Canada to face Blue Jays, Yankees in potentially taxing warmups

Manager Ernie Whitt talks about the chemistry and close knit culture within the Team Canada locker room, and the concept of playing any one game where anything can happen.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Canada plays the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday afternoon (live on Sportsnet at 1 p.m. ET) in one of two World Baseball Classic warmup games that will put a strain on the national team’s resources.

With the tournament opener Thursday in Miami against the Dominican Republic and another contest set for Friday versus Colombia after Wednesday’s exhibition against the New York Yankees, manager Ernie Whitt must avoid burning out too many pitchers during four games in four days.

Slated to pitch against the Blue Jays are Andrew Albers, Eric Gagne, Kevin Chapman, Jim Henderson, Ryan Kellogg, Jesen Therrien and Scott Mathieson.

On Wednesday against the New York Yankees, Scott Richmond, Shane Dawson, Rowan Wick and Chris Leroux are all lined up, and the Blue Jays will lend Canada minor-leaguers to cover shortfalls for both games.

The extra arms are crucial because under tournament rules, pitchers can’t throw in three consecutive games and those who throw more than 30 pitches in a game must be given a minimum one day of rest. A pitcher that throws more than 50 pitches must be given four days off and no pitcher can exceed 65 pitches during the first round, unless it’s to finish an at-bat.

Various club teams also place their own limitations on the usage of their pitchers on top of that.

Canada plans to start veteran Ryan Dempster versus the defending champion Dominican Republic on Thursday with Philadelphia Phillies prospect Nick Pivetta lined up for Colombia on Friday.


The withdrawal of expected closer John Axford and lefty Adam Loewen has disrupted Canada’s bullpen plans, with Ernie Whitt looking to make some quick reads on his relievers before deciding how to shut down games.

“We have a lot of power arms,” says Whitt. “It’s seeing who’s throwing the ball well over these exhibition games in the short window we have to look at. We’ll look at guys who have closed before, where they don’t panic and the game doesn’t speed up on them.”

Jim Henderson, Eric Gagne and Scott Mathieson all have closed previously.


Canada has a lot of power at first base between Justin Morneau, Freddie Freeman and prospect Josh Naylor, but there’s no way for all three of them to be in the lineup at the same time.

The notion of moving Freeman elsewhere on the diamond, like third base, was toyed with during initial discussions with the Atlanta Braves, but they were quickly shot down. That’s why Ernie Whitt says not to expect any creativity once the games begin.

“The Braves probably wouldn’t like me very well if we put him at third base,” he quips.

Freeman is expected to get the bulk of work at first base, with Morneau at DH and Naylor available off the bench.

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A Can-Am League start in each of the past two years helped set Eric Gagne on the path back to the national team, but it was a five-inning, one-run, two-hit showing for the Ottawa Champions last September that really marked a turning point for him.

“That was more of a gauge,” he says. “I knew I was going to go five or six innings, because for the fans, you don’t just want to go one inning. It’s not really fair for them. The next day was the biggest day, I think, I felt really good, I threw again two days later, another bullpen, so I knew I felt good and my body was healing.”

Gagne says he’s thrown on back-to-back days three times in the leadup to the Classic without issue and is sitting 90-94 “depending on the day.” His body is giving him more good days than expected.

“Eight years rest should be good,” he quips.


Catcher Mike Reeves is one of five Canadians on the roster playing on the national team for the first time, while Justin Morneau and Pete Orr will each be playing in their fourth World Baseball Classic.

“It’s amazing,” says Reeves. “I walk on the bus and one of the first guys to shake my hand and say hi was Justin Morneau. Pete Orr, I was hitting with him a little bit when we came down and it feels like these guys take you under their wing, talking to me like they’ve known me for years now. It’s cool to see how these big time guys talk to you like you’re also a dude.”


“They’re just a bunch of delinquents out here, us Canadians, having fun, joking and laughing. It started (Sunday) night on the bus ride on the way to dinner. It’s a good group to be around.” – Ryan Dempster on rejoining the national team

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