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Premier pitchers pass up chance to play for Canada

Premier pitchers pass up chance to play for Canada
Pitching was always going to be Canada's soft spot at the World Baseball Classic and things are looking worse now that Ryan Dempster has bowed out and Rich Harden is questionable.

The 45-man provisional rosters for all 16 teams at the tournament were unveiled yesterday by Major League Baseball, with Dempster's stunning omission the only major surprise from the national team's entry.

Harden's name did make Canada's list but health concerns are putting his participation into serious doubt. The Chicago Sun-Times reported over the weekend that the Cubs right-hander from Victoria has a slight tear in his shoulder, and with $7US million committed to him in 2009, the NL Central champions aren't likely to be pleased if he pulls on the Maple Leaf jersey.

His absence from the final 28-man roster that's due Feb. 24 would be understandable under those circumstances, but Dempster's is a little tougher to explain.

The Cubs right-hander signed a $52US-million, four-year contract extension in November and sources suggest he pulled out because of a sense of responsibility to the team after getting the big contract. That's why he also missed the 2006 event, as he had just agreed to a $15.5-million, three-year deal at the time.

His absence combined with injuries that have already taken Erik Bedard, Shawn Hill and Scott Mathieson out of the mix, plus the uncertainty with Harden, leaves Canada's pitching very, very thin.

The Canadians host Pool C in the opening round at Toronto's Rogers Centre and begin play against the United States on March 7.

"We still face some challenges on the pitching side in trying to put together our staff," said Greg Hamilton, Baseball Canada's director of national teams. "(Dempster and Harden) are premier pitchers that are impact arms in this tournament."

Jeff Francis of the Colorado Rockies will be the staff ace while Toronto Blue Jays hopeful Scott Richmond jumps up several sports on the depth chart.

National team stalwarts like Chris Begg, Mike Johnson, Steve Green and Eric Cyr will get serious consideration, as will a host off young prospects. Minnesota Twins reliever Jesse Crain and free agent Eric Gagne will anchor the bullpen.

Catchers Russ Martin and Luke Carlin, first basemen Justin Morneau and Joey Votto, infielders Pete Orr, Chris Barnwell and Stubby Clapp, third baseman Mark Teahen, and outfielders Jason Bay, Matt Stairs and Nick Weglarz are all on board.

Canada will have to hope for some surprise performances on the mound, the kind of effort a young and untested Adam Loewen delivered in the 8-6 win over the United States at the 2006 Classic. The opportunity will be there.

"I'll do whatever the team needs me to do, whether it's relieving, or starting, or closing," Richmond said from Vancouver. "I am excited about getting a role where I can show my ability. It would be great, obviously, to have Ryan on the team, but now that he's not or whatever the case may be, the door is opened up."

Around the horn in the infield and outfield, Canada seems to be in good shape.

Top Mariners prospect Mike Saunders is one notable absence as he continues to recover from shoulder surgery while Brett Lawrie, the highest Canadian position player ever chosen in Baseball's draft, was included.

Canada should be able to score some runs, which may be its saving grace.

"The fortunate part is we have a pretty mature offence," said Hamilton. "(The lack of pitching depth) certainly reduces the margin of error we're going to have on the mound.

"We're going to have to look at it from the perspective of going out and trying to give our offence a chance to win every day."

Other familiar names on the provisional roster include: pitching prospects Phillippe Aumont (Seattle); Dave Davidson (Pittsburgh); Adam Stern (free agent); Pete Laforest (free agent); and Aaron Guiel (Yakult Swallows, Japan).

Teams must carry 13 pitchers on the final 28-man roster and they have usage restrictions during Classic games.

Richmond will be on the same schedule he'd be at Blue Jays camp, where he's looking to win a job, and relishes the opportunity to impress.

"On my end," he said, "when I go into the WBC there and compete and pitch well and help the team out, that can't hurt my chances with the Blue Jays."

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: January 21, 2009

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