Staff ace Jeremy Guthrie, third baseman Melvin Mora and shortstop Cesar Izturis played in Baltimore's 4-2 win over Florida and will leave for their respective teams Sunday. All three players will be participating in the Classic for the first time, and manager Dave Trembley said his team won't miss a beat without them.
"We support what the [World Baseball Classic] represents," Trembley said. "Obviously, you'd like to have your team here, but we're not. The extra week [of Spring Training] benefits us. We'll get those guys back. We'll be fine."
Mora, the longest serving member of the team, joked that his teammates won't really miss him while he's gone. The veteran also said that he's looking forward to representing Team Venezuela, and he pointed out that he won't really have to worry about continuity because Izturis will be making the same trip with him.
"I don't know if we're going to win it all, but we're going to give teams a hard time," Mora said. "You're representing your country. You're representing your honor. You're representing your flag. You need to take it seriously."
Mora has always taken it seriously, but his inclusion on Venezuela's team may reflect a change of heart or a sign that he's mellowing with age. The 37-year-old pulled out of the last Classic after his nation selected former Marlins star Miguel Cabrera to play third base, a situation that seems less dire this time around.
Cabrera, who now plays for the Tigers, is still on Venezuela's team, but the crisis seems to have abated. Cabrera plays first base in the big leagues now, and Mora may have to share playing time with Carlos Guillen or Marco Scutaro. Regardless, the veteran knows he may not get another chance to represent his country.
"The reason I'm playing now is because I want to play," Mora said, sidestepping a more detailed explanation. "I wanted to play the last time, too, but things happened that were beyond my control."
The same concept applies to Izturis, who had ligament replacement on his right elbow late in the 2005 season and wasn't able to make a complete healthy return until midway through 2006. He's played for three Major League teams since then, and Baltimore will be his fourth once the regular season begins.
Trembley, meanwhile, said the Orioles can use the time without the left side of their infield constructively. He'll get a chance to gauge some of the younger options in camp, and he'll also be able to hand out playing time to a few of the veterans embroiled in a battle for one of the team's last reserve roster slots.
"A bunch of guys," said Trembley when asked who would benefit. "[Ty] Wigginton, but he's going to make the club and play third anyway. Scott Moore. I have to get [Chris] Gomez and [Jolbert] Cabrera over there. [Justin] Turner. [Ryan] Freel. We have enough guys here that we can fill those at-bats plus give guys more of a look."
Guthrie, the odds-on favorite to start on Opening Day, said that he's excited to pitch for Team USA and that he's not sure what to expect from the experience. The right-hander will likely throw in an exhibition game against Philadelphia on Thursday, and then he'll learn where he slots in to the national team's rotation plans.
"I've never done it before," said Guthrie, a former first-round Draft pick. "I've only been here for two weeks, so maybe it won't feel that strange, because it's at the beginning of the season. Maybe if it were like an Olympic thing, where you leave in the middle of the season and then come back, it might feel a little strange. But everybody's ready now, and we're working out and in get situated mode. I don't think slipping out will disrupt too much around here."
Guthrie fired three shutout innings against the Marlins on Saturday, and he went down to the bullpen afterwards to work on locating his fastball down-and-away. He's already up to 50 pitches, and Trembley said the Orioles have mapped it out so he'll stay on or near his regular rotation turn for much of the time with Team USA.
From a different perspective, Guthrie can see just how far he's come in a short matter of time. He joined the Orioles as an unheralded waiver claim from the Cleveland organization before the 2007 season, but now he's recognized as one of the best pitchers in the American League and one of the chosen few for the World Baseball Classic.
"You have to be grateful for the opportunities given and for the blessings that allow people to have these things," Guthrie said. "Sometimes things work out, and sometimes they don't. Fortunately for me, I can look at it and say the last two years have been good building blocks. I'd like to continue to work and enjoy it as long as it lasts."