The tension has been gnawing at Jim Leyland. He cannot simply play his best nine every day, or let his starting pitcher remain in the game as long as he is effective. He has to balance playing time to keep major league teams happy, and he has to abide by pitching restrictions imposed by tournament rules and supplemental restrictions imposed by teams.
And, yeah, he is the manager charged with leading the United States to win the World Baseball Classic for the first time. So, after the U.S. won consecutive elimination games to advance to Wednesday’s championship game, Leyland allowed himself a smile as he opened a pregame news conference.
“”We’re trying to make America great again,” he said, chuckling.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Dodger Stadium was close to a sellout for the 6 p.m. PDT game between the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Marcus Stroman of the Toronto Blue Jays starts for the U.S., with Seth Lugo of the New York Mets starting for Puerto Rico.
Other than rotating his catchers — Buster Posey out, Jonathan Lucroy in, a move he explained Tuesday — Leyland did not make any substitutions in the U.S. lineup. That meant Nolan Arenado, who struck out in all four at-bats Tuesday and is batting .115 in 26 at-bats in the tournament, remained at third base and in the cleanup spot.
“I don’t think this is the time to change anything,” Leyland said. “Like a lot of guys, he’s probably put a little extra pressure on himself, but I’m not changing anything. I’ve said all along, if we’re good enough, we’re good enough. If we’re not, we’re not.”
Leyland said infielders Alex Bregman and Josh Harrison, who have the fewest at-bats among the U.S. players — four for Bregman, five for Harrison — would carry the American flag in pregame ceremonies.
“We tried to put a little twist in there that would show our appreciation for what they’ve done,” Leyland said.
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