By Bob Elliott
Canada’s 24-man roster for next month’s Pan Am Games was submitted June 17.
How many changes to the roster since?
“About 24,” said manager Ernie Whitt with a laugh standing in a in downtown Toronto Queen Street parking lot as President’s Choice gave away ballpark franks on Thursday. The same hot dogs will be sold when Canada meets the Dominican Republic on July 11 at PC Park in Ajax to begin defence of the gold medal it won four years ago.
Veteran reliever Dustin Molleken with triple-A Columbus is out.
“And two hours from now he might be back in,” said Whitt.
Phillippe Aumont was released by the Philadelphia Phillies and is a currently a free agent.
Does he sign with a new team and then say “I’ll be back after Ajax.”
Right-hander Colin Kleven has been promoted by the Phillies to double-A Reading. He has to decide if he reports or stays at class-A Clearwater, since Reading is losing a starter to Team USA.
And you won’t see lefty Adam Loewen pitch for Canada.
Probably the best starts Whitt and Canada received against Team USA were by Andrew Albers (6 2/3 innings, one run in the 2011 gold medal game), Jameson Taillon (four innings one run in the 2013 World Baseball Classic), Jason Gooding (6 1/3 innings, three runs, 1999 Pan Ams at Winnipeg) and Loewen (3 2/3 scoreless in the 2006, WBC).
And Whitt was expecting another strong outing from Loewen who started his career on the mound making the Baltimore Orioles rotation, injured his arm then made the big leagues with the Toronto Blue Jays as an outfielder and is now close to making it back to the majors with the Phillies.
“I saw him at Reading and had never seen his throw as well,” said Whitt, long-time Jays catcher, now an instructor in the Phillies system. Whitt asked Reading manager Dusty Watham to give Loewen extra rounds of batting practice.
“I planned on using him to pinch hit or DH,” Whitt said, “but Adam is doing the right thing for his career. He could be called up. I hope he is called up. He’s a special individual.”
After 11 scoreless innings Loewen was promoted to triple-A Lehigh Valley and has tossed 6 1/3 more scoreless with his fastball clocked at 93-94 MPH.
There is an ebb and flow to putting together a roster for international competition as countries must gain permission from respective major-league clubs for players not on the 40-man rosters. Greg Hamilton works the phones from his Ottawa office, getting turned down on one arm, finding another elsewhere.
Like Scott Richmond, who pitched the final 1 2/3 against Team USA, was set to made his first start Thursday for the Wichita Wingnuts of the independent American Association. Richmond allowed four runs -- one earned -- in five innings in a loss to Joplin.
RHP Jasvir Rakkar (Brampton, Ont.) from the class-A Myrtle Beach Pelicans, RHP Brock Dykxhoorn, (Goderich, Ont.) class-A Quad Cities and Richmond will likely take the place of Loewen, Molleken and Kleven.
“I don’t know how Greg does it, the (roster) is constantly moving, I don’t know if Greg ever sleeps,” Whitt said. “In most vases the player wants to play. Some opt out due to pressure from their clubs, who say ‘you might not have a job when you come back.’”
While playing for your country in the WBC was a pay bump for minor leaguers, in this case players are paid the same by their parent organization whether they are in double-A or Ajax.
Despite the concerns and doubt about his pitching staff (Loewen, Molleken and Kleven), his arms and their experience is what Whitt likes most about his team.
He has veterans lefties Jeff Francis and Albers, who are at triple-A Buffalo, Chris Leroux, at Lehigh Valley, Shawn Hill, pitching for York in the independent Atlantic League and Aumont.
“We’re not going to have a lot of bashers like in Panama,” said Whitt, as Justin Morneau, Pete LaForest and Ryan Radmanovich helped Canada qualify in 2003 for the Athens Olympics by beating Mexico, who eliminated Team USA. “But we do have a lot of veteran pitchers. And they can either start or work in relief, they’re all stretched out.
“We’ll have to play defence, manufacture runs.”
Besides Loewen, Jamie Romak (London, Ont.) at triple-A Reno and hoping for a call from the Arizona Diamondbacks and Taylor Green (Comox, BC) at double-A Biloxi in the Milwaukee Brewers system declined.
Whitt will have Kellin Deglan behind the plate with an infield of Jordan Lennerton, Skyler Stromsmoe, Pete Orr and Sean Jamieson. And in the outfield will be Tyler O’Neill, Tyson Gilles and Rene Tosoni. Brock Kjeldgaard and Tim Smith will share DH duties.
The other arms Whitt has are Jared Mortensen from double-A Montgomery, Kyle Lotzkar, double-A Frisco, Evan Rutckyj at class-A Tampa and Shane Dawson, who has nine wins at class-A Lansing.
“It’s a constant battle,” said Whitt, who hopes he and Hamilton have their pitching plans set by Monday ...