GOODYEAR, Ariz. — A day after looking crisp and polished during a victory over the Milwaukee Brewers, the Canadian national team had it handed to them by the Cincinnati Reds 12-2 Wednesday in its final warmup before the World Baseball Classic.
Starter Mark Hardy, a left-hander from Campbell River, B.C., in the San Diego Padres system, didn’t make it out of the second inning, Trystan Magnuson, a Toronto Blue Jays farmhand from Vancouver, surrendered a pair of three-run bombs, and seven of the NL Central champion’s nine starters were out of the game after three frames as garbage time came early in this one.
“Hopefully we got it all out of the way tonight,” said manager Ernie Whitt. “We’ll be ready to go on Friday.”
Compounding matters for the Canadians is that Brett Lawrie left the contest an inning earlier than planned after feeling what Whitt described as twinge in his side. Asked if the problem might be enough to keep the Toronto Blue Jays third baseman out of Friday’s tournament opener versus Italy, Whitt replied: “We’ll see how he feels (Thursday). It’s a wait and see right now.”
There were few highlights for the national squad beyond Adam Loewen's opposite field two-run blast off Mat Latos in the second that briefly gave Canada a 2-1 lead, and 1.1 scoreless innings of relief from R.J. Swindle of Vancouver, the free agent lefty who was at home in Charleston, S.C., when he was named to the team late Monday night in place of the injured Jesse Crain.
Swindle only arrived in the Phoenix-area late Tuesday night, rushing to throw a bullpen before he arrived after several weeks of inactivity. He also has a three-week old daughter at home, Layla.
"It was after 11 when Greg (Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams) called, my wife and I were watching the Bachlerotte, had a random number come up on my phone, I didn't know who it was, I wasn't going to answer, I usually don't, but I did and sure enough, 'Hey R.J., it's Greg,'" Swindle recalled with a grin. "Obviously I was very excited."
Philadelphia Phillies reliever Phillippe Aumont of Gatineau, Que., also looked strong in a scoreless eighth, but it was pretty much all ugly for Canada aside from that.
Perhaps ugliest were the offence's 14 strikeouts against just four walks and four hits, a near reversal of Tuesday's 3-10 K/BB ratio in a 7-4 win over the Brewers. The count was nine strikeouts to one walk through the first six innings, so at least they worked Cincinnati's race-car numbered arms.
"These are just tune-ups for when we play on Friday," said Loewen. "I think we're in good shape, guys are getting the feel of playing nine innings and it's still kind of early in spring and to get prepared this fast is unusual. There's going to be games like that."
The Canadians hold a workout at Chase Field on Thursday in preparation for Italy.
MOUND MATCHUPS: Canada is expecting to face two right-handed starters in its first two games of the tournament, Italy's Alex Maestri and Mexico's Marco Estrada, before facing left-hander Derek Holland against the United States.
The Canadian lineup will feature six or seven left-handed hitters, depending on whether Chris Robinson or John Suomi (a lefty) is behind the plate.
LINEUP SHUFFLE: Manager Ernie Whitt flipped shortstop Cale Iorg and second baseman Pete Orr in the lineup Wednesday, batting Orr second and Iorg ninth to get the former three at-bats during a shortened night.
It sounds like Iorg will bat second once the tournament begins, and any thoughts of moving Michael Saunders to the two-hole from No. 6 have been shelved.
"I like where he's at in that spot," Whitt said of Saunders. "He gives protection to Brett and he could do (hit second) if I asked him, but I think I'd rather go with someone else. Our biggest thing is getting (Tyson) Gillies on base, the two-hole guy maybe moving him to second, and getting our run-producers to follow. That's what I'm hoping for."
RAIN IS IN THE AIR: The forecast for Friday's Canada-Italy contest at the open-air Salt River Fields is rain and that may lead to a venue change to covered Chase Field.
A decision is likely to come Thursday, once the forecast develops a bit more. The Canadians are slated to play at 12:30 p.m. local time, 2:30 ET, which should give the clubs enough time to clear out of the Chase Field clubhouses for the U.S.-Mexico contest at 7 p.m. local, 9 p.m. ET.
Canada's remaining games against Mexico and the Americans are at Chase.
SHORT HOPS: The Canadian coaching staff took in Italy's exhibition games Tuesday and Wednesday and planned on watching the Mexico-Italy tournament opener Thursday as part of its scouting. Also helping on that front is Walt Burrows, the Canadian head of the MLB Scouting Bureau, who is providing the national team with some advance work. "We have no excuse, we have plenty of eyes on them, we have some tendencies of what they're going to do," said manager Ernie Whitt. "We still have to go out and play the game." … Reds right-hander Kyle Lotzkar of Tsawwassen, B.C., threw a scoreless eighth against the Canadians, pitching around a walk to Jonathan Malo and error on a Tim Smith liner that put two on with two out. Lotzkar finished last season on the minor-league DL and wasn't available to Canada.