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    A trio of NL pennant hopefuls are dealing with injuries to some pretty important players. St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright has a groin injury and Atlanta Braves closer Raisel Iglesias an inflamed shoulder. Philadelphia first baseman Rhys Hoskins hurt his left knee Thursday in a spring training game while fielding a grounder and was carted off the field.

      Shohei Ohtani emerged from the bullpen and fanned Los Angeles Angels teammate Mike Trout for the final out in a matchup the whole baseball world wanted to see, leading Japan over the defending champion United States 3-2 for its first World Baseball Classic title since 2009.

        The Philadelphia Phillies aren't putting Bryce Harper on the 60-day injured list at the start of the season. That leaves open the possibility for Harper to return to their lineup much sooner than the All-Star break in mid-July. But that doesn't necessarily mean the slugger will return quicker than expected from reconstructive right elbow surgery. Plus more news from around the league on Tuesday.

          Hundreds gathered outside Miami Marlins' home ballpark in Little Havana on Sunday to protest for the Cuban national baseball team played the United States in the semifinals of the World Baseball Classic. It's the first time the Cuban team has played in Miami, a landing spot for many who fled the country to escape the Soviet-style communist government of late leader Fidel Castro. The Cuban team is comprised of major league stars who defected from the island nation along with current Cubans, who are technically government employees. While some fans wanted to separate sports from politics, others wanted no part.

            Houston Astros star Jose Altuve has a broken right thumb and needs surgery after getting hurt in Venezuela’s 9-7 quarterfinal loss to the United States at the World Baseball Classic. The second baseman fell to the field after he was struck by the 95.9 mph sinker from Colorado reliever Daniel Bard in the fifth inning Saturday night. 

              Many of Major League Baseball’s biggest stars like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani aren’t playing in spring training these days. They're in the World Baseball Classic. And people are watching. The fifth WBC tournament drew just over one million fans in the first round, up from about 500,000 in 2017.

              The start of the season can’t come soon enough for teams looking to keep their pitching staffs as healthy as possible. A tough spring for pitchers continued Thursday with the announcements that New York Mets star closer Edwin Díaz and Washington Nationals prospect Cade Cavalli were expected to miss the entire season.

              Shohei Ohtani pitched shutout ball into the fifth inning and sparked a four-run third with a bunt single, leading Japan over Italy 9-3 and into its fifth straight World Baseball Classic semifinal. Boston’s Masataka Yoshida homered and drove in the go-ahead run with a grounder, giving him a tournament-leading 10 RBIs.

              Michael Conforto’s once-ailing shoulder appears healthy and the veteran slugger is back to mashing baseballs. The Giants have eased the 30-year-old back on the field after he missed all of 2022 following right shoulder surgery. But even in limited at-bats in the Cactus League, he’s hit four homers, which was tied for the spring lead through Wednesday’s games. 

              Injuries continue to pile up for the New York Yankees as they get ready to begin their AL East title defense. Yankees manager Aaron Boone told reporters Friday that outfielder Harrison Bader has an oblique issue. The injury puts Bader’s availability for the start of the season in doubt. Plus more news from around the league on Friday.

              Mike Trout was asked to be a part of this U.S. team for the World Baseball Classic. He didn’t have to be. The 31-year-old slugger knew he wanted to join this group ever since he watched the U.S. win the WBC title in 2017. The follow-up tournament was delayed two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. opens it title defense against Britain on Saturday night. They’re a part of Pool C, which also includes Canada, Mexico and Colombia.

              Major league hitters are working with the sport's brightest minds to close the gap on a technology-driven pitching renaissance. White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson is among a star-studded lineup of batters who worked on their swings with Driveline Baseball during the offseason. At places like Driveline and behind closed doors in unlabeled buildings around the major leagues, the race is on.

              Retired slugger Albert Pujols believes he has a future in coaching but isn't in a hurry to get there. Pujols, who retired in October after 703 career home runs, says he's not going to put a timetable on a potential return to the game.  Plus other MLB and WBC news from Thursday.

              Japanese baseball player Shohei Ohtani is arguably the game's best player anywhere. But in Japan, he's more than just a baseball player. He's an antidote for many in his native country. Japanese culture and politics seem more tenuous than a few decades ago. The economy is stagnant. The birthrate is among the world’s lowest. The rivalry with China is never from from people's minds. In this environment, the return of Ohtani to play for Japan in the World Baseball Classic is playing huge. As one fan puts it, his achievements “have had a positive influence on all Japanese people.”


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              Flashy footwear is a feature of this year's World Baseball Classic. Stadium Custom Cleats has provided about 42 specially designed shoes for three dozen players. The company is owned by Alex Katz, a pitcher for Israel at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics and at this year’s WBC.

              Major League Baseball's new limits on infield shifts are raising batter spirits this spring. They might be bosltering batting averages, too. Batting averages across the league are up slightly from last spring training, from .259 to .263. Left-handed hitters seem to be benefitting most, with their collected average up from .255 to .274.

              Philadelphia Phillies slugger Bryce Harper said he will report to spring training on Wednesday as he continues recovering from elbow surgery and then determine when he can return full time. Plus more news from around the league on Sunday.

              Zach Eflin made a good first impression with the Tampa Bay Rays. The right-hander struck out three of the four Minnesota batters he faced in his first spring training start. Eflin signed a $40 million, three-year contract during the offseason. That is the most money the Rays have ever given to a free agent.

              Juan Soto was very good after he came to the San Diego Padres in a midseason blockbuster deal. His excellent start in spring training this season is a reminder of how much of a game-changer he can be. The outfielder had six hits in his first eight spring at-bats, including three doubles, a homer, a stolen base and six RBIs.

              Manny Machado continues to be a very rich man. He also is still a very good hitter. Machado ripped an RBI double on the same day he agreed to a new $350 million, 11-year contract that will keep him with the San Diego Padres through 2033, according to a person with knowledge of the deal.

              Baseball's new rules designed to improve pace of play are coming fast at everyone, particularly the players. The most dramatic moment of the new pitch clock era arrived on the first full day of spring games. Cal Conley of the Atlanta Braves thought he had won the game with a two-out, bases-loaded walk-off walk. He took a few steps toward first base with bat in hand when umpire John Libka indicated strike three. Conley wasn't set in the box as the clock wound under eight seconds. The penalty is an automatic strike.

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