Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez considers himself a “glass half-full” kind of guy.
The fact his team has already lost to the team it will face in Friday night’s elimination game at Marlins Park — the Dominican Republic or the United States — doesn’t bother him. Neither does the fact his team has hit a combined 1 for 22 with runners in scoring position in Round 2 of the World Baseball Classic.
After all, the most important thing is Puerto Rico is still alive and has yet to really play its best.
“The advantage is we already played them, so we see their weaknesses and their strengths,” Rodriguez said of facing the Dominican Republic or the United States. “Both have very powerful lineups. They are both balanced. They both have good pitchers. It really makes no difference which of the two we play.”
As for the hitting struggles, Rodriguez said: “The good thing is that we are getting runners in scoring position — that’s a plus.”
Rodriguez believes that the three major-league All-Stars stars on his roster — Carlos Beltran, Yadier Molina and Alexis Rios — are ready to bust out. So far they’ve combined to produced just one RBI in a combined 50 at-bats.
Beltran, hitting 4 for 18 in the tournament (.222, one RBI), has hit the ball hard despite going just 1 for 7 in Miami. He drew the key walk to start the winning three-run rally against Italy on Wednesday night.
Molina, leading the team with a .400 average (6 for 15), has yet to get an extra-base hit. And Rios, hitting .176 (3 for 17), has hit two balls to the warning track and had two extra-base hits stolen from him with stellar catches.
When it comes to his pitching staff, Rodriguez will start 38-year-old veteran right-hander Nelson Figueroa on Friday.
The Brooklyn-born journeyman, who has pitched for the Mets, Pirates, Phillies, Astros, Diamondbacks and Brewers, is 20-35 with a 4.55 ERA in his big-league career. He spent last season in Triple A with the Yankees and Red Sox and went 12-5 with a 3.89 ERA.
Figueroa has experience pitching in the 2009 WBC and allowed just two runs in 3 2/3 innings against a powerful Venezuela lineup in Round 1. Figueroa said his start on Friday is not the most important of his career, but it is vital.
“It’s not for the championship,” he said in Spanish, “but it is for the right to continue. I want to help this team, which has battled so hard in this tournament. It’s big, but that’s not how I’m going to sleep, thinking of that.”
Rodriguez said he would have left-hander Giovanni Soto ready to come in as a long reliever should Figueroa struggle. If not, the manager indicated he would likely save Soto for a potential start Saturday.
2/3 scoreless innings against Italy Wednesday, but allowed four runs in 3 2/3 innings against the U.S. Tuesday.
Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia, a first round pick out of Miami Westminster Christian in 2007, no longer lives in South Florida but was happy to return home and play in front of about a dozen family members and friends Thursday with Team USA. It’s Arencibia’s third tour of duty with the national team.
“It’s been fun, an honor to play for this team a third time,” said Arencibia, who now lives in Nashville. “But on this stage, it’s even more exciting.”