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Stanton’s homer, Jones’ leap carry US into WBC semifinals

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SAN DIEGO (AP) — Giancarlo Stanton hit a go-ahead homer and the United States eliminated the Dominican Republic at the World Baseball Classic, beating the defending champions 6-3 Saturday night to earn a spot in the semifinals.

Stanton’s two-run shot into the third-floor balcony of the Western Metal Supply Co. Building in the left-field corner at Petco Park gave the United States a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning. It put a charge into the sellout crowd of 43,002 and helped send the Americans to the championship round at Dodger Stadium, where they will face Japan in a semifinal game Tuesday night.

Three innings later, San Diego native Adam Jones made a spectacular, leaping catch over the fence in the deepest part of the park in right-center to rob Baltimore Orioles teammate Manny Machado of a home run. Machado tipped his helmet to Jones.

Robinson Cano then homered to left to pull the Dominican Republic to 4-3.

Andrew McCutchen gave Team USA some breathing room with a two-run double in the eighth, and Luke Gregerson pitched a perfect ninth to close it out.

This is the second time in four editions of the WBC that the United States has advanced to the semifinals. It lost to Japan in 2009.

The Dominican players, who rallied to beat the United States one week earlier in Miami in the first round, will disperse back to big league camps. They finished 1-2 in the second round after going 3-0 in the opening round.

Brandon Crawford hit a two-out single to left-center ahead of Stanton’s homer, which was estimated at 403 feet and chased Dominican starter Ervin Santana.

Stanton’s shot was reminiscent of his Home Run Derby victory at Petco Park on July 11, when he peppered the far reaches of the big downtown ballpark, including hitting one onto the top of the 108-year-old brick warehouse.

Earlier on Saturday, Puerto Rico completed a 3-0 run through Pool F by beating Venezuela 13-2. Puerto Rico clinched first place in the pool with a 6-5 victory against the United States on Friday night and will play the Netherlands in the semifinals Monday night at Dodger Stadium. The championship game is Wednesday night.

The Dominicans jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first on an RBI double by Cano and an RBI single by Carlos Santana. One run was unearned due to Crawford’s throwing error at shortstop. Crawford threw out Nelson Cruz trying to score on Starling Marte‘s grounder, though.

The United States tied it in the third on Ian Kinsler‘s RBI grounder and Christian Yelich‘s run-scoring double.

The Dominicans had three more scoring chances but failed each time.

Gregory Polanco singled and Welington Castillo doubled to open the second before Danny Duffy retired the side.

They threatened again in the fifth when Machado hit a leadoff single to chase Duffy. Cruz hit a one-out double off Pat Neshek, who then retired Carlos Santana on a popup and struck out Marte. Neshek pumped his fists as he walked off the mound.

Duffy allowed two runs, one earned, and six hits in four-plus innings. He struck out one and walked one.

Santana gave up four runs and six hits in 3 2/3 innings. He struck out two and walked none.

James Paxton will “nerd out big-time” to stay healthy next year

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To the surprise of, well, very few, the Mariners didn’t make the cut for the postseason this year. While they threw their hats in the ring for a wild card berth, their pitching staff just couldn’t stay healthy, from the handful of pitchers who contracted season-ending injuries in spring training to Felix Hernandez‘s shoulder bursitis to structural damage in Hisashi Iwakuma‘s right shoulder. Left-hander James Paxton missed 79 days with a lingering head cold, strained left forearm and pectoral strain. Heading into the 2018 season, the lefty told MLB.com’s Greg Johns that he plans to “nerd out big-time” in order to prepare for a healthy, consistent run with the club.

So far, Johns reports, that entails a new diet and workout program, hot yoga sessions and blood testing. “I just think there’s more I can do,” Paxton said. “I haven’t done the blood testing before. Finding out if there’s something I don’t know about myself. It’s just about learning and trying to find what works for me.”

When healthy, the 28-year-old southpaw was lights-out for the Mariners. He helped stabilize the front end of the rotation with a 12-5 record in 24 starts and supplemented his efforts with a 2.98 ERA, 2.4 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 136 innings. Despite taking multiple trips to the disabled list, he built up 4.6 fWAR — the most wins above replacement he’s compiled in any season of his career to date. Had he not been felled by a pectoral injury in mid-August — one that came with a five-week trip to the disabled list — the club might have been been able to make a bigger push for the playoffs.

Of course, even if Paxton manages to stay healthy next season, the Mariners still have the rest of the rotation to worry about. They cycled through 17 starters in 2017 and tied the 2014 Rangers with 40 total pitchers over the course of the season. Per GM Jerry Dipoto, their top four starters (Paxton, Hernandez, Iwakuma, and Tommy John candidate Drew Smyly) only contributed 17% of total innings pitched, just a tad below the 40% average. Finding adequate big league arms and compensating for injured aces (both current and former) will be tough. Still, getting a healthy, dominant Paxton back on the mound for 30+ starts would be a huge get for the team — whether or not the postseason is in their future next year.