Twins return from ‘very special’ World Baseball Classic experience
FORT MYERS, Fla. — Had Venezuela beaten the United States on Saturday night in Miami, Pablo López would have been in line to pitch in the World Baseball Classic semifinals on Sunday.
Instead, Trea Turner’s grand slam led to Venezuela’s elimination, and the starter found himself pitching the ninth inning of an exhibition game against the Braves, then five more innings on a backfield against a handful of Twins minor leaguers.
“I was excited. I was looking forward to pitch today at the WBC,” López said. “But regardless of it happening, I’m glad that I was able to get my work in today and feel the same way I’ve been feeling. I feel like the ball’s coming out well. My timing, my rhythm has been good with all the pitches. So, it was good to make the drive here and still get my work in and feel good.”
Venezuela made a 4-0 run through the hardest pool, defeating the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in the process before losing a back-and-forth game to the United States in the quarterfinals. For it to end the way it did, López said, stings a little bit.
But the starter, who called the WBC the “biggest honor” of his career thus far, said he took so many positives out of the experience, including the relationships he built while at the tournament. That includes with infielder Luis Arraez, for whom he was traded this offseason.
“Obviously, I can see why a lot of people enjoy his game. He’s such a great player, and an even better guy, a better person,” López said. “Obviously, we had a lot of things to talk about, the Twins and Marlins. That was one relationship I was happy to make and form.”
An influx of players walking around the Twins clubhouse Sunday morning with bleached blonde hair also meant the Puerto Rican players who had competed in the WBC had returned, as well. Catcher Christian Vázquez and pitchers Jorge López, Jovani Mora, Emilio Pagán, Jose De León and Dereck Rodríguez — who is in minor league camp — all played for Puerto Rico, which lost in the quarterfinals to Mexico on Friday.
“A lot of emotions, a lot of energy. I couldn’t even describe how much it meant to play for our country,” Jorge López said. “Just another different environment. You just kind of prepare for what you want. I haven’t played in any postseason and I heard it’s really similar. That’s an expectation to carry with this team now.”
Moran called it “very special” playing in front of a large contingent of Puerto Rican fans in Miami and while he also has never been in the playoffs, he said the experience was good preparation for when the time comes.
As important, everyone returned healthy from a tournament during which star players Edwin Díaz, Jose Altuve and Freddie Freeman suffered injuries.
“I like watching the WBC. I hold my breath a little bit when our players are playing, but I hold my breath when they’re playing out here some days, too,” Twins president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “In my mind, that’s just the reality of it all. It’s just good to have them back, for sure.”
The Twins trimmed their roster by two again on Sunday morning, optioning starter Louie Varland and reliever Trevor Megill to Triple-A St. Paul.
Varland, who hails from Maplewood, appeared in two Grapefruit League games this spring, giving up five runs in four innings pitched. The right-hander made his major league debut near the end of last season, making five starts for the Twins. Now, he will head back to St. Paul, where he spent a month last season, and be an important rotation depth option for the Twins.
Megill, who has had a rough spring, posted a 4.80 ERA in 39 games in relief for the Twins last season.
Byron Buxton was 0 for 2 with two walks in a minor league game on Sunday. … Jhoan Duran was struck on the leg by a batted ball while pitching on a backfield. Manager Rocco Baldelli said he suffered a contusion and was moving around OK. He did not expect Duran to miss much, if any, time. … Max Kepler was removed from the game with left hip tightness, which Baldelli said was relatively minor. The Twins will reassess Kepler and Duran on Tuesday after their off day.
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