JUPITER, Fla. -- Spain put up crooked numbers in each of the first three innings Thursday night, cruising past France, 8-0, in the World Baseball Classic qualifying round at Roger Dean Stadium.
The Spanish team came out swinging and crushed French starter Patrice Briones, who threw 74 pitches while allowing five runs (three earned) over two long innings. The top of Spain's lineup led the way, as Rangers prospect Engel Beltre went 3-for-5 with a triple and two runs and Paco Figueroa went 3-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs.
Six of Spain's hitters, including each of its first five, recorded multiple hits on the night, giving starter Nick Schumacher more than enough run support against an overmatched French club.
"Spain's just a very talented group. That's kind of the difference in the game," said French manager Jim Stoeckel, whose team will face South Africa Friday night at 7 p.m. ET in an elimination game. "They threw some pitchers at us that our guys haven't seen a lot of. That's the way baseball is. We knew we had to play really, really well -- I don't think we played our best tonight, and we didn't pitch as well as we could -- but we've just got to bounce back [Friday]."
Spain recorded three straight hits to lead off the game and scored two runs in the first inning, with Yunesky Sanchez driving in Beltre and Rafael Alvarez plating Figueroa.
It got even worse for Briones in the second. He managed to get two outs with only one runner on base, but RBI singles by Figueroa and Barbaro Canizares added to Spain's total. Sanchez came around to score on a high throw to first base by French shortstop Emmanuel Garcia to complete the three-run second inning.
"I think Spain played very good," Stoeckel said. "[Briones] made a couple mistakes, and when you make mistakes against good hitters, they're going to hurt you."
Briones gave way to right-hander Matthieu Brelle-Andrade in the third, but the Spanish lineup didn't let up. Brelle-Andrade hit Gabriel Suarez with a pitch, recorded two quick outs then gave up two runs on Beltre's triple and another run-scoring single by Figueroa.
France held Spain scoreless for four innings after that thanks to left-hander Thomas Meley and right-hander Anthony Piquet, but the outcome had long since been decided. Canizares snapped the streak of scoreless innings in the eighth, lining a solo homer inside the left-field foul pole to put Spain up, 8-0.
"It is good to get out there early and get a good lead, but you've got to play all nine innings," Figueroa said. "It's a good thing the pitching staff did really well."
Indeed, Schumacher worked his way through France's lineup with relative ease. The righty tossed 6 1/3 innings and allowed only four hits and two walks while striking out four on 82 pitches, taking the mound with a lead from the second inning on.
"It made it pretty easy to pitch, I'll tell you that," Schumacher laughed. "I felt pretty good. I had all my stuff working from the get-go. Easy to pitch when you have a good defense behind you."
The rest of Spain's staff picked up where he left off, as Remigio Leal tossed 1 2/3 scoreless innings, and Jose Cruz struck out two in a perfect ninth inning.
Spain's blowout victory sets up what figures to be the best game of the qualifier, a matchup with Israel on Friday at 1 p.m. ET that will pit the two top teams in this bracket against each other for a chance to move on to Sunday's final game.
"It's a pretty good team. They're well built. They have speed, power, average, depth -- it's a good team," said Spanish manager Mauro Mazzotti. "But it's one ballgame. So, one ballgame, anything can happen."