Few holes on Dominican team
By JON GREENBERG / MLBPLAYERS.com
It's hard to look at the roster for Miguel Tejada's homeland and not be impressed. (Jamie Squire/Getty)
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When the Dominican Republic's baseball federation asked its best players to represent their country in the World Baseball Classic, to a man, they said, "Si."
A deep, powerful and relatively healthy lineup makes the Dominican team one of the favorites to win the inaugural WBC title this March in San Diego.
"We are lucky," Dominican manager Manny Acta said. "Everyone has seen lately that we're one of the few countries not to have players deny participation in the Classic. In that concern, it will be tough for us because we have a big amount of big stars. It will be very tough for us to trim the roster to 30 players."
Acta, who is also the Mets' third base coach, said the team's general manager, former Major Leaguer Stan Javier, wants to wait until "two or three days" before the March 2 deadline to lock in the team's active roster.
The biggest factor in determining that roster perhaps will be the health of the country's best pitcher Pedro Martinez. The Mets' ace is still waiting for special shoes from Nike to alleviate pain in his aggravated right big toe.
"If it were up to him, he would pitch," Acta said. "But it all depends on his injury, how he feels. My gut feeling is he'll pitch. But if he's not completely healthy, knowing Pedro, he's not going to participate and hurt himself if he isn't up to 100 percent."
There had also been some concern among the Dominicans about the health of reigning American League Cy Young winner Bartolo Colon's right shoulder, however, Colon was on the Dominican team's conference call Wednesday and declared himself healthy and raring to go.
"Mentally, I feel good," Colon said through a translator. "My arm feels good and I hope to continue feeling good. I don't want to feel what I felt last year. That's the first time that ever happened to me."
Colon said he had been running -- something he said he doesn't like to do -- and eschewing weights for resistance training with rubber bands. He has also started throwing off a mound.
"I feel 100 percent," he said. "But if I'm not 100 percent, I know Anaheim would not want me pitching and I don't want to jeopardize the season. But I feel good and I want to play in the Classic and carry the Dominican flag."
Acta said he would likely "piggyback" two starters together in Martinez's and Colon's projected starts, especially in the early rounds. Beyond the country's two top starters, Acta has a formidable group of pitchers available from 33-year-old Salomon Torres to 22-year-old lefty Francisco Liriano, the Twins' top pitching prospect.
While the bullpen's alignment is important, it's not what newspapers from Santo Domingo to San Cristobal are clamoring about. That would be the bats.
The Dominican lineup reads like a who's who of Major League superstars: Albert Pujols, Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, David Ortiz, Alfonso Soriano, Rafael Furcal, Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre ....
Their hitters are the primary reason the Dominicans are widely considered as one of the favorites in the tournament.
But Tejada, for one, hopes to see a cohesive team take shape, rather than an All-Star group of sluggers.
"Everyone in the world knows the Dominican Republic has good players," said the 29-year-old Tejada, who is still a regular in the Dominican Winter League every year despite his MLB success.
"Everyone in the world is thinking about our team; we have a great team. When we take the field, we want to be thinking about winning, not how good you are and how good you do on the field. I think that's the way we've got to think."
Jon Greenberg, a freelance writer for MLBPLAYERS.com, is based in Chicago.