big league seasons.

With most of the 32,463 fans on their feet and chanting in the top of the ninth, a U.S. rally fell just short. Crawford hit a two-run triple to the left-center gap off Diaz with two outs to pull the Americans within a run and spark chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!”

Diaz then struck out Josh Harrison for his second save to send the Puerto Ricans into a frenzy. Backup catcher Roberto Perez carried a Puerto Rican flag with him onto the field.

Puerto Rico can sweep the pool when it plays Venezuela (0-2) on Saturday afternoon. Puerto Rico beat the Dominican Republic 3-1 on Tuesday night.

“They are a very good team and they are doing a lot of things right,” U.S. manager Jim Leyland said. “You tip your hat to them.”

The United States will have to regroup to face a Dominican Republic team it lost to one week earlier in the opening round in Miami. In that game, Nelson Cruz hit a go-ahead, three-run home run in the eighth as the Dominicans rallied from five runs down to win 7-5.

Puerto Rico took a 4-0 lead on six straight singles and a sacrifice fly in first inning off Marcus Stroman.

Carlos Correa, Beltran and Molina had RBI singles in Puerto Rico’s opening onslaught. Stroman finally got an out when Rosario hit a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0. Molina tried taking third on the play but overran the bag and was tagged out. Stroman got Rivera to fly out to right to end it.

“The first inning was just incredible,” Beltran said. “It gave us so much confidence for the rest of the game.”

The United States pulled to 4-3 on Eric Hosmer‘s RBI single in the second and then homers by Posey leading off the fifth and Jones with one out in the sixth, both off starter Seth Lugo. Posey’s second homer of the tourney went an estimated 398 feet to left-center. Jones, who played at San Diego’s Morse High, homered for the second time in two games.

Puerto Rico regained a cushion in the sixth on the error by Arenado, who short-hopped a throw to first after fielding a grounder by Angel Pagan that took a high bounce.

Leadoff batter Javier Baez was hit by a pitch from Mychal Givens and stole second. Andrew Miller came on and walked Eddie Rosario. With T.J. Rivera batting, Baez and Rosario pulled a double steal. Rivera and pinch-hitter Kike Hernandez struck out. Pagan’s grounder took a wicked hop and Arenado fielded it above his shoulders. He got set, but his throw skipped past Hosmer, and Baez and Rosario scored.

“That is just part of the game,” Leyland said. “That is the human element of it. That is a great third baseman. I have no problem whatsoever with that.”

Lugo (1-0) allowed three runs and five hits in 5 2/3 innings, struck out two and walked one.

Stroman (0-1) allowed four runs and eight hits in 4 2/3 innings, struck out two and walked one.

The Tigers are trying to convert Anthony Gose into a pitcher

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Tigers’ center fielder Anthony Gose wants to try his hand at pitching, according to comments made by manager Brad Ausmus on Sunday. Gose is poised to start the year in Triple-A Toledo after receiving a midseason demotion to Double-A last summer following an altercation with Triple-A manager Lloyd McClendon.

While the experiment won’t detract from Gose’s outfield work in Triple-A, the 26-year-old is expected to take on additional bullpen sessions throughout the year. According to MLB.com’s Jason Beck, the left-handed hitter last took the mound in high school, where his fastball was clocked as fast as 97 m.p.h. Gose ultimately rejected the idea of starting his professional career as a pitcher, despite receiving favorable assessments from scouts.

Ausmus said the idea first surfaced at the end of the 2016 season. It appears to be a fallback option for the outfielder, who has struggled at the plate over his five-year career in the majors. Via Chris McCosky of the Detroit News:

Doolittle in Oakland did it and he was in the big leagues a couple of years later,” Ausmus said. “It’s going to take some time. He’s going to have to be a sponge and catch up on experience fast. But we feel it’s worth investigating.

Stephen Strasburg is the Nationals’ Opening Day starter

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Nationals’ right-hander Stephen Strasburg will take the mound for the club on Opening Day, manager Dusty Baker said on Sunday. The news is hardly surprising given Max Scherzer’s questionable status this spring, though it had yet to be confirmed by the club.

Strasburg is approaching his eighth run with the club in 2017. He went 15-4 in 2016, finishing the year with a 3.60 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 11.2 SO/9 in 147 2/3 innings. This will mark his fourth Opening Day assignment with the Nationals.

Scherzer, the Nationals’ Opening Day starter in both 2015 and 2016, is scheduled to make his season debut sometime during the first week of the season. The right-hander is expected to take things more slowly this spring as he finishes rehabbing a stress fracture in his finger.

The Nationals will open their season against the Marlins on April 3.