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    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.”

            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.

              Bryce Harper's arrival at spring training camp remains a couple of weeks away as the Philadelphia Phillies slugger recovers from offseason elbow surgery. Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said Thursday that Harper is taking dry swings with a bat at home in Las Vegas and will report somewhere around March 8 or 9. Harper had surgery on his right elbow in November after leading the Phillies to an NL pennant.

              Houston Astros right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. says he will miss opening day for the World Series champions because of a strained muscle in his pitching arm. McCullers, sidelined for the first 4 1/2 months of last season while rehabbing from a right flexor pronator strain, noticed soreness after a bullpen session last week. McCullers missed the 2020 season following Tommy John surgery and went 13-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 2021, then was injured in the postseason. McCullers made eight starts from Aug. 13 on last year and was 0-1 in three postseason outings.

              One of MLB’s most visible rule changes for 2023 is a sizable curtailing of infield shifts. The practice had grown exponentially over the past several years and has been partially blamed for a steady league-wide decline in batting average.


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              Houston Astros All-Star Yordan Alvarez says he has a sore left hand that will keep him out of batting practice for a few days in spring training. Alvarez told reporters that soreness in the hand was an issue at times in the 2022 season and continued to "flare up a bit at times" during the offseason. Despite the soreness, Alvarez hit .306 with 37 homers and 97 RBIs and finished third in the AL MVP voting for the World Series champion Astros. Speaking through a translator, Alvarez said he told team officials about the sore hand when he reported to camp.

              Of all of baseball's tweaks under Commissioner Rob Manfred, the pitch clock might be the one that affects the most players. Whether you're a pitcher, a catcher, a hitter or a baserunner, there's no hiding from this rule change. The goal is to speed up play by limiting the parts of the game fans find particularly tedious. The clocks will count down from 30 seconds between batters. Between pitches, it will be 15 seconds with nobody on and 20 if there's a baserunner. 

              On this episode of the Across the Sky podcast, the Lee Weather sat with meteorologist Paul Gross to talk about how weather affects baseball. About the Across the Sky podcast The weekly weather podcast is hosted on a rotation by the Lee Weather team: Matt Holiner of Lee Enterprises' Midwest g…

              Trea Turner has won a World Series in Washington and played for some great teams with the Dodgers. Now he's ready to settle down with the Philadelphia Phillies. He'll still have plenty of talented teammates. Turner signed an 11-year, $300 million contract that brought him back to the NL East.

              Steven Kwan was a rookie surprise for the Cleveland Guardians in 2022. He batted .298 with 52 RBIs while helping the team win the AL Central title. Heading into his second big league season, Kwan doesn't sound as if he is feeling any additional pressure after his breakout performance. 

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