Worrisome is how I can best describe the selection of Adam Jones to Team USA for the World Baseball Classic. It is an honor that Manager Joe Torre asked him in December to join the team, but the priority, as far as the Baltimore Orioles are concerned, is what effect it will have on his performance for them.
The World Baseball Classic’s games are played March 2-19 at venues in Japan, Taiwan and Puerto Rico, as well as Marlins Park in Miami, Chase Field in Phoenix, and AT&T Park in San Francisco. The activity goes on while Grapefruit League games are also being played, so one might say the action will be just like playing exhibition games.
But starters only play a few innings at a time in Spring Training. In the WBC, the competition and intensity is ratcheted up. If Jones’ workload is increased, and, say, he makes a throw from the outfield that his arm isn’t conditioned for at that point, or he legs out a double or takes the extra base and finds an extra gear that his legs aren’t up to, nagging injuries or soreness could result that would affect him during the season.
It is worse for pitchers. In 2009, the last year of the tournament (2006 was the first year), Orioles fans will remember Jeremy Guthrie was selected for the WBC, and it messed up his season. He was not the same upon his return to Camden Yards. The workload of being thrown into game action extends a pitcher’s arm beyond what it is prepared for at that stage of Spring Training. That’s why closer Jim Johnson declined a spot on Team USA when he was invited. Setup man Pedro Strop will pitch for his native Dominican Republic in the Classic, posing the same concern.
Who knows, Jones may have been honored but still accepted the selection with some trepidation of his own. The good news is that the Orioles certainly have more depth in the outfield now than they ever had in an already “You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me” pitching staff the year Guthrie played in the Classic. They finished last at 64-92, and Brad Bergesen (7-5) was the only starter with a winning record. Guthrie went 10-17.
The other good news is that Torre, who played 18 years in the major leagues and is known for understanding players, is in charge. The assumption is that, while he would like to win and has expectations of his players, he is mindful of the idea of extended workload and knows how to manage it. And who knows, he or one of the coaches may tell Jones to shorten his swing or give him some, small piece of advice that could help the evolution of his game, and Adam could come back to the Orioles ready to explode.