Sojo giving players some needed rest

Mora, Hernandez, K-Rod will not face semifinal-bound U.S.

Catcher Ramon Hernandez is dealing with some stiffness in his knee. (Getty Images)

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MIAMI -- Qualifying for the semifinals early is making for some easy personnel decisions for Venezuela's manager, Luis Sojo.

Since Wednesday's game against Team USA at Dolphin Stadium is for seeding purposes, Venezuela has the luxury of resting some tired players.

Sojo said after Tuesday's workout that third baseman Melvin Mora (left hamstring), catcher Ramon Hernandez (left knee) and closer Francisco Rodriguez will not play against the winner of Tuesday's Team USA-Puerto Rico game.

Rodriguez is fine, physically, but because he was asked to record two four-out saves in three days, he will be given the night off.

"Melvin has a hamstring issue. He's not going to play tomorrow," Sojo said. "And Hernandez has a knee. And there is no doubt we're not going to use K-Rod tomorrow."

Venezuela locked up a place in the semifinals by beating Puerto Rico, 2-0, in an emotionally charged game on Monday night in Miami.

The win advanced them to the semifinals, which will begin on Saturday in Los Angeles.

"It's a big relief, to be honest," Sojo said. "The biggest thing is, these guys want to be in the lineup. They want to perform. They want to do it for their country, and they're excited about that."

Mora is dealing with some stiffness in his hamstring, but he is not letting it slow him down too much. The Orioles third baseman took batting practice and fielded on Tuesday afternoon.

It was obvious that something wasn't right with Mora as he was running the bases in the first inning. He singled and labored to third base on Miguel Cabrera's double off the wall in center field. Not at full speed, Mora was held up at third on a play he normally would have scored on.

"The first thing I said to the trainer was, 'Get over there. He doesn't look too good.' That was a big concern," Sojo said. "I know how the Orioles feel.

"Now he's looking good. He has four days before the semifinals, and hopefully, he's going to be all right."

Asked if that is a play he usually scores on, Mora replied, "Easily."

Mora is determined to continue in the World Baseball Classic.

"I feel good," he said. "It's been a little tight."

Hernandez, meanwhile, has some stiffness in his knee, which was initially caused by playing on artificial turf in Toronto during Round 1.

During the fourth inning on Monday, Hernandez told Sojo to make sure that backup catcher Henry Blanco was ready to go. Blanco caught the ninth inning on Monday.

Hernandez, formerly with the Orioles and now with the Reds, hit a home run in the seventh inning on Monday that gave his country a two-run cushion.

"It's not pain. He's tired," Sojo said of his catcher. "He doesn't have any problem with the knee."

Then there is the hot-button issue that Sojo is dealing with regarding K-Rod.

How much is too much? Because of the magnitude of the games, Sojo hasn't hesitated using the Mets closer for four outs. That's not a role he would normally have during the regular season.

Last year, when he was with the Angels, Rodriguez set a Major League record, with 62 saves. None of them was a one-plus inning appearance. The last time he had a one-plus-innings save was on July 1, 2007.

Thus far, Sojo hasn't heard from the Mets, and he would respect their wishes if they said to limit K-Rod to solely one inning. But that request hasn't come.

Tony Bernazard, the Mets' vice president of player development, was at the game on Monday, and he spoke to K-Rod. But the issue of trying to get four outs was not brought up to the Venezuelan staff.

In the fourth inning on Monday, Sojo asked pitching coach Roberto Espinoza to see if K-Rod could go more than one inning.

"He's been pitching good. He hasn't been using too many pitches," Sojo said. "The Mets aren't going to be using him like that, because they have [J.J.] Putz over there."

K-Rod threw 20 pitches on Monday and 22 on Saturday.

"I know the way he thinks. He's representing his country, and this is very important for him," Sojo said. "As long as he says, 'Yes,' we're going to be OK with him."

So Sojo will try to avoid four-out situations for K-Rod, but until told otherwise, he would still use him in that role.

"We've got guys who can get one or two outs," Sojo said. "But in that situation, with the game on the line, I just need an out. Not that the other guys can't do it, but he's the best closer in baseball. No doubt in my mind that I want to use him."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.