Team USA falls to Peoria, 8-6, in AFL opener

October 25, 2007

By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com

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PEORIA, Ariz. -— A simple comebacker proved problematic for Dallas Trahern in Team USA’s game against the Peoria Javelinas on Thursday afternoon.

With the bases loaded and nobody out in the fourth inning, Jordan Schafer hit a chopper up the middle. Trahern fielded it cleanly but threw the ball over catcher Jason Jaramillo’s head. Two runs scored on the play and Peoria tallied four in the inning.

“He just didn’t square his shoulders up, which is a mistake that you will see a lot of pitchers make a lot of times,” Team USA pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said. “When you don’t do that, then the ball is going to run away from you, which is what happened.”

The miscue proved the difference in Team USA’s first game, an 8-6 loss at Peoria Sports Complex. The national team, which held its first full-squad workout Tuesday afternoon, had less than 48 hours to prepare for its first game.

Several players had played on Arizona Fall League teams before joining Team USA. However, many had either seen little Major League action in September callups or hadn’t played since the Minor League season ended almost two months ago.

“You can see the rust on some of them, obviously,” Lachemann said. “We wanted to get them out there and get their feet on the ground, because for a lot of them, it is a long time since they have been out there.”

In addition to Trahern’s error, the team had trouble offensively and defensively. Team USA committed two errors –- Trahern's misplay and Jayson Nix's throwing error on a double-play ball. Hitting-wise, the Americans had eight hits in the first eight innings but left 10 men on base.

Thursday’s game was the first of six contests Team USA will play against Arizona Fall League opponents before heading to Taiwan for the IABF World Cup, Nov. 6-18. That international tournament will provide a tuneup for the most important competition: the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.

“We don’t have much time,” Lachemann said. “We have to be ready to start that series.”

On Thursday, Team USA had trouble with the Javelinas, a team consisting of players from the Braves, Nationals, Rockies and Yankees organizations. With a record of 7-7 entering Thursday, Peoria stood in second place in the West Division, three games out of first. The victory upped Peoria’s home record to 6-2, the best mark in the AFL.

Team USA, took control of the game early. The national team scored single runs in the first and third innings. Colby Rasmus, a Cardinals prospect and the second-youngest player on the national team, led off the game with a triple down the first-base line and scored on Brian Bixler’s groundout.

Bixler, a Pirates farmhand and Team USA’s starting shortstop, homered in the third inning for the national team’s second run.

Trahern relieved starter Matt Wright in the fourth inning. Wright, a Royals prospect and one of two late additions to the national roster, struggled through the first inning but wound up allowed one run in three innings. He tossed 44 pitches, 28 for strikes, and yielded three hits and a walk against one strikeout in his first appearance since Sept. 1.

“It was good,” Wright said. “It was just getting back out there and getting back at it and getting back into the routine and trying to get your rhythm. My nerves settled in after the first.

It was probably my first time on the mound since my last start there in Omaha. I just kind of settled down and trusted my stuff and made my delivery more solid.”

Trahern, who went 13-6 with a 3.83 ERA at two Minor League levels for Detroit this season, made the second relief appearance of his professional career and first since 2004. Thursday marked the first time he had pitched since Sept. 3.

He ran into immediate trouble.

Yung Chi Chen singled to center and Juan Miranda walked. Justin Maxwell blooped a soft single over the second baseman to load the bases for Schafer, a Braves prospect who hit .312 in the regular season and was batting .326 in 43 AFL at-bats.

Schafer chopped a hard grounder up the middle and tossed his bat in disgust as he ran to first base. But Trahern, who made two errors in 26 games this season, threw the ball over Jaramillo’s right shoulder. Two runs scored and Peoria took a 3-2 lead.

Matt Tuiasosopo followed with a walk and Clint Sammons hit a sacrifice fly. Two batters later, Brett Gardner hit an RBI single for the inning’s fourth run.

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com.