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02/19/09 2:54 PM EST

Cruz not in Classic for Mexico

Infielder passes on opportunity so he can try to win a job with Bucs

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Despite being one of 45 players listed on Mexico's provisional World Baseball Classic roster, Luis Cruz has declined an invitation to play with the team in next month's tournament.

Cruz, who played with Mexico in the inaugural 2006 World Baseball Classic, is fighting for one of the Pirates' final two bench spots this spring. For Cruz, that was reason enough to pass on the opportunity to once again represent his home country.

"I think I have a chance to get a spot here," said Cruz, who made his Major League debut as a September callup with the Pirates last season. "I'm fighting for a spot here. I want to practice and get ready for the season and try to make the team."

Cruz added that the decision to pass on playing in the 16-team tournament was not made at the urging of Pirates' management. It was a decision that he made on his own.

"They left it up to me, and I think I picked the right choice," the 25-year-old Cruz said. "This is my career, so I need to keep playing and be ready for the season."

Cruz is certainly in the middle of the mix to claim a backup role, and has been since he caught management's eye during his quick ascent from Double-A Altoona to the Majors last season.

After starting the year at Double-A and then spending just a little more than a month at Triple-A Indianapolis, Cruz had 67 at-bats with the Pirates last September. Though he hit just .224, scored six runs and drove in three runs, his defense and versatility certainly impressed.

That versatility is one of the benefits that Cruz has going for him in the battle for a roster spot. Though he played just the two middle-infield positions with Pittsburgh last season, Cruz is also comfortable playing all three outfield positions. In fact, for years in winter ball, Cruz has played almost exclusively in the outfield.

Cruz is a bit less acclimated to playing third and first, though he said that forgoing the World Baseball Classic will allow him time to get repetitions at both corner-infield positions. Knowing that he'd be able to get that extra work, Cruz said, allowed him to decline the invitation without having any sort of reservations.

"I don't know if it would hurt me to leave, but I think the best choice for me is to stay here and stay at Spring Training where I can get my at-bats," Cruz said. "If I am able to play in the big leagues, then next time I'll be able to go. It's not disappointing. I think it's more important for me to keep learning and to stay here and be around guys like Ramon Vazquez, who has been here for a long time."

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