Author: Matthew Pouliot

Shinnosuke Abe

Brazil gives Japan a scare before falling 5-3


On paper, it was probably the biggest mismatch of the World Baseball Classic: two-time defending champion Japan got to open up Saturday against a Brazil squad denied the only major leaguer its ever produced (Yan Gomes opted to sit out the tournament to better his chances of making the Indians).

On the field, it was a different story. Brazil jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the fist and led 3-2 after five before Japan rallied for three runs in the top of the eighth to win 5-3.

Brazil still ended up outhitting Japan 9-7. Japan failed to collect a single extra-base hit in the game, but it was aided by six walks.

Japan was missing its best power source when catcher Shinnosuke Abe was scratched from the lineup with a right knee injury. Abe, though, did pinch-hit, and he broke the tie with an RBI groundout in the eighth. Even if it’s just as a DH, it’s very important that Japan get Abe’s bat back in the lineup as a middle-of-the-order threat.

Another concern for Japan is that top starter Masahiro Tanaka struggled through his two innings, giving up four hits and an unearned run. He was removed after 23 pitches, as Japan figured it was better off going to relievers. Tadashi Settsu ended up with the win after allowing one run and striking out four in three innings.

Next up for Japan is a similarly weak China team on Sunday. If things go according to plan in Pool A, Japan and Cuba will be 2-0 heading into Wednesday’s showdown, rendering the contest largely irrelevant (the top two teams advance). Cuba plays Brazil in its opener Sunday in Japan (Saturday night in the U.S.).

Team Mexico, Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo out with groin strain

Yovani Gallardo

Yovani Gallardo was supposed to make a spring start for the Brewers on Sunday and then pitch for Mexico against the United States in the World Baseball Classic. The Brewers, though, have scratched him due to a groin tightness, putting his status for the WBC in doubt.

Gallardo’s injury is considered minor. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Haudricourt that Gallardo will test the groin in a bullpen session Sunday. If he comes through that fine, he’ll be cleared to pitch an inning on Tuesday and then start for Mexico next Friday. However, if he admits to any pain at all, the Brewers could pressure the league to drop him from Mexico’s roster.

“We need to test to be sure he’s 100% before he goes to the Classic,” Roenicke said. “If he’s not ready, he’s not going to pitch in it.”

A Mexico team with Gallardo likely rates as the favorite to advance alongside the U.S. from Pool D. If it has to go without him, it may open the door for Canada to sneak in. Absent Gallardo, Mexico would probably use Marco Estrada, Luis Mendoza and Rodrigo Lopez as its three starters.

Tim Lincecum scratched due to finger blister

Tim Lincecum

Tim Lincecum will be held out of his start Saturday against the Cubs because of a finger blister, with Yusmeiro Petit slated to pitch in his place.

While Jon Heyman, for one, is playing this up as a sort of an annual event, this is the first time in his career that Lincecum has ever needed to be scratched due to a blister. The only previous time he’s  admitted to a blister issue was after Game 1 of the NLDS in 2010, and he pitched through it then. Of course, he may well have done the same today had it been a regular-season start. Lincecum said he planned to play catch today and miss only the one outing.

So, if you see Lincecum in the grocery store loading up on pickles this week, don’t simply assume it’s because he has the munchies. He probably just wants the brine.

Andrelton Simmons goes 3-for-5 as Dutch shut out Korea

Andrelton Simmons

After defending champion Japan barely survived Brazil’s upset bid, South Korea was dealt quite a blow in its attempt to return to the World Baseball Classic finals, losing to The Netherlands 5-0 in Pool B play.

Diegomar Markwell, Orlando Yntema, Leon Boyd and Mark Pawelek combined on the shutout for the Dutch. Shortstop Andrelton Simmons went 3-for-5 with two doubled from the leadoff spot, and Andrew Jones went 2-for-4 with a double as the DH.

Korea played an uncharacteristically sloppy game, committing four errors. The team also collected just four hits, all of them singles.

While The Netherlands has a nice lineup — the team also features Nationals outfielder Roger Bernadina, Yakult Swallows slugger Wladimir Balentien and top Red Sox prospect Xander Bogaerts — pitching figured to be its undoing. Korea, though, could get no handle on today’s journeymen, none of whom are employed by major league clubs. The 32-year-old Markwell pitched in the Blue Jays system from 1997-2003, going 5-7 with a 7.04 ERA in Double-A his final season. Pawelek was a 2005 first-round pick of the Cubs, but he never made it past A ball in the Cubs or Reds systems.

Korea will now likely have to come back and beat both Chinese Taipei and Australia in order to advance in the WBC. The Netherlands will be aiming to go to the second round for the second straight tournament. In 2009, the Dutch advanced on a tiebreaker as one of three Pool D teams to go 1-2.

Chien-Ming Wang pitches Chinese Taipei past Australia in WBC opener

Chien-Ming Wang

Thanks to six shutout innings from Chien-Ming Wang, Chinese Taipei took a huge step towards advancing in the World Baseball Classic in Saturday’s opener, beating Australia 4-1.

South Korea is viewed as the lock to advance from Pool B. The winner of today’s opener was in a great position to earn the other spot, with The Netherlands likely to have a tough time winning any of its three games.

Wang managed to get through six innings despite the 65-pitch limit starters work with in round one of the World Baseball Classic. He walked none and got three double play balls before taking a seat. Another familiar name, Hong-Chih Kuo, pitched in relief for Taiwan, throwing a perfect inning.

Both Wang and Kuo are auditioning for spots with big-league clubs during the WBC. Wang made 10 appearances with the Nationals last year, while Kuo was out of the league after developing the yips in his final year with the Dodgers.

Australia got down 3-0 early in the contest and simply didn’t have the offense to make its way back. Cleanup man Stefan Welch homered for the team’s only run. Oft-injured, ex-major leaguer Chris Snelling, batting eighth, singled in his first at-bat and was immediately removed for a pinch-runner because of a leg strain.

Chinese Taipei got a homer from first baseman Cheng-Min Peng. Astros outfielder Che-Hsuan Lin went 2-for-3 with a double.