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The World Baseball Classic is once again a success. But the best American pitchers stayed away.

The program “Mexico! Mexico!” Chants erupted on the concourse Sunday as soon as the gates to Chase Field opened. The chorus was so loud that people on the field turned to see what was happening. It was two hours before the first launch between Mexico and the United States, and the excitement was already simmering.

A sellout crowd of 47,354, split evenly between the passionate sides, watched Mexico stun the US in an 11-5 victory. The show was a resounding success for the World Baseball Classic, in its fifth iteration and the first since 2017.

Interest in the WBC, a topic that has been endlessly discussed in the weeks leading up to each of them, runs through fan and player groups alike. It’s been evident from Miami to Japan, where at one point more than half the households in the Tokyo metropolitan area were watching their home team take on South Korea. There have been electric atmospheres and raw emotions. The atmospheres of October have resurfaced in March.

But the event is still not where everyone involved envisions it. There are kinks to smooth out. Most are off the field, but one prominent obstacle remains on the field. Team USA manager Mark DeRosa, who played for the USA in the 2006 WBC, has brought up the subject more than once in the last week.

“From a pitching standpoint, they had to get going a little earlier and get it going a little earlier,” DeRosa said. “But I think if this is going to get where it needs to go, some of the major league clubs are going to have to be willing to be a little bit more… It’s okay to get psyched up with those guys playing.”

A star-striped elephant was in the room.

The problem that DeRosa described is not a general one. While Team USA’s roster of position players this year is the most talented in its WBC history, attracting the best starting pitcher available is a sharp hurdle for Team USA alone. Check out the tournament. The best pitchers of the other contestants participate.

Shohei Ohtani is playing both ways for Japan entering a contract season with the Angels. Julio Urías, also scheduled to reach free agency this winter, started for Mexico in his first game on Saturday. Sandy Alcántara started the Dominican Republic’s first game after winning the National League Cy Young Award and leading the majors in innings pitched (228⅔) last season.

Shohei Ohtani, one of baseball’s best pitchers, pitches for Japan against China in the World Baseball Classic on Thursday.

(Eugenio Hoshiko / Associated Press)

Pablo López (Venezuela) and José Berríos (Puerto Rico) were the best starting pitchers for their respective nations last season, and both are participating. Even veteran lefty Jose Quintana, coming off a resurgence season, had intended to pitch for Colombia before suffering a rib injury last week.

Meanwhile, Team USA has one of the best rotations in the tournament, but it’s far from the best it could have assembled.

Last season, 13 US pitchers finished in the top 20 in ERA among qualified pitchers in the majors and 14 finished in the top 20 in FanGraphs WAR. None of them are pitching in the WBC. Only one, San Francisco Giants right-hander Logan Webb, is known to have originally committed to Team USA. He withdrew before spring training began.

Of the seven foreign-born pitchers who finished in the top 20 in ERA, two are not pitching in the WBC: Quintana and Framber Valdez, who had initially said he would pitch for the Dominican Republic but backed out after recording a heavy charge. of work. in October for the Houston Astros.

Team USA’s rotation took two hits when Clayton Kershaw and Néstor Cortés were forced to retire. Cortés suffered a hamstring injury last month. Kershaw was unable to obtain the necessary insurance to participate. Kershaw posted a 2.28 ERA in 126⅓ innings for the Dodgers, while Cortés had a 2.44 ERA in 158⅓ innings for the New York Yankees. Events diminished the star power of the pitching staff.

Without them, Adam Wainwright, Nick Martinez, Merrill Kelly, Lance Lynn, Kyle Freeland, Miles Mikolas and Brady Singer are the starting options on the US roster. The group has combined for seven All-Star Game appearances.

There are 10 active US-born major leaguers with Cy Young Awards. Neither is on the pitching staff for Team USA.

Wainwright, 41, held Great Britain to one run in four innings in Team USA’s opening win on Saturday. A late addition to the roster, Martinez gave up three runs and five hits in 2⅔ innings against Mexico on Sunday.

Wainwright is entering his 17th season and perhaps his last with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is approaching 200 wins in his career after going 11-12 with a 3.71 ERA in 191⅔ innings last season. The right-hander explained that pitching for Team USA was a long-standing goal after being cut from the 2004 USA Olympic qualifying team. This was his last chance.

“It’s a big part of my story, but it also left a hole inside of me that I’m ready to fill,” Wainwright said. “I’m happy to represent our country.”

Workload restrictions are put in place for the tournament, but pitching at the WBC is considered high risk by big league clubs anyway, and for good reason. Throwing a baseball is an unnatural movement of the arm. Injuries are common. Franchises invest millions of dollars in the best starting pitchers. Headquarters trust them to gain and maintain job security. The timing, during spring training just before the season begins, adds to the anxiety.

As a result, teams in the tournament are careful with starters and relievers. Managers are tasked with implementing plans in conjunction with the pitching clubs in preparation for opening day as they attempt to win high-adrenaline, competitive games. It’s a tricky balance. DeRosa experienced it in Sunday’s loss.

“There are a lot of guys that mean a lot to these major league baseball clubs and their seasons,” DeRosa said after the game. “I’m not going to do anything to put them in danger.”

There is no perfect place on the calendar for this event. Major League Baseball is determined to see this tournament succeed, and that requires some risk every time it is played. Wainwright wants parties involved to know that Team USA pitchers are in good hands.

“I think one thing that people need to understand, the fan bases need to understand, and the teams need to understand, is that the coaching staff there is a professional Major League coaching staff that knows how to keep their players the same. way a normal training staff would.

“When we come here, we are not with (unqualified) professionals to keep us where we need to be. … Whatever program we have with our own teams, they are ready to put them into action here.”

MLB clubs were allowed to prevent players from participating if they met certain injury-related parameters. That could explain some absences. But that doesn’t explain why so many of America’s best starting pitchers from the 2022 season aren’t participating in this tournament.

“If this is going to get where it needs to go, then every team, every country would want their so-called best players,” DeRosa said. “And it shouldn’t be as difficult as it was to put together a list. But I totally get it.”

Attracting the best American starting pitcher isn’t a requirement for the WBC to be successful—the United States produces more than enough pitching talent to field a strong rotation—but it would further legitimize the event as it continues to grow. The interest already exists. The proof was there Sunday night at Chase Field.