Monday, March 13, 2017

Santiago, Berrios and the Puerto Rican rotation

Jose Berrios -- as described in the Monday print column -- is among the competitors for the fifth spot in the Twins rotation.

Hector Santiago is not. The veteran lefty is a given. Indeed, as Paul Molitor set up his rotation at the start of Grapefruit League play, Santiago figures to pitch the second game of the season.

Both are pitching for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic, and the Puerto Rican team went 3-0 in the first round of pool play and has advanced to the second round.

Santiago pitched in relief in Game 2, against Mexico, on Saturday. Berrios started Game 3, against Italy.

This would suggest that Puerto Rican manager Edwin Rodriguez views Berrios as a better starter than Santiago, but it's not necessarily so simple. Mexico, on paper, is a better team than Italy, certainly with a more potent lineup. And the pitch count rules in effect for the WBC, especially in the first round, make it almost impossible for a starting pitcher to work even five innings.

It's certainly plausible that Rodriguez set up his first round pitching with the notion that Italy was a softer opponent, and that he needed a a lefty starter to piggy-back Milwaukee's Jorge Lopez against Mexico.

Lopez is 24, right-handed, unproven in the majors -- and had a terrible 2016 season in Triple A. It's not easy for me to look at the stat lines and see why he ranks ahead of Santiago or even Berrios. For that matter, PR's Game One starter, Seth Lugo of the Mets, doesn't have Santiago's resume.

It will be interesting to see who Puerto Rico starts in Pool F, which includes the United States and the Dominican, with a fourth team to be determined with a tie-breaker today between Venezuela and Italy.

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