MIAMI -- Team Nicaragua lost to the Dominican Republic during pool-play at the World Baseball Classic on Monday, but one of its pitchers won in a big way.
Duque Hebbert, a 21-year-old right-hander who's listed at 5-foot-9, struck out MLB superstars Juan Soto, Julio Rodriguez and Rafael Devers in the ninth inning of Nicaragua's 6-1 loss and earned himself a contract with the Detroit Tigers in the process.
Luis Molina, who scouts Central America for the Detroit Tigers and is currently serving as a coach for Nicaragua's team, offered Hebbert what amounts to a minor league deal shortly after the game. An announcement was made on the bus in front of the whole team -- after Hebbert posed for a picture with Manny Machado and Soto.
Hebbert has yet to officially sign his deal with the Tigers -- he would need to complete a physical examination first -- but the expectation is that he will do so when he returns home at the end of the tournament.
Hebbert has only been pitching for about a year and a half. He was previously an athletic outfielder who struggled offensively before debuting as a full-time pitcher in Nicaragua's semiprofessional baseball league. He was then named the top rookie while pitching for Tren Del Norte, a Nicaraguan winter-league team, and ultimately earned a spot on the national team that is making its first appearance in the World Baseball Classic.
Hebbert has already impressed with his command of the slider and changeup; the expectation is that he'll continue to add velocity to his fastball as he gains strength. Molina had seen Hebbert pitch a handful of times leading up to the start of this week, including a solid two-inning performance during an exhibition game against the St. Louis Cardinals on March 9.
But Monday's ninth inning ultimately sold him. Hebbert, who also gave up a double to the hot-hitting Machado in his lone inning of work, used mostly low 90s sinkers, mid-80s changeups and low-90s sliders to strike out three of the best hitters in the world. Team Nicaragua manager Sandor Guido called it "extraordinary."
Hebbert kept the ball from his outing and will display it prominently inside his home in Nicaragua.
"I felt a little nervous when I was in the bullpen," he said in Spanish, "but when I came out I told myself, 'In baseball, you can't be scared. You have to enjoy it.' I went out there and enjoyed it to the fullest."