MILWAUKEE — The fourth installment of the World Baseball Classic is off and running and the Milwaukee Brewers are well-represented among the 16-team field, with eight players from the organization representing their home nations.
Most prominent in that group are infielder Jonathan Villar, right-handed starter Wily Peralta — both playing for the Dominican Republic — utilityman Hernan Perez (Venezuela) and right-handed reliever Carlos Torres (Mexico).
At the minor league level, right-handers Hiram Burgos and Jorge Lopez will pitch for the Puerto Rican team, while first baseman Cody Decker is with Team Israel. Right-hander Wei-Chung Wang plays for Chinese Taipei (Taiwan).
First-base coach Carlos Subero is on the staff for Venezuela.
Burgos used the international stage to his advantage in 2013. A sixth-round draft pick of the Brewers in 2009, he was named the organizational player of the year in 2012 after posting a combined 2.32 ERA.
Burgos appeared in three games during the Classic and put on a show, allowing one run on 12 hits in 13 innings. He began the season in the minor leagues but got called up in April and held the Cubs to a run over five innings in his big league debut.
Burgos pitched well in his next two outings but was rocked in his fourth start. He landed on the disabled list two weeks later and hasn’t returned to the majors.
Released after the 2014 season, Burgos signed a minor league deal and worked his way back up the organizational ladder.
Now healthy, he’s hoping for history to repeat itself.
“In 2013, the Classic was a big step for me, and something that opened the door to the big leagues,” Burgos said. “I feel like this year it will happen again.”
For Peralta, the Classic is a chance to build on a strong finish to an otherwise frustrating 2016 season. He went from Opening Day starter to Class AAA Nashville in a span of two months but managed to get back on track and end the year on a high note.
“I’m going to face some good competition early and I think it’s going to help me a lot,” Peralta said. “It’s an all-star lineup you’re going to face so you have to make sure you’re ready to go.”
Because of their participation in the Classic, Burgos, Peralta and the rest of the pitchers ramped up their offseason routines earlier than normal.
And with opportunity, of course, comes risk. There’s no way to know if Burgos’ injury was a result of his appearances in the 2013 WBC, but Brewers manager Craig Counsell is confident the protections put in place will have his players ready to go when the regular season begins April 3.
“There’s only so much you can do with the WBC in terms of how you prepare them,” Counsell said. “They’re on a different schedule than the non-WBC guys. There’s risks, but there can also be positives.”
Nobuhiro Matsuda hit a three-run homer as two-time champion Japan scored five runs in the fifth inning on its way to an 11-6 win over Cuba in a WBC game in Tokyo.
Israel 15, Taiwan 7
In Seoul, Ryan Lavarnway hit a two-run homer in the third inning to help 200-to-1 long shot Israel beat Taiwan 15-7 in Korea and improve to 2-0.
Netherlands 5, South Korea 0
In the other game in Seoul, Jurickson Profar and Randolph Obuder hit two-run homers to give pitcher Rick van den Hurk and the Netherlands a 5-0 win over South Korea.