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Vizquel confident Venezuela can win Classic

Team's skipper hopes to parlay experience into managing career
MLB.com @boomskie

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Team Venezuela opened its brief camp Tuesday on George Brett Field behind the Royals' complex at Surprise Stadium, and manager Omar Vizquel made a little news.

Felix Hernandez will start for the Venezuelans when they open Pool D play in the World Baseball Classic against Puerto Rico on Friday at 9 p.m. ET at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Mexico and Italy are the other teams in the bracket.

SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Team Venezuela opened its brief camp Tuesday on George Brett Field behind the Royals' complex at Surprise Stadium, and manager Omar Vizquel made a little news.

Felix Hernandez will start for the Venezuelans when they open Pool D play in the World Baseball Classic against Puerto Rico on Friday at 9 p.m. ET at Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, live on MLB.TV and MLB Network. Mexico and Italy are the other teams in the bracket.

King Felix was a no-brainer, Vizquel told MLB.com, as Venezuela took fielding practice decked in its country colors of royal blue and bright red.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

"That was an easy one," said Vizquel, whose team plays exhibition games here against the Royals on Wednesday and vs. the Rangers on Thursday before heading to Mexico. "As far as the rest of the games go, we'll see. Before we go down there, I want to use some guys in different roles and see how they react. I want them to get their pitches in so they're ready for the first and second games."

At 49, Vizquel said he's ready to manage in the Major Leagues. The 11-time Gold Glove-winning shortstop will also join the National Baseball Hall of Fame ballot for the first time at the end of the year, and he believes he had the type of career that should get him in. Thus, there's a lot pending.

Vizquel, the Tigers' first-base coach, hasn't managed much at any level since he retired as a player in 2012, so this is an audition of sorts. But he may never have a team with this much talent again. Team Venezuela is stocked.

Video: CarGo discusses leaving for World Baseball Classic

Miguel Cabrera, Jose Altuve, Carlos Gonzalez, Martin Prado, Victor Martinez, Ender Inciarte and Salvador Perez will supply most of the offense. Hernandez is joined on the pitching staff by veteran starters Jhoulys Chacin and Yusmeiro Petit, plus closer Francisco Rodriguez.

Complete World Baseball Classic coverage

Vizquel knows he has the talent and that it's his job to make it all mesh.

"It's all about the preparation," Vizquel said. "That's what we're trying to tell everybody. It doesn't matter what kind of names we've got. If you're not prepared for the challenge, if you don't have your mind ready and your body ready to be in the right spot, we're not going to go anywhere."

Video: Miggy to appear in his fourth World Baseball Classic

That's what happened to the Venezuelans under manager Luis Sojo in the 2013 Classic: They didn't go anywhere. There was a similar amount of talent with an equal amount of expectation, but Venezuela didn't make it out of the first round.

The Venezuelans defeated Spain, but lost to eventual finalists the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. The Dominicans ran through the tournament winning all eight games, defeating Puerto Rico for the title.

Message delivered?

"I think they took it to heart," Vizquel said. "They know how big a challenge this is for the country and that they must do good. And you're seeing that already out there today."

Vizquel, who always played with a lot of confidence, sounded very self-assured on the field Tuesday. When asked if managing was something he might want to do in the future, Vizquel didn't equivocate.

"It's something I want to do, not something I might want to do, and I'm preparing for it," he said. "I think I'm ready to take a Major League team and guide it to a championship. It's something I've been working for ever since I retired. I've been learning from the best. The Detroit Tigers have some great people.

"Brad Ausmus, Gene Lamont, Jim Leyland, Lloyd McClendon. All these guys have been in the organization for a while and have taught me a lot of things."

Vizquel is equally confident of his eventual election to the Hall of Fame.

A switch-hitter, Vizquel played 24 seasons for six teams, 20 of them in the American League. He was the starting shortstop on the 1995 and '97 Indians, who lost the World Series to the Braves and Marlins, respectively. The '97 Indians were two outs away from winning when Jose Mesa blew the save. Just like last season's Indians, they lost the World Series in extra innings.

Vizquel batted .272, had 2,877 hits and a .985 fielding percentage. The latter figure is tops all-time among retired shortstops, and No. 2 overall behind Troy Tulowitzki. It's better than Cal Ripken Jr., Barry Larkin and Ozzie Smith, the past three shortstops elected to the Hall by eligible members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

Derek Jeter, who everyone figures as a first-ballot electee in 2020, had a .976 fielding percentage, 34th among shortstops. Of course, Jeter batted .310, had 3,465 hits and won five World Series titles in his 20 big league seasons, all with the Yankees.

"I'm very excited about that, too," Vizquel said about his Hall of Fame credentials. "I think I have the numbers. I think people usually pick the right guys to get in there, and I have a pretty good chance. My 11 Gold Gloves help a lot. I played a lot of games and got a lot of hits. You don't know how they're going to rank what you did, but I'm very excited about my chances."

Newcomers Chipper Jones and Jim Thome, who played with Vizquel on the Indians and hit 612 homers, are also strong candidates, along with Trevor Hoffman and Vladimir Guerrero. Hoffman missed by five votes and Guerrero by 15 earlier this year.

But all that must be held in abeyance until the voting begins in December. Right now, as Vizquel is all too aware, the fate of Team Venezuela is the foremost issue.

The World Baseball Classic runs through March 22. In the U.S., games air live exclusively in English on MLB Network and on an authenticated basis via MLBNetwork.com/watch, while ESPN Deportes and WatchESPN provide the exclusive Spanish-language coverage. MLB.TV Premium subscribers in the U.S. have access to watch every tournament game live on any of the streaming service's 400-plus supported devices. The tournament is being distributed internationally across all forms of television, internet, mobile and radio in territories excluding the U.S., Puerto Rico and Japan. Get tickets for games at Marlins Park, Tokyo Dome, Gocheok Sky Dome in Seoul, Estadio Charros de Jalisco in Mexico, Petco Park, as well as the Championship Round at Dodger Stadium, while complete coverage -- including schedules, video, stats and gear -- is available at WorldBaseballClassic.com.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

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