Solarte's lack of WBC '17 playing time becomes hot topic
Third baseman has yet to start game for Venezuela
By Bill Center
San Diego Padres |
Bill Center, longtime sportswriter for U-T San Diego, is an employee of the Padres.
When Yangervis Solarte approached the plate on Thursday night as a pinch-hitter, he received the game's warmest reception from fans of both the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.
Well, most of the 16,000 on hand at Petco Park were also San Diegans. And as San Diegans, they knew what Yangervis Solarte meant to them.
Solarte wasn't a reserve on Team Venezuela's bench. He was a Padre ... and a Padre who last year overcame off-the-field tragedy to excel. They were waiting for the opportunity to cheer Solarte. And after they did, Solarte delivered.
Solarte singled to right in the seventh. Two innings later, he singled to left to bring the potential tying run to the plate after going into the game as a left fielder for the only time since he played left in seven games for the Padres in 2014.
Alas, Venezuela didn't win, dropping a 3-0 decision to defending champion Dominican Republic to fall to 0-2 in this round of the World Baseball Classic.
The Venezuelans close out WBC '17 play on Saturday afternoon at Petco Park against Puerto Rico. Perhaps the biggest question of that game is will Solarte finally get a chance to start for his native land in a game at his adopted home?
Chacin started Thursday night's game and allowed one run on three hits and three walks with three strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings. He took the loss when Dominican Republic outfielder Gregory Polanco opened the fifth with a homer to break up a scoreless tie.
And the left-handed Castillo, 21, appeared in each of the first two games at Petco Park in relief, flashing a mid-90s fastball and a change that even drew the attention of Padres manager Andy Green, who is 350 miles away in Peoria, Ariz.
"He did great," Green said of Castillo in his Friday morning media briefing. "I think the whole organization is excited. It's exciting to see him face those kinds of hitters and do well."
Green also commented about Solarte's lack of playing time in the Classic. Through Venezuela's first five games, Solarte had appeared twice as a pinch-runner and once as a pinch-hitter.
Venezuela did have two All-Star caliber second basemen on its roster -- Jose Altuve and Rougned Odor. Rather than start Solarte at third, Venezuela manager Omar Vizquel elected to play one of his second basemen at third rather than Solarte.
"The only frustrating part about the WBC is when you send one of your best players and they function just as a pinch-runner," Green said. "I know he loves representing his country, loves being at Petco Park in front of the home fans. I know it's been a tremendous opportunity for him."
But instead of hitting regularly in Spring Training for the Padres, Solarte had one at-bat in 10 days for Venezuela before going 2-for-2 on Thursday night. Remember, the Padres are trying to sort out second and third between three players -- Solarte, Cory Spangenberg and Ryan Schimpf. Earlier in Spring Training, Green said Solarte, who figures to hit in the middle of the Padres' lineup, might be better suited by a switch to second -- a move that would require spring reps.
"That's not exactly how you want your players utilized at this point in Spring Training," Green told the San Diego Union-Tribune. "Solarte's going to have to come back and get himself into baseball shape. He's not getting a lot of opportunity."
Green's words did reach Vizquel, who responded.
"Yeah, I heard about it," Vizquel said during his Friday afternoon media session. "There's nothing we can do about it. We are trying to put the players out there that have the opportunity to get some runs for us. It's hard for one guy to get in the lineup at times. "I've been trying to keep Solarte sharp mentally, getting him ready to play some defense at the end of the game. But that's the way it goes. Sometimes some other players are not going to have a shot."
Prior to Thursday's game, Solarte shared his feelings saying, "I understand where Andy is coming from and am grateful for him. I'd like to be with [the Padres] as well, but have the opportunity to represent my country.
"It's not the decision that one would like, being in this situation, but I will accept my role like everyone else first and foremost as a professional."
But Thursday night's loss almost eliminated Venezuela from the World Baseball Classic.
So, the question becomes ... will Solarte get a chance to start for his native Venezuela -- in front of Padres fans at his home ballpark -- before the nation's Classic run ends?