Dominican Republic vs. Venezuela.
Two Marlins will be at the forefront of arguably the most highly anticipated pool play matchup of the World Baseball Classic at 7 p.m. Saturday at loanDepot park.
There's a chance Dominican Republic ace Sandy Alcantara will stare into the box and see Venezuelan teammate Luis Arraez ready for the first pitch. Jean Segura and Johnny Cueto (Dominican Republic) and Jesús Luzardo (Venezuela) will be in the dugouts just as invested as the sold-out crowd.
Bragging rights will be on the line.
"It's hard to strike him out," Alcantara said of Arraez, who bested him during live batting practice early in camp. "I just want to throw my best pitch and see what he can do. We're excited. We have prepared ourselves to do our best for our country. I think they want to win. We want to win, too."
"One hundred percent, because I work with [DR general manager] Nelson [Cruz] in the DR every offseason," Arraez said. "He's like my family. Every time when I talk about baseball, I say, 'Hey, we're going there to win the game.' And then he said, 'No, we've got a good team. You've got to face Sandy first.' I said, 'OK.' Every time, Sandy does a really good job there."
Alcantara, Arraez and Luzardo will be competing in their first Classic. Cueto and Segura will be participating for the second time. Because of how stacked the DR's roster is, Segura doesn't expect to play every day; he is open to whatever role is asked of him.
"I'm going to go there and I'm going to enjoy [being on the] baseball field with legends from both sides," said Segura, who has been getting extra work in at third base this spring. "You're probably going to play with a lot of guys who will retire and might be in the Hall of Fame."
Luzardo, who was born in Lima, Peru, and raised by Venezuelan parents in South Florida, is scheduled to start Venezuela's game against Israel on March 15. He is excited to share a clubhouse with players he grew up watching, such as former Marlin Miguel Cabrera.
A 25-year-old southpaw, Luzardo also is eager to absorb knowledge from his veteran teammates, in particular Martín Pérez. The Rangers lefty made his first All-Star team in 2022.
"He had a great year last year, and he's had a great career, so it's a guy that I just want to pick his brain and see how he works and see what he thinks about when he faces hitters and stuff like that," Luzardo said. "We're going to be seeing some great hitters, so it's good to pick those guys' brains."
Manager Skip Schumaker would like to watch some of the action in person. If games overlap with the Grapefruit League schedule, he'll cheer from afar.
"If I got to play for Team USA, I'd be excited about it, and I hope each one of them have a chance to play in the championship game, because that's a playoff atmosphere," Schumaker said. "These games are so much fun to watch on TV. If you ever get to go to one, it's like a playoff game. So I'm excited for them to play in that type of atmosphere."
Which country isn't playing in Pool D at loanDepot park?
C.) United States
D.) Puerto Rico
There are several newcomers to the Marlins this year, so what better way for fans to get to know the players both on and off the field than through a fun Q&A? In this installment, we catch up with Cueto via interpreter Luis Dorante Jr.
Name: Johnny Cueto
Birthdate: Feb. 15, 1986 (37 years old)
Hometown: San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic
Beginnings: Signed by Reds as international free agent in 2004
MLB debut: April 3, 2008
Teams: Reds, Royals, Giants, White Sox, Marlins
Accolades: 2014 NL Cy Young runner-up, two-time All-Star
MLB.com: Do you remember the first time you did the shimmy on the mound?
Cueto: (takes a few moments) I think Cincinnati against Washington. My body is crazy. "[Screw] it. I'm going to do it."
MLB.com: Did you do it again the next pitch?
Cueto: I threw one pitch, then shimmy. I threw a curveball. I think the other pitch was a fastball. And the shimmy was born. I remember, too, the hitter. He was a Nationals shortstop prospect: Ian Desmond.
MLB.com: Are you a good dancer? What's your go-to dance?
Cueto: Bachata. Merengue. A little bit of salsa. Dembow, too. I dance to everything.
MLB.com: What was it like pitching in the World Series?
Cueto: It's a lot of fun. The connection among the players, the fans, the adrenaline that you feel. The ring. Being a champion, I think that's the ultimate goal for anybody who plays this game is just to be there and get that ring and that victory.
MLB.com: Do you have a secret talent?
Cueto: I raise horses. I have 10-12 back home in the Dominican. As a little kid, I always liked horses, and I hired a specific trainer to help me with that.
MLB.com: Who's the greatest Dominican player of all time?
Cueto: Pedro Martinez. He was one of the best pitchers. He was also, like, small in stature. And Dominican, so he has, like, four guts.
• Top prospect Eury Pérez flashed electric stuff in his second outing. Read more >>
• Who will back up Garrett Cooper at first base in 2023? Read more >>
• Edward Cabrera's got the stuff, but can he stay healthy? Read more >>
• Alcantara aims even higher after winning Cy Young. Read more >>
• Repetition is key for Jazz Chisholm Jr. in center field. Read more >>
• Luzardo eyes new heights in 2023. Read more >>
C.) United States
The Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua and Israel are in Pool D. The U.S. is in Pool C in Phoenix.
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