PANAMA CITY, Panama -- It was easy to spot Colombian second baseman Dilson Herrera before Thursday afternoon's World Baseball Classic qualifier against Spain. As he ran around the field for a pregame workout, Herrera sported a Colombian flag underneath his cap that waved in the wind as he scampered around.A
PANAMA CITY, Panama -- It was easy to spot Colombian second baseman Dilson Herrera before Thursday afternoon's World Baseball Classic qualifier against Spain. As he ran around the field for a pregame workout, Herrera sported a Colombian flag underneath his cap that waved in the wind as he scampered around.
A few hours later, he carried the red, blue and yellow flag of his country proudly into the news conference after he helped his team earn a 9-2 victory.
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Manager Luis Urueta's squad is viewed as the favorite to emerge from the four-team group in Panama City and reach the 2017 World Baseball Classic. On Thursday, Colombia showed why, getting a solid start from William Cuevas before putting away Spain with a couple of outbursts from an experienced lineup.
Gallery: Colombia 9, Spain 2
With the victory, Colombia is set to face the winner of Thursday night's Panama-France matchup on Friday. If the winner is France, that contest will begin at 2 p.m. ET; if Panama wins, the game will start at 9 p.m. Spain will play in the round's first elimination game at Rod Carew Stadium against the loser of Thursday's nightcap. All World Baseball Classic qualifier games are streaming on MLB.com and worldbaseballclassic.com.
"The hitters who play in the United States were on a hot streak, and that's helped us a lot," Urueta said through a translator. "Dilson Herrera helped us, and [first baseman] Reynaldo Rodriguez had a good game. The hitting, more or less, helped set the tone for the game."
Colombia, which features 16 players affiliated with Major League organizations, totaled nine hits on the afternoon but also displayed a patient approach, drawing 12 walks. Rodriguez led the offensive charge for the Colombians, going 2-for-4 with three runs scored, a triple, an RBI and a walk.
Rodriguez scored the game's first run in the first inning on a single by Adrian Sanchez. Herrera then hit a sacrifice fly in the third to double Colombia's lead. In the fifth, Rodriguez sparked a three-run rally by recording a booming triple to center field before coming around to score on an infield single by Mauricio Ramos. From there, Colombia built a commanding 5-0 lead with an RBI single from Steve Brown and a bases-loaded walk by Carlos Vidal.
Spain responded with two runs in the sixth inning off Colombia's relief corps but was shut out the rest of the way. Considering Colombia's baseball pedigree and the fact that his team has been together for only two days, Spanish manager Manny Crespo said he was proud of the way his team competed. With the loss, Spain is one defeat away from being eliminated from a 2017 Classic bid.
"Colombia has a good team with good players," Crespo said through a translator. "We had 48 hours as a team together. We played, more or less, hand in hand with them. They got nine hits; we had seven. ... I think we did pretty well."
Spain was dealt a blow in the eighth inning, when, with the bases loaded, Rodriguez hit a drive to the warning track in left that was mishandled by Daniel Martinez, allowing the bases to clear and pushing Colombia's lead to 8-2. Rodriguez scored the game's final run on an RBI groundout from Ramos later in the inning.
As good as the Colombian offense was, Cuevas -- a Triple-A pitcher with the Pawtucket Red Sox -- was just as impressive. Cuevas was on a 60-pitch limit but got through four full innings, allowing just one hit and a walk while striking out one.
"He gave us the four innings that we needed," Urueta said. "He attacked the zone. Every time he got in trouble, I think he made quality pitches to get out of jams. He did what we expected him to do."
Herrera, considered a key future piece of the Mets' infield, finished 0-for-2 with a run scored and an RBI but drew three walks. The 22-year-old, who has played 49 games the past two seasons in the big leagues, also flashed some leather with a nice defensive stop in the bottom of the second to save a run and preserve an early 1-0 lead.
Designated hitter Jesus Golindano led the Spanish offense by going 3-for-4 with an RBI.
Alex Espinoza is a contributor to MLB.com.