But What Do I Know? . . . Josh Naylor, Matt Brash, Nick Pivetta, Jordan Romano, Ron Taylor

February 5, 2023

By Kevin Glew

Cooperstowners in Canada

Some Canadian baseball news and notes from the past week:

-At the Baseball Canada National Teams Awards banquet on January 14, Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) spoke about how much it would mean to him to play for Canada at the World Baseball Classic while he was being interviewed on stage. Unfortunately, it appears that won’t happen this year. At the Guardians Fest in late January, Naylor all but confirmed that he wouldn’t be suiting up for Canada, according to Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon Journal. “Probably not. Still trying to make sure I’m fully recovered for this season,” Naylor said when asked about playing in the WBC. “I would absolutely love to play for Canada, but I don’t know if it’s a smart decision. I want to do it, but God forbid if I get hurt or I tweak something during that tournament, that’s not going to be helpful for the Guardians.” Returning from a devastating leg injury in 2022, Naylor set career-bests with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs. In 122 games for the Guardians, he also established career-highs in hits (115), doubles (28) and runs (47). Naylor also registered six hits in seven postseason contests, including a home run in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees at Progressive Field.

-On the flip side, Seattle Mariners right-hander Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.) is planning to play for Canada at the World Baseball Classic. Ryan Divish, of the Seattle Times, confirmed that in a tweet on Wednesday. After beginning the 2022 season in the Mariners’ rotation, Brash was successfully converted into a reliever. During one 16-game stretch from August 17 to September 24, he did not allow a run. In total, after joining the M’s bullpen on July 9, the 24-year-old righty registered a 2.35 ERA in 34 appearances and struck out 43 batters in 30 2/3 innings. In a combined 39 games (including five starts), he posted a 4-4 record with a 4.44 ERA and struck out 62 batters in 50 2/3 innings. He also tossed 3 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason. This will be Brash’s debut with the national team.

-Also likely to pitch for Canada at the World Baseball Classic is right-hander Nick Pivetta (Victoria, B.C.). WEEI, a Boston sports radio station, reported this this week. Pivetta was a workhorse for the Boston Red Sox in 2022, starting 33 games, which was tied for the most in the American League. The 6-foot-5 right-hander also set career bests in wins (10) and innings pitched (179 2/3) and registered 175 strikeouts. During the months of May and June, he went a combined 8-2 with a 2.18 ERA in 12 starts and fanned 75 batters in 78 1/3 innings. A Junior National Team alum, Pivetta pitched for Canada in the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

-As reported by Jamie Campbell, of Sportsnet, yesterday, Toronto Blue Jays closer Jordan Romano (Markham, Ont.) will not pitch for Italy at this year’s World Baseball Classic. Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi followed up Campbell’s tweet with another indicating that Romano was approached to pitch for Canada but he declined. Romano pitched for Italy in the 2017 World Baseball Classic to honour his father, Joseph, who was born there. Romano emerged as one of the best closers in the big leagues in 2022. In 63 games, the hard-throwing Canuck recorded a 2.11 ERA, which is the eighth best ever by a Canadian reliever that has thrown at least 50 innings in a season. Romano also registered 36 saves, which was the third most in the American League and became the first Canadian to register 30 saves in a season for a Canadian major league team. Despite being used exclusively as a late-inning reliever, Romano topped all Canuck pitchers in 2022 with a 2.9 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). He also held opponents to a .190 batting average. For his efforts, he was named the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame’s 2022 Tip O’Neill Award winner, as top Canuck player.

-Abbotsford Cardinals and Junior National Team alum Cade Smith (Abbotsford, B.C.) has been invited to the Cleveland Guardians’ major league camp this spring. He is one of eight internal, non-roster invitees. The Guardians made the announcement on Friday. The 6-foot-5 right-hander went 4-2 with a 2.93 ERA, while striking out 99 batters in 61 innings, in a combined 44 appearances between High-A Lake County and double-A Akron. Smith also topped Guardians’ minor leaguers in saves with 13. Signed as an amateur free agent out of the University of Hawaii by the Guardians in 2020, Smith has recorded a 3.36 ERA in 77 relief outings in parts of two minor league seasons.

