Pirates players embrace international play in World Baseball Classic

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BRADENTON, Fla. -- Amid the parade of non-roster invitees fighting to make major league clubs -- and players whose jersey number resembles an offensive lineman's -- dotting fields across Florida and Arizona, baseball games that count for something have begun.

Australia and Chinese Taipei kicked off the 2013 World Baseball Classic Friday. Three more games will be played today, and soon, six members of the Pirates organization will leave camp to play for their countries.

"You're getting some good-caliber baseball," said Jason Grilli, who will pitch for Team Italy. "Spring training games and statistics don't go on the back of your baseball card. If it can help you get locked into that mode, or get a bad one out of the way early, there's a lot of advantages depending on how you go about it."

Jameson Taillon and Chris Leroux will pitch for Canada. Catcher Ali Solis, a non-roster invitee, will play for Mexico, and Wandy Rodriguez will play for the Dominican Republic. Minor-league infielder Stefan Welch is on Team Australia.

Taillon, the Pirates' top pick in the 2010 draft, said he hopes to glean information from the rest of Canada's roster, which includes Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto and Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie.

"Getting around those type of guys always helps," Taillon said. "If you can play with them, see what guys in other organizations do, maybe if I can pick up a couple things that other guys do, I can take it forward with me into the season."

Though Taillon was born in Florida, his parents were born in Canada. Leroux was born in Montreal and played high school ball in Canada, so he knows most of the team.

"Our starting pitching, obviously me and [Taillon] have all the ability in the world, but nobody really knows that," Leroux said. "I think we're going to show some people that we can pitch, and our bullpen's really strong, our lineup's really strong. I think it's up to me and [Taillon] to go in there and do well."

Leroux, who is battling for a spot as a long reliever in the Pirates bullpen, was intrigued by the opportunity to start for Canada. Because the tournament takes place during major league spring training, teams keep in contact with the national clubs to ensure the players they send are prepared and used properly.

Leroux and the rest of the Pirates' participants talked with manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington to determine if they should play.

"They had some concerns, I had some concerns," said Leroux, who played in the 2009 WBC while with the Florida Marlins. "Everything they brought up made good sense. I think we definitely had to make compromises along the way."

Unlike Leroux, Grilli and Rodriguez have secured spots on the roster, and Taillon likely will begin the season at Class AA Altoona. Taillon's family will join him in Phoenix, where Canada begins pool play Friday against Grilli and the Italians. Taillon said he is excited to spend time with siblings he doesn't see often, including his brother, Jordan, who will turn 30 during the tournament.

Grilli, 36, played in the first two world tournaments and said he hopes to play in the next one, as well. The excitement generated by some of the matchups, he said, adds a unique dynamic to the games.

"I remember playing in the inaugural one in Orlando," Grilli said. "They put us in a bracket with Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. When those two teams squared off, it was like, holy cow. It was like there was nothing in the world that mattered more than that game. To sit there and see how much pride and love goes into it, that's what I think they want the whole tournament to be like."

McDonald struggles

James McDonald surrendered three home runs in three innings of work in his second start of spring training.

The Orioles beat the Pirates, 6-5, at Ed Smith Stadium in Sarasota, Fla.

McDonald allowed four earned runs on six hits and had one strikeout. He spent most of the afternoon throwing fastballs, trying to move the ball across the plate and up and down in the zone.

"I just tried to control the ball in that area," McDonald said. "I threw a couple balls that got elevated. But it's still spring. It's still early."

Had it been the regular season, he said, he would have mixed in more pitches.

"We wanted him to establish his fastball, and he did that," Hurdle said.

Gaby Sanchez crushed two home runs to help the Pirates rally -- both of them no-doubters that easily cleared the left-field wall. In eight at-bats this spring, Sanchez has four hits and 11 total bases. He credits an offseason workout campaign that made him feel stronger -- especially his legs -- with his early success.

"When I'm feeling that, I know I'm going to have a chance," Sanchez said.

The Pirates also played a split-squad game against the Boston Red Sox and lost, 5-2, Friday night. Starter Jeff Locke allowed three earned runs on four hits over three innings. He also walked two.

Buried treasure

The Pirates announced they agreed to terms with 26 players on the 40-man roster. Those pre-arbitration players will earn close to the league minimum salary. The other 14 players already were under contract. ... Catcher Russell Martin, who has not played since Monday after experiencing tightness in his right shoulder, participated in on-field batting practice and is scheduled to be the designated hitter in a Grapefruit League game today against the Detroit Tigers.

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Michael Sanserino contributed to this report from Sarasota, Fla. Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published March 2, 2013 5:00 AM


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