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Lugo shines in debut with Puerto Rico

Mets righty spins gem in Classic rout of Venezuela
MLB.com @JesseSanchezMLB

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Born and raised in Louisiana, Seth Lugo's only connection to his Puerto Rican roots was though conversations on social media.

A trip to the island last month to promote the World Baseball Classic changed everything for the Mets pitcher.

GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- Born and raised in Louisiana, Seth Lugo's only connection to his Puerto Rican roots was though conversations on social media.

A trip to the island last month to promote the World Baseball Classic changed everything for the Mets pitcher.

"I got to spend a few hours with my cousin, who drove over to San Juan, picked me up and drove me across the island and I got to meet my family," Lugo said. "It's really cool, the faces, the names, to meet them and know how proud they are, how much they watched me playing baseball. It's definitely an honor to represent Puerto Rico and my family over there. …You could tell the Puerto Ricans, they take their baseball seriously."

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

On Friday, an inspired Lugo stymied a Venezuela team full of MLB All-Stars for 5 1/3 scoreless innings to pace Puerto Rico to a 11-0 win at Estadio de Beisbol Charros de Jalisco in the first game of Pool D play for both teams. Lugo gave up one hit, struck out three and did not walk a batter. He credited Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina for the game plan.

"A couple times, he worked on my mechanics and fixed up on that while I was out there, said we've got to slow down, not make it too nasty, just trust it and throw where my target is," Lugo said. "It just gives you a big boost of confidence."

Lugo retired the first 11 batters he faced using a steady stream of fastballs and the curveball that made him famous for its high spin-rate. The right-hander was charged with a hit in the fourth inning on a ground ball by Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera up the middle that Cubs second baseman Javier Baez did not field cleanly.

"[Lugo] was the key to the game," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said. "To throw so effective and economic, he has allowed us to use the bullpen more aggressively. If you had told me about this result before the game with a lineup that powerful and against Felix Hernandez, that would have been difficult to imagine."

Lugo was on a roll. He was also on a pitch count. He struck out Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar to start the sixth and was replaced by Giovanni Soto. He walked to the dugout to a standing ovation from the crowd and a sea of Puerto Rican flags waving in the stands.

Lugo finished with 65 pitches.

Where Lugo fits into the Mets' plan this season is to be determined. He's competing for the fifth spot in the rotation with Robert Gsellman and Zack Wheeler and could end up at Triple-A.

So far, he's allowed three earned runs in seven innings with seven strikeouts in three Grapefruit League games this spring. All of the runs came in his last outing on March 5 against the Cardinals.

"Any time you face lineups like that you've got to stay with your focus," Lugo said. "That's what you do all season. It's definitely going to help. I wouldn't say it's going to hurt me. I was happy to face that lineup."

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, 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.

"Well, I've only really been around my grandpa, who's Puerto Rican, so I never really got the big culture of Puerto Rico until I met my family back in February, and then these last few days," Lugo said. "They're making me part of the family. They make me feel really welcome, and I can see what the culture is. It's family first. That's how I feel like with this team."

Jesse Sanchez has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2001. Follow him on Twitter @JesseSanchezMLB and Facebook.

New York Mets, Puerto Rico, Seth Lugo