Spring training’s loss is WBC’s gain as viewership jumps
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Many of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars, like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani, aren’t playing in spring training. They’re in the World Baseball Classic.
Some baseball fans, particularly New York Mets fans, aren’t sure that’s a good thing.
But one thing appears certain: People are watching.
The fifth WBC tournament drew just over 1 million fans in the first round, according to numbers released Friday from MLB. That was up from about 500,000 in 2017. Part of the reason is there are more games since the tournament was expanded to 20 teams from 16.
But this year’s average attendance of 25,275 is considerably higher than the 20,402 average in 2017.
Several individual games were among the highlights. Mexico beat the United States 11-5 in front of 47,534 fans at Chase Field in Phoenix, which set the WBC attendance record for a first-round game.
The games at the Tokyo Dome in Japan drew an average of 36,198 per game — a record for any site in the first or second round.
Also of note:
1. The Japan vs. Korea game last week on TBS drew a 44.4 rating in Japan to make it the most-watched game in one country in the history of the WBC. The game beat all events during the Tokyo Olympics.
2. MLB says that it has already broken the tournament’s merchandise sales record, even though there are games still being played.
Of course, not everything went well in the first round. Mets closer Edwin Díaz suffered a torn patellar tendon and is expected to miss the entire season after hurting his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico’s victory over the Dominican Republic.
The risk of injury has historically kept many MLB players out of the WBC. Díaz’s freak injury adds more fuel to that argument. Los Angeles Dodgers star Freddie Freeman suffered a hamstring injury while playing for Canada, but it doesn’t appear to be significant.
Díaz, who turns 29 next week, retired the side in order in the ninth inning of the 5-2 victory on Wednesday night that sent Puerto Rico to the quarterfinals. As Díaz and his teammates jumped together in the infield, the right-hander collapsed and reached for his right leg.
CLEVINGER RAMPS UP
New Chicago White Sox right-hander Mike Clevinger made his second start of the spring against the Cubs. He threw 65 pitches, giving up three runs over 3 2/3 innings.
Clevinger, 32, signed a $12 million, one-year contract with the White Sox in December to join a starting rotation including Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease.
“I made some mechanical adjustments and moved to the third base side of the rubber. I’m more in tune with the arm angle I had in 2019 and 2020,” said Clevinger, who won 13 games for Cleveland in 2018 and 2019.
Clevinger had Tommy John surgery late in 2020 and missed all of 2021. He spent last season with the San Diego Padres and had a 4.33 ERA over 114 1/3 innings.
Clevinger got a late start in spring training because of domestic abuse allegations. MLB said on March 5 that Clevinger would not face discipline.
In a statement, the commissioner’s office said its investigation included interviews of more than 15 people, including Clevinger and a woman who said she is the mother of Clevinger’s child, as well as thousands of electronic communications and other documents.
When he reported to spring training, Clevinger apologized for being a distraction and told reporters he was confident he would be exonerated.
GONSOLIN TO MISS OPENING DAY
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters Friday that right-hander Tony Gonsolin won’t be ready for opening day because of a sprained ankle.
The 28-year-old had his best season in 2022 — earning his first All-Star nod in the process — and finished with a 16-1 record and 2.14 ERA in 130 1/3 innings while giving up just 79 hits.
The Dodgers have several options to fill Gonsolin’s spot. The most likely candidates are Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove and Andre Jackson.
SEATTLE’S MOORE HURT
The Seattle Mariners will be without utility infielder Dylan Moore to start the regular season due to an oblique strain.
Moore had an MRI that revealed a Grade 1 strain of his left oblique, the team said. Moore is expected to be shut down for at least a few weeks before ramping up his baseball activity again.
Moore was slated to make his spring training debut on Thursday but was a late scratch from the lineup after straining the oblique while taking some swings in the morning. Moore had been slowly brought along during spring training after undergoing core muscle surgery in the offseason.
Moore was expected to have a larger role for Seattle this season serving as a regular backup for Kolten Wong at second base and J.P. Crawford at shortstop, particularly against left-handed pitching.
He hit .224 with six homers and 24 RBIs last season while playing seven different positions.
ROYALS SIGN BRENTZ
The Royals signed left-hander Jake Brentz to a two-year deal Friday that includes $850,000 this season, when the reliever is mostly expected to be recovering from Tommy John surgery, and $1.05 million next season.
Kansas City had designated Brentz for assignment in November and he chose to become a free agent. His signing fills out their 40-man roster, though he is expected to go on the 60-day injured list before opening day.
The 28-year-old was 5-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 72 appearances for Kansas City in 2001. But he only appeared in eight games last season before landing on IL and eventually having Tommy John surgery in July.
METS CLAIM SANTANA
The New York Mets claimed right-handed pitcher Dennis Santana off waivers from the Minnesota Twins.
The 26-year-old appeared in 63 games with the Texas Rangers last season, finishing with a 3-8 record and 5.22 ERA.
AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta and Tim Booth, and freelance writer Gary Schatz, contributed to this report.
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