Spring training | Pittsburgh Pirates players to represent five countries in World Baseball Classic

Pirates players to represent five countries in WBC

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 1, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Perhaps there is a postseason appearance or two in Chris Leroux's future.

Time will tell.

Until then, the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander has his sights set on the World Baseball Classic.

A native of Montreal, the 28-year-old reliever suits up for Team Canada in this year's WBC, which begins late Friday night.

And he won't be alone.

Prized prospect Jameson Taillon, who made his Grapefruit League debut Thursday against the Boston Red Sox, will join Leroux on Team Canada.

Closer Jason Grilli will compete with Team Italy, and left-handed starter Wandy Rodriguez is pitching for the Dominican Republic.

Ali Solis, a catcher and non-roster invitee this spring, is on Puerto Rico's roster. And first baseman Stefan Welch, who spent the first half of last season with the high Single-A Bradenton Marauders, will be with Team Australia.

Major league teams cannot prevent someone from participating in the WBC unless a player ended the previous year on the disabled list, which is why the Cincinnati Reds were able to block Johnny Cueto's attempt to pitch this spring for the Dominican Republic.

But Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he has no qualms about his guys competing.

"We absolutely trust the pitchers we're sending out there, and we trust the staff that's there," Hurdle said, "because there's constant communication between those pitching coaches, our pitching coach. ... When I had players, it was the manager who would give you a shout-out and catch you up. I don't have any hesitancy or any type of anxiety that goes along with that."

Leroux appeared in two games out of the bullpen for Team Canada in 2009. This time, however, he gets a start, which is one of the reasons he decided to play again.

"If I was in the bullpen, I don't think I'd do it," he said. "I'd stay in camp."

The atmosphere of the WBC doesn't hurt either, Leroux said. He estimated there were about 47,000 people on hand when Canada played Team USA at Toronto's Rogers Centre in '09.

And though Canada didn't get past the first round, Leroux has pleasant memories of the experience.

"It was the most fun I've had playing baseball. I've never been to the playoffs or World Series," he said. "That's probably as close as I've been to that kind of atmosphere, so that's what I really liked about it."

Taillon has some history with international baseball: He went 2-0 with 28 strikeouts and 0.00 ERA in two starts for USA Baseball's National Team during the 18U Pan American Junior Championship in 2009, beating Cuba in the Gold Medal Game.

Taillon is from Winter Haven and moved to Texas when he was 4. Both of his parents were born in Canada, which is why he is pitching for the Canadian team later this month.

"I'm excited for the opportunity, obviously, but I think it will really be a cool deal for me and my family," Taillon said after striking out three Red Sox in two innings Thursday. "My whole family is going out there. I've got siblings I don't always get to see, so they're coming in.

"From a baseball standpoint, I'm really excited."

One Pirate who won't be competing in the WBC is catcher Russell Martin. Originally slated to play shortstop for Team Canada, Martin decided to stay home when it became apparent Canada wanted him to catch.

"Pittsburgh, the Pirate organization, wasn't comfortable with me going to play shortstop," Martin said. "I don't think Team Canada was comfortable with me playing shortstop, and I didn't want to put my body in a position where I was going to have to catch however many innings of baseball during the tournament. I didn't want to put my body through that taxing experience.

"I just decided if I stay here, I actually get the opportunity to catch the guys I've been catching throughout the year and gain some comfort."

The World Baseball Classic hasn't picked up much steam with American players. Some of the country's best pitchers, such as Tampa Bay's David Price and Detroit's Justin Verlander, are staying in major-league camp this spring.

Leroux understands why, even if he is excited to get going.

"If you're kind of set in your ways and been around a while, you don't want to do anything differently and rush to get ready," he said. "If you're older, you don't want to jeopardize getting hurt or something like that. I can definitely understand why some guys don't do it, and it has nothing to do with pride. It's not that. They're just doing what's best for their career, what's best for whatever team they're playing for."

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