Team USA’s roster for the World Baseball Classic grew one reliever short this week when Indians closer Chris Perez backed out with a shoulder injury, and the move did not go unnoticed inside the Nationals’ clubhouse.
As the WBC began today in Asia, Nationals relievers Tyler Clippard and Ryan Mattheus both said they would volunteer to take Perez’s spot on the roster. Both right-handers enthusiastically embraced the idea of pitching in the event.
“I would love to,” Clippard said. “That one thing I’ve never gotten to do in my career is pitch for your country. I’ve always wanted to play for your country. I think that’s the coolest thing ever.”
In the winter, Clippard informed his agent he was interested in playing in the event and tried to put word out he would jump at the chance to accept an invitation. Clippard has been one of the best and most durable relievers in baseball for the past three years, an all-star in 2011 who saved 32 games last year.
“I was looking at the roster, and I felt like I fit in good with that group of guys,” Clippard said. “I don’t know, man. Not my decision.”
General Manager Mike Rizzo has supported any player who wants to participate, already giving a hearty blessing to left-handed starters Ross Detwiler and Gio Gonzalez. It’s not known whether any more Nationals will be asked to play, but Clippard and Mattheus would both have interest.
[UPDATE, 2:10: Well, so much for that. Jon Morosi of FoxSports.com reports that Team USA has added David Hernandez to replace Perez.}
Today, Gonzalez will make his second start of the spring, limited to 55 pitches against the Cardinals in his penultimate appearance before he joins Team USA. Gonzalez will only participate if they to the third round, unlike Detwiler, who will start Sunday and leave for Arizona to “piggyback” starter Ryan Vogelsong.
The reason Gonzalez was held back until the second round and asked to make three starts for the Nationals is because the left-hander throws little in the offseason. Detwiler, for example, arrived in Viera weeks before his report date and threw several bullpen sessions there.
“It’s where I think they’re at,” Johnson said. “And Gio’s offseason program throwing was I think he usually throws just once. But because of the World Baseball Classic he threw twice. The springs I’ve seen Det, the last two or three, he’s been outstanding early and late.”
James Wagner contributed to this report.