SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Venezuela knew it wouldn't be an easy path through Pool C, with the amount of talent assembled at Hiram Birthorn Stadium. Drawing the Dominican Republic for the opener on Thursday night certainly made it a greater challenge.
After dropping that opener, the team is well aware it has its back against the proverbial wall, needing to beat Puerto Rico on Saturday evening to have any chance of advancing to the second round in Miami. But anyone looking for signs of panic from this Major Leaguer-laden roster will be extremely disappointed.
"Mood wise, this is a team that's fine," Venezuela manager Luis Sojo said before his team worked out during its off-day on Friday afternoon. "We have no problem at all, and there's no tomorrow. We have to go with that mentality of playing baseball good, to execute. As I've always said, we've got the people there, we've got the group of players that have experience, people who know how to play ball, and what we have to do is do things right to get victory.
"I am convinced that this group of players know what they did [on Thursday]. They know, these are people who know how to make adjustments, and that's why they're playing the best baseball in the world. "
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Sojo will give the ball to Carlos Zambrano to keep Venezuela alive. The right-hander pitched in the inaugural World Baseball Classic, in 2006, appearing in two games and giving up four earned runs over 6 2/3 innings. The experience of that Classic could be useful for Venezuela this time around. After losing its pool opener to the Dominican Republic then as well, the team won its next two games to advance to Round 2, eventually eliminated from the tournament by the Dominicans.
Zambrano pitched in that opener against the Dominican team, giving up four runs in 2 2/3 innings of relief. He, like Team Venezuela, bounced back, and he tossed four shutout innings against Saturday's opponent, Puerto Rico, in Round 2 to help keep the team alive for one more day. A repeat performance would mean that Sunday's game against Spain could be very meaningful.
"Well, I think ever since we got here, we've never thought about tomorrow," catcher Miguel Montero said. "We were always thinking about today, today, winning today and not tomorrow. It was a hard loss [on Thursday]. But [Saturday] is another day, and we're going to come here [Saturday] to win."
Puerto Rico, of course, might have something to say about that. The host team has advanced to the second round in each of the previous World Baseball Classics and continues to play very well in Classic Play at Hiram Bithorn Stadium, having won its fourth Classic game in a row on Friday night against Spain. Nelson Figueroa, no stranger to the World Baseball Classic himself, will start for Puerto Rico. That's a bit of a change from the initial plan, which had slated Orlando Roman as the starter, with Figueroa going on Sunday against the Dominican Republic. Roman will get Sunday's start instead.
"To me, when the plans changed, there's no problem," said Figueroa, who tossed 7 1/3 scoreless innings of relief in the 2009 Classic. "I mean, I'm thinking I was going to pitch in the first game, and I was told that the last game it's going to be Dominican Republic, now they told me maybe it's better against Venezuela.
"I'm a pitcher. If you put me in in the first inning, I'm a starter; if you put me in at the end, I'm a closer. I can get three outs in each inning and each game. If I could pitch in all three games, I'd want to, but when I get a chance, I'm going to pitch. "
Because of Thursday's rain delay, Venezuela starter Anibal Sanchez threw just 20 pitches, so he is technically available, according to World Baseball Classic rules, to pitch on Saturday. Sojo said he wouldn't use the right-hander against Puerto Rico, but didn't rule out the potential of bringing him back on Sunday.
"We have to talk with the people of Major League Baseball," Sojo said. "He only threw 20 pitches, and this is a tournament that we have to monitor all of these Major League players, and in one way or another, have the permission from the people in charge, in this case Major League Baseball, with their respective organizations."