Cuba preps for Classic semis after long journey from Asia

March 19th, 2023

MIAMI -- For weeks, Team Cuba prepared for World Baseball Classic pool play in Taichung, Taiwan. It was a 12-hour time zone difference from Miami, where the single-elimination tournament they were pursuing was scheduled to be played.

Cuba arrived on Thursday to begin preparing for its Sunday semifinal at loanDepot park. The Cubans will face Team USA  after its dramatic victory over Venezuela on Saturday.

“In my experience, you need at least one week to get used to the new time,” outfielder said Saturday. “But we are warriors. We're going to go out and fight.”

Cuba overcame an 0-2 start in Pool A to emerge from a five-way tiebreaker. They edged out Australia, 4-3, in the quarterfinals on Wednesday to move on to the semifinal round in Miami (Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1).

“These days off shouldn't affect us,” said Despaigne. “... We are trying to make some adjustments. We're trying to be awake during the day to be a hundred percent tomorrow [for] the game. Yes, we needed some rest. We trained yesterday, by the way, and today, as well. Yesterday, training was optional, but some players said, ‘No, we have to make our adjustment,’ and we went to practice.”

Veteran left-hander  will get the start for Cuba. The opposing starting pitcher will be determined after the USA-Venezuela matchup. While Cuba does not yet know who they will face, the team is expecting a different style on the mound than it had seen in earlier Classic action.

“The pitching over there was not the same as here,” Despaigne said. “There are more high-speed pitchers here. They use more breaking balls over there. We are now in America, we are no longer in Asia. We have to change the mindset. I will have to make some adjustments to the speed of the pitchers -- and we are doing that. I hope we have as good [success] batting as we had in Asia.”

Cuba is coming off a seven-hit performance against Australia wherein its runs were driven in by a collaborative effort of three different players (Despaigne, Yoelkis Guibert and Luis Robert Jr.).

“I think that they have learned with each other,” manager Armando Johnson said. “They have great skills and I think that we have a good engagement to face the pitching. It's difficult for the hitters, of course, but we have high quality players and I believe that they can make those adjustments to face the pitching here in Miami.”

Sunday’s semifinal contest is the farthest Cuba has advanced in the WBC since finishing as the runner-up in 2006. Cuba was sixth in ‘09, fifth in ‘13 and seventh in ‘17. 

“We believe we have that dream of raising the trophy,” said Johnson. “We recognize, however, the quality of the teams we have to play. But one game or two games, anyone could win.”