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The Dominican Republic defeated Nicaragua like they were supposed to, 6-1, in the World Baseball Classic on Monday to win their first game of the tournament. But the biggest story came from the losing team.
Nicaragua's Duque Hebbert stole the show in the top of the ninth inning when he took the mound and struck out MLB All-Stars Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez and Rafael Devers.
That performance led the Detroit Tigers to offer the 21-year-old a contract before he left LoanDepot Park in Miami on Monday night. He reportedly signed the dotted line.
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Duque Hebbert #62 of Team Nicaragua pitches during Game 5 of Pool D between Team Dominican Republic and Team Nicaragua at LoanDepot Park on Monday, March 13, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Rob Tringali/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Tigers scout Luis Molina found Hebbert after the game, spoke to him and asked a few questions, and finally offered him a minor league contract, per ESPN, which was told to the team bus once everything was settled.
"He showed what he is made of," Nicaragua manager Sandor Guido said through an interpreter via ESPN. "When you have will, when you have heart, you can do very good things."
While the WBC is all about some of the best players in the game wearing their country’s colors and competing for global glory in baseball, it also shows the unheralded players from countries that are not supposed to be true contenders. Nicaragua is among those teams with solid players, but the talent level compared to teams like the Dominican Republic doesn’t match.
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But Hebbert wasn’t thinking about that going into the ninth inning with the Dominican Republic already up 6-1 and just looking to add insurance. The 5-foot-9 right-hander gripped the baseball and got to work.
First was Soto, who remains an MVP candidate every time he takes the field in MLB. Hebbert started him off with a sinker just below 90 mph for a called strike. Then he showed what Molina likely loved in the next two pitches: a devastating changeup.
Duque Hebbert #39 of Team Nicaragua warms-up in the outfield before the exhibition game between the Team Nicaragua and the New York Mets at Clover Park on Wednesday, March 8, 2023 in St. Lucie, Florida. (Jared Blais/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Hebbert’s changeup is thrown hard and had great downward movement, which became a theme of the strikeouts he accumulated over the frame. Soto swung and missed on two of them, going back to the dugout after three pitches.
Next, Rodriguez was able to foul off two pitches after getting into a hitter-friendly 2-0 count. But Hebbert busted out the slider on 2-2, which Rodriguez waved at for another strikeout.
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The hot-hitting Manny Machado was down 0-2 on Hebbert before he got good wood on a slider for a double, but that didn’t faze the right-hander.
Devers came up and worked a full count before another changeup got him to swing and miss for the third and final strikeout of Hebbert’s night.
Duque Hebbert #39 of Team Nicaragua poses for a photo during the Team Nicaragua 2023 World Baseball Classic Headshots at Jackie Robinson Training Complex on Tuesday, March 7, 2023 in Vero Beach, Florida. (Jared Blais/WBCI/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
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Hebbert has a way to go before he faces those hitters in the bigs, but the WBC is showing that he can handle one of the biggest stages in all of baseball against some of the world’s top talent.
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