St. Louis Cardinals Shine on Day One of World Baseball Classic

World Baseball Classic Pool B: China v Japan
World Baseball Classic Pool B: China v Japan / Kenta Harada/GettyImages

St. Louis Cardinals pepper-grinding sensation Lars Nootbaar and Italian flamethrower Andre Pallante shined for Team Japan and Team Italy on the first day of the World Baseball Classic for their respective nations.

The Cardinals have more players headed off to the 2023 edition of the World Baseball Classic than any other major league team and the club got its first look at two of its players as Group A and Group B play began on Thursday.

Fan favorite and Shohei Ohtani recruiter Nootbaar hit leadoff for Team Japan in its tournament-opening 8-1 win over Team China. The Redbird outfielder went 2-4 at the plate with two walks and two runs scored while stealing his first base of the tournament.

Defensively, Cardinals fans were not surprised to see Nootbaar make the play of the tournament so far in centerfield.

Prior to Nootbaar's departure to Japan, he had been competing for a starting outfield role with the club that was all but promised to the 25-year-old. He had limited spring training action, only appearing in two games and going 1-5 at the plate.

However, his performance at the World Baseball Classic will ensure that one of Dylan Carlson, Tyler O'Neil, and Jordan Walker cannot take his spot in the St. Louis outfield when the season begins on March 30.

His stellar second half to the 2022 season earned him a long leash this spring to win a spot in the outfield. He ended the 2022 campaign with 14 home runs, 40 RBIs, and a 126 OPS+ all while playing a great defensive outfield.

Meanwhile, in Taiwan, Pallante and Team Italy had a dream start to its World Baseball Classic, securing an upset win over Team Cuba in extra innings, 6-3. The win for Team Italy sets up the Italians to move closer to a quarterfinal berth with a win over Panama on Friday.

Pallante came in relief of former New York Mets starter Matt Harvey. The Cardinals' hurler threw two strong innings against Cuba, allowing one hit while walking two and striking out one.

The 24-year-old reliever had only appeared in two spring training games prior to leaving for the WBC, but his spot in the Cardinals bullpen should not be up for grabs after a confident 2022 campaign.

Pallante split time between the starting rotation and the bullpen in St. Louis. He appeared in 47 contests with 10 starts to his name. He finished the year with a 6-5 record and a 3.17 ERA while being especially effective against lefties.

With the left-handed relief role in question for the Cardinals in 2023, Pallante's absence from the team only helps the Cardinals as they are now able to give more opportunities to Genesis Cabrera, Zach Thompson, and various other left-handed relievers.

The strong starts for Pallante and Nootbaar should only signal the beginning of what should be a dynamic World Baseball Classic for the Cardinals organization.

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