One last test awaits Gallardo before Classic
Brewers ace to pitch inning on Tuesday, could be in line for Mexico's third game
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Team Mexico's prospects for advancing past the first round in the World Baseball Classic were enhanced measurably with the appearance on Monday of Brewers ace Yovani Gallardo, who is recovering from a strained groin.
Gallardo is scheduled to pitch an inning to test the groin in Tuesday's exhibition game against the D-backs at Salt River Fields. If he passes, something he considers a formality, he would be in line to start what could be a decisive third game in the opening round of the Classic on Saturday against Canada at Chase Field.
Rick Renteria, Mexico's manager, indicated that a Friday showdown with Team USA also could be a possibility for Gallardo, who was 16-9 with a 3.66 ERA in 33 starts for the Brewers in 2012.
"Any time you get a quality, top-notch Major League pitcher who can be part of your club," Renteria said, "absolutely, you look at it as a great positive. We're happy he's here. We're monitoring everything closely and hoping things go well."
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Mexico, equipped with a balanced lineup featuring Adrian Gonzalez and a collection of quality arms, faces Italy in Thursday's Classic opener and then Team USA on Friday. If Mexico splits those two games, the showdown against Canada likely would determine if the team moves on to second-round play in Miami starting March 12.
"I'm ready to go," Gallardo said as Team Mexico, following a meeting with Major League Players Association representatives at Camelback Ranch, ran through its lone workout before a pair of exhibition tuneups. The squad will face the Dodgers on Wednesday.
If Gallardo faces Canada, he'll miss Team USA and Brewers teammate Ryan Braun. That assignment could go to his Milwaukee teammate, Marco Estrada. A right-hander born in Sonora, Mexico, Estrada was 5-7 with a 3.64 ERA in 29 games, 23 as a starter, in 2012.
Royals right-hander Luis Mendoza, from Veracruz, Mexico, is the likely starter against Italy. Mendoza was 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA in 30 games and 25 starts for Kansas City in 2012.
Gallardo, who was born in Michoacan, Mexico, is determined to pitch for his homeland after missing the most recent Classic in 2009 as he recovered from knee surgery. Mexico reached the second round in the first two Classics but did not make it to the championship round.
Gallardo is the ace of a staff that includes a band of proven relievers. Postseason star Sergio Romo of the Giants is the headliner of a bullpen Renteria will run out behind his starters, who are confined to 65 pitches maximum in the first round.
Along with Romo, Renteria will have Alfredo Aceves (25 saves for the Red Sox in 2012), Javy Guerra (29 saves the past two seasons for the Dodgers) and Fernando Salas (24 saves for the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals) to close out games. Depth will be supplied by veterans Rodrigo Lopez, Oscar Villarreal and lefties Dennys Reyes, Oliver Perez, Horacio Ramirez and Cesar Ramos.
The team has three former big league pitchers -- the great Fernando Valenzuela, Teddy Higuera and Sid Monge -- on Renteria's coaching staff.
"I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel good about our pitching staff," said Renteria, the Padres' bench coach. "I think they give us a tremendous chance of moving on. It depends on how well we play behind them. In this kind of tournament, the team that makes the least amount of mistakes has the best chance of coming out on top."
Gallardo experienced discomfort in his right groin pitching against the Mariners on Tuesday, allowing three runs on a pair of homers after two scoreless innings. He said he responded well to treatment and had a "good side session on Sunday," according to Renteria.
While Gonzalez and Jorge Cantu are the familiar big guns in Mexico's attack, the team could get a jolt out of a pair of outfielders sharing the same last night: Karim Garcia and Luis A. Garcia. Both have the ability to go deep.
Karim Garcia, 37, has spent the past two seasons in Monterrey in the Mexican League. He has 66 Major League homers with seven clubs and 286 Minor League homers.
Luis Garcia, 32, has played in Japan the past two years and is hoping to catch a big league club's attention. He homered against Korea in the inaugural 2006 Classic and has 213 Minor League blasts, with a high of 32 for Las Vegas in '04.
"Pride for my country is my motivation," Luis Garcia said. "Any time I'm wearing this uniform, with Mexico on my chest, it's a big competition."
Cantu has 14 RBIs in Classic play, second among all hitters. Cantu, who last played in the Majors with the Padres in 2011, hit 29 homers for the '08 Marlins and 28 for the 2005 Rays. He'll provide right-handed balance along with Luis Garcia, the Dodgers' Luis Cruz and Edgar Gonzalez, Adrian's older brother.
The leadoff man is expected to be center fielder Eduardo Arredondo, a star for Tabasco in the Mexican Summer League. Joining Adrian Gonzalez and Cruz, the corner infielders, will be shortstop Gil Velazquez and second baseman Ramiro Pena of the Braves, with Cantu capable of playing anywhere.
Catching prospects Jose Felix (Rangers) and Sebastian Valle (Phillies) will be supported by veteran Humberto Cota.
Lyle Spencer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.