U.S. rallies late against Canada to advance in WBC

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The U.S. rallied late against Canada to advance out of Pool D to the second round in the World Baseball Classic. Canada got on the board early thanks to a two-run home run by Michael Saunders off of U.S. starter Derek Holland. Holland was otherwise solid, allowing just the two runs over five innings of work, striking out four while walking one.

The U.S. tied the game in the fourth against Canada starter Jameson Taillon. Joe Mauer singled and David Wright walked to quickly put runners on first and second to lead off the frame. Ben Zobrist dropped a bunt towards third baseman Taylor Green, forcing him into making  a throwing error and allowing Mauer to score. Wright would score on an Adam Jones sacrifice fly to bring the game to 2-2.

Glen Perkins relieved Holland in the sixth and immediately got into trouble, walking Joey Votto and surrendering a single to Justin Morneau. He bounced back, getting Saunders to strike out and Chris Robinson to fly out, but Adam Loewen hit a two-out single to right to put Canada back on top 3-2.

The U.S. took its first lead of the game in the eighth with an emphatic rally after Joe Mauer singled and David Wright walked against Canada reliever Jimmy Henderson. Zobrist again bunted, but this time had poor results as he popped up to the catcher, appearing to snuff out a rally before it even began. However, Adam Jones picked up his teammate, doubling to center scoring both pinch-runner Willie Bloomquist and Wright to put the U.S. up 4-3. An insurance run was added on a two-out Shane Victorino bloop single to left.

Canada tried to fight back in the bottom-half of the inning, but only managed one run after loading the bases with one out. Adam Loewen grounded out to second base, allowing Canada’s fourth run to score, but that was all U.S. relievers David Hernandez and Steve Cishek would allow.

The U.S. got back that insurance run and more in the top of the ninth. Jonathan Lucroy singled to right with one out, driving in Brandon Phillips, who had doubled to lead off the inning. Wright walked and Zobrist hit an infield single to load the bases. With two outs, Eric Hosmer doubled to center, clearing the bases and staking the U.S. to a 9-4 lead.

Craig Kimbrel, who had begun to warm up when the U.S. was up 5-3, entered with a five-run lead. Baseball’s best reliever shut down Canada in 1-2-3 fashion, striking out Votto to seal the victory.

The U.S. and Italy advance out of Pool D into the second round. Beginning on Tuesday, they will do battle against the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

Report: Pirates to convert JB Shuck into two-way player

JB Shuck
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Rob Biertempfel of The Athletic reports that the Pirates have decided to convert outfielder JB Shuck into a two-way player. Recent comments relayed from the club’s director of player development, Larry Broadway, indicated that the outfielder would be coached in developing his pitching skills while working at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Per Broadway, the change would be enacted to help the veteran outfielder develop some much-needed versatility in the majors, where he’s only ever been limited to outfield and DH responsibilities. Well, except for the two games in which he pitched an inning of relief: once, against the Nationals in a blowout 11-4 loss in 2016, then in a similarly painful loss to the Diamondbacks this past April. During the latter outing, he finished the game with a 13-pitch ninth inning after allowing just one hit and one walk.

Add to that one minor-league outing in 2012, and the 31-year-old Shuck has pitched just three times over the course of his 12-season career in pro ball. While he has three years of experience on the mound from his college days, he’ll need quite a bit of preparation to handle the kind of workload expected from a two-way outfielder/reliever: 20+ innings pitched over a season and 20+ games played as a designated hitter or position player.

Still, his lack of experience doesn’t seem to faze Broadway, at least not this early in the process. There’s no word yet on how soon Shuck would be expected to debut his new skillset on a major-league level.