Some quick and mostly random World Baseball Classic thoughts as we reach the midpoint of the spring training schedule.
— It’s not spring training related necessarily, although the World Baseball Classic is an exhibition, but Danny Duffy looked outstanding on Sunday night. Sure, the Canadian lineup isn’t on par with what they have on Team USA or the Dominican, but that didn’t necessarily matter. Duffy’s fastball sat around 93 mph which is probably where it should be at this point in the spring. His change was pure filth and his slider had some nasty bite. He even spun a couple of curves that landed in the zone and caught hitters off guard.
He looked ready. Duffy threw 63 pitches, which is a bit elevated for four innings of work, but was working on a strike zone that was tight on the left-handed side and was clearly trying to get hitters to chase once he jumped ahead. It is still spring training, so it’s difficult to discern a true plan (beyond getting outs) but it seemed like Duffy was trying to go for the strikeouts. Not a bad plan against an overmatched lineup. He’d pound the zone with strikes and then go off-speed once he jumped ahead. He wasn’t nibbling, he was expanding the strike zone. For the most part it worked, although it did lead to an early elevated pitch count. That matters only in spring. The way he looked last night, once he builds up his regular season arm stamina, he could have gone seven easy.
Four innings of work and seven strikeouts against no walks? Sign me up.
— The good news from Surprise is that Salvador Perez’s knee injury suffered in Saturday’s Venezuela against Italy pool game looks to be minor. It was quite the frightening moment when Drew Butera tumbled into Perez at the plate.
First things first, there is absolutely no way Butera did that on purpose. Accidents happen. Especially in games early in the season when the players aren’t exactly used to going full speed in game situations. This is what you get when you play the World Baseball Classic in mid-March. Butera’s slide (roll?) was awkward as hell, but there is no way he was trying to do anything other than score and probably avoid Perez at the same time.
Second, it turns out that this incident could be exactly what the Royals need. Perez doesn’t need to be playing in exhibition games with playoff intensity in March. After years of being ground into catcher dust by Ned Yost and the Royals extended schedule in back to back Octobers, Perez and his workload behind the plate needs to be handled in a thoughtful manner. Sure, sure, the man loves to play. How can you deny him the opportunity to play for his country? You can’t. That’s why this could turn out to be the best-case scenario for the Royals.
They get Perez back in camp, hold him out from the rest of the WBC (not necessarily a huge deal if they can’t win their tiebreaker on Monday against Italy), and get to manage his workload for the rest of spring. March is about getting ready for the season. It’s not about the World Baseball Classic. Perez is too valuable to the fortunes of the Royals for him to be squatting behind the plate in games that feel more like mid-October than mid-March. If the injury is truly minor and the MRIs keep coming back clean, this is absolutely the best thing for the Royals. And for Perez.
Hopefully, both parties will realize a fresh Perez for the stretch run is in the best interests of both. Wouldn’t it be crazy if Perez didn’t see his numbers crater in the second half of the season? Dare to dream.
— The World Baseball Classic hot take ahead. It is an exhibition. Yes. It is. That doesn’t mean it’s devoid of passion. It’s crazy fun to watch. However, when it comes time for someone like Adrian Beltre to land on the ballot for the Hall of Fame, no voter is going to even think about how he performed in the World Baseball Classic. When Eric Hosmer hits the free agent market next November, while Scott Boras will probably throw a stat line in his binder, it’s hard to believe a team interested in his services will consider his time playing for Team USA. Will you be sitting around in May, searching YouTube for video of Duffy’s performance against Team Canada?
It’s an exhibition.
It’s March. We’re all hard up for baseball games that mean something. While these don’t carry the same amount of weight as what we’ll see over the upcoming months, the passion is undeniable. The games mean something to the players and by extension, that is passed along to the fans. It’s easy to get dialed in watching Team Israel, or basking in the energy from fans of Team Venezuela or Team Dominican. It’s a fun event. And yes, an injury like what we saw happen to Perez can happen just as easily in Surprise, Arizona. This tournament is only going to continue to grow in popularity. Especially when players who elected to stay in camp realize they’re missing out on some intense baseball. It’s easy to wish that MLB and the governing bodies of the WBC could figure out a better time to play the tournament. The catch is, there doesn’t seem to be a better time to play. You can’t shut down baseball for a couple of weeks in June, or pull the stars from their teams during the season. You can’t have this is October for obvious reasons. November doesn’t work, either. That pretty much leaves March.
The WBC is a great appetizer for the main course of baseball’s regular season. It’s okay to watch and enjoy and get swept up in the October atmosphere while at the same time thinking you’d rather have the players on your favorite team back in their spring training camps. Hell, it’s a lot easier to write about the excitement of the WBC than the battle for the seventh bullpen spot that’s brewing in Royals camp.
Sometimes, there are no easy answers in baseball.