-The Boston Red Sox are looking for a left-hander for their bullpen. That left-hander will not be Canadian James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) who’s coming off his second Tommy John surgery, which sidelined him for the 2022 season. Boston Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom was asked about that possibility by Chris Cotillo on the Fenway Rundown podcast on January 31. “At the stage of his career that he’s at and having been through as much medically as he’s been through, adding the variable of asking him to do something he hasn’t really done is something we would have to think long and hard before doing,” Bloom told Cotillo. “That doesn’t rule it out, but you do have to factor that in.” Paxton, who had signed with the Red Sox prior to the 2022 season, exercised his $4-million option with the club in November. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in April 2021, Paxton had been working his way back in the Sox system when he suffered a grade 2 lat tear in late August 2022 that shut him down for the season. A North Delta Blue Jays and Junior National Team alum, the Canuck lefty has pitched in parts of nine major league campaigns and owns a 57-33 record and a 3.59 ERA in 137 starts.

-On this date 44 years ago, the Toronto Blue Jays hired former big league reliever Ron Taylor to be their team doctor. Upon retiring from his 11-season big league pitching career that saw him post a 3.93 ERA in 491 appearances and earn World Series rings with the St. Louis Cardinals (1964) and New York Mets (1969), Taylor returned to Toronto, where he earned a degree in medicine from the University of Toronto. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee proceeded to collect two more World Series rings (1992, 1993) while serving as the Blue Jays’ team physician. He retired from medicine in 2014.

-Blue Jays legendary first baseman and 1993 American League batting champion John Olerud was on the 2023 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees conference call on Wednesday. He was elected to the Canadian ball shrine in 2020 but has been unable to attend the ceremony in St. Marys, Ont. He plans to be there this summer. During the call, Olerud was asked if he believes his former manager Cito Gaston is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown. “I think so,” said Olerud. “Gosh, the job he did with the Blue Jays. The type of hitters that he put out as he was hitting coach. And then just the job he did as manager . . . he treated players about as well as you could treat them. He managed the team. We had so many superstar players and to manage all of those guys, he just did an amazing job.”

-Speaking of Gaston, his former roommate Henry Aaron would’ve turned 89 today. The courageous home run champ passed away on January 22, 2021. Here are a few Canadian facts about Aaron:

-Aaron walloped 13 of his 755 major league home runs against the Montreal Expos. In 30 games at Jarry Park, Aaron hit .265 with five home runs and 15 RBIs.

-Aaron was 19-for-70 (.271 batting average) with two home runs against Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins (Chatham, Ont.). Jenkins also struck out Aaron 15 times. Jenkins was a teammate of Aaron’s on the 1967, 1971 and 1972 National League All-Star teams.

-Aaron was the National League’s Honorary caption at the 1991 MLB All-Star Game that was played at SkyDome in Toronto. The American League won the game 4-2.

Jesse Barfield, one of the 2023 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees, was asked what he thought about his former Blue Jays teammate Fred McGriff being elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in December. “When I saw Harold Baines get in [in 2019], and no disrespect because I love Harold Baines, I’m a big fan. When I saw Fred at the draft a couple of years ago, I was representing Toronto for that one, I said to Fred then, ‘Harold got you in.’ He said, ‘What?’ I said, ‘I’m telling you, you look at his numbers and you look at your numbers, Harold got you in.’ . . . But really Fred got himself in with the amount of consistent numbers he put up.”

-One of the best things about former athletes being inducted into sports halls is seeing the reaction of their families. Watching Scott Rolen hug his mom and dad after he received the news that he had been elected to National Baseball Hall of Fame was beautiful. You can watch it here. I also loved this TV story from CTV News Vancouver Island about Rich Harden being elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. His parents, Russ and Sandy, are featured prominently in the story.

-This week’s trivia question: Rich Harden is the third former big leaguer that was born in British Columbia in 1981 to be elected to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame. Name one of the other two. Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.

-The answer to last week’s trivia question (After Jimmy Key, who has the second-most wins by a left-hander in Toronto Blue Jays’ history?) was David Wells with 84.

12 thoughts on “But What Do I Know? . . . Josh Naylor, Matt Brash, Nick Pivetta, Jordan Romano, Ron Taylor

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  1. Sorry to read about Naylor. Such a key piece. However, health is number 1.
    Great rundown Kevin of tons of information.

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