Pivetta in Canadian lineup for World Baseball Classic

Twenty-three-year-old hurler Nick Pivetta of Victoria brings some youthful promise and vigour to Canada’s crazy-quilt mound roster for the 2017 World Baseball Classic next month.

Among his fellow Canadian team pitchers, Ryan Dempster is 39 and retired from the majors in 2013, and former Los Angeles Dodgers star Eric Gagne is 41 and retired in 2008.

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Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin, who was expected to play shortstop, and Philadelphia Phillies right-fielder Michael Saunders of Victoria weren’t named to the Canadian roster. Saunders led Canada to sixth place at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was named the WBC all-tournament first-week MVP in 2013.

Martin is out reportedly due to an insurance issue and the 30-year-old Saunders needs to cement his spot on the Phillies.

So it’s a diverse, some might say scattershot mix for Canada in WBC 2017, but Pivetta is out to show he belongs.

“It’s a great honour,” said Pivetta, a Lambrick Park Secondary graduate and product of the Victoria Eagles of the B.C. Premier League.

“Playing for Canada at the [2010] world junior championships has prepared me for international ball.”

Pivetta stands on the verge of cracking the Phillies’ roster this season. It’s been a dramatic rise for the hometown hurler who started, and won, the first game in Victoria HarbourCats West Coast League franchise history in 2013 before being selected in the fourth round that summer by the Washington Nationals.

“My goal is to make it to the big-league team this year,” said Pivetta, who was traded by the Nationals to the Phillies in 2015.

“I’ve worked hard and my mindset is always about getting better.”

That’s exactly what the six-foot-five, 220-pound power-pitching righty has been doing, from the Victoria Eagles and HarbourCats, through a 35-25 record in the minor pros from the Auburn Doubledays in single-A to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in triple-A.

In between were stops with the Hagerstown Suns, Potomac Nationals, Harrisburg Senators and Reading Fightin’ Phils.

“Almost every guy in triple-A has done big-league time. But I actually found the jump from single-A to double-A to be the biggest leap,” Pivetta said.

Pitchers and catchers report to the Phillies’ camp this week.

Because of their age difference, Pivetta has never met Saunders, but is looking forward to it when the former Mariners and Blue Jays slugging fielder reports.

“It would be exciting to have two players from Victoria on the same MLB team,” said Pivetta.

After making the 2016 MLB all-star game in a heady run, Saunders’ struggled over the second half of last season for the Blue Jays.

As important as representing Canada has been to Saunders over his career, establishing his new club role with the Phillies represents his livelihood and must necessarily be his major consideration.

“My fondest memories are of representing my country. Any chance you get to wear the word Canada across your chest is not to be taken lightly,” Saunders told the Times Colonist, in an interview late last month.

“It's always an honour to represent Canada, but I have not made a final decision as of yet.”

With WBC rosters finalized last week, that decision has been made.

Pittsburgh Pirates third-base prospect Eric Wood from Oshawa, Ont., whose father Peter Wood is a Sidney resident, is also on the Canadian team for the WBC.

Eric Wood was the first Canadian selected in the 2012 MLB draft and hit .249 with 16 home runs and 50 RBIs in 118 games last year in Double-A for the Altoona Curve.

With major-leaguers Saunders, Martin, Joey Votto, Brett Lawrie and James Paxton missing, it has fallen to veterans such as Justin Morneau and minor-league prospects such as Pivetta and Wood to make it happen for Canada in the 2017 WBC.

Canada is in the very difficult Pool C based at Marlins Park in Miami, opening March 9 against the defending- champion Dominican Republic before facing Colombia on March 11 and the powerhouse United States on March 12. Only the top two teams will advance to the next round.

Canada will warm up with exhibition games against the Blue Jays March 7 in Dunedin, Florida, and New York Yankees March 8 in Tampa Bay.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com

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