Nicaragua pitcher strikes out MLB stars, signs with Tigers

Detroit Tigers

One inning changed Duque Hebbert’s life in a hurry. His manager, Sandor Guido, called it “history for our country.” 

The 21-year-old right-hander — who has never pitched in affiliated pro ball — took the mound for Team Nicaragua in the ninth inning of Monday’s World Baseball Classic game versus the Dominican Republic, a 6-1 win for the D.R.

But Hebbert was absolutely unfazed by the challenge. He began his frame with Soto, who homered earlier in the game, and struck out the Padres superstar on three pitches. Rodríguez experienced the same fate when he whiffed on an 80 mph slider. Machado doubled to left, but Hebbert bounced back by striking out Rafael Devers on a changeup.

“Duque’s performance yesterday was great,” Guido said on Tuesday. “It’s a fairytale, as you have said. … I called on him for the ninth inning. Duque came out, and you saw his performance — Soto, Rodríguez. I thought Machado would be the last … but no, he was spared. Then Devers.

“The guy was impressive. Now everyone is speaking about Duque in the world, and in the Classic, he is more famous than myself.”

Hebbert’s work against some of the best players in the world immediately earned him the attention of the Detroit Tigers.

Tigers scout Luis Molina caught up with Hebbert after his outing and, following a short conversation, offered him a contract with the club. The signing was announced to all of Hebbert’s Nicaraguan teammates on the team bus.

“Let’s see what will happen,” Guido said. “I wish him the best of luck, and we as a team with not many stars, thank God that the organizations scouted our players. I want our players to play in Venezuela, Mexico, China and Japan, because this is going to be great for the Nicaraguan baseball.”

To recap Hebbert’s outing: one inning, 19 pitches, 14 strikes, three K’s against All-Star hitters and a contract with an MLB franchise. Not bad for a day’s work.

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