SEATTLE — After several weeks of having a full squad together in Peoria, Ariz. for spring training, the Mariners have a group of players who will be departing for the 2023 World Baseball Classic (WBC).
The event, originally scheduled to be held in 2021 but postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will feature 20 countries vying for international supremacy.
Here's everything Mariners fans should know going into this year's edition, which gets underway on Tuesday.
What is the World Baseball Classic?
First launched in 2006, the WBC was designed similarly to the FIFA World Cup in soccer and came on the heels of baseball being removed as an Olympic sport in 2005.
Originally the entire field of teams was selected by invitation. The 2023 event was expanded to 20 participants, with all 16 from the 2017 event automatically qualifying. Four other nations earned a spot through a qualifying round, held in late 2022.
Japan won the first two editions of the WBC in 2006 and 2009, and the Dominican Republic brought home the championship in 2013, with former Mariner Robinson Cano winning the MVP. The U.S. team won its first championship in 2017.
Pool play will be hosted in four different locations, with five teams competing against each other in a round-robin, double-elimination format. Pool A will be Taichung, Taiwan, Pool B will be in Tokyo, Pool C will be in Phoenix and Pool D will be in Miami.
The top two teams in each pool will advance and compete in an eight-team, bracket-style tournament for the championship. The semifinals and finals of the WBC will be held in Miami between March 19-21.
Which Mariners will be competing?
Julio Rodriguez headlines a trio of Mariners who will be representing the Dominican Republic in the WBC. Along with J-Rod, outfielder Teoscar Hernandez and relief pitcher Diego Castillo are on the Dominican Republic's roster.
Eugenio Suarez will be joining his Team Venezuela teammates this week to begin training together in West Palm Beach. Pitcher Matt Brash will be playing for Team Canada, which has an exhibition game against the Mariners later this week.
Catcher Harry Ford, one of the organization's top prospects, will be playing for Great Britain. Although Ford was born in Atlanta, he is eligible for Great Britain due to both his parents being born there.
Blake Townsend, a left-handed pitcher who has bounced around multiple levels of the Mariners' minor-league system in recent years, will play for Australia.
Matt Festa, who made 53 relief appearances for the Mariners in 2022, will play for Team Italy.
Minor leaguers Milkar Perez and Jose Caballero also will be competing for Team Nicaragua and Team Panama, respectively.
What are the rules?
The WBC goes mostly by MLB rules, with some additions and a few elements that are not included.
• The automatic runner on second base will be used in extra innings.
• The three-batter minimum for pitchers will be enforced.
• There will NOT be a limit on mound visits.
• The designated hitter will be used for all games.
• Replay review will be utilized and will follow MLB’s replay rules
• The new MLB rules for 2023 -- the pitch timer, bigger bases and restrictions on infield shifts -- will NOT be used.
There also are pitcher limits in order to reduce injury risk ahead of the 2023 MLB season.
A pitcher must:
• Not pitch until a minimum of four days have passed since he last pitched, if he threw 50 or more pitches when he last pitched;
• Not pitch until a minimum of one day has passed since he last pitched, if he threw 30 or more pitches when he last pitched;
• Not pitch until a minimum of one day has passed since any second consecutive day on which the pitcher pitched;
• Throw no more than 65 pitches per game in the first round, 80 pitches per game in the quarterfinal round and 95 pitches per game in the championship round of the tournament, unless the pitcher needs more to complete a batter’s plate appearance.
There also is a run rule in WBC games to limit the length of lopsided games.
In the first round, victory is awarded if a team is ahead by 10 or more runs after any complete inning, beginning with the completion of the seventh inning. Or if a team is ahead by 15 or more runs after any complete inning, beginning with the fifth inning.
Who is expected to win?
Rodriguez and the Dominican Republic have an argument for the strongest roster, even after Vladimir Guerrero Jr. recently pulled out due to injury. In addition to Rodriguez, the DR team has other MLB stars in the lineup like Rafael Devers, Manny Machado, Jeremy Pena and Juan Soto.
Team USA will look to defend its title with a very strong lineup that includes Mike Trout, Kyle Tucker, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt.
Puerto Rico and Cuba are two other strong contenders for the title. Former Mariner Edwin Diaz and Marcus Stroman, who won the WBC MVP with Team USA in 2017, will look to lead Puerto Rico to the championship.
The Cuban team is led by Yordan Alvarez, who gave the Mariners nightmares with his dominant performance in the ALDS en route to leading the Houston Astros to the World Series in 2022.