Sunday January 20, 2013

PITTSFIELD -- Matt Torra took Italian at Pittsfield High School. It might come in handy this spring.

Torra, the newest member of the Washington Nationals organization, will be one of the pitchers for the Italian team in the World Baseball Classic that begins in March. Torra and his Italian teammates will play their first game on Thursday, March 7, against Mexico.

"I'm pumped," Torra said. "I think it's going to give me an awesome experience. I know we play Team USA at Chase Field on March 9, and to be on the same field as everybody who's going to be in the tournament is going to be a great opportunity and experience for me."

Torra's team is in Pool D with the United States, Canada and Mexico. Italy's first two games will be played at the Arizona Diamondbacks' spring training complex in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the game against Team USA will be played on the D'Backs home field in Phoenix.

Torra, a 28-year-old right-hander, got his start in Arizona when the Diamondbacks made him a first-round sandwich pick in the 2005 Draft.

There are some big league players on the preliminary Italian roster with him. Pittsburgh reliever Jason Grilli, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, former Red Sox infielder Nick Punto and former Sox farmhand Anthony Rizzo -- now with the Cubs -- are all on the Italian roster.

"They've been playing pretty good over in Europe. They won back-to-back European [titles]," said Torra.


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"They beat Canada in the last WBC to knock them out. I know they've definitely improved and you never know. I'm looking forward to the challenge there."

The right-handed pitcher will head for Arizona in mid-Feburary to prepare for the WBC. After the team is done with the tournament, he'll be heading back to Melbourne, Fla., to prepare for his first season as a member of the Nationals organization.

Torra joins the Nationals after spending the last year and a half as a member of the Tampa Bay Rays organization. In 2012, Torra was 12-7 for Tampa Bay's Triple A farm club in Durham, N.C. He had a 4.10 earned run average in 147 innings, striking out 78 and walking 26. Torra led the Bulls in wins and was second among starters in ERA.

"I talked with Tampa too. I felt the Nationals were the best place for me," said Torra. "I looked at who they had in the minor leagues and I felt their minor league system was a little depleted from trades and the Rule 5 Draft and injuries."

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and Torra have ties together. While it was Arizona scout Matt Merullo who did most of the legwork on scouting Torra at the University of Massachusetts, Rizzo was the Arizona scouting director and made the call on the draft pick.

Torra was not given any promises about being placed on the team's 40-man roster, but he said he'd be ready if the opportunity comes about.

"When they need somebody, you've got to be doing your best," said Torra, "and be in the right place at the right time. I'm just hoping this year; I want to continue with how I was doing last season."