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WBC Five Cuts: USA-Venezuela

Five cuts from Toronto, where Adam Dunn's monster home run should be landing any day now . . .

1. I would not want to be Luis Sojo. The Venezuela manager was on the hot seat even before the WBC began, with the highly enthusiastic Venezuelan press grilling him to the extent of asking questions about "life and death." And it has turned out to be a rough tournament for Mr. Sojo.

Sojo's biggest mistake was burning his best pitcher, Felix Hernandez, in relief against the worst team in the pool, Italy, in Venezuela's opener -- and after using his third best pitcher, Carlos Silva, to start. That left him with nothing behind starter Armando Galarraga against the U.S. Sunday -- and it showed, with the Americans blasting the Venezuela bullpen for 13 runs in a 15-6 win. Sojo actually scripted his opener to use Hernandez behind Silva against Italy, hinting on the eve of the game that he was limited by the Seattle Mariners, Hernandez's major league team, as to when he could use his ace.

"Felix . . . has to pitch on Saturday," Sojo said Friday. "It's his turn. And because Major League Baseball were faced with the fact they have to contribute [sic]. How is that going to affect us? We're going to use the opening pitchers that had the one-two potential. But that's the reality of things."

Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik, however, told SI.com the club provided no restrictions or demands to Venezuelan officials regarding how and when Hernandez was used.

"We did not put any guidelines on them," Zduriencik said.

So why in the name of Victor Zambrano (one inning, four runs against the USA) would Sojo use his best pitcher against the worst team -- and actually plan it that way? It gets worse. Venezuelan actually was tied at 3 with the USA when the Americans loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth. The batter due up, Chris Ianetta, was righthanded, as well as two of the next three hitters after that. Sojo brought in a lefty, Carlos Vasquez. Ianetta cleared the bases with a double, and the rout was on.

Now Sojo faces an elimination game Monday against Canada and its stacked, lefthanded-heavy lineup. And who does he have left to pitch? Righthander Enrique Gonzalez, followed by righthander Ramon Ramirez. I would not want to be Luis Sojo.

"And we all know that maybe the bullpen is the big question mark with us," Sojo said, "and it looked like a disaster. That's the reality."

By the ninth inning Sunday, the game was so ugly the Venezuelan fans were chanting for Sojo to come in and pitch. I'm guessing it was not to have the opportunity to cheer him.

Hey, for what it's worth, King Felix looked great against Italy.

2. Chipper Jones strained an oblique muscle while batting in the fourth inning. He took one more at-bat before he came out of the game. He likely will not play in the USA's next game on Wednesday, allowing him five days off before the opening game of Round 2 in Miami.

"Being a switch-hitter I've done it before," Jones said. "Hopefully it's just a couple of days and I can get back in there. I won't do anything [Monday] and then we'll see how it feels Tuesday."

And please, folks, don't blame the WBC. Said Jones, "Could have happened in spring training in Kissimmee, Florida."

It happens. Justin Duscherer, Johan Santana, Erwin Santana, Jeremy Bonderman, among others, all have come up with pitching injuries this spring. But the minute somebody on a WBC roster comes up with a little tendinitis, you can bet there will be outrage directed at the WBC. Outrage! As if players don't get hurt any other place or time.

3. Here's a surprise: the US-Venezuela game actually drew fewer people (13,094) than the Italy-Venezuela game (13,272), played at the same place (Rogers Centre) with the same starting times (8 p.m.). It looks like more evidence that tickets for the WBC are overpriced, especially in this recession. If the idea is to grow the game, then event organizers should make sure tickets are affordable to as many people as possible, not just the rich. The WBC shouldn't be all about making money at the gate (milk merchandising and broadcasting all you want for that), but it should make sure as many people as possible see the event. (Moreover, thousands of empty seats detract from the prestige of the event.) Yes, selling tickets is a rough business when only the opening two games of pool play feature a matchup of opponents known in advance. But that's all the more reason to drop the prices to encourage impulse buying.

4. In a sad reflection on what's become of the print industry, economically and strategically, only seven U.S. newspapers (only three outside of New York) bothered to staff the USA's games in Toronto. The US-Venezuela game included five starting players from the Detroit Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen, Curtis Granderson and Armando Galarraga. The two newspapers from nearby Detroit didn't bother covering it.

5. Mexico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic are each one game away from elimination. That might not be great for future ticket sales, but it's great for the growth of WBC and the message that baseball is truly an international game . . . Cool moment in the eighth inning in the USA-Venezuela game: fans in the outfield seats gave the traditional "roll call" salute to Derek Jeter (Der-rek Je-ter!), borrowed across the international border from the old Yankee Stadium tradition. Jeter responded on cue, giving a wave of acknowledgement with his glove hand . . . The pro-Venezuela crowd mocked the country's minister of sports, the government official who threw out a ceremonial first ball. "Fuera! Fuera!" they chanted at her, essentially telling her to get "out." Undaunted, she kept waving at the crowd . . . Impressive hitting* by Cuba Sunday in Mexico (* Done at altitude.) Somehow, I have a feeling the rest of the teams in the tournament will not allow the Cuban hitters to dive into outside pitches with impugnity and swing for the fences, the way South Africa did. I foresee more than a few inside fastballs to straighten them up once in a while . . . The WBC uses the MLB replay system, but you'd never know it Sunday when Ryan Braun hit a ninth-inning home run that clearly was foul -- but no one bothered to review it. Sure, the game was out of hand by then, but procedures should not be used arbitrarily according to score.

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