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Ray Searage would advise his pitchers not to pitch in the World Baseball Classic

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The World Baseball Classic is set to kick off in March. For the Pirates, none of their pitchers are participating, but catcher Francisco Cervelli (Italy) and outfielders Andrew McCutchen (USA), Starling Marte (Dominican Republic), and Gregory Polanco (Dominican Republic) are.

If any of the Pirates’ pitchers were participating, pitching coach Ray Searage would advise them against doing so, he said in an interview with MLB Network Radio.

I am not one of the guys that is in favor of the WBC and the reason being — I’ve seen it over the years before — guys cutting short their rest periods for the winter and their workout routines and speeding it up. Now, this doesn’t hold true for everybody. It’s just that, in my opinion, I just think that you’re speeding up the process and that you leave yourself open to an injury during the season because now, all of a sudden, instead of April where you’re firing off, now you’re firing off in March, which is a couple of weeks before you should be. And the body is, to me, looking at my pitchers and stuff, they’re routine orientated. And the way they go about their stuff, speeding up the process — it happened to two of our guys. That’s probably why I have a bad taste in my mouth, it happened to two of our guys the last time: Jason Grilli and Wandy Rodriguez. They played in the WBC and they ended up getting hurt during the season. I think it’s great for baseball, I really do, but it’s that catch-22 thing: you’re danged if you do and danged if you don’t. If any of my pitchers asked me, I’d say no.

Nationals’ starting pitching carrying them into World Series

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In my postseason preview at the end of September, I listed the Nationals’ starting rotation as a strength and their bullpen as a weakness. Anyone who had followed the club this season could have told you that. Even the Nats are aware of it as manager Dave Martinez has leaned on his rotation to hide his sometimes unreliable ‘pen.

In Game 1 of the NLDS against the Dodgers, Martinez was burned by his bullpen as Tanner Rainey, Fernando Rodney, and Hunter Strickland combined to allow six base runners and four runs. Martinez used ace Max Scherzer in relief in Game 2, sandwiched by Sean Doolittle and Daniel Hudson. Starter Patrick Corbin pitched in relief in Game 3 and it backfired, but the bullpen after Corbin continued to allow more runs — three officially, but Wander Suero allowed two inherited runners to score on a three-run homer by Max Muncy. Martinez only had to rely on Doolittle and Hudson in Game 4 and he again went to Corbin in relief in Game 5.

The strategy was clear: use the actual bullpen as little as possible. If Martinez absolutely has to, Doolittle and Hudson get top priory by a country mile, followed by a starter, then the rest of the bullpen.

Thankfully for Martinez and the Nationals, the starting pitching has done yeoman’s work in the NLCS, jumping out to a three games to none series lead over the Cardinals. Aníbal Sánchez famously brought a no-hit bid into the eighth inning of Game 1, finally relenting a two-out single to José Martínez before his night was over. Doolittle got the final four outs in the 2-0 win. Max Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter in his Game 2 start as well, losing it when Paul Goldschmidt led off the seventh with a single. He was erased on an inning-ending double play. Doolittle, Corbin, and Hudson got the final six outs in the 3-1 victory.

It was more of the same in Game 3. While Stephen Strasburg didn’t flirt with a no-hitter, he was dominant over seven innings, yielding one unearned run on seven hits with no walks and 12 strikeouts. The Nats’ offense woke up, amassing eight runs through seven innings which allowed Martinez to give his main relief guys a night off. Rodney and Rainey each pitched a perfect inning of relief with two strikeouts in low-leverage situations, their first appearances in the NLCS.

The Nationals starting pitching has been outstanding by itself, but it has also had the secondary effect of allowing Martinez to hide his team’s biggest weakness. Now Martinez just has to hope for more of the same for one more game, then at least four more in the World Series.