Puerto Rico poised for USA showdown

Vazquez opposes Peavy to open powerhouse series

In Round 1, Javier Vazquez threw 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball in a win over Panama. (Andres Leighton/AP)

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MIAMI -- If he were in Braves camp right now, Javier Vazquez would be gradually building up his pitch count to somewhere in the neighborhood of 85.

On Saturday night the right-hander will be in a much more high-profile situation, as he looks to help advance his country in the World Baseball Classic.

The stakes continue to rise in the Classic, as second-round games are set to begin at Dolphin Stadium, where Vazquez will take the mound for Puerto Rico in a much-anticipated showdown with Team USA.

Vazquez matches up against Jake Peavy of the U.S. in the 8 p.m. ET contest.

Both starters will be on a maximum pitch count of 85. The difference pitching in the Classic and pitching in Spring Training is that these 85 pitches matter.

Vazquez is dealing with the challenges of getting ready for the season while representing his country on an international stage.

This will be his second appearance in the Classic. In Round 1, in Puerto Rico, he threw 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball in a win over Panama.

"I never take any hitter lightly," Vazquez said on Friday after Puerto Rico's workout. "I faced Panama in the first round, and I have respect for all the hitters."

Team USA vs. Puerto Rico will match two star-studded rosters.

"Obviously, the U.S. has a much different lineup," he said. "Most of them have been All-Stars for most of their careers. For me, even though it is Spring Training for us, when you're on the mound, you want to go out there and do a good job."

Saturday will mark the first time Puerto Rico is playing a Classic game outside Puerto Rico. The team did not advance in 2006.

Ivan Rodriguez was named the Most Valuable Player of Pool D after going 6-for-11 (.545) with two homers, a double, a stolen base and a team-high five RBIs.

Winning all three of its Pool D games, Puerto Rico outscored its opponents, 15-1. On Wednesday it blanked The Netherlands, 5-0. Puerto Rico pounded out 10 hits in the win and had RBIs from Carlos Beltran, Alex Cora, Alex Rios, Geovany Soto and Rodriguez.

"Right now everybody's focus is on winning the ballgame," Rodriguez said. "Our team is ready to play, and to win. This year it's very important to us."

Puerto Rico features former Yankees outfielder Bernie Williams, who last played in the big leagues in 2006.

Williams understands the importance of the matchup and what the game means to both countries.

"I think it is a great opportunity. I think it presents a great challenge for both teams," Williams said. "I think [Saturday] is going to be a great game, regardless of whatever the outcome is.

"We know they have a lot of great players over there on Team USA, and they're motivated. But so are we here. We have a lot of guys who have Major League experience, and we have a lot of young players who are eager to show what they can do. I think it's going to be a great matchup."

Joe Frisaro is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.