Thursday, March 16, 2006

WBC: How to pitch the Rocket...

The USA has escaped a doomsday scenario two rounds in a row. First round the Canadians and Mexicans could have eliminated us if Mexico had won that game 2-1, 2-0, or 1-0. Last night, it was a rather different scenario, as Japan just had to beat Korea with a score of anywhere up to 8 runs and the two Asian teams would advance, eliminating the USA.

Somewhere deep in the middle of the night, Korea pulled off a 2-1 victory, putting themselves through to the final round (plus keeping them as the only undefeated team in the tournament), and keeping the United States alive.

Today, The Rocket takes the mound for what people are saying could be his last game. It's tough, because I'm sure the USA would love to ride him for the championship game (assuming we can get past the Koreans, which is far from a safe assumption). The way the rotation is set up, Peavy would get the Koreans, and Willis would get the winner of Cuba/Dominican. Problem is that Willis has racked up both of the American wins, and I'm not sure anyone really wants to be relying on him for the championship.

Who wouldn't prefer the Rocket?

The problem is that, with the rules of the tournament, as soon as Rocket hurls his 50th pitch tonight, he triggers 4 off days, which would be March 17-20. The semis are the 18th and the final is the 20th. Thus, pitch 50 eliminates him from the rest of the tournament. This is a big part of why the US did not want the Mexican game to be must-win. If we didn't need the win, we could put the Rocket in for a short start, or even use a platoon of relievers, each getting to 49 pitches (or maybe burning the first one used by allowing him to get 50+).

It's hard to say what to do. If the game looks like a runaway do you pull Rocket at or about 45 pitches to keep him available for a theoretical chamionship (or hell, at that point he'd be technically available for the semifinal). Even if not as a starter, using him in relief all-star-game style. How close of a game do you keep him in, understanding that not beating the Mexicans makes any other planning moot?

This is the one time that the schedule has worked against the US. Had we been playing yesterday, and Kor/Jap today, it wouldn't have mattered. Rocket's four days off would have been 16-19, and he'd be ready to go in the championship, should we make it.

Tough calls. It's why I'm not a baseball manager, and certainly not the Team USA skip.


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