Italy, the Cinderella team of the World Baseball Classic, almost did it again.
The Dominican Republic trailed Italy 4-0 in the second-round opener for both teams Tuesday, before clawing back to win 5-4 in Miami. Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez‘s sacrifice fly tied the game 4-4 in the seventh inning and Nelson Cruz‘s RBI single sealed the Italians’ fate. Ramirez finished 1 for 2 with a walk and a single in four plate appearances.
Ramirez played the entire game at third base, with Jose Reyes playing shortstop and Erick Aybar DHing.
Dodgers utilityman Nick Punto reached base in three out of his four plate appearances, scoring one run and driving in another.
Ronald Belisario, whose Venezuelan team was eliminated from the tournament over the weekend, arrived in the Dodgers’ clubhouse Tuesday afternoon.
Punto went 2 for 4 with a double and scored twice. Gonzalez homered and drove in three runs and Cruz put Mexico up 5-1 with a sacrifice fly off Glen Perkins in the fifth inning. As Ice Cube once said, “it was a good day.”
Unless you’re the U.S., that is. The Americans play the Italians today and momentum is not in their direction. Italy beat Mexico on Thursday and can eliminate the U.S. from advancing to the semifinals with a win.
They might be able to play a little baseball down there in the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican entry into the World Baseball Classic didn’t need to establish itself as a contender in an exhibition game Tuesday against the Philadelphia Phillies. It did anyway, winning 15-2. The Dominicans had 28 hits as a team, including seven extra-base hits.
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez had three. He served as the designated hitter and went 4-for-6 with two doubles, a home run, three runs scored and three RBIs. You can watch video of the home run here.
Nick Punto went 0-for-3 with a strikeout for Team Italy in an exhibition game against the Oakland A’s. Punto was replaced with the Italians trailing 4-1.
Team Mexico, featuring Adrian Gonzalez, Luis Cruz and Javy Guerra, has an exhibition game scheduled for 6 p.m. PST tonight against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Don Mattingly hasn’t filled out his lineup card yet for tomorrow’s Cactus League opener against the Chicago White Sox. But the Dodgers manager revealed Friday that he’s planning to start Andre Ethier in right field, Skip Schumaker in center field and Jerry Hairston Jr. in left.
Clayton Kershaw is expected to start and pitch roughly two innings, which would give the Dodgers the minimum four regulars that teams must use in exhibition games. “Regulars” has taken on some loose definitions in the past, but at least none of these four players will start the season in Triple-A.
“We’re going to use our guys,” Mattingly said. “We have to get them ready. Our number one objective is to get guys ready. During that, there are rules … within that, as far as pitchers and how we’re doing it, you’re trying to get your team ready knowing that you’ll have guys that are out there.”
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is about as close as it gets to a sure thing here – on the field, in the community, in the clubhouse. Second baseman Mark Ellis is aging but consistent. Then the questions begin. Who will back him up? Can Hanley Ramirez’s glove be trusted at shortstop or at third base? What happens to Dee Gordon? What is Juan Uribe doing here?
Dodgers utilityman Nick Punto was born in San Diego, raised in Orange County, graduated from Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo. But he’s playing for Italy in the World Baseball Classic in March.
Eight Dodgers will participate in the World Baseball Classic, according to preliminary rosters announced today.
Mexico: 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 3B Luis Cruz, SS Alfredo Amezaga.
Venezuela: RP Ronald Belisario
Dominican Republic: SS Hanley Ramirez
Spain: RP Paco Rodriguez
Australia: RP Peter Moylan
Italy: INF Nick Punto
Moylan and Amezaga signed minor-league deals with an invitation to spring training. The other six players are currently on the 40-man roster.
Dodgers Spanish-language color commentator Fernando Valenzuela will be the pitching coach for Team Mexico, a Dodgers spokesperson confirmed, even though he isn’t listed on Mexico’s roster online.
Former Dodgers outfielder Karim Garcia is listed on Mexico’s roster. Former Dodger Andruw Jones, a native of Curaçao, is playing for The Netherlands. Adrian Gonzalez’s brother, who finished last season in Japan, is also playing for Team Mexico.
I stumbled into a long conversation with Davey Lopes about baserunning on Friday (it’s not hard to do). Specifically, we talked about Nick Punto’s head-first dives into first base, which had morphed from a novelty into a regular occurrence –it happened three times in one game earlier this month, and twice more on Wednesday.
Nick Punto can’t tell you how or why or when he began perfecting his head-first dive into first base.
“I probably started it, my mom said, when I was four or five years old,” Punto said.
Now 34, Punto has ingrained the head-first dive into his brain, to the point of it becoming a reflex whenever there’s a close play at first. Conventional wisdom holds that diving head-first only slows down a runner. Sprinters don’t dive at the finish line of a race, right?
Yeah, Punto’s heard that one.
“And I say that’s because there’s a hard court, a track, at the end of that finish line,” he said.
OK, but why expose yourself to injury, flinging your body fingers-first into a hard canvas base while a first baseman attempts to catch a baseball at the same time, in the same place?
“I’ve been injured running through the base,” Punto counters. “I pulled a hamstring. You can roll an ankle. There’s lots of things you can hurt running through the base as well.”