3/2/2013 1:13 P.M. ET
Cuba kicks off its Classic quest against Brazil
By Jason Coskrey / Special to MLB.com
FUKUOKA, Japan -- Cuba has enjoyed a wealth of baseball success on the global level, but the nation has yet to add a World Baseball Classic title to its trophy case.
Manager Victor Mesa and his team hope to take the first step toward remedying that when they face Brazil on Sunday in their first game of this year's Classic. Fans can watch the game on MLB Network and ESPN Deportes on Saturday at 10:30 p.m. ET (Sunday at 12:30 p.m. local time).
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The Cubans played their final warmup game Friday night at Fukuoka's Yafuoku Dome, and the team picked up a 10-8 victory over Nippon Professional Baseball's Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.
"That was a good final game before the actual World Baseball Classic starts, and we are very pleased," Mesa said through a translator. "We got a lot of confidence from winning."
Cuba was beaten by Japan in the final of the 2006 tournament and was eliminated in the second round in '09. This year, Mesa is determined to guide his squad at least to the final round at AT&T Park in San Francisco.
"Our main goal is to go to the U.S.," Mesa said. "I have no doubt we can go to America. We have confidence."
The Cubans will be opposed by a Brazilian team that took two-time defending World Baseball Classic champion Japan to the limit in a 5-3 loss in its Classic debut on Saturday.
"It was a closely contested match," Brazil manager Barry Larkin said on Saturday. "There were strategies on both sides and the better team tonight won the ballgame."
Brazil will send Andre Rienzo to the mound against the powerful Cubans. Rienzo was in camp with the White Sox before heading to Japan to join his countrymen.
Brazil may be facing one of baseball's elite, but its performance against Japan showed that playing against the world's best teams on baseball's top international stage isn't going to faze the team.
"We played against [Nippon Professional Baseball's] Orix and SoftBank, and that experience gave us confidence," Brazil third baseman Leonardo Reginatto said through a translator. "We got used to playing in Japan and in front of a big audience. We also have experience from playing in Panama [during the qualifying round]."
Ismel Jimenez will take the mound for Cuba, hoping to erase the memory of the Cubans' game against SoftBank, during which its pitchers gave up eight runs and walked eight batters.
That poor showing wasn't enough to shake Mesa's confidence ahead of the Classic.
"We do have confidence in, and rely on, our pitchers," Mesa said. "No matter what the situation is, they can pitch. That's our strong point. We are very optimistic.
"We have no doubts. In the past, when we played Japan in November [in a two-game exhibition series], we had some worries. From then, we've had great preparation."
Cuba rides into the tournament on a high after putting up 10 runs against the Hawks in its final tuneup. The runs were a welcome sign for a team that had been inconsistent at the plate despite the presence of sluggers such as Jose Abreu and Alfredo Despaigne.
"A lot of reporters might worry about what we did in the last couple of games, but the bottom line is we have been winning," Mesa said. "Winning games makes everyone happy."
Jason Coskrey is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.