Team USA carries momentum into Taiwan, blanks Saguaros, 3-0

November 1, 2007

By Conor Nicholl / MLB.com

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- When Team USA general manager Bob Watson evaluated his squad 12 days ago, he believed they had plenty of offense and solid defense. Pitching was going to go be the question. "We will go as far as our pitching," Watson said.

If Arizona Fall League results are a predictor, that could yield a gold medal for the national team at the upcoming IABF World Cup in Taiwan.

After some early struggles, the pitching staff permitted just five runs in their final three games, including a 3-0 shutout of the Peoria Saguaros at Peoria Sports Complex on Thursday afternoon. Brian Duensing (Twins) and Josh Outman (Phillies), two starting options, scattered seven hits over eight shutout innings, and Neal Musser (Royals) closed out the ninth frame.

Offensively, Team USA had just one hit in the first five innings against Ricky Nolasco (Marlins), but broke through with a run in the sixth on a RBI groundout by Rockies prospect Jayson Nix and tallied two more in the seventh on a run-scoring single by Tyler Colvin (Cubs) and a sacrifice fly by Jason Jaramillo (Phillies).

The national team finished 4-2 in a six-game schedule against Arizona Fall League competition. They will leave Thursday night for Taiwan.

"They have made very good progress," Team USA pitching coach Marcel Lachemann said.

The pitching -- particularly the starting rotation -- was brilliant in the tuneup for international competition. The staff started 1-2 with a 5.54 ERA and a 23/11 strikeout to walk rate in its first three games.

In their final three contests, they went 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA and a 24/5 strikeout to walk rate. Overall, they fashioned with a 3.57 ERA.

"I think that part of it is also getting to know the catcher so you can figure out that type of rhythm," Duensing said. "[Also,] the whole thing where the team is trying to come together a little bit is a factor into it somewhat.

"I think the first three games everyone kind of got the cobwebs out. [They] kind of knew their role and got comfortable with everybody and [have started] to kind of feeling comfortable again."

The five starters, four of whom hadn't pitched in six weeks before Team USA started workouts Oct. 23, allowed just 10 runs in 30 2/3 innings (2.93 ERA). That included a 1.62 mark in the past three games.

"I think that we will continue to get better even as we go through the tournament," Lachemann said. "The starters have gotten stretched out, probably not as far as you would really like to have them, but they have all gone at least four innings."

No starters were better than Duensing and Outman on Thursday. The two left-handed starters, each went four shutout innings against the Saguaros, the worst team in Arizona Fall League.

Watson wanted his pitchers to replicate Red Sox ace Josh Beckett's method and throw an off-speed or breaking pitch in a fastball count. Duensing followed that concept against the Saguaros. The left-hander, who throws a two- and four-seam fastball, change, slider and curve, used his pitches differently than he did in the regular season.

It worked.

"I was also throwing some breaking balls sometimes where I normally wouldn't before," Duensing said. "I was using this opportunity just to throw some pitches and just to get a feel for them. Fortunately it worked out. It could have hurt me, but it didn't.

"I consider my curveball a get-ahead [in the count] pitch... [and] I was throwing two strike curveballs which is something that I don't do. I threw a lot of first changeups to hitters I hadn't seen yet. I don't like doing that just in case something weird happens."

Nothing did.

Duensing, who allowed one run in two innings in his first appearance Saturday, allowed four hits and didn't walk a batter in four shutout innings. Duensing covered his 12 outs in an economical 50 pitches, with only two batters reaching scoring position.

Outman, the least experienced pitcher among the five starters, resembled the same pitcher who reached Double-A Reading as a 22-year-old this season and posted a 12-7 record and 2.99 ERA across two levels. He allowed three hits and a walk to his former team.

Outman worked out of a jam in the seventh. He had runners on first and third with no outs and coaxed two strikeouts and a popup to end the inning.

"He really made some good pitches to get out of that thing," Lachemann said. "It was a good thing to watch to see how a guy is going to react to that situation. He was very good. I was very pleased with him."

Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com.