PHOENIX -- Bud Selig is in no mood to talk about the Marlins.
That became very apparent last night when the commissioner of Major League Baseball held an imprompto press conference in the back of the press box as Team USA was losing its World Baseball Classic opener to Mexico.
Selig spent about 15 minutes answering questions about the growth of the WBC and his vision for the tournament when I tried to get him to comment on the present situation involving the Marlins. It was clear from the outset, when his face tightened, that it wasn't a subject he wished to be addressing.
Me: "Sorry to be the one to shift gears here, Bud, but given...
Selig (interrupting): "Depends what you shift gears to."
Me: "Well, it's baseball. Given what's transpired in the Miami market in the past year, the new ballpark and, again, the stripping of the roster, what is your level of concern -- what is the league's level of concern -- with Miami as a major league market?"
Selig: "Look, I've commented as much as I'm going to comment on it. I said at the time that, in looking at the trade, they have to do what they think is right. I talked to a lot of people, a lot of general managers, a lot of baseball people, and they gave me their evaluations and we'll just....I learned from Branch Rickey many years ago, you've got to wait three to five years to see how trades turn out. Let's see how it turns out."
Me: "But that's one trade. I'm looking at the big picture there with...
Selig (cutting me off): "We'll see. Time will tell."
And that was that. Selig was hustled away by his handler.
Selig either didn't understand my broader question about the Marlins situation, or understood and tiptoed around it, referring instead to November when he approved the 12-player deal with Toronto. I suspect it was the latter.
Given that the next round of the WBC is in Miami and Selig is likely to attend, he'll surely be pressed again on the Marlins -- only by a larger group.
Entering camp as the leading candidate for the center field job, Justin Ruggiano has been sitting out with a strained lower back. He's in the line up for the first time on Saturday against the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium, batting sixth.
He's been progressively upping his activity level in anticipation of returning to play.
Even with an impressive consistency in 2012 with the Marlins, nothing is guaranteed. The 30-year-old is going to see competition in all directions, including from Chris Coghlan, who started center against the Mets in Port St. Lucie on Thursday, and Gorkys Hernandez, who is out of options.
Saturday marks a split-squad affair, with a bus of Marlins headed to Viera to take on the Washington Nationals.
Here is the look of the contingency staying at Roger Dean for the 1:05 p.m start:
7 Juan Pierre
4 Donovan Solano
2 Rob Brantly
DH Austin Kearns
3 Casey Kotchman
8 Justin Ruggiano
5 Kevin Kouzmanoff
6 Adeiny Hechavarria
9 Bryan Peterson
Starting: RHP Jacob Turner
PHOENIX -- A few feet here and a few more there and Giancarlo Stanton would have connected on a pair of home runs that might have changed the outcome for Team USA on Friday. Instead, both balls were caught on the warning track and Mexico handed the U.S. a 5-2 wake-up call in the World Baseball Classic.
Stanton went 0 for 3 with a walk in his WBC debut.
But two of his outs just missed going for homers. Batting seventh (hmmm) on manager Joe Torre's lineup card, Stanton's first near-miss occurred in the sixth inning when, with two on and two outs, he drove the ball to the warning track in center at Chase Field, where it was caught for the third out. His second close call came in the eighth when, with two outs and a man aboard, he drove one to deep right that was also hauled in on the track.
The setback put Team USA in an immediate bind. In fact, the U.S. could be eliminated from the tournament as early as Saturday if Mexico (1-1) knocks off Canada (0-1) and surprising Italy (2-0) defeats them in the nightcap. If that happens, Sunday's U.S./Canada tilt will feel like the old consolation games in the NCAA tournament.
If not for Marlins closer Steve Cishek, the predicament for Team USA would even be worse than it is already. Run differential is used in the tie-breaking formula to determine which teams advance, and with Mexico leading 5-1 in the eighth, Torre brought in Cishek with precious runners at second and third and one out.
"We're all very aware of it," Cishek said of the tie-breaking formula, which could become necessary if three teams in the round-robin event finish with identical records -- a real possibility. Two teams from Pool D in Arizona will advance to the second round in Miami next week.
After intentionally walking pinch-hitter Efren Navarro to load the bases, Cishek retired another left-handed pinch-hitter, Walter Ibarra, on a shallow fly ball to left and ended the threat by getting ex-Marlins teammate Gil Velazquez on an easy bouncer to second. (Former Marlins, by the way, are everywhere in the WBC. Jorge Cantu collected a pair of hits for Mexico in the win.)
"Every run that crosses that plate matters in this tournament," Cishek said. "So, obviously, putting up a zero right there was key. That was my job and my objective."
Cishek said he was "excited and fired up to be out there." The crowd, which seemed to be split about equally between Mexican and U.S. fans, totaled 44,256.
"The atmosphere was electric in here, so I was pretty fired up," said Cishek, who threw only eight pitches, four of which were necessary to issue the intentional free pass. "It was a pretty cool atmosphere. It was definitely different. It was non-stop energy throughout the game. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for us."