Still looking for the right No. 3

By Bob Elliott

CARY, N.C. _ The rotation has been set.

Yet as Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt headed the airport and the trip to Toronto he and his staff had an important decision to make before Saturday night’s Pan Am Games opener against the Dominican Republic at President’s Choice Park in Ajax.

Who will bats third in the Canucks order?

Whitt gave three different hitters a chance during the three games in the Americas Baseball Festival at the USA National Training Center’s Coleman Field this week.

Tim Smith, who plays indy ball for the Quebec Capitales, hit third in a 4-1 loss against Cuba on Wednesday. Smith went 0-for-4.

Sean Jamieson, from double-A Mobile, was hitless in four at-bats with two strikeouts in a 9-2 loss to Team USA’s Pan Am Teamon Monday.

Rene Tosoni, who plays indy ball for the Sioux City Explorers, was 1-for-4 with a strikeout in Canada’s 12-1 win over the USA collegiate team.

For those adding up along at home that’s 1-for-12 with three whiffs.

“We’re not sure what we’re going to do there ... yet,” Whitt said.

Starting for Canada: As for the rotation Whitt will hand the first four starts to Chris Leroux, Jared Mortensen, Shawn Hill and Phillippe Aumont, with Andrew Albers and Jeff Francis, who have started for triple-A Buffalo this season, working out of the bullpen.

Leroux will face the Dominican Republic on Saturday. He has 65 games of major-league experience and is a combined 2-6 with a 5.12 ERA in 19 games, making four starts, this season with triple-A Lehigh Valley and triple-A Colorado Springs.

Mortensen faces Columbia Sunday at 3:30. Mortensen is 5-3 with a 3.43 ERA in 16 games -- 13 starts -- at double-A Montgomery.

Aumont faces Nicaragua Monday night. Appearing in 14 games at triple-A Lehigh Valley -- 10 starts -- Aumont was 3-4 with a 2.35 ERA. He had one rocky spot start with the Phillies and was released.

The veteran Hill then goes against Cuba Tuesday night. He has 44 starts in the majors and 188 more in the minors including 14 this season as he’s gone 1-7 with a 4.39 ERA in indy ball for the York Revolution.

“I was happy with our pitching this week,” Whitt said. “I’d never seen Shane Dawson, Brock Dykxhoorn or Mortensen before. And this was the first time I’ve had a look at Tyler O’Neill and Jesse Hodges.”

Leroux, Francis and Albers were with their triple-A clubs and joined the team in Toronto on Thursday.

In Game: Aumont worked four innings allowing five singles and two runs and did not walk a man. He struck out four. Aumont, released after struggling with control threw 57 pitches -- 39 for strikes. He sat consistently at 94 mph and twice hit 96 ... O’Neill homered to right off right-hander Yosvany Torres and also made a diving grab in left to save a run in the seventh ... Canada threatened after O’Neill’s fifth-inning homer as Tosoni singled, Jamieson reached on an error and Kellin Deglan walked, but Cuba got out of it when Brock Kjeldgaard to flew to right ... Catcher Chris Robinson threw out a Jose Garcia at second in the seventh ... Evan Rutckyj allowed a run in his inning of work as did Dykxhoorn, who worked two ... Peter Orr had the other hit for Canada.

Miscue: O’Neill had just homered to make it a 2-1 game heading into the bottom of the fifth when lefty Rutckyj came on and the lead off hitter reached, as Rutckyj was late getting over to first base to cover, according to Whitt. 

First baseman Jordan Lennerton fielded the ball in front of second baseman Skylar Stromsmoe, but didn’t have a play. Two two-out hits later Cuba scored to up its lead to 3-1.

“We can’t give good teams like Cuba extra outs,” Whitt said. “Our pitcher was late and Skylar should have called off the first baseman. We had a lack of communication and it has been addressed.

“Little things like that make a difference. We can’t afford to let have an added opportunity.”

Incoming: Team USA has added catcher Cam Gallagher to its Pan Am roster, after Eric Fryer, who has 131 games in the majors and was hitting .299 with one homer and 16 RBIs at triple-A Rochester, was promoted to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday. Gallagher is batting .236 with four homers and 17 RBIs at class-A Wilmington. 

Work outs: Team Canada will get its first look at President’s Choice Field when it practices Thursday night and it will work out again Friday before the opening ceremonies at the Rogers Centre.

And then said Whitt: “We’ll let the excitement build.”  

Bob ElliottComment