<span class="vcard">Matthew Pouliot</span>

BASEBALL-WORLD-CUB-BRA

Cuba wins opener over Brazil 5-2

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Feisty Brazil was able to hang in another game, holding Cuba scoreless until the top of the fifth, only to eventually succumb 5-2 and fall to 0-2 in Pool A play in the World Baseball Classic.

Cuba got 4 2/3 scoreless innings from ace Ismael Jimenez to win its opener. Designated hitter Frederich Cepeda went 2-for-4 with a walk from the cleanup spot, and No. 9 hitter Erisbel Arruebarruena finished 2-for-4 with two RBI.

The Cuban team finally got on the board thanks to a hit and run in the fifth. It looked like Brazilian starter Andre Rienzo would escape a first-and-third jam, but the potential inning-ending double-play grounder he induced was undone by the runner taking off from first. Brazil did get the one out at first, but Cuba took a 1-0 lead. That was the end of the day for Rienzo, who had reached the 65-pitch limit imposed on hurlers. After Rienzo left, Cuba got one more run in the fifth and three in the sixth.

Aided by some shoddy Cuban defense, Brazil was able to rally for two runs in the bottom of the sixth. It might have put together another threat in the seventh, but Juan Carlos Muniz was called out on appeal for failing to touch first on his leadoff double. Replays indicated that he did, in fact, touch the bag on the way by, though it was close. Puerto Rican umpire Carlos Rey made the call.

Cuba is next scheduled to take on China on Monday. Brazil’s next game is also against China. That’s scheduled for Tuesday.

Angels renew Mike Trout for $510,000

Mike Trout
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As a pre-arbitration player, 2012 AL MVP runner-up Mike Trout has no negotiating power with the Angels. So, instead of signing for a salary he didn’t like, he had his contract renewed by the team for $510,000 on Saturday.

That figure is just $20,000 above the major league minimum. It’s unclear whether the Angels initially offered him more. Teams will often make pre-arbitration-eligible players offers and then roll them back if they’re not accepted. The Angels other 21 pre-arby players all agreed to contract; Trout was the only one to have get renewed.

Most teams employ a strict scale for pre-arbitration players in which salary is almost entirely determined by service time, with performance figuring very little into it. That the Angels didn’t throw Trout a bone an kick in an extra $100,000-$200,000 likely has far less to do with them being cheap and more about not wanting to mess with their scale. They’ll certainly be willing to make it up to him later.

Trout, on the other hand, may have some hard feelings over the negotiations. Still, it’s strictly business as usual for major league teams. That pre-arbitration players are paid so little allows teams to fork over $15 million, $20 million or even $25 million per year to free agents. Trout will get his eventually; he’ll be eligible for arbitration for the first time after 2014 and he’ll be eligible for free agency following the 2017 season.

David Hernandez moves from Mexico to Team USA for WBC

David Hernandez
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Diamondbacks setup man David Hernandez was expected to pitch for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, but for reason that aren’t yet clear, he was ruled ineligible. Fortunately for him, a relief spot just happened to open up on Team USA with Chris Perez getting hurt Friday, and Hernandez was named his replacement on Saturday.

Hernandez, 27, had a 2.50 ERA and 98 strikeouts in 68 1/3 innings out of the pen for the Diamondbacks last season. The right-hander is a third generation Mexican-American who grew up in Sacramento. He told the Arizona Republic earlier this month that he was looking forward to pitching for Mexico.

“It’s almost like a family reunion,” he said. “That means a lot to me, seeing my family get together for one cause.”

Update: MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert reports that Hernandez was declared ineligible to pitch for Mexico because it was his great-grandparents who were both in Mexico, not his grandparents.

Brazil gives Japan a scare before falling 5-3

Shinnosuke Abe
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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
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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.