Tuesday, August 19, 2008

With Victory over Chinese -Taipei, Team USA Clinches Medal Round Appearance

By: Dick Cooke
There is still a great deal of conversation regarding last night's game with China. Questions about Schierholtz's play at the plate, which replays show to be a good baseball play, and concern about Laporta. He has suffered a mild concussion from the pitch to the head and will be held out of today's game. China's pitcher was suspended for four games, and the team was fined a significant amount. China's catcher, who collided with Laporta earlier in the game, had ACL surgery today.

With Nix and Laporta both out, we will only have 10 positional players available tonight. No pinch-hitting, no pinch runners, no defensive moves.

2 p.m. - Scout meeting regarding Chinese-Taipei. A veteran club with speed at the top and bottom of the order and power in the 3-6 spots in the lineup. We will see a crafty four-pitch right-hander who will pound the strike zone.

3:15 p.m. - Van leaves for Wukesong.

4:35 p.m. - BP

After our BP and while Chinese-Taipei hits, Davey, Reggie and I talk about the different approach mechanically the Asian teams take to hitting. They both played in Japan near the end of their careers, and have been through the Asian approach of thousands and thousands of repetitions in everything they do.

Davey calls it a "quality control approach" and, while they both think it's too rigid at times, they feel there is some benefit. Davey says because they they have changed their diets and train different physically (more strength training), they are producing bigger/stronger hitters who have a disciplined swing with added power.

This is why more and more Asian players are showing up in the big leagues. They are difficult to pitch to, as they all appear to bail out, but they somehow do a great job fighting off pitches. Even the poor hitters do this. They do a wonderful job of using their hands and not opening their hips too soon.

Davey says they have begun to allow more individuality in their hitters, which he thinks is good. The basis of their approach mechanically, though, is very sound.

7 p.m. - First pitch. It's simple. We win; we're in the medal round. We lose, and we have to beat Japan tomorrow night.

Brandon Knight, who struggled in our opener, strikes out five in the first two innings and Hsu, the Chinese-Taipei starter is equally good with his four pitch mix. 83-85 mph fastballs, 75 mph change-ups, sliders, curve balls...

He strikes out the side in the first, and has our guys baffled into the fifth. Change-up after change-up, and then he beats our guys inside with fastballs that are 84, but look 94. No offense through four.

A leadoff double against Knight in the fifth, and a sac bunt puts a runner at third with one out. Davey plays the infield in, which is unusual for him this early in the game. He clearly feels it will be a low scoring affair. A groundball gets past Matt Brown at first, and we trail 1-0.

Dexter Fowler is in center tonight and hitting ninth. He has struggled at the plate and in the leadoff spot in this tournament, but is in there tonight since Laporta is sidelined. He leads off our half of the fifth with a triple to right center, his second hit of the game.

Brian Barden makes a great adjustment from his two earlier at-bats and drives a change-up to right center to tie it at one. We can't get Barden home, and we're tied going into the sixth.

John Gall leads off our half of the sixth with a home run to left to make it 2-1. Lou Marson walks, Jason Donald bunts him to second, and Fowler comes up big again with a flare double down the left field line to put us up 3-1.

But Chinese-Taipei isn't finished, as shortstop Lin leads off the seventh with a long home run to make it 3-2 .

After a hard hit groundball for an out, Knight gives way to Mike Koplove. Knight was very good tonight using his four pitches well. In his first start against Korea, he threw first pitch fastballs to the first 17 hitters of the game, which allowed them to settle in and prevented him from getting a good feel for his off-speed stuff, which is typically very good. His slider is his out pitch, his curveball is a good "get me over" pitch, and he can run his fastball up to 92 when needed. A good outing tonight for the veteran. 6.2 innings, five hits, one earned run.

Koplove is a cross-fire, submarine/sidearmer with a decent amount of big-league time. He retires the first two hitters he faces, then throws a 1-2-3 eighth.

In the bottom of the eighth, we get a big insurance run on a one-out single by Jason Donald on a very tough slider low and away. He scores Gall, who had led off with a double.

Kevin Jepson comes on to pitch the ninth, as he has established himself as our closer. It has taken some time to figure out exactly who would fill the closer's role, as we have a number of pitchers who do or can do that task. Stevens, Neal, Weathers, Jepson, Koplove...

The back end of the bullpen wasn't great early in the tourney, but Jepson has been good every time out and is his most impressive tonight. He throws 12 pitches, 10 for strikes, no fastball under 94, gets a strikeout and two ground balls, and we wrap it up 4-2. The medal round is now a reality.

Ed Lynch, the former GM of the Cubs and one of the guys who helped put this club together, tells Jepson after the game "The next stop for you, young man, is the big leagues." We hope to have one or two more chances to use him here.

Everyone has one more game but Korea, who beat Cuba today, is undefeated and the No. 1 seed, Cuba is No. 2, and we play Japan to determine No. 3 and 4. If we win, we play Cuba on Friday, if we lose we play Korea.

We will shift the pitching rotation a bit and bump Trevor Cahill forward to pitch against Japan, and we will use Steven Strasburg and Brett Anderson in that order in the medal round.

Susan and the girls were at our game tonight and right in the middle of a full house of Chinese-Taipei fans chanting back and forth across the stadium the entire game. Team handball, synchronized swimming and volleyball for them tomorrow, and they hope for a trip to the Great Wall on the 21st. They are tired...

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