GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Truth be told, Reds pitching prospect Kyle Lotzkar wasn't entirely comfortable about facing his opponent in a relief appearance Wednesday.
The foes were Canada's World Baseball Classic team. Lotzkar, 23, hails from outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.
"I'd rather not," Lotzkar responded when asked about facing his countrymen. "I played with a lot of the guys and went to high school with some of the guys. I won a gold medal with a lot of those guys. It's the team I have a lot of history with. Playing for Team Canada is a different experience than what I've had in pro ball. Pro ball, even though you're on a team, you're also looking out for yourself as much as anything. On Team Canada, it's such a group mentality and team mentality."
The Reds didn't set up the pitching schedule so Lotzkar could face Canada -- it just worked out that way.
"It's not [planned to be special] but I hope he makes it like that," manager Dusty Baker said before the Reds defeated Canada by a 12-2 score. "Added motivation -- you want to be good against your homeboys."
Lotzkar didn't have to pitch in a high-leverage situation when he entered in the top of the eighth inning. The Reds already had a commanding eight-run lead and benefitted from a six-run second inning that featured Ryan Ludwick's three-run home run. In the third inning, Miguel Olivo also slugged a three-run homer for the 10-2 lead. The offense was compiled without Joey Votto, who, unlike Lotzkar, opted not to play because he is a member of both team's rosters.
Canada's first two batters were retired quickly by Lotzkar, who got a foul popout behind first base and a groundout to the shortstop. He issued a walk to Jonathan Malo before Tim Smith reached on an error by right fielder Denis Phipps. Lotzkar escaped on Jimmy Van Ostrand's groundout to third base.
In his first spring appearance Sunday vs. the Royals, Lotzkar was charged with four runs, two hits and two walks in two-thirds of an inning.
Lotzkar hopes to one day be pitching for Canada in the Classic and has already represented his country internationally. In 2011, he was part of a gold medal-winning national team in the Pan American Games and claimed a bronze in the Baseball World Cup. He was on the provisional roster for the 2009 World Baseball Classic but did not make the team, and he wound up missing that season with a stress fracture in his right elbow.
Ranked as the Reds' No. 6 prospect for 2013 by MLB.com, Lotzkar was a combined 7-6 with a 4.55 ERA in 22 starts and one relief appearance with Class A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola. In 112 2/3 innings, he walked a lot of batters -- 63 -- while striking out 123.
An injury in 2012 also prevented Lotzkar from being considered for this year's edition of the World Baseball Classic. He spent the last month of the season with right shoulder irritation, and an offseason MRI exam revealed a SLAP tear of the labrum in his shoulder, also known as a tear to the top part of the labrum, from the front to the back. It did not require surgery, however.
"Going into a playoff-like atmosphere after a pretty significant injury is probably not the best idea," Lotzkar said.
A former left wing in his youth hockey days, Lotzkar chose baseball to be his profession during his time at South Delta High School. The Reds made him a supplemental first-round pick (53rd overall) in the 2007 Draft.
A Blue Jays and Mariners fan as a kid, Lotzkar grew up liking Roy Halladay and Roger Clemens, but also followed fellow British Columbian Jeff Francis of the Rockies.
Lotzkar hopes to be part of the continuing wave of Canadian talent that has crossed south of its border -- including Votto, the Twins' Justin Morneau and former high school teammate Brett Lawrie of the Blue Jays.
There are fewer pitchers that are currently in the Majors, but the list includes Brewers closer John Axford and the Tigers' Shawn Hill.
"We're getting a lot more recognition now because of names like Votto, especially recently," Lotzkar said. "It's one of those things, especially on the west coast of Canada, the weather is not too bad and the playing season is longer. Pitchers have a little disadvantage, especially coming out of Canada, compared to warmer states -- we throw two days a week and our season is half of theirs. But you're seeing a lot of really good hitters starting to come from there."
Still catching up after his shoulder issues, Lotzkar was late working off a mound. But he has been developing his changeup since last season. Because it still bothers his shoulder when hitting, he will be transitioned from a starter to a reliever this season.
"Whatever gets me there," Lotzkar said. "I attribute the walks a lot to health but cutting those will be a byproduct of being completely healthy."