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Unproven arms could be key for Puerto Rico

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FT. MYERS, Fla. -- Veteran slugger Carlos Beltran, who is participating in his third World Baseball Classic, is expected to provide much of the power, but Team Puerto Rico will likely go as far in this year's Classic as its pitching can carry it.

"I don't think we're going to be as weak in pitching as some people think," Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez predicted Wednesday.

Nevertheless, Puerto Rico's chances of advancing have definitely been hindered by the absence of free agent Javier Vazquez, who opted out of the Classic because of a knee injury. That leaves their hopes largely in the hands of a several unproven pitchers.

Journeyman Giancarlo Alvarado, who will start Puerto Rico's Classic opener against Spain in San Juan on Friday night in a game that can be watched live on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes at 6:30 p.m. locally/ 5:30 p.m. ET, tuned up by pitching the first inning of Wednesday's 8-7 victory over the Twins before a crowd that included a small group of spirited Puerto Rican fans.

"That was [Alvarado's]first outing facing live hitters in a month and a half," Rodriguez said after his starter served up a lead-off home run and walked two in his one inning of work. "I think he did fine. I think he's ready.

"Right now we have a combination of some experienced pitchers and some pitchers with very young arms," Rodriguez admitted. "With young pitchers, you never know who is going to show up."

Jose Berrios, an 18-year-old right-hander who is one of the Minnesota Twins' top pitching prospects and was off to a great start this spring before leaving the Twins' camp to join Team Puerto Rico, will work out of the bullpen during the Classic because of his lack of experience.

Berrios pitched one inning in relief Wednesday, allowing one hit and striking out one.

"That was the first time I ever saw him in a real game," Rodriguez said. "He's poised. He was just having fun out there."

Berrios, the Twins' first round Draft pick in 2012, made his professional debut with Minnesota's Rookie league teams last season. He was 3-0 with a 1.17 ERA, striking out 49 batters in 30 2/3 innings.

"You'd never know he's 18," Rodriguez said.  "He throws 97-98 mph. We had a simulated game the other day and he was very impressive. He has very good secondary pitches. But he's so young."

Beltran batted .286 with two home runs and five RBIs in six games for Puerto Rico in 2006. In '09, he hit .421 with eight hits and a homer in six games.

Jim Hawkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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