U.S. baseball squad set for exhibitions

U.S. baseball squad set for exhibitions

BEIJING -- The U.S. baseball team took batting practice and scrimmaged in shorts and T-shirts on a sweltering evening Saturday. The team has an exhibition scheduled at 9 a.m. local time Sunday against China, and rain is in the forecast at some point during the day.

The Americans will follow that with another exhibition against China on Monday, and then the U.S. will open Olympic competition against Korea at 6 p.m. local time on Wednesday. Beijing is 12 hours ahead of Eastern Time.

Manager Davey Johnson, hoping to add an Olympic title to a personal panoply that includes World Series titles both as a player and a manager, said the U.S. coaching staff "will be going over Korea, Netherlands and Cuba in the next day. You give the guys an idea about the teams we're up against. It's not like they never faced them before. We have [scouts] on Korea and Netherlands. We know Cuba pretty well.

"It was a beautiful Opening Ceremony, and it takes its toll on a lot of athletes," Johnson said. "A lot of people would say it was spectacular. You just relax, and get your work in." He said pitchers are on a throwing regime under pitching coach Marcel Lacheman, who "does a great job on that."

Cuba worked out earlier on Saturday, with little rest after the late Opening Ceremony finish. Not that there is any doubt about Cuba's passion for winning this gold medal, but the scene in that workout apparently said all you had to know. One member of the U.S. delegation said Cuba's coaching staff was "hitting what seemed like 300 grounders" to their infielders. "That was pretty serious," he said.

Cuba, Japan and Korea are generally considered the prime competition standing in the U.S. team's way to a gold medal. Cuba always medals in the Games. Japan beat Korea in the final of the inaugural World Baseball Classic, and while the best professionals are not able to make this competition due to established traditions such as Major League Baseball's regular season, and Japan's Majors, both of those countries have continued to develop talent at a fast rate.

The U.S. beat China, 11-0, in an exhibition on Thursday that lasted a little over six innings. The U.S. played Canada in four exhibition games in Durham, N.C., before the flight to China, and won the last three of those games in a rout.

Mark Newman is enterprise editor of MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.