Zambrano wants to start Venezuela's Classic opener

2/5/2006 - MLB Carlos Zambrano

VALENCIA, Venezuela -- Though Johan Santana is Venezuela's likely starter for the World Baseball Classic opener against the Dominican Republic, Carlos Zambrano wants the chance to vie for the honor himself.

Carlos Zambrano Zambrano

"I like challenges and I think this could be a big one," Zambrano told ESPNdeportes.com in the Jose Bernardo Perez Stadium in Valencia.

Zambrano, a right-hander, might be a better option to pitch against the mostly right-handed hitting Dominican Republic lineup than the lefty Santana.

Zambrano visited the Caracas Lions' players, Venezuela's representatives, before Saturday's game against the Licey Tigers from the Dominican Republic, during the third day of action in the Caribbean Series.

"I think they will have the best team in the World Classic and I want to face them," Zambrano added.

The Chicago Cubs right-hander said he will take part in Venezuela's mini-training camp, on Feb. 10-12, in Caracas and Valencia.

The Dominicans and Venezuelans will meet on March 7th.

Pedro Martinez, the New York Mets star, should open the game for the Dominican Republic. Martinez (1997, 1999 and 2000) and Santana (2004) are the only pitchers from their respective countries to win Cy Young awards in the majors.

The World Baseball Classic will include many of the best players in the Major Leagues. National teams from 16 different countries will see action March 3 through 20 in the United States, Japan and Puerto Rico. The Dominican Republic and Venezuela will play in Group D, with Italy and Australia, in Orlando, Fla.

The best two teams in the group will advance to the second round and will face the best two teams from Group C (Cuba, Holland, Puerto Rico and Panama) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

"The Dominican Republic and the United States will be strong favorites in the Classic and I will be ready to face them," said Zambrano.

Zambrano, 25, has a 43-25 record in his last three seasons with Chicago.