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Team Canada short of arms

Team Canada short of arms
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 $52-million US, 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.

In an interview last summer, Dempster explained that decision by saying, "I love where I'm from and I love the opportunity my country has provided me with, but at the same time I had to do the right thing for our team."

He was coming off Tommy John surgery then but is healthy now.

Regardless, 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.

"Those are huge losses if we don't have either one of them."

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 of young prospects. Minnesota Twins reliever Jesse Crain and free agent Eric Gagne will anchor the bullpen.

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.

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.

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.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: January 21, 2009

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