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Italy begins quick prep in Arizona for Classic

Team gathers for exhibitions before pool play in Mexico
MLB.com @boomskie

MESA, Ariz. -- Team Italy gathered for its first practice at Fitch Park on Monday morning with numerous questions to answer just three days away from their opener in the World Baseball Classic against Pool D host Mexico at Estadio Charros de Jalisco.

Longtime manager Marco Mazzieri said he has yet to decide on Italy's starting pitcher or lineup for the Thursday night game (9 ET, MLB.TV and MLB Network), which opens a tough bracket that also includes Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

MESA, Ariz. -- Team Italy gathered for its first practice at Fitch Park on Monday morning with numerous questions to answer just three days away from their opener in the World Baseball Classic against Pool D host Mexico at Estadio Charros de Jalisco.

Longtime manager Marco Mazzieri said he has yet to decide on Italy's starting pitcher or lineup for the Thursday night game (9 ET, MLB.TV and MLB Network), which opens a tough bracket that also includes Venezuela and Puerto Rico.

Italy was the Israel of 2013, knocking Mexico out in the first round and ascending to the second round, where it lost to eventual finalists Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in a pair of hard-fought one-run games. The Dominicans swept through the tournament, winning all eight games and the title.

:: 2017 World Baseball Classic ::

That run earned Italy an automatic berth in WBC 2017. Mexico had to qualify last year and is hosting a bracket for the first time in this, the fourth edition of the Classic.

Can the Italians replicate their 2013 success this time around?

"One of the things I talked about in 2007 when I took over the Italian national team was that I had a vision," Mazzieri said to MLB.com. "And my vision was to compete with the best and win with the best. Because in international competition, in one single game, anybody can beat anybody.

"The players bought into that, and they believed they could beat anybody at any single point. Now we feel like 10 years later that even though this team has a lot of new players, we can do what we did in the past."

Mazzieri said he's undaunted by the opposition teams replete with Major League players. Mexico with Adrian Gonzalez and Yovani Gallardo. Venezuela with Miguel Cabrera and Felix Hernandez. Puerto Rico with Francisco Lindor and Yadier Molina.

The Italians have Drew Butera, Francisco Cervelli, Daniel Descalso, Alex Liddi, Brandon Nimmo and Chris Colabello -- not quite the same star power.

"I think that's the beauty of it," Mazzieri said. "It's extra motivation for our players to go out and perform at their best. We can't really look at the other teams. We just need to take care of ourselves, to minimize mistakes and maximize results. So we're going to play to win every pitch and after the ninth inning, we'll see what the scoreboard says."

Video: Notable players from Team Italy, Team Mexico

Butera, Colabello, Liddi and Alex Maestri are a few of the holdovers from the 2013 team. Gone are Jason Grilli, Anthony Rizzo, Chris Denorfia and Nick Punto, who replaced Mike Piazza as a coach this time around.

Denorfia, in particular, had such a great time playing for the Italians in '13, he was disappointed he couldn't join them this year. Denorfia is in camp with the Rockies as a non-roster player and said he couldn't spare the time because he's trying to win a job. It didn't make it any easier knowing that Team Italy was gathering nearby.

"It's a special thing. It's completely different than a Spring Training atmosphere for us," Denorfia said last week. "To put a country's name across your chest is really something special. In a lot of guys' case, it's their home country. In my case, it's where my family is from, my heritage. Like the Olympics, it brings out the best in athletes. The WBC is the same."

That's exactly the reason Descalso decided to skip a portion of D-backs camp and play in the Classic for the first time. Like Denorfia, Descalso is an infielder trying to make the team. Unlike Denorfia, Descalso is on the 40-man roster with a $1.5 million contract this season.

Nothing is ever guaranteed, but Descalso said it was worth taking the chance.

"I'm very excited," he said. "I heard it's a lot of fun from guys who have done it before. I talked to Nick Punto, who's played in it and is coaching third for us, and he said it was a great time."

About the team's chances, Descalso added: "You know what? I think we're going to be underdogs. But if you saw the WBC last time, Italy surprised some people and was able to go to the next round. I feel like a lot people are going to ignore us, but if it's like the last time, those same people are going to be surprised."

The next couple of days for the Italians are crucial. They play exhibitions against the Cubs on Tuesday and the A's on Wednesday and then head to Mexico.

Regarding a starter for Thursday, Mazzieri said he was looking at two pitchers, but declined to identify them.

"We're not ready to announce it," he said.

The lineup?

"I can say we will probably use [Rob] Segedin, Nimmo and [John] Andreoli in the outfield," Mazzieri said. "The rest of it, we'll see the next two games what we can get out of it. And we go from there."

Mazzieri has three days to figure it out.

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.

Italy, Daniel Descalso