United States pitcher Lance Lynn throws against Canada during the first inning of a World Baseball Classic game in Phoenix, Monday, March 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

MIAMI — As United States pitching coach, his first coaching assignment since ending his decorated playing career, Andy Pettitte has spent far more time on the phone than he anticipated.

“I’m having to make constant phone calls to pitching coaches, trying to figure out restrictions and stuff like that,” Pettitte said here Friday morning.

Such is the nature of the beast that is the World Baseball Classic, where those in charge — like general manager Tony Reagins, manager Mark DeRosa and their staffs for Team USA — are in constant contact placating the anxiety of major-league teams fretting about how their best players are being used, especially those fragile creatures known as pitchers.

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Many of America’s best arms are sitting this one out, either because they did not want to disrupt their normal preparations for a long MLB season, their teams didn’t want them throwing at such high intensity so early in the spring, or they couldn’t obtain the insurance required to participate. The latter was the case for Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, who reluctantly bowed out on the eve of the tournament.

No Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer or Gerrit Cole. Dylan Cease, Alek Manoah and Max Fried? Uh-uh. Shane McClanahan, Zac Gallen, Kyle Wright and Tyler Anderson? Otherwise occupied.

The no-shows extend not only to established big leaguers but also some of the top prospects in the game — Kyle Harrison (San Francisco Giants), Andrew Painter (Philadelphia Phillies), Grayson Rodriguez (Baltimore Orioles) and Bobby Miller (Dodgers). (Painter sustained a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in camp and has been shut down for at least a few weeks).

The U.S. lineup is packed with the best of the best, starting with former MVPs Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Paul Goldschmidt. The WBC buy-in from pitchers doesn’t come close to the commitment of the position players, but that is not to denigrate the talents of those who did answer the call.

So it was heartening for Pettitte, as he made his rounds of calls, to hear a theme repeated over and over in the days leading up to Saturday’s quarterfinal showdown against Venezuela (7 p.m. ET on FOX).

“When they ask who we’ve got going, all around the league every single pitching coach I talked to, they said there’s not a better guy you want on the mound than Lance Lynn,” Pettitte said. “So that’s the kind of respect he’s got around the league. That tells you an awful lot.”


Lance Lynn to start for Team USA vs Venezuela at World Baseball Classic

The 35-year-old Lynn — Indiana-born, Ole Miss-groomed and big-league-tested — is DeRosa’s choice to start against Venezuela at loanDepot Park. The Chicago White Sox right-hander and two-time All-Star has pitched 12 seasons in the majors and is distinguished by his size (6-foot-5), his beard (coal black and full), his mound disposition (ornery) and a fastball/cutter/sinker mix that features some of the best spinning action in the majors and produces a higher-than-average chase rate as well as a highly favorable strikeout-to-walk rate.

Lynn’s 2022 season was delayed until June by a knee injury, but upon his return, he showed the same form that enabled him to finish third in American League Cy Young Award voting in 2021. And best of all, if you give Lynn the ball, he will fight you if you try to take it back. He is, in many ways, an old-fashioned innings eater, a quality that Team USA desperately needed when he took the mound Monday in a 12-1 victory against Canada.

“Our bullpen was depleted the other day, and he knew that,” Pettitte said. “We had eight relievers, and we used six of them the day before against Mexico. He knew what he was walking into, and he stepped up huge with a 65-max pitch count.

“We said, ‘Big man, we need you to eat up some innings, and he got it done. That’s not easy to do.”

Lynn, who gave up one run against Canada on Jared Young’s second-inning home run, didn’t walk a batter, struck out six and completed five innings on exactly 65 pitches. His one regret, he joked afterward, was that he couldn’t go nine full innings on his allotted number of pitches.

“That’s his mentality,” Pettitte said. “He attacks hitters with quality stuff, and he’s a great presence on this team for us.”

With the Americans putting up a nine-spot in the first inning, Lynn’s night was easily overlooked — but not by DeRosa.

“What Lance did tonight was huge,” the manager said. “Huge for us to kind of reset the bullpen. It kind of went perfect.”

Pettitte said he was unacquainted with Lynn until Team USA came together.

“Being around him, the last 11 or so days, I’ve seen what a great clubhouse guy he is, what a great guy for the young guys to be around,” Pettitte said. “I think he loves moments like this. When you have a guy that’s got the experience he does and when you have moments like this, you can put him in the situation and they usually thrive. He’s got to do that tomorrow for us.”

For this round of the WBC, starting pitchers are allowed an 80-pitch limit.

“With him, there was no concern,” Pettitte said of Lynn. “The White Sox had already ramped him up — he got to 68 pitches in his last start for them even before he came to us. They actually asked me, ‘Can you give him the five innings if his pitch count is good?’ and they want us to extend him in this one.

“That puts us in a great position to have that kind of flexibility with this big ol’ guy. They obviously know Lance’s workload, what he can handle, and they are extremely comfortable with what he’s doing right now.”

Lynn said he is looking forward to the challenge.

“Everything feels good,” he said. “I've been on five days (rest) since the start of spring training to prepare for this. Talking with the White Sox and going over everything this winter, I'm in a good spot. So everybody's comfortable, I feel good, so I'm going to go see what I got tomorrow night.”

Where does this rank among big games he’s pitched in his career?

“I'll let you know after,” he said. “You know what it means, and you're excited for it. But, yeah, I've been on some good stages and I've had that opportunity, and so hopefully it gets you prepared for it.

“But … it's going to be a different atmosphere than a World Series game or things like that, just because of where we're at, to be honest with you.”

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