JUPITER, Fla. – World Baseball Classic teams are gearing up for the tournament’s start this weekend, including exhibition matchups against the St. Louis Cardinals and many other MLB spring squads.
A late rally sparked the St. Louis Cardinals to a comeback against Team Nicaragua on Thursday. Within moments of the victory, three time zones west, Nolan Arenado packed a punch early with a grand slam for Team USA’s scrimmage against the Los Angeles Angels.
For the Cardinals, a matchup against Nicaragua was a unique opportunity to welcome international competition, though they didn’t want to treat it differently than any other spring game.
“It’ll be a lot of fun, but we’re focused on our guys,” said manager Oli Marmol. “I think it’s a great experience for everybody, the fans. But at the end of the day, we’re still looking at our guys. We have a lot of decisions to make.”
“It’s an exciting time of year when everyone’s representing their country,” said shortstop Paul DeJong. “We’re happy to represent the Cardinals, while the rest of the guys are gone. It’s another game for us, we’re just looking to win.”
The Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 lead early, scoring twice in a two-out rally behind an Andrew Knizner single and a Nicaragua error.
Dakota Hudson, battling for possible rotation duties, worked four scoreless innings and struck out two. Hudson got himself into a jam in the first-inning, allowing two walks and a hit, though finished his day unscathed with 65 pitches.
“A lot of close calls, but I feel like I’m ticking in the right direction,” said Hudson. “Anytime I can leave the game with zeros is good. I felt like I slowed down a little more today from the last couple of outings.”
Masyn Winn stayed hot with at least one hit for the eighth time in nine spring contests. Willson Contreras played six innings behind the plate and scored twice. St. Louis tacked on another run in the third inning from a Scott Hurst single.
Team Nicaragua kept close and answered with a three-run sixth innings. Jordan Hicks struggled with command that frame, throwing only 12 strikes on 26 pitches. Nicaragua briefly pulled ahead in the seventh inning behind a go-ahead single from Alex Blandino, one of few of their guys with MLB experience.
Tink Hence worked a scoreless inning, setting the tone for the Cardinals to strike back. Kramer Robertson tied the game on an opposite-field single. Jeremy Rivas delivered the game-winning hit with a two-run base knock. Drew VerHagen closed the door for his first spring save.
In the West Coast, Team USA is still battling the Angels in its second exhibition matchup. Nolan Arenado delivered a grand slam in the third inning.
Though Team USA dropped its previous exhibition Wednesday, the Cardinals have provided encouraging starts. Paul Goldschmidt drove in the lone run on a solo home run. Miles Mikolas surrendered two runs over 2.2 innings, but prevented some major rallies.
As Team USA embarks its journey, top Cardinals prospects like Jordan Walker have earned more opportunities to play. He was rested Thursday, but enjoys following the World Baseball Classic action.
“Ever since they announced that was going to happen, it’s been a lot of excitement,” said Walker. “Having some of our guys play for USA, Canada, Korea, Japan, it’s actually really cool. To play one of those teams before the WBC [Nicaruaga], I’m looking for a good little matchup.”
Walker, knocking on the door for a 2023 MLB debut, says he hopes to participate in a future World Baseball Classic tournament if the opportunity calls.
“At somepoint, when I establish myself a little more,” said Walker. “Right now, I’m focused on trying to get to the big leagues first, but maybe later in my career I can.”
Team USA will officially kick off its WBC tournament schedule on Saturday. Fans can watch the game on FOX 2 at 8 p.m. CT.
As for the Cardinals, Grapefruit League games resume Friday with a home nightcap against the New York Mets. St. Louis is 7-4 in Grapefruit League action nearly two weeks into spring games.