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Cruz, Polanco homer to lift Dominican Republic to 3-0 win

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SAN DIEGO (AP) The Dominican Republic took a step toward a repeat title in the World Baseball Classic thanks to impressive home runs by Nelson Cruz and Gregory Polanco.

The Dominicans also got some nice pitching in a 3-0 victory Thursday night that pushed Venezuela to the brink of elimination.

“We understand the importance of this game and what we had to do,” Nelson said after he hit his third homer of the tournament. “We woke up. We needed to start moving.”

The Dominican Republic (1-1) had won 11 straight WBC games until losing to Puerto Rico in the Pool F opener on Tuesday night.

Venezuela (0-2) fell victim to a United States comeback on Wednesday night.

The Americans play Puerto Rico on Friday night. On Saturday, Puerto Rico faces Venezuela and the Dominican Republic faces the United States. The top two teams advance to the semifinals at Dodger Stadium. The Pool F winner plays the Netherlands on Monday while the Pool F runner-up plays Japan on Tuesday. The championship game is Wednesday night.

Cruz homered to right off Arcenio Leon leading off the eighth. He hit a three-run homer off Andrew Miller in the eighth inning Saturday night to help the Dominicans rally for a 7-5 victory against the United States in the opening round in Miami.

“We get excited whenever we make a good play,” Cruz said. “That is how we grew up playing. We act like kids. Anytime we score a run, that is how we react.”

Robinson Cano hit an RBI single in the seventh.

Jhoulys Chacin (0-1), who signed with the Padres in December, locked into a duel with former Padres pitcher Edinson Volquez.

Chacin put runners on first and second with two outs in the third before punching out Jose Bautista. Chacin slapped his glove in celebration as he headed to the dugout.

But he still got the loss in his new home ballpark after he allowed Polanco’s homer to right leading off the fifth to break the scoreless tie.

Chacin reached his pitch count two batters later after walking Jose Reyes, leaving after allowing one run and three hits, striking out three and walking three.

“We’re going to have a difficult time if we don’t really tighten that piece up,” Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel said.

Dominican manager Tony Pena pulled Volquez after the Miami Marlins right-hander put runners on first and third with one out in the fifth. Fernando Abad (1-0) came on and got Ender Inciarte to ground into a double play.

“Volqy did a great job and there is no question we have a great bullpen,” Pena said. “And today I was going to use everybody.”

Volquez allowed four hits, struck out six and walked two. Jeurys Familia pitched the ninth for the save, allowing two bloop singles that put runners on the corners before striking out Alcides Escobar to end it.

After Volquez left, five relievers allowed only four baserunners.

Dominican third baseman Manny Machado made a great play to throw out Miguel Cabrera in the sixth. Machado backhanded the ball, spun and threw from deep in foul territory. First baseman Carlos Santana caught the throw and dove at first base, touching the bag with his glove just before Cabrera arrived.

“It’s nothing new,” Cruz said. “He’s one of the best third basemen in the league. He’s just unbelievable.”

Cabrera came out with stiffness in his back.

2017 Preview: San Diego Padres

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The San Diego Padres.

The Padres went 68-94 last season, good enough for last place in the NL West. After an offseason in which the club did practically nothing, the Padres are expected to once again bring up the rear in the division.

The club did add veterans Jered Weaver and Jhoulys Chacin to a rotation that very well may be the least threatening starting rotation in baseball. Weaver, 34, has been in freefall the last two seasons. His fastball once sat in the high 80’s but has struggled to sit above 83 MPH lately. The right-hander struck out only 13.4 percent of the batters he faced last season, the second lowest rate among qualified starters. Pitching in the pitcher-friendly Petco Park will be nice but it won’t be enough to make up for Weaver’s batting practice fastball and inability to miss bats.

Chacin, 29, is trying to hang out in the big leagues. Injuries and ineffectiveness limited him to fewer than 70 innings in three of his previous four seasons coming into 2016, but he managed to stay healthy pitching for the Braves and Angels. Combined, he had a 4.81 ERA with a 119/55 K/BB ratio in 144 innings. Going forward, it’s quite possible he both stays healthy and returns to his solid level of pitching that he showed in 2011 and ’13 with the Rockies, but it’s not the likely outcome.

Clayton Richard is looking forward to what will hopefully be his first full season as a starting pitcher since 2012. Injuries and a move to the bullpen have hampered those dreams in the interm. Last year, he made nine starts and two relief appearances for the Padres after coming over from the Cubs and put up a 2.52 ERA with a 34/24 K/BB ratio in 53 2/3 innings. As one can see, Richard’s inability to miss bats and his less-than-stellar walk rate will both prove to be problematic unless he made some tremendous strides over the offseason.

Christian Friedrich will likely open the season in the rotation as well. The left-hander has been underwhelming over parts of his first four seasons in the big leagues, owning a career 5.37 ERA. Pitching in Coors Field certainly didn’t help, but even last year with the Padres, he only managed a 4.80 ERA with a 100/52 K/BB ratio in 129 1/3 innings. As far as potential goes, Freidrich likely has the highest ceiling of anyone in the Padres’ rotation, but it’s a relatively low ceiling.

Luis Perdomo is hoping to recover after an underwhelming debut last season. The 23-year-old put up a 5.71 ERA with a 105/45 K/BB ratio in 146 2/3 innings. Hard to be worse than that. Needless to say, this starting rotation is shaping up to be the worst in the league. In the event of injury or unacceptably poor performance, Trevor Cahill, Jarred Cosart, and Paul Clemens could move into the rotation. Yay.

Now let’s play, “Name that closer.” Name the reliever who saved 13 games for the Padres after the club traded Fernando Rodney last season? His initials are B.M. Still stumped? Brandon Maurer. Along with the 13 saves, the right-hander posted a 4.52 ERA and a 72/23 K/BB ratio in 69 2/3 innings last season. Maurer will once again open the season as the Padres’ closer, though it doesn’t look like he’ll get many save opportunities.

