Three Rays eager for WBC to start

Joe Maddon is confident the World Baseball Classic will benefit his three players involved.

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. – Each will slip on their country's colors, enjoy the sensation that comes with the experience and live it as a memory to be saved forever. Three Tampa Bay Rays players will participate in the World Baseball Classic, to be held March 2-19, and all are proud in the final days before leaving for the once-every-four-years event.

“It's really a dream to be able to put on a Team USA jersey and be able to represent your country, especially a country like ours,” Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist said Thursday. “For me, it's just a career dream.”

“It's an awesome feeling,” said catcher Jose Molina, who will represent Puerto Rico. “A lot of times, it's hard to explain it. At the same time, representing your country means everything in the world.”

“People there love baseball,” said closer Fernando Rodney, who will represent the Dominican Republic. “For me, I feel like it represents all the fans of baseball they have there. They're going to like it.”

Yes, the WBC is almost here. After weeks finalizing rosters, considering the pluses and minuses of attending – after talk of how talent will be used and the consequences of it all – it's nearly time for the first pitch. The tournament begins when Australia faces Chinese Taipei at 12:30 p.m. local time on March 2 in Taichung, Taiwan. Meanwhile, the Dominican Republic opens against Venezuela on March 7 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico starts against Spain on March 8 in San Juan, and also on March 8, the United States begins against Mexico at Chase Field.

The 16-team field is divided into four pools. The top two teams from each advance to a modified double elimination round to be held at Marlins Park and Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan from March 8-March 16. The top two teams from those pools move on to the championship round at AT&T Park from March 17-19.

Rays manager Joe Maddon is confident the experience will benefit – not harm – those involved. He anticipates players will return healthy.

“I believe all will be handled properly,” Maddon said. “They will get enough work, and they're going to come back well. I work from that premise. I'm not worried about injury. … Probably the biggest thing would be getting enough work, especially for Zobrist or Molina, because they don't play everyday. When they do play, they should get into the games.”

Tampa Bay had another player previously named to a WBC roster, reliever Joel Peralta. But the right-hander decided to pass on an invite to join the Dominican Republic team with his health in mind.




Third baseman Evan Longoria had another productive day at the plate, going 2 for 3 in the Rays' 11-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Thursday at Charlotte Sports Park. Longoria, who returned to camp last Saturday after the birth of his daughter, Elle Leona Longoria, is 4 of 5 hitting in two games with one RBI this spring.

“It's good to feel like you're seeing the ball well early in the spring,” Longoria said. “My expectation isn't to go 1,000 for 1,000. But especially this early in the spring to be seeing the ball well – and I'm not really swinging and missing, and I'm recognizing balls pretty early – that's just a huge key.”




Right-hander Roberto Hernandez made another start Thursday, striking out one while giving up one run on two hits in 2.1 innings. He faced 10 batters – a busier afternoon than when he made his debut Saturday and retired the side in the first with 12 pitches in his lone inning of work during a split-squad loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“I feel great,” Hernandez said. “I kept the ball down today. A couple walks, but I can go through that.”




Left-hander Matt Moore threw in a game for the first time this spring Thursday. He entered in the fourth and gave up two runs and three hits in 1.1 innings.

Moore made 31 starts last season and finished 11-11 with a 3.81 ERA in a career-high 177.1 innings.

“I was getting a little happy out there, I think, with some of those pitches that were maybe dancing around in the bullpen a little bit,” Moore said. “For some reason, I put a little more on them when I got out there, and it didn't turn out too good.”