2/21/2013 10:13 P.M. ET
Stacked USA squad set for World Baseball Classic
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com
PHOENIX -- Team USA announced its final roster for the upcoming World Baseball Classic on Thursday and there were no last-minute surprises.
For the U.S., five players are back from the 2009 team, which lost in the semifinals to two-time Classic champion Japan: Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins, Mets third baseman David Wright, Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun, Red Sox right fielder Shane Victorino and D-backs reliever Heath Bell.
Rollins will start this time at short and Wright at third. Braun -- the 2011 National League MVP -- is the left fielder, Victorino will come off the bench and Bell is part of an ample 10-man bullpen.
R.A. Dickey, the reigning NL Cy Young winner, who was traded this offseason from the Mets to Blue Jays, will anchor the starting staff.
Team USA manager Joe Torre and GM Joe Garagiola Jr. completed the 28-man roster with 13 position players and 15 pitchers. The last two starting pitching slots were the toughest to fill after Braves right-hander Kris Medlen dropped out and both Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte and Tigers right-hander Justin Verlander turned down bids. Torre was able to grab two Nationals pitchers -- Gio Gonzalez and Ross Detwiler -- to fill those spots.
"I'm excited about this team we put together and I'm pleased that the players seem to be equally excited," said Torre, who is coming out of retirement to manage the U.S. team in the tournament, when the provisional rosters were released in January. "That's important that these guys have the passion to represent USA and hopefully we'll do good things."
The team will gather in Arizona at the Salt River Fields at Talking Stick complex on March 4. And after playing exhibition games against the White Sox at Camelback Ranch on March 5 and the Rockies at Salt River Fields on March 6, the U.S. will open its leg of the tournament against Mexico at Chase Field at 7 p.m. MT on March 8. Italy and Canada are the other two teams in that bracket, and those teams will play the U.S. on March 9 and 10, respectively.
The two winners in Arizona go to Miami, where they will play the victors of the Puerto Rico bracket in the second round at Marlins Park from March 12-16. Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Spain will battle it out at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan.
The semifinals and final are slated for San Francisco's AT&T Park from March 17-19.
Around the diamond, the U.S. has a starting eight of Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips, Rollins at short, Wright at third, Twins catcher Joe Mauer, Braun in left, Orioles center fielder Adam Jones and Marlins right fielder Giancarlo Stanton.
The bench includes Victorino in the outfield, plus Ben Zobrist of the Rays and Willie Bloomquist of the D-backs as utility infielder/outfielders. The backup catchers are Jonathan Lucroy of the Brewers and J.P Arencibia of the Blue Jays, who has been working with Dickey in Nashville, Tenn., learning how to catch his knuckleball, and is projected to catch his new Toronto teammate in the tournament.
"I knew [Arencibia] had been catching him," Torre said this week. "I talked to Joe Garagiola and I thought it was important that we had somebody on the staff to do that. And I also know that R.A. Dickey pitched to Mauer [when the two were with the Twins], but he certainly was a different guy back then. We'll see. The thing is, if you can catch him in practice, you can catch him in the game.
"That knuckleball doesn't do anything different. It's not like catching the fastball. Trust me, I tried catching it and I tried hitting it when I played in the big leagues. I sort of liked hitting it better because you only had to do that four times a game."
Aside from Dickey, the U.S. has invited Giants right-hander Ryan Vogelsong, Rangers left-hander Derek Holland, plus the left-handers Gonzalez and Detwiler to make up the starting rotation. The bullpen includes closers Craig Kimbrel of the Braves and Chris Perez of the Indians. The rest of the 'pen is replete with Bell, Perez's Cleveland teammate Vinnie Pestano, Luke Gregerson of the Padres, Glen Perkins of the Twins, Steve Cisek of the Marlins, Jeremy Affeldt of the Giants, Tim Collins of the Royals and Mitchell Boggs of the Cardinals.
The U.S. has never gotten as far as the final, losing in the second round in '06 and in the semis at Dodger Stadium in '09.
This time, at least making it to the final game is an imperative, if not winning it all. To that end, Torre will vacate his current job as Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations until his team's run in the tournament is complete.
Torre's on-field career ended in 2010 with the Dodgers after a 12-year span with the Yankees from 1996-2007, during which his club made the playoffs every year, winning the World Series four times and six American League pennants. That postseason streak went to 14 in a row when the Dodgers lost to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series in 2008-09.
Torre's coaching staff is also filled with big names: Larry Bowa is the bench coach, Willie Randolph the third-base coach, Dale Murphy the first-base coach, Gerald Perry the hitting coach and Greg Maddux and Marcel Lachemann the co-pitching coaches.
Unlike the first two U.S. teams in the Classic, Torre wanted All-Star caliber players at every position, but a starting cast and a bench squad. Pitching is always problematic because of limitations in the spring. Starters are restricted to 65 pitches in the first round, 80 in the second and 95 in the semifinals and finals. A starter must take four days off if he throws more than 50 pitches.
Relievers can pitch on back-to-back days if they don't exceed 30 pitches the first day. Throw 30 in a game and you get another one off. After back-to-back appearances of even low pitch counts they must get a day off.
"We put it together not necessarily like an All-Star team -- because when you have an All-Star team, you base it upon the fact that you'll have one player playing three innings and another playing three innings," Torre said. "We also need to pay attention to pitching. You have to have a deep pitching staff because there are limitations on both starters and relievers that time of year.
"It's going to be a little bit of a different makeup, but it's really a good ballclub I put together based on trying to do something that works and hopefully, we'll have good results."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow@boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.