Mexico builds team around Gonzalez, Gallardo

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Looking over Team Mexico’s World Baseball Classic roster, the average fan — at least here in the U.S. — might only recognize a handful of names.
Team Mexico manager Rick Renteria knows his team lacks the star power of Team USA or Team Venezuela but is confident it has the experience to go far in the tournament.

“I think it’s one of those things where people look for a club to look fantastic on paper,” Renteria said Tuesday before an exhibition with the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Ariz. — a game his team won 1-0. “I just look for a team to play good between the lines. I could care less how we look on paper.

“The guys that we have are balanced.”

Team Mexico does have Dodgers first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, the nation’s undisputed superstar in the tournament. Beyond that there are Dodgers infielder Luis Cruz, Brewers starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo, Dodgers reliever Javy Guerra and Giants reliever Sergio Romo.

That’s not a bad core to start with, and Renteria likes what he has in that group.

“(Cruz) had a nice season last year, and we’re looking to have him continue that for us in the tournament,” Renteria said. “And we have Adrian at first, which is a huge mainstay for this team. He’s a very solid big league player, to say the least. I think the rest of the team balances out.”

That balance comes from guys like Milwaukee starting pitcher Marco Estrada, veteran infielder Jorge Cantu and journeyman outfielder Karim Garcia, who’s now 37 years old. Despite being in a Pool D with the favored US, along with Canada and Italy, that might be enough to advance.

“I think we have the confidence to do our job,” Team Mexico pitching coach and former big leaguer Fernando Valenzuela said. “We don’t have to worry about other people. We just need to focus on what we can do to win.”

Valenzuela expressed confidence in the pitching staff as a whole, despite what looks like little depth after Gallardo.

“Our pitching staff looks great,” Valenzuela said. “They have a lot of experience in the big leagues. I think it’s going to be exciting to see how they work.”

Team Mexico is not without many of the nation’s star players. Starting pitcher Jaime Garcia and reliever Joakim Soria are not on the team, but both are rehabbing injuries. Otherwise, Mexico’s top big league players are present.

Team USA has been criticized numerous times for how many stars decline to play, a point Renteria would not speak to, but he said he believes the US team is as dedicated to winning as Mexico’s.

“The strength of the lineup the US has across the board shows you there’s more intent than just being participants,” Renteria said. “As for Mexico, I think the idea is not just to participate, it’s always been to go as far as possible. That hasn’t changed.”