Azzurri - baseball not soccer - seek fast start
PHOENIX (AP) - Anthony Rizzo knew playing for Italy for the World Baseball Classic was different as soon as he heard his name announced.
"Everything is more pronounced down here,'' said Rizzo, who was introduced with emphasis on the "Ree'' in "Riz-zo'' before Italy's 4-3 exhibition loss to the Oakland Athetics on Tuesday. "It's pretty cool.''
Rizzo homered off the right-field scoreboard in the fourth inning, one of Italy's four hits against five pitchers.
"We didn't get the bats going today but we've got some guys who can hit,'' said Rizzo, who is joined by fellow major leaguers Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Alex Liddi, Pat Venditte and Drew Butera.
Italy's baseball history dates to the end of World War II, when the game was brought to the region by American servicemen. While the soccer Azzurri are an international power, the country's greatest baseball moment came in the 2009 WBC, when it eliminated Canada with a 6-2 victory in a preliminary round.
Italy's only other WBC victory came in the inaugural 2006 tournament, a 10-0 rout of Australia that was shortened to seven innings.
"I hope we can shock the world,'' said Tyler Latorre, a catcher in the San Francisco organization who caught the final three innings. "We have to do that since we're in a group that includes the USA, Canada and Mexico. No one is giving us a shot, but that's the nature of baseball. We'll go out and have fun. We're a scrappy team.''
Italy begins the first round Thursday against Mexico.
"It was kind of cool hearing the Italian anthem and the national anthem,'' Rizzo said. "But once you get between the lines, it's baseball and I'm playing the A's, and I'm familiar with them. I think once it's Mexico versus Italy or Canada and the USA, it'll be pretty neat.''
John Mariotti, a right-hander who last year pitched for Quebec of the independent Can-Am League, started and allowed two runs on two hits.
Alessandro Maestri pitched a scoreless second but Christopher Cooper, a left-hander for San Marino of the Italian Baseball League, gave up two runs and three hits, including a single that left fielder Mike Constanzo appeared to lose in the sun.
Chris Colabello, an infielder in the Minnesota organization, homered to lead off the seventh for Italy.
Oakland left-hander Brett Anderson cruised through three innings, giving up only an infield single and a walk while striking out three.
"It's just another day,'' Anderson said. "I got my work in, got some good innings, have some positives and some things to work on. Hopefully I can build my stuff, keep throwing scoreless innings and keep up with the other pitchers.''
Coco Crisp and Jed Lowrie singled and scored in the first. In the third, Crisp reached on an infield single to shortstop, stole second and scored on a double by Lowrie. Yoenis Cespedes drove in Lowrie on a single to deep left that Washington farmhand Mike Costanzo shied away from at the least moment.
It was the Cuban outfielder's second hit of spring training in 14 at-bats.
Constanzo added an RBI double in the ninth. He was thrown out at home, ending the game when he tried to score on a wild pitch
NOTES: Italy manager Marco Mazzieri used 10 pitchers in eight innings, none for more than an inning. ... Italy LHP Dan Serafini has a strained quadriceps and will be held out until the WBC begins Thursday. ... Only one of Italy's 10 starters, RF Mario Chiarini, plays professionally in Italy. ... Oakland has the first of three off days Wednesday.