By Julian Guilarte
World Baseball Network
When the World Baseball Classic begins, Pablo Lopez will have a tall task on his hands as the ace of the Venezuelan staff.
He’ll go against his former teammate and good friend Sandy Alcantara when Venezuela plays the Dominican Republic at 7 p.m. on March 11. Alcantara is the D.R.’s ace and one of the best pitchers in MLB after winning the National League Cy Young last season.
The 26-year-old Lopez had a record of 10-10 in 180 innings pitched last season, with 174 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.75. Lopez must set the tone against a tough Dominican Republic team in Venezuela’s WBC opener. If Venezuela upsets the Dominican Republic, they could very well advance out of pool D.
The 27-year-old Alcantara had a record of 14-9 in 228.2 innings pitched, and had 207 strikeouts with an ERA of 2.28 and he led MLB in complete games. Alcantara and Lopez spent the last five seasons pitching together with the Miami Marlins. Lopez was traded this offseason to the Minnesota Twins for infielder Luis Arraez, who is also on team Venezuela. It will all come full circle as Lopez and Alcantara will face off at Marlins Park to begin the World Baseball Classic. I was able to interview Lopez during last season with Con Las Bases Llenas and he talked about Alcantara.
“Best pitcher in baseball. His willingness to attack is off the charts. He knows he can get people out and he’s willing to attack with every pitch in any situation in any count and that’s what makes him so good,” Lopez told Con Las Bases Llenas last season.
Lopez and Alcantara had a lot of success with the Marlins, but they will now face each other for the first time in their careers. Backing up Lopez on the pitching staff is Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Ranger Suarez, Colorado Rockies German Marquez and the Texas Rangers Martin Perez. Marlins pitcher Jesus Luzardo and New York Mets pitcher Eliser Hernandez are also on the pitching staff. Hernandez was also a Miami Marlin for five years before the New York Mets signed him this offseason.
Venezuela will also be guided by a strong lineup. Royals catcher Salvador Perez, Yankees infielder Gleyber Torres, Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, Tigers designated hitter Miguel Cabrera and Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña are some players that round it out.
Will Lopez be able to set the tone for team Venezuela vs his old friend?