Carter Capps, still on the way back to 100% after Tommy John surgery, could supplant Maurer as the closer during the regular season if he can prove he is both healthy and effective. Prior to succumbing to injury in 2015, Capps had a 1.16 ERA and a 58/7 K/BB ratio in 31 innings for the Marlins. Capps has the potential to be one of the best relievers in baseball, but first things first as he has yet to make his Cactus League debut.

Brad Hand, Ryan Buchter, Kevin Quackenbush, Miguel Diaz, Buddy Baumann, and a revolving door of others figure to work out of the bullpen ahead of Capps and Maurer. Heh, Quackenbush. What a name.

Offense. The Padres’ offense will revolve around first baseman Wil Myers, who inked a six-year, $83 million contract extension with the club in January. The 26-year-old hit a solid .259/.336/.461 with 28 home runs, 94 RBI, 99 runs scored, and 28 stolen bases in 676 plate appearances last season. He was one of only three first basemen with double-digits in steals. Myers is no Anthony Rizzo, but he’s still young enough to have plenty of room to improve and that’s what the Padres will be counting on in 2017.

Ryan Schimpf impressed in 89 games in his first major league season last year. Soon 29 years old, he hit .217/.336/.533 with 20 home runs and 51 RBI over 330 PA. Schimpf, unfortunately, has been bothered by an oblique injury lately and those tend to be tricky injuries. In the event Schimpf can’t start the season on time, fringe prospect Carlos Asuaje would likely get the starting nod.

Luis Sardinas will return to shortstop for the Padres. He split last season between the Mariners and Padres, showing much better production in San Diego. Overall, he hit .244/.295/.356 while playing below average defense. Veteran Erick Aybar is on the team on a minor league contract and could end up beating out Sardinas for the starting job. Aybar, however, posted an uninspiring .623 OPS while also playing below average defense last year with the Braves and Tigers.

Oh, hey, what’s this? A good player? Yup, the Padres will have one at third base in Yangervis Solarte. The 29-year-old hit a solid .286/.341/.467 with 15 home runs and 71 RBI in 443 PA last year. The Padres thought about trading him before the new year, but ultimately wound up signing him to a two-year, $7.5 million extension in January. If the National League weren’t so rich with third basemen, I would suggest that Solarte has the chance to have an All-Star caliber year. But it’s safe to say the position will be well spoken for in the midsummer classic.

Travis Jankowski and Manuel Margot are battling for the right to start in center field to open the season. The 25-year-old Jankowski swiped 30 bases and played great defense, but his bat left much to be desired. He finished the year having hit .245/.332/.313 in 383 PA. Margot, one of the Padres’ top prospects, played in 10 games last year and hit for a .649 OPS. He has been hampered by a knee injury lately, but it’s not considered to be a serious injury. Margot certainly projects to be the better player, but the Padres might prefer to have him get a little more seasoning at Triple-A.

Alex Dickerson will handle left field. The 26-year-old hit a solid .257/.333/.455 with 10 home runs and 37 RBI in 285 trips to the plate last season. He tweaked his back early in spring training and has yet to make his Cactus League debut as a result, but he’s expected to be ready to start the year.

Finally, Hunter Renfroe will open the season in right for the Padres. The prospect wowed in 11 games near the end of last season, hitting .371 with three doubles, four homers, and 14 RBI in 36 PA. The Padres have a few players that will be fun to watch, especially with Renfroe and Margot. They might even have multiple All-Stars. But the pitching figures to be abysmal and it will prevent the Padres from making any real strides record-wise. That’s why I’m predicting them to equal last year’s record.

Prediction: 68-94 record, 5th place in division

MLB and MLBPA announce modifications of some rules for 2017 season

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Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association jointly announced modifications of some rules effective for the 2017 regular season.

  • As was announced last month, managers will signal to the home plate umpire that he wants to intentionally walk the current batter.
  • Managers now have 30 seconds to decide to challenge an umpire’s ruling and invoke replay review
  • When a manager has used up all of his available challenges, the crew chief can invoke replay review for non-home run calls starting in the eighth inning
  • Replay officials will be under a conditional two-minute guideline for review, though there is room for exceptions
  • Players are no longer allowed to make markers on the field (this was an issue last year in a game between the Mets and Dodgers)
  • An amendment to Rule 5.07 now formalizes the balk rule. Specifically, “A pitcher may not take a second step toward home plate with either foot or otherwise reset his pivot foot in his delivery of the pitch.  If there is at least one runner on base, then such an action will be called as a balk under Rule 6.02(a).  If the bases are unoccupied, then it will be considered an illegal pitch under Rule 6.02(b).” Think of this as the Carter Capps rule.
  • Rule 5.03 has also been amended. It “requires base coaches to position themselves behind the line of the coach’s box closest to home plate and the front line that runs parallel to the foul line prior to each pitch.  Once a ball is put in play, a base coach is allowed to leave the coach’s box to signal a player so long as the coach does not interfere with play.”

Nothing earth-shattering here. The intentional walk rule is obviously the biggest and most controversial change as we’ve seen in the last two weeks. Commissioner Rob Manfred has been quite focused on improving the pace of play. Certainly, making replay review wrap up quicker will help in that regard. Even better would be to do away with the challenge system entirely.

The field marker rule was mostly done to address an issue that came up last May after the Mets hosted the Dodgers at Citi Field. The Dodgers wanted to mark certain positions in the grass after determining positions with a rangefinder. The Mets did not allow it and later asked Major League Baseball for clarification.

The amendment to Rule 5.07 provides clarification for special cases like Capps, who’s now with the Padres: