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Spring training's loss is WBC's gain as viewership jumps

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Many of Major League Baseball's biggest stars, like Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani, aren't playing in spring training. They're in the World Baseball Classic.

Some baseball fans, particularly New York Mets fans, aren't sure that's a good thing.

But one thing appears certain: People are watching.

The fifth WBC tournament drew just over one million fans in the first round, according to numbers released Friday from MLB. That was up from about 500,000 in 2017. Part of the reason is there are more games since the tournament was expanded to 20 teams from 16.

But this year's average attendance of 25,275 is considerably higher than the 20,402 average in 2017.

Several individual games were among the highlights. Mexico beat the United States 11-5 in front of 47,534 fans at Chase Field in Phoenix, which set the WBC attendance record for a first-round game.

The games at the Tokyo Dome in Japan drew an average of 36,198 per game — a record for any site in the first or second round.

Also of note:

    Of course, not everything went well in the first round. New York Mets closer Edwin Díaz suffered a torn patellar tendon and is expected to miss the entire season after hurting his right knee while celebrating Puerto Rico's victory over the Dominican Republic.

    The risk of injury has historically kept many MLB players out of the WBC. Díaz's freak injury adds more fuel to that argument. Los Angeles Dodgers star Freddie Freeman suffered a hamstring injury while playing for Canada, but it doesn't appear to be significant.

    Díaz, who turns 29 next week, retired the side in order in the ninth inning of the 5-2 victory on Wednesday night that sent Puerto Rico to the quarterfinals. As Díaz and his teammates jumped together in the infield, the right-hander collapsed and reached for his right leg.

    GONSOLIN TO MISS OPENING DAY

    Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told reporters Friday that right-hander Tony Gonsolin won't be ready for opening day because of a sprained ankle.

    The 28-year-old had his best season in 2022 — earning his first All-Star nod in the process — and finished with a 16-1 record and 2.14 ERA in 130 1/3 innings while giving up just 79 hits.

    The Dodgers have several options to fill Gonsolin's spot. The most likely candidates are Ryan Pepiot, Michael Grove and Andre Jackson.

    ROYALS SIGN BRENTZ

    The Royals signed left-hander Jake Brentz to a two-year deal Friday that includes $850,000 this season, when the reliever is mostly expected to be recovering from Tommy John surgery, and $1.05 million next season.

    Kansas City had designated Brentz for assignment in November and he chose to become a free agent. His signing fills out their 40-man roster, though he is expected to go on the 60-day injured list before opening day.

    The 28-year-old was 5-2 with a 3.66 ERA in 72 appearances for Kansas City in 2001. But he only appeared in eight games last season before landing on IL and eventually having Tommy John surgery in July.

    METS CLAIM SANTANA

    The New York Mets claimed right-handed pitcher Dennis Santana off waivers from the Minnesota Twins.

    The 26-year-old appeared in 63 games with the Texas Rangers last season, finishing with a 3-8 record and 5.22 ERA.

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