LOS ANGELES – Jonathan Schoop let the ball bounce off his glove on purpose before catching it. Later, he kicked it to Andrelton Simmons, who tried, unsuccessfully, to dribble it like a soccer ball. When Simmons lost it, another player kicked it back to him.
Safe to say the Dutch aren’t feeling any pressure before the World Baseball Classic semifinals. It’s not like it’s their first time. They made it this far at the last WBC in 2013, and will use that experience when they face Puerto Rico on Monday at Dodger Stadium.
“I think these guys are four years older, more experienced,” manager Hensley Meulens said. “A lot of success in their major league careers the last few years. There’s a lot to be said about that. We ran into a very hot Dominican team last Classic. We’re going to run into a very hot Puerto Rican team this Classic.
“We know now that these guys are ready for the challenge. We have our pitching together. We’re ready to go.”
Puerto Rico will also be ready. The team is the hottest in the WBC, reaching the semifinals with a 6-0 record and having outscored its opponents 51-15.
“Well, it is important, every game that we have played has been important, and this will be another game that will be very important for us,” said Puerto Rican pitcher Jorge Lopez.
“We are going to give 100 percent on each pitch, each throw. And the older players have shown confidence in us, and that has been key. So we’re going to continue moving forward.”
Both teams worked out under the sun at Dodger Stadium on Sunday.
The Dutch already had some MLB talent on their roster but added another big name in Kenley Jansen, closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers, to the squad for the championship round.
The Netherlands and Puerto Rico were both semifinalists in 2013. The Dutch lost to the Dominican Republic in the semifinals and the Puerto Ricans fell to the Dominicans in the final.
“This is a new version of the Puerto Rican team, compared to 2013,” said manager Edwin Rodriguez. “(Now) we are way more aggressive on the base paths and are more aggressive hitters with very good arms. As starters or relievers, we have very good, very strong arms. So comparing 2013 with the 2017 team, we have a more talented team. We are very aggressive in our approach, our overall approach.”
Catcher Yadier Molina has been point man for Puerto Rico with his usual brand of stupendous play behind the plate, two home runs, and the way he has embraced his leadership role with the team. He was named MVP of the second round’s San Diego pool.
“We are very proud of having Yadier Molina and we are very glad that they selected him as the MVP for the series in San Diego,” Rodriguez said. “As a team, we are very happy for him. The whole country has been watching, has been celebrating his nomination. So we’re very happy and it’s well deserved. I mean, he’s the heart of the team.”
The Dutch also feel like they’re a better team.
“We were still a young team at that time,” said outfielder Wladimir Balentien. “We still had a couple of major leaguers, but they were first years, so we didn’t have that much experience. I think that was good for those guys, having that experience back then. They have more experience in the major leagues now, and we have (Rick) van den Hurk, one of the best pitchers in Japan, to pitch for us. I think we’re looking good.”
Puerto Rico will present a tough test, but the Dutch left practice on Sunday feeling like they were ready to meet the challenge.
“They’re good,” said infielder Xander Bogaerts. “We gotta score first, we gotta score early. They’re a good team. They’ve got good pitching, a great catcher behind there calling the games. It’s up to us to go out there and hit their mistakes.”
Of course, the Puerto Ricans like their own chances.
“So far, the island in Puerto Rico is celebrating, and what we’ve achieved means a lot,” Rodriguez said. “We are ready to do more for Puerto Rico.”