The situation screamed for a pitching change. Two-out RBI double by Randy Arozarena. Walk to Alex Verdugo. And next up for Team Mexico: Joey Meneses, who had hit a two-run homer and a single in his first two at-bats.
The calendar said March. The stakes, with a divided sellout crowd of 47,534 buzzing at Chase Field, resembled October. Yet, Team USA manager Mark DeRosa allowed right-hander Brady Singer to face Meneses in the fourth inning; in fact, he did not even have anyone warming up. On a night that should have demonstrated all the World Baseball Classic can be, Meneses’ three-run shot, the key blow in Mexico’s 11-5 victory, summarized all that it is still not.
Team USA, comprised entirely of major leaguers, is caught between trying to win the tournament — something it did in 2017 under a much more experienced manager, Jim Leyland — and trying to prepare its players for the regular season. The inherent conflict in those goals raises a frequent and existential question regarding the WBC: If the U.S. cannot give full effort, why bother?
I questioned DeRosa’s decision to allow Singer to face Meneses on the FS1 broadcast. I still suspect one of the three previous Team USA managers — Leyland, Joe Torre, Davey Johnson — would have found a better path. But DeRosa is managing in handcuffs to a greater extent than most of his opponents, who — because their staffs include minor leaguers and/or pitchers unaffiliated with major-league organizations — can operate more freely.
Team USA’s pitching staff is essentially a ‘B’ team; none of the 14 American pitchers who received Cy Young votes last season are on the roster. Meanwhile, the 15 pitchers under DeRosa’s watch are under various restrictions imposed by their parent clubs. Starters need to reach prescribed pitch counts as they build up for the regular season. Most relievers who complete an inning cannot return for another. None is allowed to pitch on back-to-back days.
The upshot? DeRosa, out of uniform since 2013, managing for the first time in his life, had no Plan B for Singer, a relatively inexperienced starter working in relief. Meneses’ home run extended Mexico’s lead from 4-1 to 7-1. Team USA’s vaunted offense, which managed only three hits through the first six innings, could not overcome that deficit. And if there is any question that the Singer-Meneses matchup required a greater sense of urgency, consider the urgency of Team USA’s position in the aftermath.