FORT MYERS, Fla. – Puerto Rico is trying to return to baseball prominence.
With the World Baseball Classic about to begin, the Puerto Ricans appear to have their hitting in gear.
Angel Pagan led an All-Star lineup for Puerto Rico's national team by going 2 for 3 with an RBI in an 8-7 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Wednesday in a tuneup for the WBC.
Pagan, who led the National League with 15 triples last season for the San Francisco Giants, had a double and also scored a run. Fellow outfielder Carlos Beltran of the St. Louis Cardinals had one of Puerto Rico's 17 hits.
"It's hard for us to say how it's going to go," Beltran said following the game on the team's third day together. "Teams are going to be playing good baseball. We have to focus on hitting guys over and playing the game right."
As other sports like basketball, volleyball and golf have gained popularity on the island, putting together a national team has become more challenging for Puerto Rico, said manager Edwin Rodriguez.
"Before, you already had a team. You didn't have to scramble around. Now we've got minor leaguers along with the major leaguers. Before, you didn't have to scout out the minor leaguers like we do now," Rodriguez said.
Beltran said he invested $4 million three years ago in founding the Carlos Beltran Baseball Academy in Florida, Puerto Rico, with the goal of broadening baseball's appeal in his homeland.
"Why? Because I believe that God has blessed me with this game," Beltran said. "I believed it was time for me to do something back home that was going to impact kids who had the talent but didn't have the place where they could go to develop the talent. It was a sacrifice. It's hard work. But when you see the kids every day, developing, it's beautiful."
Puerto Rico starter Giancarlo Alvarado, who plays for the Yokohama Baystars in Japan, gave up a home run in the first inning to Aaron Hicks, the front-runner to win the starting spot in center field and the leadoff role in the lineup.
Alvarado pitched just one inning. He is slated to start Puerto Rico's WBC opener against Spain in the first round of the international tournament on Friday at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
"It's his first outing facing live hitters in a month and a half," Rodriguez said of Alvarado. "I think he'll do fine. I think he's ready."
Hicks went 2 for 2 with two runs scored.
"He's a laid-back kid," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's paying attention. He's done some real nice things out there. I like him there just fine. He's the prototype there. ... Whether he can handle the leadoff role or not, I haven't decided that. But I'm not afraid of that. He's fun to watch."
Twins starter Vance Worley gave up six hits and three runs in 3 1-3 innings. His spring ERA rose to 5.40. He said he felt like he was able to settle down after the rough first inning. Worley, who had offseason surgery to remove a bone chip from his throwing elbow, had three strikeouts.
"Worley, coming off the scope, sometimes you don't want to extend that arm all the way out," Gardenhire said. "After the first inning, he got it straightened out. That's a good thing. We'll go on from there."
NOTE: Twins RHP Scott Diamond, coming off December surgery to remove bone chips from this throwing elbow, is slated for his first Grapefruit League start on March 18. The team isn't sure whether he'll be ready in time for the season opener on April 1.