Early exits didn't ruin WBC for Candelario, Ramirez

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Jeimer Candelario has 606 games of major league experience, zero of which have come in the postseason.

So when the Nationals third baseman stepped into the box at loanDepot Park in Miami one week ago for his first at-bat representing the Dominican Republic in the World Baseball Classic, he had to take a moment to soak in the atmosphere and appreciate just how special this was.

“Oh, my gosh,” he said. “It was really fun. … It was packed. I’ve never seen that before. It was really loud. I even asked the umpire, and he told me: ‘I’ve been in the World Series two times. This is more loud.’”

Candelario returned to the Nats on Friday, the Dominicans’ WBC run having come to a surprisingly quick end after they were beaten by Puerto Rico in pool play. The experience, though, will stick with the 29-year-old forever.

Selected as a late replacement for injured Blue Jays star Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Candelario found himself as part of a lineup stacked with star power: Juan Soto, Manny Machado, Julio Rodríguez, Wander Franco and more. And he wound up as one of his country’s most productive hitters in the tournament, going 6-for-12 with a double, two walks and a 1.154 OPS that was bested only by Soto among the team’s regulars.

He hopes that carries over into the final week of spring training and into April.

“It’s always good to do good,” he said. “No matter if it’s spring training or no matter where you’re playing, you want to be able to do your best. For sure, it’s gonna help.”

The biggest adjustment for Candelario coming back to the Nationals might be in the field. He played first base all four games in the WBC but now returns to third base, where he’ll start Opening Day and throughout the season.

“I told him he could take his first baseman’s glove and put it back in the bag for a while,” manager Davey Martinez said. “I think he’ll be fine. His natural position is third base, so he’ll be fine.”

Also returning to the Nats this weekend was Erasmo Ramirez, who was disappointed to finish 0-4 with Nicaragua but nonetheless relished the entire experience of pitching for his home nation for the first time in a long time.

“It’s about being there,” the 32-year-old right-hander said. “Being with your team, representing your country. Because that doesn’t really happen often for me. Last time I represented by country was 2012 for the pre-qualifier. And even before that, the last time I was 12 years old. From day one, everybody was excited to be there and take the challenge.”

Like Candelario, Ramirez enjoyed some success in the tournament. Though he gave up a run in relief in his first outing against Puerto Rico, he started against a powerhouse Venezuela team three days later and tossed three shutout innings, striking out both Jose Altuve and Ronald Acuña Jr.

Ramirez believes that workload and schedule was good for him, putting him in position to return to the mound for the Nationals during Sunday’s game against the Tigers.

“It worked perfect,” he said.

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