- The Washington Times - Monday, March 16, 2009

MIAMI (AP) - Team USA manager Davey Johnson already knows what he would do if injuries got so bad in the World Baseball Classic that he ran out of certain position players: He would forfeit.

The injury-plagued Americans were so short-handed Sunday against the Netherlands that backup catcher Brian McCann played left field in the ninth. Asked during the team’s batting practice Monday who his third catcher would have been, Johnson said he wouldn’t have even tried to put a player in that position for fear of injury _ even if it meant elimination.

He used Kevin Youkilis as an example, saying he could never return to Boston if the Red Sox first baseman was injured playing catcher in the WBC.

“I would definitely had to gone out and said we had to forfeit this ballgame,” Johnson said. “Yeah, I’d forfeit it.”

Added Youkilis: “Yeah, he probably would.”

About the only constant in the World Baseball Classic for the United States is that everyone seems to be getting injured.

Chipper Jones, Dustin Pedroia, Ryan Braun and Matt Lindstrom all have been lost to injury _ and that was just this weekend. Pedroia was replaced by Brian Roberts before Saturday’s game, but tournament rules prevent the team from replacing the others on the roster until the next round.

The slew of sidelined U.S. stars have caused some to wonder if the tournament forces players to unnecessarily risk injury in an exhibition during usual spring training time. Others are questioning offseason conditioning by the Americans, who don’t play winter league baseball anywhere close to the rate as Latin and Asian players.

“I’m definitely going to have a list of things to submit to MLB of things that would make it easier for the manager” to avoid injuries, Johnson said.

Among those, Johnson said he would like to see more exhibition games before the tournament, fewer days off and a rule change allowing a manager to reinsert a player into the lineup if an injury occurs during the game.

As for conditioning, some U.S. players say the timing of the tournament puts them at a disadvantage.

Dozens of Latin American players competing in the World Baseball Classic play in winter leagues in South and Central America, even for just the last few weeks of the season in January. Most players from Asia also are playing or practicing by January.

Winter is typically a laid-back time for American players.

“I don’t start baseball stuff, I don’t start hitting until spring training,” U.S. first baseman and outfielder Adam Dunn said, adding that he starts conditioning at full speed after Christmas.

“I can definitely understand you’re going kind of half speed in the offseason just kind of getting ready for opening day. It’s hard to turn that switch on to full speed. It’s just sort of one of those things I’m not sure there’s a solution.”

The Americans play another elimination game Tuesday night in a rematch against Puerto Rico, with the winner securing a spot in the semifinals in Los Angeles.

The injuries have piled up so much for the Americans that Johnson couldn’t say for sure who is going to start Tuesday night, though he said it likely would be Chicago Cubs pitcher Ted Lilly.

Johnson said he has tried to lean “on the side of caution” with injuries, and that he has gone out of his way to make sure players go back to their clubs healthy. With the major league season retaining its importance, it also underscores MLB’s hope that the exhibition tournament can become like the World Cup in soccer.

Even players admit the focus is on their club.

“Knowing that I’m not going to be able to be a part of (the tournament) is disappointing,” Atlanta Braves slugger Chipper Jones said after he suffered a strain in his right side. “But I’ve got to look at the bigger picture.”

Still, Americans say there is a sense of national pride that comes with wearing the red, white and blue. And most acknowledge these injuries could happen anywhere. What Johnson said has been a bigger issue is players pushing themselves too hard, too soon when they would normally sit out.

Johnson said Lindstrom admitted later the strained right rotator cuff that will sideline him at least a week was something that occurred before the game. And Youkilis, for instance, said he has been bothered by a sore neck.

But Youkilis said it’s not serious and attributes the soreness to hotel pillows and traveling.

“More guys sit out in spring training because something is tweaked, and they miss a day,” he said. “In the WBC, you don’t have a chance to sit out for two days. If you sit out for two days, you’re done for the whole round. The games happen so quick there’s no time to be injured.”

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