JUPITER, Fla.—Former big league manager Tony La Russa, who sat behind home plate Friday afternoon, had to be impressed with Nate Freiman, who has now hit four homers in two games.
Freiman, a first baseman and a San Diego Padres' Double-A prospect, hit a pair of two-run shots Friday to lead Israel to a 4-2 victory over Spain in a World Baseball Classic qualifier that drew 814 fans. Israel advanced to Sunday's 5 p.m. title game and will play Spain, South Africa or France for the right to advance to the WBC main draw in March.
Righthander Justin Schumer (Giants) got the win, allowing just one unearned run in 5 2/3 innings. But he may not have gotten the victory had it not been for the tower of power that is 6-foot-7, 225-pound Freiman.
"If Nate keeps hitting, there will be no stopping him," said Israel manager Brad Ausmus, a former big-league catcher who is now a special assistant for the Padres. "The organization is definitely watching Nate. I received a text after the first game from Josh Byrnes, the (Padres) general manager, and he said: 'Tell Nate to keep raking.' I'm guessing I'll get a similar text tonight."
With the game scoreless in the sixth, Israel's Ben Guez reached on a three-base error by Spain center fielder Engel Beltre. Spain starter Richard Salazar struck out Joc Pederson before Freiman crushed a 2-1 pitch to left field. The one-out line drive left the park in a hurry.
Spain scored a run in the bottom of the sixth on singles by Paco Figueroa and Rafael Alvarez and an error by Israel center fielder Guez. But reliever David Kopp (Tigers) came in to end the two-on, two-out rally by striking out Gabriel Suarez looking.
Freiman padded Israel's lead to 4-1 with a homer to center that had a lot more loft than his line-drive shot to left in the sixth.
Team Spain scored a run in the bottom of the ninth on a groundout—the key hit in the inning was a leadoff double to right-center by Adrian Nieto (Nationals)—but it wasn't enough.
Spain, which will play the South Africa-France winner Saturday night at 7, is favored to get a rematch with Israel on Sunday. This time, though, it might be well advised to pitch around Freiman, who has remained humble about his power exploits.
Freiman, who turns 26 on New Year's Eve, was asked about potentially making the jump from Double A to the majors this spring. "I'm confident that (the Padres) have an idea of what I can do," he said. "I've played every day for them for four years and never had to share time. My goal is to come to spring training strong and healthy and let the organization decide."