U.S. arms ease Johnson’s load . . . somewhat
It’s a migraine headache trying to do both.
But Sunday night at the Rogers Centre, with flag-waving, drum-beating Venezuelan fans showing that they did not consider this a meaningless exhibition, Johnson found a way to do both in a 15-6 victory that wrapped up one of the two Pool C spots in the WBC semifinal that begins Saturday in Miami.
The U.S. manager emptied his bench, starting all four position players who weren’t in the lineup for Saturday’s victory over Canada. And the U.S. was on its way to a 2-0 record, one more step in an attempt to spark the sort of national pride that follows baseball success in other countries.
“This was kind of what I expected from the get-go,” said Adam Dunn, who joined Kevin Youkilis in hitting home runs for the second game in a row. “With (this) lineup, I don’t know why we can’t have a few of these nights.”
Even with the firepower, Johnson isn’t having many laughs.
“It hasn’t been a whole lot of fun for me because you really aren’t managing,” Johnson said before the game. “You’re really kind of (going on) who’s available, you know? Do we have nine (innings) without pushing somebody?”
Johnson’s peace of mind can’t be helped by one development in Sunday’s game. Chipper Jones, who has looked terrible (0-for-7 with five strikeouts), left in the sixth with what was termed a “mild” strain of his right oblique. He has missed large chunks of time with similar injuries, so it’s doubtful the Atlanta Braves will consider anything about it mild.
Johnson had said for weeks he planned to rotate Derek Jeter and Jimmy Rollins. But instead of just that one move, he essentially made a shift change, inserting Mark DeRosa, Curtis Granderson, Chris Iannetta and Rollins into the lineup, and they quickly paid him back.
Iannetta, the Colorado catcher who got the spot that A.J. Pierzynski had wanted, mashed a bases-loaded double off Venezuelan reliever Carlos Vazquez to break the game open in a sixth inning featuring eight runs on four hits and three walks.
The three replacements at the bottom of the order—DeRosa, Iannetta and Granderson— combined to go 5-for-10 and drove in nine runs, including four apiece from DeRosa and Iannetta.
The ugly sixth exposed the weakness of the Venezuela bullpen, which Luis Sojo had hid a night earlier against Italy, getting eight innings from Carlos Silva and Felix Hernandez rather than trusting the faceless cast of relievers in front of Francisco Rodriguez.
For practical purposes, the Americans’ work in Canada is done. They are required to hang around for a Pool C championship game Wednesday against either Venezuela or the winner of an elimination game between the hosts and Italy. The Cubs’ Ted Lilly is the probably U.S. starter, but that game is for style points and seedings only.
The road to the Dodger Stadium championship round will get rougher. Barring another bit of magic from the Netherlands team that upset the Dominican Republic on Saturday, they’ll find Puerto Rico and the Dominican awaiting them at Dolphin Stadium.
You’d think Venezuela could fight back to join them, but do they have the pitching to get out of Canada? Sojo would decide between Enrique Gonzalez and Ramon Ramirez for a Tuesday elimination game against the Canada-Italy winner . . . unless he wants to reverse roles and get some important innings for K-Rod, his celebrated closer.
That might seem crazy, but why not? While Johnson still has Lilly and Baltimore’s Jeremy Guthrie needing innings, there is a scarcity of proven pitching on the other teams.
Canada had to start journeyman Mike Johnson against the U.S. in its opener, and starting pitching was the difference in a 6-5 win for the Americans. Team Canada will go with another journeyman, 27-year-old right-hander Vince Perkins, late of the Joliet JackHammers, against Italy on Monday.