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Astros' Martinez, Perez lead Classic hopefuls

HOUSTON -- Two of the newest members of the Astros' coaching staff will be going head to head on the baseball field Friday night in the qualifying round of the World Baseball Classic in Panama City, Panama.

Four-time All-Star pitcher Dennis Martinez, who was recently named bullpen coach of the Astros, will manage his native Nicaragua against new Astros bench coach Eduardo Perez, who's managing the Colombian team at 7 p.m. CT.

Nicaragua, Colombia, Brazil and Panama make up the qualifying group that plays Thursday through Monday at Rod Carew National Stadium in Panama City.

Among the players on the Nicaraguan team are San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, Seattle Mariners right-handed pitcher Erasmo Ramirez and Phillies right-handed pitcher J.C. Ramirez. Texas Rangers catcher Luis Martinez, free-agent All-Star shortstop Edgar Renteria and Miami Marlins second baseman Donovan Solano are playing for Colombia.

Astros relief pitcher Wilton Lopez, a native of Nicaragua, isn't participating in the qualifying round.

The Colombian National Team is ranked 19th by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF), but the country has enjoyed a rich baseball history, highlighted by World Cup gold medals in 1947 and '65. It also can boast a two-time World Series MVP -- Renteria in 1999 with the Marlins and 2010 with the Giants.

Nicaragua leads the group with a No. 14 IBAF ranking. The country has a long history in the Baseball World Cup, hosting it five times and earning five second-place finishes. Major Leaguers Cabrera and Vicente Padilla of the Red Sox headline a group of 30 Nicaraguans signed to professional contracts in the U.S.

Brazil is managed by Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, and San Francisco Giants first-base coach Roberto Kelly leads a team representing his native Panama, one which includes former Astros slugger Carlos Lee.

The countries competing in the qualifying round in Taiwan are Chinese Taipei, New Zealand, the Philippines and Thailand.

The winners of the Panama City and New Taipei City pools will advance to the 2013 World Baseball Classic, scheduled for March 2-19.

Martinez, 57, had been a pitching coach in the St. Louis Cardinals system for the previous six seasons. He won 245 games in his Major League career, a total that ranks first among pitchers born in Latin America.

He appeared in four All-Star Games and led the American League in wins in 1981. While pitching for the Montreal Expos, he threw baseball's 13th perfect game in a 2-0 victory on July 28, 1991, at Dodger Stadium. Martinez pitched 23 seasons in the Majors (1976-98).

Perez, 43, has both playing and coaching experience in the Majors and has also had success as a manager in Latin America. Perez previously had success as manager of the Ponce Lions in the Puerto Rico Winter League for two seasons (2008-09), earning Manager of the Year honors in '08 and also guiding the Lions to the Caribbean Series in '09.

Perez, who is the son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, most recently had been the hitting coach for the Miami Marlins. He has also served as special assistant to the baseball operations department for the Indians, a role which included considerable time in uniform providing instruction at the Major League and Minor League levels.

Perez played parts of 13 seasons (1993-2006) in the Major Leagues with the Angels, Reds, Cardinals, Rays, Indians and Mariners. Following his playing career, he spent several seasons as a baseball analyst for ESPN, working the postseason and for Baseball Tonight.

Houston Astros