Gagne recovers, turns in impressive return

Initially shaky, former NL Cy Young Award winner rights ship vs. Colombia

Gagne recovers, turns in impressive return

At age 41, nearly a decade removed from the Major Leagues, Eric Gagne jogged in from the Marlins Park bullpen with the bases loaded, two outs and Team Canada in a jam vs. Colombia at the World Baseball Classic on Saturday.

Gagne came out firing: his first pitch, a fastball to Jhonatan Solano, hit 93.5 mph, according to Statcast™, and he sat in the 93-mph range for the rest of the inning during Canada's 4-1 loss. Gagne's fastest pitch of the day was tracked at 93.8 mph, clearly above the Major League average of 93.1 mph for four-seam fastballs in 2016. Not bad for someone whose last big league game came in 2008.

Gagne did struggle to find the strike zone at first. He ended up walking Solano to force in a run, then went to a 3-0 count on the next hitter, Tito Polo. But he recovered to get Polo to pop out to right field to end the inning and escape having allowed only one run.

"He did a great job," Canada manager Ernie Whitt said. "He was disappointed that he walked the first guy. You go to the situation where a guy has the most experience -- he's been there before, he's done it. You never like to see him walk a run in, but then he bounced back and gave us some strong innings and kept us in the ballgame. And that's all you ask out of your pitchers, is to keep us in the ballgame."

Gagne remained in the game to pitch scoreless seventh and eighth innings. The longtime Dodgers reliever, who won the 2003 National League Cy Young Award, broke out his signature changeup to strike out Giovanny Urshela to end the seventh inning and Jorge Alfaro to lead off the eighth.

Gagne said in February that he is considering attempting to make a comeback to the Major Leagues. He had throwing sessions with multiple MLB teams and was throwing bullpen sessions while working as a guest pitching instructor at Dodgers camp.

He pitched in a tuneup game for the Classic on Tuesday, tossing a scoreless inning against the Blue Jays in which he faced five batters, allowed a hit and a walk and did not record a strikeout. But Saturday's outing was Gagne's return to meaningful game action, and let him showcase the stuff he still has.

Canada's starting pitcher against Colombia and Phillies No. 12 prospect Nick Pivetta said it's "a great honor" to play alongside Gagne.

"Having him there with us is a big boost," Pivetta said. "I've watched his career. I watched him pitch. I mean, you try to get as much information off those guys in such little time, and you try to have conversations with them. You try to learn from them, watch what they do, how they go about their business, and you want to have a career like them."

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.