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Angels' Morales rooting for Cuba
03/19/2006 8:53 PM ET
TEMPE, Ariz. -- Kendry Morales can't help but feel a little pride for the Cuban baseball team.

His native country has advanced to the final game of the inaugural World Baseball Classic and will face Japan on Monday in San Diego's PETCO Park.

After defecting from Cuba in 2004, Morales is a citizen of the Dominican Republic, but he knows the Cuban players well and counts them as his friends. The 22-year-old would certainly be member of the finalist squad, having played for Cuban national teams on numerous occasions.

In 2003, Morales hit a grand slam as Cuba upended Taiwan to win the gold medal in the Baseball World Cup tournament. A year earlier, he was the first teenager to star for Cuba since Omar Linares in the 1980s.

Morales played Saturday in Tucson, Ariz., but he was able to see a few innings of Cuba's 3-1 win over the Dominican Republic on television.

"I'd like to be there, but I'm here," Morales said through an interpreter. "The country is very happy. It's Cuba's team."

Morales said he is not surprised that Cuba advanced to the final, given his former country's extensive experience in international competition. He also said he would celebrate if Cuba prevails on Monday.

"When you win in Cuba, you feel that everyone, the whole country, how much they support you and what you did," Morales said. "They're not professionals, you have to remember. It's amateur baseball. We all feel very proud."

The Angels' last roster spot among position players is likely to come down to Tim Salmon and Robb Quinlan -- with Morales holding an outside shot.

Both Salmon and Morales have had solid springs at the plate. Salmon is hitting .313 with two doubles in 11 games and has a .378 on-base percentage. Morales is hitting .350 with four doubles, a triple, a homer and nine RBIs in 15 games while posting a .381 on-base percentage. Morales also is improving at first base.

Quinlan is hitting just .258 in 13 games but can play as many as four positions -- both corner infield spots and both corners in the outfield.

Salmon has the edge as long as his surgically repaired left shoulder and left knee continue to hold up, but the decision will hinge mostly on who is swinging the bat well and projects into a Major League role.

"The first thing we will look at is offensive production and who is the best candidate to fit into our lineup," manager Mike Scioscia said. "But if that is not available, and the guys that need to jump up don't materialize, we will look at versatility."

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.