Chris Leroux has a one-word message to those who believe the pitcher and Canada’s other starters don’t stack up against the competition at the World Baseball Classic.
"Canadians really don’t know me, they don’t know Scott[Mathieson], they really don’t know Shawn Hill, either. We all have great arms," the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander told CBCSports.ca from Phoenix, where Canada opens the tourney Friday against Italy (2:08 p.m. ET).
"[Critics] should save their skepticism until after this weekend and then they can do all the blogging that they want."
For those unfamiliar with Leroux, the 28-year-old is in his fourth season with the Pittsburgh Pirates, with whom he’s battling for a long relief role at spring training. A reliever for much of his major league career, he is scheduled to pitch Saturday versus Mexico (2:30 p.m.) after making seven starts at AAA Indianapolis last season.
The Montreal-born Leroux struck out 12 batters in 11 innings with the Pirates in 2012 while fanning 56 and walking 14 in 63 innings at AAA after. Leroux’s season began on the disabled list with a strained pectoral muscle that caused a drop in velocity upon his return.
"[The velocity is] not where I’m going to be in early May or the middle of May, but I’m back to where I want to be. I feel really strong," said Leroux, whose fastball dipped into the 89-94-mile-per-hour range last year from 92-97 in 2011.
Hill, 31, is a journeyman pitcher currently in the Detroit Tigers organization. The Georgetown, Ont., hurler sports a 4.69 earned-run average in 45 major league games with Montreal, Washington, San Diego and Toronto.
Vancouver's Mathieson, a former Philadelphia Phillies reliever, helped Japan's Yomiuri Giants win the Nippon Professional Baseball championship last season by striking out 48 batters in 42 innings pitched. The 29-year-old played for Canada at the 2006 WBC.
"It comes down to me, Shawn and Mathieson and how we throw," said Leroux of Canada’s chances to advance to Round 2 in Miami. "The first three innings to any game are important."
Offensively, Canada is expected to have major leaguers Joey Votto, Justin Morneau and Michael Saunders hit 3-4-5 in the batting order, and there’s speed at the top of the lineup in outfielder Tyson Gillies, a Phillies prospect.
Ranked sixth by the International Baseball Federation among 75 member countries, the Canadians failed to advance to the second round at the 2006 and 2009 WBC events.
Four years ago, the Italians stunned Canada, building a 4-0 lead in the fourth inning at the Rogers Centre in Toronto en route to a 6-2 win. The loss knocked Canada out of the tourney after it had lost a 6-5 decision to the United States earlier on.
"Canada has a lot of left-handed hitters and that’s tough on any [opposing] pitcher," Leroux said. "I like our chances [to advance] as long as the starters can hand the ball off to the bullpen [with the lead or tied]
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