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Puerto Rico beats Rays 2-1 behind Rios, Pudge

Puerto Rico beats Rays 2-1 behind Rios, Pudge
PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. (AP) - The way Puerto Rico is pitching and hitting, manager Jose Oquendo likes his club's chances of making a strong showing in the World Baseball Classic.

Jonathan Sanchez worked three scoreless innings, Alex Rios went 2-for-3 with a double and triple, and Ivan Rodriguez and Ramon Vazquez each drove in a run Wednesday night to pace a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays.

"I think it's coming along good," Oquendo said after the second of three exhibitions Puerto Rico is playing in preparation for its WBC opener against Panama.

"Playing three games in a row with only 14 pitchers this time of year, that's my concern a little bit. But everything's been working out so far. The guys are swinging the bat. Rios is swinging better today than he did yesterday. ... I think we're going to be OK."

Rios tripled off Rays starter Mitch Talbot in the second inning, then scored on a single by Vazquez, who also went 2-for-3. Rodriguez drove in Puerto Rico's other run with a fifth-inning single off Lance Cormier.

With a potent lineup that also includes Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, Geovany Soto and Bernie Williams, Team Puerto Rico is hoping to improve on its 2006 fifth-place WBC finish.

"We have more experience now. Delgado was hurt the last time and only had one at-bat," Oquendo said. "We definitely have a good ballclub that we can do a lot of things with. The key is you've got to pitch, you've got to play defense and also do the little things. I think we have the club to do that."

Sanchez allowed one hit and struck out two before being replaced by Nelson Figueroa, who yielded a run in the fifth when Adam Kennedy's two-out bunt single scored Fernando Perez from third base.

Javier Lopez, Ivan Maldonado, Pedro Feliciano and Saul Rivera held the Rays scoreless over the last four innings.

"Sanchez did a good job. I think he threw seven first-pitch strikes out of 10 batters," Oquendo said. "That's the key in this tournament. You have to throw strikes."

Earlier, Rays manager Joe Maddon picked right-hander James Shields as his opening-day starter.

"I'm going to try to start the season off with a bang," said Shields, a 14-game winner in 2008. "Hopefully we can start off with a win ... and continue what we did last year."

Shields also was the opening-day starter in 2008. But unlike a year ago, when All-Star left-hander Scott Kazmir was injured during spring training and began the season on the disabled list, Maddon said Shields earned the nod this time because of his "body of work."

"It means a lot. ... It's a great compliment for how hard I've been working," Shields said. "I'm going to try to continue every year. I had 12 wins in '07, 14 last year and hopefully I'll get some more."

The AL champions are scheduled to open at Boston on April 6, with Kazmir, Matt Garza and Andy Sonnanstine following Shields in the rotation. The fifth spot is still up for grabs, with Talbot, David Price, Jeff Niemann and Jason Hammel in the running.

"I think, more than anything, we like the idea of Kaz pitching between Shields and Garza. You look at any one of those three guys, we're at the point now where we have three guys who can open up for us at any given time," Maddon said.

"Choosing one, based on the body of work Shieldsie has done, we chose to go with him first. But we're just trying to balance this out to what makes most sense for us."

Notes: Shields is slated to make his first spring appearance Saturday against the Red Sox. Kazmir is scheduled to face the Twins on Monday, and Garza and Sonnanstine are set to pitch Tuesday against Toronto. ... RHP Javier Vazquez is Oquendo's choice as Puerto Rico's starter for Saturday's WBC opener against Panama in San Juan. ... Williams, who hasn't played in the majors in two years, started in left field and went 1-for-2 with a walk for Puerto Rico. He was lifted for a pinch runner after walking in the fifth inning.

Author:Fox Sports
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Added: March 5, 2009

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