Italy, Mexico set to square off with much to prove
Pair of clubs vying to make noise on international scene clash in Pool D opener
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- They're long shots but they're hopeful.
When Mexico takes on Italy in the opening game of World Baseball Classic first-round Pool D play at 3:05 p.m. ET on Thursday afternoon at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, two teams who aren't necessarily considered the heavyweights in the tournament will be trying to prove that they have what it takes to contend for an international title.
Mexico, of course, is the more highly touted of the two teams. The club features Major League talent up and down the roster, including slugger Adrian Gonzalez and starter Yovani Gallardo.
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Mexico was eliminated in Round Two after losing to Korea and Japan in the inaugural Classic in 2006, and in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, Team Mexico advanced to Round Two, where it was defeated by Korea and Cuba to finish in eighth place.
On Tuesday, the club had its final exhibition game prior to the tournament and lost to the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gonzalez's regular big league employer, while Italy lost to the Angels.
Wednesday's game's scheduled starters are John Mariotti for Italy and Rodrigo Lopez for Mexico.
Mexico manager Rick Renteria said he realizes his team is favored to beat Italy because of its big league firepower but that he's quite aware an upset could be in the offing if Mexico looks ahead at Friday night's matchup against the United States team in Chase Field.
"We don't take any team lightly," Renteria said. "When you let down, you get sucker-punched. It's one game at a time, and we'll do our best to come out on top."
Italy will do the same and can take some confidence out of Wednesday's exhibition against the Angels, which was a close game until late, and in the fact that the Italians beat the Americans in the 2007 Baseball World Cup.
"This is one of the first things that I told my guys when I took over in 2007: One single game, you never know what can happen," Italy manager Marco Mazzieri said. "Maybe they kind of underestimate us and they don't go out as ready as they should. If we pitch good and minimize mistakes, we can maximize results."
Italy: Mariotti on the mound
The Italians will start right-hander Mariotti, who was a Minor Leaguer in the Baltimore Orioles' system from 2007-2010. Mariotti, a 28-year-old of Italian descent who was born in South Carolina and played his high school ball in Toronto, pitched for Les Capitales de Quebec of the independent Canadian-American Association the last two seasons. He went 11-1 with a 2.74 ERA in 2011 and 10-1 with a 4.03 ERA last year.
Mexico: Lopez takes the ball
Righty Lopez will start for Mexico in the club's 2013 World Baseball Classic opener. Lopez, who signed a Minor League contract with the Philadelphia Phillies, is 37 years old and is 81-89 with a 4.82 ERA in 11 Major League seasons. He went 0-1 with a 5.68 ERA in four appearances last season with the Cubs.
• Italy has won 10 European championships, including the past two, and those were accomplished without the four Major League players -- Nick Punto, Chris Denorfia, Anthony Rizzo and Liddi -- at the top of its current lineup.
• Mexico's true strength might lie in its bullpen. Giants closer Sergio Romo is joined by Alfredo Aceves (25 saves for the Red Sox in 2012) and Fernando Salas (24 saves for the 2011 World Series champion Cardinals plus lefties Dennys Reyes, Oliver Perez, Horacio Ramirez and Cesar Ramos, all of whom have Major League experience.