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Pitching woes force Canada to Plan B for World Baseball Classic

Pitching woes force Canada to Plan B for World Baseball Classic
A week of most unpleasant surprises has forced Canada to begin drawing up a Plan B for its pitching staff at the World Baseball Classic.

The losses in quick succession of Ryan Dempster, Rich Harden and Jeff Francis leaves the national team with some holes it doesn't have the depth to fill, triggering an internal debate on how best to move forward.

Obviously an offence led by Justin Morneau and Jason Bay will have to carry the weight now when Canada begins play at the tournament March 7 versus the United States in Toronto. But figuring out which of the arms remaining on the 45-man provisional roster are best suited to the task is far less clear.

''We're in a scenario of assessing our seasoned, upper-level minor-league guys alongside a reasonable core group of talented young arms,'' Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams, said from Ottawa. ''You can't go completely young and expect all of them will be able to deal with the magnitude of the situation.

''But you can't overlook raw physical ability just because of inexperience, either.''

That dilemma comes after months of planning with the big three in place to front the staff.

Arm injuries forced both Harden of the Chicago Cubs and Colorado ace Francis to withdraw. Harden, whose status was always somewhat iffy, reportedly has a small tear in his shoulder while Francis, who battled shoulder issues last year, had a throwing session go poorly before making his decision.

''He said he had thrown and had very significant shoulder tightness and soreness. He really wanted to pitch and apologized,'' Hamilton said of Francis.

''He's already had a couple of cortisone shots and those are like putting Band-Aids on a cut that needs stitches. He needs to figure out what's going on in there.''

The Rockies had little to offer about Francis' health, saying they had no medical updates on the left-hander and that he'll be with the club at spring training to prepare for the 2009 season.

Dempster, meanwhile, was the first to pull out, due to what is believed to be a sense of responsibility to the Cubs after signing a $52US-million, four-year contract extension.

He wasn't even on the 45-man provisional roster Hamilton submitted to Major League Baseball last Friday. Francis was listed ninth while Harden was at No. 45, underlining how questionable his status was.

So where does that leave Canada's pitching?

Toronto Blue Jays hopeful Scott Richmond is suddenly the staff ace with a mix of savvy veterans and green youngsters to chose from for the final 28-man roster due Feb. 24.

National team mainstays like Chris Begg, Steve Green, Mike Johnson and Eric Cyr offer Canada a known commodity on the mound and won't become awed in the moment.

In Baseball parlance, they won't spit the bit.

Youngsters like Dave Davidson, Scott Diamond, Phillippe-Alexandre Valiquette, Alexandre Periard and Kyle Lotzkar are far less proven, making them riskier ventures.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: January 23, 2009

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