MIAMI -- Despite initial plans to the contrary, Pirates left-hander Wandy Rodriguez has been tabbed to start for the Dominican Republic on Saturday at Marlins Park at 1 p.m. ET, in the final game of Pool 2 in this year's World Baseball Classic, manager Tony Pena said on Friday.
Rodriguez will face the winner of Friday's elimination game between Team USA and Puerto Rico at 7 p.m. ET. Both games are available in the U.S. via MLB Network and ESPN Deportes.
The Dominican Republic has already cemented its place in the semifinals, either Sunday or Monday at AT&T Park in San Francisco, with a 3-1 victory over Team USA on Thursday night. Pena was considering saving Rodriguez for that single-elimination semifinal game, either against two-time defending Classic winner Japan or Kingdom of the Netherlands. Now Rodriguez will start on his regular five-day cycle.
"Yesterday I said I was not going to have Wandy Rodriguez pitch [on Saturday]," Pena said during his media session on Friday. "[Since then,] I sat down with William Castro, the pitching coach, and we determined to pitch Wandy Rodriguez tomorrow, because if we didn't, he was going to pitch with too many days of rest.
"So we want to keep the order the way it is, because what you have to understand is that we are in training, and those young men, no matter how much we want to win, we still have to think of them. We have to pitch them on their regular days, so they are in optimal condition."
Under those circumstances, although manager Joe Torre wouldn't officially commit, it's likely Team USA would start Rangers left-hander Derek Holland. He last threw for the Americans this past Sunday, when they won an elimination game against Canada at Chase Field to move into the second round. Puerto Rico manager Edwin Rodriguez said he'll start right-hander Fernando Cabrera, who hasn't pitched in the big leagues since one relief appearance for the Red Sox, during the 2010 season.
For the second time in the last two Classics, the United States needs to defeat Puerto Rico in an elimination game to advance to the semifinals. In 2009, Team USA won on a walk-off two-run single by David Wright and advanced out of the Miami bracket, only to lose to Japan in the semifinals at Dodger Stadium.
The game on Saturday determines who will face Japan on Sunday or the Dutch on Monday in San Francisco. The winner will face the Dutch and have a day off on Sunday. The loser has a quick flight across country and must play Japan. The Dominican Republic is 5-0 and is the only undefeated team left in the tournament.
"Tomorrow's game will be very important, because that one gives you the seed where you're going to be, who you're going to face," Pena said. "I know that my players will be tired. I have played almost the same nine guys every single day. Probably tomorrow you will see a little bit of change in the lineup, where I might play two guys and give two other guys some time off because they need the time off. And we'll just go from there."
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.