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Boston coaches enthralled by Classic drama

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Red Sox are still in the thick of the World Baseball Classic, literally and from afar, with just two games to go.

Pitching coach Juan Nieves and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez have Puerto Rico roots. The team has its top prospect playing for the Netherlands and another player striking out everyone in sight for Team Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico has already advanced to the 8 p.m. ET championship game, set for Tuesday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco, and is waiting on the winner of Monday night's 9 p.m. semifinal game between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic.

"I think that's going to be a big thing," Rodriguez said of the finals. "Talking to my family in Puerto Rico, the people are very excited about it. Hopefully that will help pick up baseball like it used to be when I played there a long time ago and get the baseball spirits back in Puerto Rico."

Xander Bogaerts, who is ranked the organization's No. 1 prospect by, is 5-for-19 (.263) with two doubles and a .364 on-base percentage for the Netherlands.

There are 28 pitchers with more innings thrown in the Classic than reliever Jose De La Torre, the Red Sox right-hander playing for Puerto Rico. Only three pitchers, relievers or starters, in the tournament have more strikeouts.

De La Torre, 27, has walked just one batter and fanned 11 in 5 1/3 innings during the Classic, including names like Jimmy Rollins, Brandon Phillips and Ryan Braun.

"Awesome," Nieves said of De La Torre. "He's a game pitcher. Of course, you see some guys in the bullpen, you're like, 'Oh my God,' but you know he's a reliever and they need that little geek to get after it, and of course it shows in the WBC. He's a game pitcher. I'll tell you one thing: He has a great feel."

Neither Rodriguez nor Nieves could stay up late on Sunday to see Puerto Rico clinch a spot in the finals, but Puerto Rico's run has both smiling.

"I'm elated by the way they've been playing and representing such a small [area] is beautiful," Nieves said. "It's awesome. There's a little culture coming up of pretty good players coming up now."

"It's always nice to see the guys are playing good baseball, because nobody was expecting that," said Rodriguez, who was born in New York but attended high school in Puerto Rico. "I wasn't expecting that -- especially when the first pool was against the Dominican, Venezuela."

Much has been made of Puerto Rico's baseball decline, but both men were optimistic about the game's direction.

"If you go to Puerto Rico -- and I heard it from a great scout -- the pitchers that you look for, the picture of a player, 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4 guys, they're all playing basketball, too," said Nieves. "So the courts are full of basketball players going to college and playing basketball in college, knowing that they're probably not getting drafted as high. But yeah, the crop of new players are coming up."

Evan Drellich is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @EvanDrellich.
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