Team USA focused despite injuries

Team USA focused despite injuries

MIAMI -- Injuries aren't deterring or distracting Team USA's focus in the World Baseball Classic.

In the past two days, the United States has seen four players go down with ailments -- Dustin Pedroia (left oblique strain), Chipper Jones (right oblique strain), Ryan Braun (right side) and Matt Lindstrom (strained right rotator cuff).

Only Braun has a chance of returning.

Those subtractions will leave Team USA with a shorter bench and bullpen when it faces Puerto Rico in an elimination game on Tuesday night at Dolphin Stadium.

Of the four injuries, Lindstrom's shoulder appears to be the most serious. An MRI exam on Monday revealed a rotator cuff strain, and the Marlins closer will be further evaluated after not throwing the next seven to 10 days.

The risk of injury, however, hasn't hindered the enthusiasm of the remaining players. In fact, several high-profile Team USA stars would eagerly agree to play in the next Classic, scheduled for 2013.

Asked if he would do this again, David Wright of the Mets immediately responded: "One-hundred percent. I'd sign up right now. This has been one of the best baseball experiences I've had in my career. This is an incredible honor. I've had a tremendous amount of fun. I'd recommend it to anybody. If you'd let me sign up right now, I'd do it."

Derek Jeter of the Yankees has worn the Team USA jersey twice now.

"I did it three years ago," Jeter said. "You answered your own question [if I would play in 2013]."

Team USA manager Davey Johnson now has to be creative working his lineup.

Johnson tipped his hand that Jeter will start at shortstop, and Jimmy Rollins will be the designated hitter. The top five hitters are shaping up as Brian Roberts leading off, followed by Jeter, Rollins, Kevin Youkilis and Wright.

Ted Lilly is projected to be the starting pitcher.

Mark DeRosa will be the utility player, expected to see time at third base and the outfield. Catcher Brian McCann of the Braves played left field for an inning on Sunday after Braun was lifted. That's a scenario Johnson is hoping to avoid the rest of the tournament.

Before McCann went to left field, Johnson gave him some advice.

"I did give him clear instructions," Johnson said. "Lob the ball in. Don't run into the fence and stay loose."

McCann and Chris Iannetta are Team USA's two catchers. Johnson did concede that if he had an emergency situation in which both went down, he would consider forfeiting rather than ask a non-catcher to catch.

"I sure wouldn't want to be lynched or hung up in some city if I put [Boston first baseman Kevin] Youkilis behind the dish or something," Johnson said. "I would definitely had to gone out and said we had to forfeit this ballgame. Yeah, I'd forfeit it."

Bottom line, Johnson noted, is that injuries can happen at any time and any place.

"Hopefully, there is no severity," Johnson said. "Everybody had quite a bit of training and stretching. But when you swing the bat hard, and you throw and you play, things can happen. They happen all through the year. It can happen in Spring Training, and it can happen in October."

Wright, for instance, absorbed a knee to his head on Sunday while trying to break up a double play.

"My eyes got watery a little bit," the Mets' All-Star third baseman said. "But I was all right."

Youkilis felt some tightness in his neck area, brought on partly from sleeping in different beds and playing in various climates in Toronto and Miami.

"You just have to take care of yourself," Youkilis said. "I got treatment today. It feels great.

"I think you're going to have injuries regardless. In Spring Training, there are probably more injuries. If you go down over Spring Training and see how many guys sit out more than a couple of days at a time, there are probably 30 guys in camp who sit down with something for two days with something that is tweaked and things like that."

Wright added that one thing players can't do is play cautiously.

"Once you start going out there and worrying about staying healthy, that's when little things start to find you," he said. "I'm going to go out there -- I think everybody in here is going to go out there and play hard -- whether it's Spring Training or whether it's the World Baseball Classic.

"You can pull an oblique here, and you can pull an oblique in Fort Myers, [Fla.], or Port St. Lucie, [Fla]. It doesn't matter where. When you start to go out there and purposely play 75 percent, that's when you're more susceptible to injury. You've got to go out there and play like you are in Spring Training."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.