Arozarena (and his boots) take the World by storm

March 22nd, 2023

ST. PETERSBURG -- Infielders and returned to Tropicana Field on Wednesday morning after playing for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic, and it was hard to tell what impressed them more: the overall WBC experience, what Mexico’s run to the semifinals meant for baseball in their home country … or the performance of .

Arozarena took the tournament by storm as only he could. He delivered a bunch of big hits. He made several jaw-dropping, game-changing catches in left field. He came up with a new signature celebration, crossing his arms as he looked into Mexico’s dugout. And he entertained an international audience, breaking out his cowboy boots and a sombrero during batting practice.

It was just as remarkable to his teammates as it was to those watching from afar, Paredes and Aranda said.

“He definitely likes to put on a show,” Paredes said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “I think those spectacular moments are meant for him, and I think he's really turned into one of my favorite players.”

“He was loving everything. He was loving the fans. The fans were loving him,” Aranda said through Navarro. “He was having all the fun in the world.”

Arozarena is expected to rejoin the Rays on Friday, manager Kevin Cash said, after taking a “well-deserved” day to rest on Wednesday heading into Tampa Bay’s off-day on Thursday.

Arozarena was unanimously selected to the All-World Baseball Classic Team, which was announced after Japan beat Team USA in the championship game on Tuesday night. He hit .450 (9-for-20) with six doubles, a homer, nine RBIs, eight runs and more walks (six) than strikeouts (five) in six games for Mexico before it was eliminated by Japan.

Arozarena also made arguably the two most stunning defensive plays of the entire tournament: a leaping catch in front of the wall in Mexico’s quarterfinal victory over Puerto Rico at loanDepot Park in Miami, then a breathtaking (yet still casual) home run robbery against Japan.

“He gained the acceptance of a whole country, doing what he was doing,” Aranda said through Navarro. “It was marvelous to watch him play, and he represented the name on his chest very well.”

So did Paredes and Aranda, who raved about the atmosphere at the games they played in Phoenix and Miami. Paredes hit .375 (9-for-24) with a homer and six RBIs in six games, with three of those RBIs coming in Mexico’s victory over Puerto Rico, while Aranda went 1-for-6 in three games.

Aranda called it one of the best experiences of his life and kept everything he could -- jerseys, hats, game-used bats -- to remember it.

“From the first game all the way to the last game, you're going to remember everything,” Paredes said through Navarro. “There's nothing that you're really going to forget about an experience like that.”

Paredes and Aranda were optimistic that Mexico’s surprising run to the Classic semifinals will inspire a new generation of baseball players in their home country. As one indicator of what it might mean, Paredes said he probably heard from “thousands” of people about the team’s success in the tournament.

“There's definitely a lot of pride in the country. I think we made history,” Aranda said. “Everything we did, with the players that were involved, I think it helps the next generation really look at what baseball in Mexico can do. … Not only in baseball, but in any sport, we're trying to just deliver the message to represent your country, and I think that's going to be a good thing for the country itself.”

HBP scare
Outfielder/designated hitter  exited the Rays’ 6-2 win against the Phillies on Wednesday after being hit in the left hand by a Taijuan Walker slider in the fourth inning. 

It was a scary moment initially, especially considering Ramírez missed a month last season with a fractured right thumb after being hit by a pitch, but Ramírez said it caught him more on his pinky, ring and middle fingers, and it won’t be an issue moving forward.

“I feel great,” he said. “I know that happened last year, but this one didn’t hit me too hard.”

Springs shines again
’ excellent spring continued Wednesday as he struck out eight and allowed just two hits over 4 1/3 scoreless innings. The lefty threw 60 pitches in the outing and made the Phillies whiff on 17 of their 34 swings, including 10 swinging strikes on his changeup.

In four spring starts, Springs has racked up 24 strikeouts while allowing only seven baserunners over 14 scoreless innings. He has one spring outing left, likely increasing his workload to around 80 pitches, then should be ready for the regular season.

“Just a guy that’s in a really good rhythm. The stuff has picked up right where it left off from last year,” Cash said. “He’s had a tremendous spring.”