Mariners 'pleased' Luis Castillo won't pitch for Dominican Republic in WBC
Published in Baseball
SEATTLE — Burned by injuries the last time the World Baseball Classic was played, the Mariners were understandably reluctant to let their staff ace pitch in the event this year.
And, it turns out, Luis Castillo has agreed not to play for his native Dominican Republic when the WBC returns in March, much to the relief of the major league team that made a significant investment in trading for him last summer — and then signing him to a five-year, $108 million contact.
“He’s going to be in camp with us,” Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto said Wednesday, “and that is something we are pleased with, that he’ll be there. It’s a choice that we made together.”
Castillo was included on the Dominican’s preliminary roster announced this winter by Nelson Cruz, the former Mariners slugger who is serving as the Dominican team’s general manager.
Three other Mariners are expected to play for a loaded Dominican team that will be favored to win the event: reigning American League Rookie of the Year Julio Rodriguez, new right fielder Teoscar Hernandez and veteran reliever Diego Castillo.
And four other Mariners are expected to participate — third baseman Eugenio Suarez (Venezuela); pitcher Matt Brash (Canada); reliever Matt Festa (Italy); and top prospect Harry Ford (Great Britain).
Dipoto specifically noted Brash will pitch for his native Canada as a reliever. There had been some previous discussion about whether Brash would be stretched out as a starter, but the young right-hander will return to Mariners camp as a reliever.
WBC rosters are still fluid, and some players could be called up to their national team at different times during the event.
When weighing whether Castillo ought to participate this year, Dipoto and the Mariners, no doubt, still had one scar fresh in their minds.
On March 15, 2017, left-hander Drew Smyly pitched a gem for Team USA while matched up against Mariners ace Felix Hernandez and the Venezuelan team.
Smyly had been one of Dipoto’s key trade acquisitions that winter and was slated to be an important middle-of-the-rotation arm for a veteran team with designs on a postseason push. But two weeks after that start for Team USA, Smyly was diagnosed with a strained pitching elbow. Three months later, he had Tommy John surgery.
He never threw a pitch for the Mariners.
Hernandez, too, wound up missing most of the 2017 with arm trouble. How much the WBC is to blame for those injuries is up for debate. But the Mariners are hardly the only team that’s anxious about their players — and their pitchers, specifically — participating in an event with playoff-like intensity in March.
“It’s early in the season, and these guys are playing at such a high intensity level when they haven’t been doing that for a number of months,” Mariners manager Scott Servais said Wednesday. “So you’re always worried about injury. … We did not have a good experience in 2017 and it ended up hurting our season and our chances of winning that year. So you’re always concerned about it.”
During the Mariners media day luncheon Wednesday, Dipoto talked openly about challenging the Houston Astros for the AL West title. Castillo’s presence at the top of the rotation is one of the main reasons the Mariners believe that is possible.
“For one pitcher to come in and change the vibe, or the way people viewed your team, the way Luis did at the deadline was pretty remarkable,” Dipoto said. “And we’re thrilled we have him. We’re really looking forward to him being with this group for a full season, and I think that’s part of the reason why we’re meaningfully better this year.”
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