Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt is playing his hand close to the vest when it comes to naming a starter for Game 3 of the World Baseball Classic vs. the United States.Longtime Major League veteran Ryan Dempster will get the call in Game 1 vs. the Dominican Republic on Thursday,
Team Canada manager Ernie Whitt is playing his hand close to the vest when it comes to naming a starter for Game 3 of the World Baseball Classic vs. the United States.
Longtime Major League veteran Ryan Dempster will get the call in Game 1 vs. the Dominican Republic on Thursday, while Minor Leaguer Nick Pivetta will start against Colombia in Game 2 on Saturday. The starter for Sunday's Game 3 against the Americans remains a complete unknown.
:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::
Canada is debating between right-hander Scott Richmond, lefty Andrew Albers and right-hander Chris Leroux. All three have big league experience and will figure prominently into the club's plans in this tournament, but how the bullpen is used early on likely will be a factor.
"We'll play it by ear," Whitt told reporters on Wednesday morning. "We'll meet as a staff probably after this evening in Miami and go over those details. ... We have some options. We named the first two starters. We're just not sure about the third one yet. That's where we're at."
Richmond had his chance to audition for a larger role on Wednesday afternoon, when he got the start in an exhibition game against the Yankees. He allowed two runs on four hits with one walk and a strikeout over two innings. After the game, Richmond conceded to reporters he was still in Spring Training mode, but hoped that some adjustments could be made relatively quickly to improve his command.
Two years ago, Richmond was out of the game and considering other career opportunities. He returned to the mound for the 2015 Pan-Am Games in Toronto and hasn't looked back since. The former Blue Jays hurler spent last season pitching in Taiwan, and he plans to return there when his commitment with Baseball Canada comes to an end.
Despite all of his international experience, this will be the first time Richmond has been able to pitch for Canada at the Classic. He missed out in 2009 and got hurt just prior to the start of the tournament in '13. As someone who represented Canada at just about every other major event, this moment has been a long time coming.
"I just want to go out there and help," said Richmond, who has a 5.27 ERA over parts of four big league seasons. "I'm always a big guy in the clubhouse, I love to keep the guys loose. I have fun. I've been doing this for a long time. I haven't been pitching on the WBC stage, but I'm supporting the guys, I'm always pumping their tires and I'd love to just get out there and contribute."
The Canadians find themselves in a difficult position. Pool C is considered arguably the most difficult division of the tournament, and Canada likely will need to pick up a victory over the Dominicans or Americans while also defeating Colombia to advance.
Team Canada is a clear underdog in this race, but it's a role the club is familiar with and one it embraces. There is no pressure to perform, but there is an opportunity to surprise, and the Canadians hope that starts on Thursday against a star-studded Dominican squad.
"They can hit, they can pitch, they can run," Whitt said. "It's a superstar team. Hopefully we can keep them off stride a little bit, change up their timing on the hitting part, and I'd like to score early and see how they handle the pressure of being behind. That, to me, is the best-case scenario for me: seeing if we get the lead, how they handle that."
The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.