Canada notes: Rotation juggled

Canada notes: Rotation juggled

SCOTTSDALE -- The mantra up north has been to focus on one game at a time, but with Korea upsetting Japan to take top honors in Pool A of the World Baseball Classic, Canada manager Ernie Whitt has juggled his pitching rotation with his eyes fixed on the Round 2 matchups.

The new rotation puts the ball in Erik Bedard's hand for today's opener with South Africa, flip-flopping him with Adam Loewen, who now gets the call to face Team USA on Wednesday.

"I lost some sleep [Sunday] night just thinking about am I doing the right thing by putting Adam against the USA team or not," Whitt admitted. "But you know what? I saw him pitch last November in the qualifier [against Nicaragua], and the way he threw the ball last November in the qualifier, he could throw against anybody. I think he's going to be fine. I think he'll handle it."

The move is a sign of Whitt's optimism, and although he joked that the reason for the change was that "the light air here in Arizona had my head spinning," he is making a clear statement about his faith not only in Loewen's ability to rise to the challenge, but in his team's ability to advance to the tournament's second round.

"We're hoping to move on, to be honest with you, and we feel that by us making that switch if we do go onto the second round, we'll have Bedard ready to go against Japan and Loewen will go against Korea," Whitt explained.

Loewen eagerly accepted the challenge of facing a lineup likely to be filled by the likes of Johnny Damon, Derek Lee, Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones -- and the beat goes on.

"I'm not scared at all," said Loewen. "I'm going to go out there and compete my butt off. I think a real competitor wants to face the best. If I'm facing the best, there's going to be a lot of adrenaline pumping. I could come out of my shell maybe and put up a good performance on the field."

Despite the sudden shift in mindset from facing the underdog South African team to facing the tournament favorite USA team, Loewen vows to stick with what has worked for him in the past, throwing strikes, getting ahead in counts, and getting a rhythm flowing -- qualities that characterized his strong start against Nicaragua.

"I'm not even going to look at who's in the box," Loewen promised. "I'm just going to look at the mitt. I'm going to have to make some really good pitches to get past those guys, but I can't give them too much credit, because 70 percent of the time hitters fail, and that's if they're .300 hitters."

Tour de relief: With the 65-pitch limit imposed on starting pitchers in the first round, Whitt would be happy to get three innings from his starters, hopefully topping them off closer to 50 pitches. Even a dominant three-inning performance by a starter still leaves two-thirds of the game in the hands of another handful of pitchers, offering one of the tournament's interesting quirks.

"I don't want to throw guys back-to-back days, and we're playing three days straight," Whitt observed. "We'll separate our bullpen guys so guys that are going to throw Tuesday will throw again on Thursday and the guys that don't throw Tuesday will throw Wednesday."

For Tuesday's opener with South Africa, Whitt expects to use Paul Quantrill, Chris Reitsma, Jesse Crain, and Mike Myers, using some of his strongest bullpen men against South Africa and setting them up to be available for what is likely to be a critical game against Mexico on Thursday.

Rheal Cormier, Scott Mathieson, Chris Begg, Vince Perkins, Steve Green, and Eric Cyr are among those who could all expect action Wednesday against Team USA.

Left in: Jason Bay has no trouble identifying Team Canada's strong suit.

"Our strength would have to be our left-handed bats," Bay joked. "If you haven't looked at the roster lately, it's a little ridiculous."

Whitt has penciled in a lineup for Tuesday's game, and rocket scientists will not be needed to do the math in the lefty-righty matchups.

Barring another thin-aired inspiration, Whitt will field the following lineup:

1. Peter Orr, SS (L); 2. Stubby Clapp, 2B (L); 3. Jason Bay, LF (R); 4. Justin Morneau, 1B (L); 5. Matty Stairs, DH (L); 6. Corey Koskie, 3B (L); 7. Peter Laforest, C (L); 8. Aaron Guiel, RF (L); and Adam Stern, CF (L).

A case could be made to consider Orr a right-hander, however, since his .300 average with the Braves last season benefited from his hitting .391 against southpaws.

Canada will also start three left-handed pitchers in the first round, begging the question of what they're putting in their water cooler to produce such a preponderance of lefties.

"We had this debate on the back of the plane last night coming over here, and it kept coming back to hockey sticks," Bay explained. "Everyone has their reasons about putting your top dominant hand wherever and all this stuff. I'm the only righty, so I'm trying to come up with some rationale that's a little bit different, but I can't come up with it."

The Whitt Report: South Africa is the clear underdog in Pool B, but they are also intriguingly unknown. Whitt was simultaneously succinct yet comprehensive when asked to tell what he knows about Tuesday's opponent.

"Nothing. Can you help me?" Whitt said. "We really don't [know anything about them]. We have no idea."

The Gretzky report: To hear Derek Jeter tell it, Team USA could have an edge on Canada, at least from the advance scouting perspective.

"I heard about it from [Wayne] Gretzky last night," Jeter said, revealing his chief source. "He's been giving me the scouting report, telling me how good the Canadian team is."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.