Indians’ World Baseball Classic participants eager for competition

Indians catcher Carlos Santana, who will play for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic,  interacts with young Indians fans at Tribe Fest on Saturday. (Kyle Emery photo)

Indians catcher Carlos Santana, who will play for the Dominican Republic in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, interacts with young fans at Tribe Fest on Saturday. (Kyle Emery photo)

With six members of the Cleveland Indians on World Baseball Classic rosters, there stands to be some friendly trash talk when Spring Training opens next month in Goodyear, Ariz.

Indians relievers Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez will help the United States squad, which has finished no better than fourth, take on some of the sport’s very big boys in the third installment of the WBC: Indians teammates Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic) and Asdrubal Cabrera (Venezuela) are members of teams loaded with Major League stars, while new Indians infielder Mike Aviles – and Tribe farmhand Giovanni Soto — join Yadier Molina (Cardinals), Carlos Beltran (Cardinals) and Alex Rios (White Sox) on the Puerto Rico team.

“There will be some back and forth, and that’s all part of it,” said Pestano, who with Perez formed one of the most feared bullpen duos in the majors last season. “Hopefully we get a chance to go against (Cabrera) and Carlos. Their teams are loaded.

“Maybe it’ll come down to us being the 1980 (U.S.) Winter Olympic hockey team: (Coach Herb Brooks said) ‘We’re not looking for the best ones, we’re looking for the right ones,’” he said with a smile.

The U.S., though, is no slouch, and the team’s pitching depth, especially in the bullpen, made Pestano unsure whether he’d even be included. Pestano, who in 2012 set a single-season club record with 36 holds, and Perez, who had 39 saves, are joined by Craig Kimbrel (Braves), Jeremy Affeldt (Giants) and Mitch Boggs (Cardinals), among others, in the bullpen, while Mark Teixeira (Yankees), Brandon Phillips (Reds), Ryan Braun (Brewers) and Giancarlo Stanton (Marlins) highlight the lineup.

The rotation includes 2012 National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, now of the Blue Jays, the Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong and Atlanta’s Kris Medlen, among others.

“I’m very confident in (U.S. manager Joe Torre) and the team,” Pestano said. “Chris and I both are pumped about it; we obviously have a great dynamic. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out with the opportunities to pitch, because we have a lot of great arms. But … it would be special if me and Chris in any given day were given the ball to shut it down like we do during the regular season.”

What always was certain was the Indians’ representatives’ desire to play.

“I like the event because I’m from the Dominican and it gives me a chance to play for my country,” said Santana, who hit 18 homers and drove in 76 runs in his second full season in the majors in 2012. “Talking with (fellow Dominicans) Robinson Cano (Yankees) and Melky Cabrera (Blue Jays), they were all going and told me that the WBC is a good event.”

Indians infielder Mike Aviles will play for Puerto Rico in the WBC.

Indians infielder Mike Aviles will play for Puerto Rico in the WBC. (Kyle Emery photo)

Aviles, meanwhile, played for Puerto Rico in 2009 and is honored to again be donning the country’s uniform.

“I heard about it during the summer of last year, that it was a possibility, and I was open to it because I was excited to play in the last one, and it’s always an honor to put on a jersey of that caliber,” Aviles said. “I was just waiting to hear anything this offseason. … It’s just a matter of, I got the call, and it was made official, so I was pumped about it and excited, and I’m excited to put that jersey on again.”

Aviles was acquired from the Blue Jays in November along with Yan Gomes, who is the first Brazilian player to play in the major leagues and is considering playing for his home country in the WBC. Gomes is weighing playing against remaining at Spring Training with the Indians, in an effort to familiarize himself with his new organization and increase his chances of making the Indians’ Opening Day roster.

Meanwhile, the trade that brought the duo to Cleveland, along with playing in the WBC, has made for an interesting offseason for Aviles.

“I’m just pumped for the whole tournament and everything. I’ve got a lot of new stuff going on this year, between (playing for) Puerto Rico and (coming over to) the Indians, and I’m excited for this season just because there’s so much new, that I’m just excited for the upcoming season.”

Pestano, in interviews and on Twitter, made no bones about his desire to participate.

“I had heard from the end of the year that I had a chance to be on the team, but the list of possible players had to become a lot shorter,” Pestano said. “I didn’t know how I was going to fit in and the process was going down.”

The tournament starts with pool play – the U.S. is grouped in Pool D with Canada, Mexico and Italy — in Japan, Taiwan, Puerto Rico and Arizona from March 2-12. The next round, from March 8-16, will be in Tokyo and Miami, with the final portion set for March 17-19 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

Japan has won both World Baseball Classics.

United States World Baseball Classic roster
Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees
Brandon Phillips, 2B, Reds
Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies
David Wright, 3B, Mets
Joe Mauer, C, Twins
Jonathan Lucroy, C, Brewers
J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays
Ryan Braun, OF, Brewers
Adam Jones, OF, Orioles
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
Shane Victorino, OF, Red Sox
Ben Zobrist, INF, Rays
Willie Bloomquist, INF, Diamondbacks
R.A. Dickey, SP, Blue Jays
Ryan Vogelsong, SP, Giants
Derek Holland, SP, Rangers
Kris Medlen, SP, Braves
Craig Kimbrel, RP, Braves
Heath Bell, RP, Diamondbacks
Chris Perez, RP, Indians
Vinnie Pestano, RP, Indians
Luke Gregerson, RP, Padres
Glen Perkins, RP, Twins
Steve Cishek, Marlins
Jeremy Affeldt, RP, Giants
Tim Collins, RP, Royals
Mitchell Boggs, RP, Cardinals

–TribeVibe contributors Joel Hammond and Max Lom

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