Commentary

DeRosa on first for Team USA

Injuries force move before semifinal matchup against Japan

Updated: March 22, 2009, 1:27 PM ET
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- If you hold an American passport, own a glove and live in Southern California (and aren't represented by Scott Boras), you might want to stop by Dodger Stadium for tonight's World Baseball Classic semifinal between the U.S. and Japan, just in case.

After losing four players to injury in earlier rounds, the U.S. plays tonight with less than a full roster. And because of injuries to both Kevin Youkilis and his replacement on the provisional roster, Derrek Lee, U.S. manager Davey Johnson will start Mark DeRosa at first base, a position he has played only a handful of times in the major leagues. He said it is the position at which he is least comfortable.

[+] EnlargeMark DeRosa
AP Photo/Alan DiazMark DeRosa has played 13 major league games at first base, where he'll start against Japan.
Granted, first base has a reputation for being the spot to which you move old, fat guys when they can no longer play third base or the outfield. Asked what fans holding this view might not understand about first base, DeRosa said that they might not be missing anything. Still, it helps to have a good first baseman, given that so many plays are made there. Or not made there, as the case may be. Outfielder Adam Dunn gave it a try in an emergency role Wednesday night against Venezuela and made two costly errors.

"My biggest fear is that a guy like Jonathan Broxton tries to throw a pickoff at 90 miles per hour,'' DeRosa joked after a workout Saturday. "No, I understand where I need to be on bunt plays and cutoffs. I've moved around my whole career, so I've got a good feel for the game. Ultimately, I just come back to catching the ball.''

Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria joined the roster this weekend, but David Wright, who played Wednesday's game with a torn toenail after fouling a pitch off his foot, said he will be ready to play tonight. Left fielder Ryan Braun also said is he ready to go.

Japan, meanwhile, is hurting as well. Its best slugger, Shuichi Murata, tore his right hamstring Thursday night in what was essentially a meaningless game between his team and Korea and returned home.

On the other hand, Japan does have an asset in starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is undefeated in the WBC. He was 3-0 in 2006 when he captured the attention of major league scouts (most notably, those of the Boston Red Sox) and is 2-0 this tournament, including six scoreless innings against Cuba last Sunday.

"I think we'll be leaning on the AL East guys a lot,'' Wright said at a press conference Friday. "I've never had the opportunity of facing him. Having some AL East guys is going to help, [to] go over scouting reports and some tendencies, so we're going to be leaning on those guys. ''

"Playing Boston 20 games a year, we see him all the time, so I'm familiar with what he throws,'' Derek Jeter said at the press conference. "I think at this point in the season, pitching is usually a little ahead of the hitters. It's like that in the postseason: Good pitching wins.''

Interestingly, Jeter will start at shortstop ahead of Philadelphia's Jimmy Rollins, who is the better fielder. Rollins will DH.

Houston's Roy Oswalt is tonight's starting pitcher for the U.S. He gave up three runs in 3 2/3 innings against Venezuela in his first WBC start and held the Netherlands scoreless for four innings in his other start.

Although fans of the Yokohama BayStars can't be pleased that their best hitter, Murata, could be out until May thanks to the WBC, they may at least consider it a worthwhile sacrifice if Japan manages to win its second title. In stark contrast to U.S. fans, Japan is wildly enthusiastic for the World Baseball Classic, which has drawn Super Bowl ratings there, topping even ratings for last summer's Olympics.

Americans, meanwhile, have shown little enough interest that DeRosa said the U.S. has felt it has been the visiting team the entire tournament and doesn't expect it to be any different at Dodger Stadium.

Which is a reason Team USA should consider holding tryouts before the game. Not only could it solve the team's roster problems, it probably would increase crowd support, especially if those fan/players have a lot of relatives in the area.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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