Solid lineup — if Votto cleared to play — for WBC’s Team Canada entry

by on January 14, 2013

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* Team Canada is expected to have a solid lineup for the WBC led by Justin Morneau, Russell Martin, Brett Lawrie, Michael Saunders — and Joey Votto, once he passes his physical ….   

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By Bob Elliott

It’s not perfect.

Rosters for international competitions never are,

But manager Ernie Whitt has had so much success going back to 1999 due to his innate ability to get players to play above their norm elevating their game thanks to the Maple Leaf on their arm.

The first 23 players of Whitt’s 28-man roster — with Joey Votto needing only to pass a physical to be added — was unveiled Saturday afternoon the 10th annual Baseball Canada fund raiser at the Renaissance Toronto.

So far, it’s a team with a strong bullpen, a lineup of five established major leaguers and an inexperienced starters.

Yet 15-year veteran Ryan Dempster has yet to declare, as they say in the college ranks.

Will he or won’t he?

“I need to judge my body and see where I am in a week or so,” said a noncommittal Dempster in town to receive the Baseball Canada level of excellence honour.

“Obviously part of you wonders what it would be like to play. In 2009 I didn’t play because the Chicago Cubs gave me a big opportunity and I wanted to make sure I was ready for the season.”

Now, Dempster has signed with the Boston Red Sox, a team he said was interested from the start of free agency.

“I saw the pieces they had added and there was the chance to play for a manager like John Farrell — he’s well respected around baseball. We’ve discussed me pitching I should know in a few days.”

The missing and there are always MIAs whether it was Colorado’s Jeff Francis for the Athens Olympics in 2004; Oakland’s Rich Harden in the 2006 WBC and Dempster in the 2009 WBC.

This time Scott Diamond is coming off elbow surgery, Jason Bay, bothered by concussion-like symptoms with the New York Mets is trying to re-establish himself with the Seattle Mariners, Kyle Lotzkar, who pitched in the Futures Game, is injured, lefty Erik Bedard is a free agent and Rich Harden missed last season due to injury.

Votto spent so much time on the disabled list due to his knee injury that even thought he returned to play for the Cincinnati Reds in September he has to pass a physical.

We asked Team Canada WBC veterans to compare rosters of the 2009 team and March editions:

Justin Morneau: “We certainly miss Francis and Diamond but the thing about this tournament is that its often guys the other team has never seen or don’t have video on, who have success: like Adam Loewen in 2006 or Mike Johnson in 2009. With this bullpen I think if we get them the ball with the lead, hopefully it’s game over.”

Russell Martin: “We have an upgrade at third (Brett Lawrie over Mark Teahen), Brett’s typically a second-place hitter who can steal, then we have Votto and Morneau. I like the speed we have in the outfield with Tyson Gillies and Saunders. We had Matt Stairs in right (in 2006).

“The depth in the bullpen is impressive and we know Phillippe Aumont is not going to be in a more intense situation than he was in 2009.”

Aumont found himself down a run, bases loaded and none out. He escaped by breaking David Wright’s bat on a pop out, striking out Kevin Youkilis and Curtis Granderson swinging on curveballs, as the Rogers Centre crowd of 42,314 applauded.

Diamond: “Speed wise we’re better in the outfield. I think we have more depth on the pitching staff. In 2009 I’d finished my first year of pro  and Johnson was at the end of his career. He pitched great game against USA.”

Second baseman Peter Orr: “This bullpen might be more experienced than in 2006 when we had the trouble against South Africa and we had Paul Quantrill and Chris Reitsma then.”

Canada plays Italy at Salt River Fields on March 8, the next day faces Mexico at Chase Field in Phoenix and plays Team USA March 10 in the modified double elimination tournament. Each country is guaranteed three games with the top two advancing to the second round.

In 2006 Canada was the only team with a 2-1 record not to advance, losing on run differential. Canada went out in back-to-back losses 6-5 to Team USA, stranding the tying run on second and 6-2 to Italy in 2009.

“No matter how you look at the two rosters,” said Morneau, “no matter what we do, it will have to be better than the last time. We didn’t hit.”

Bob Elliott
Bob Elliott is a baseball columnist for the Toronto Sun, Sun Media and a frequent guest on The FAN-590. He was born in Kingston, Ont. If you want to know anything and everything to do with the Major Leagues, Minor Leagues or amateur baseball in Canada - Bob is the man to talk to.

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