Friday, April 29, 2016

Yomiuri Giants looking at Saltillo LHP Rodriguez

It doesn't matter where baseball is played for one axiom of the game to hold true: There is no such thing as too much good pitching.  In this case, the Yomiuri Giants are expanding their search to improve their pitching staff to Mexico, specifically Saltillo, where veteran left-hander Hector Daniel "Danny" Rodriguez is working for the Saraperos.

After going 7-3 with a 3.12 ERA in 14 regular season start for Culiacan, Rodriguez was named as BBM's Winter Playoff MVP following a strong performance in the Mexican Pacific League playoffs and two wins for the champion Mazatlan Venados at the Caribbean Series in Santo Domingo.  He also pitched Mexico to victory over Nicaragua in last month's World Baseball Classic qualifier final at Mexicali.

The 31-year-old Culiacan native had a couple of rough outings for the Saraperos to start the Mexican League season before settling down to throw seven shutout innings against Oaxaca with seven strikeouts on April 16, followed by another strong outing at Veracruz on April 22.  In that one, Rodriguez allowed just one Aguila Rojos hit with nine strikeouts in six frames, recording nine strikeout and just one walk.

Edgar Gonzalez, who managed Rodriguez in the WBC qualifier, doubles as Yomiuri's Mexican scout in addition to his role as skipper for the Mexicali Aguilas in the LMP (for whom Rodriguez pitched in the playoffs before the Aguilas lost to the Venados in the championship series).  Gonzalez was in Veracruz with other Giants reps for Danny's last start, during which he wore a splint on his right arm because of a fracture but obviously showed no worse for wear.

Although Rodriguez is pitching for Saltillo (where he's 1-0 with a 2.70 ERA after four starts), his rights still belong to the Baltimore Orioles after spending all or part of three seasons pitching for AAA Gwinnett in the Braves system (he pitched briefly for the O's AAA affiliate in Norfolk last spring before returning to Saltillo), so the Giants will have to negotiate with Baltimore if they decide to bring him to Japan.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Acereros drop two of three to Yucatan, still lead LMB Norte

Despite losing twice in a three-game home series against Yucatan over the weekend, the Monclova Acereros nonetheless still held on to a narrow lead in the Mexican League's North Division going into Monday's travel day on the schedule.

The Leones took it to Monclova, 10-1, Sunday night as Yucatan posted six runs in the top of the first inning and were never threatened afterward.  The loss, in front of 8,640 fans at Estadio Monclova, dropped the Acereros' record to 14-6, one game ahead of second-place Monterrey.  Yucatan kept pace with Quintana Roo in the LMB South, with both teams ending the weekend with 13-7 marks.  The Tigres swept a three-game set against Laguna in Torreon, including another Sunday route, 10-2, over the Vaqueros.  Jorge "Chato" Vazquez (pictured above) had two hits and drove in three runs for the defending champs while Max Ramirez clubbed his first homer of the season.  The Vaqueros have lost six in a row to fall to seventh in the North at 10-10, one game ahead of last-place Saltillo.

Perennial contenders in the North, the Saraperos have been in unfamiliar territory as cellar-dwellers, although a 9-11 record isn't a call for pressing the panic button.  Saltillo has found the going tougher at home, with just a 4-7 record at Estadio Francisco I. Madero while going 5-4 on the road.  Still, they haven't had the kind of problems the Oaxaca Guerreros experienced to start their season.  Oaxaca lost their first eleven games before pulling out a 6-5 win at Saltillo (see above) in ten innings on April 15.  The Guerreros have won four of their last ten games but at 4-16, are still a game behind seventh-place Carmen.

Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia has taken over the lead in the LMB batting race with a .415 average, including 4 homers, in 16 games.  Five players are hitting .400 or better.  Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez still leads the circuit with 7 homers and 28 RBI while seeing his average cool to an even .400, and Puebla outfielder Nyjer Morgan has 9 stolen bases to top the table in that category.  The ex-MLBer is hitting .327.
Among pitchers, Monterrey starter Edgar Gonzalez is off to a great start with a 3-1 record and 0.77 ERA in four starts.  The former Diamondbacks hurler has gone three starts and 18 innings without giving up an earned run and has walked just two batsmen in 23.1 frames.  Gonzalez leads the Liga in ERA and is tied for the lead in wins with eight other pitchers.  One of those, Monterrey's Josh Lowey (3-1), has 32 strikeouts to share the lead with Tabasco's Antonio Guzman.  Well-traveled minor league vet Wirfin Obispo has 8 saves for Monterrey. The 31-year-old Obispo is in his first LMB season after splitting 2015 between AAA Colorado Springs and AA Biloxi.

All 16 Liga teams will open eight series Tuesday night.  The biggest at this point of the season is in Cancun, where the Tigres will host Puebla in a three-game set.  The 12-8 Pericos are one game behind Quintana Roo and Yucatan in the LMB South.  Monclova is in Mexico City to play three against the 11-9 Diablos Rojos in the most important series in the North.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Yucatan veteran Morejon collects 2,000th Liga hit

Yucatan Leones veteran Oswaldo Morejon has recorded the 2,000th hit of his Mexican League career.  Morejon reached the milestone during a 6-0 series-opening loss to Reynosa on April 15 before a Friday night crowd of 10,924 at Merida's Parque Kukulcan.

Morejon entered the game with one out in the bottom of the ninth, pinch-hitting for Leones shortstop Kevin Flores.  After fouling off a pair of Sergio Zamudio pitches, the 37-year-old Merida native lined Zamudio's 0-2 pitch between Broncos third baseman Miguel Torrero and shortstop Hector Hernandez into left field for a single. At that point, Yucatan manager Willie Romero sent Kristian Delgado to first base to replace Morejon, who left the field with fans chanting his name all the way to the dugout.

A 5'9" 1695-pounder, Morejon broke into the Liga with the Leones as as 18-year-old in 1997, batting .244 with no homers in 74 games.  He has spent all but two seasons of his 20-year career with Yucatan, playing 1,717 games almost exclusively at second base.  Morejon has batted over .300 nine times, including an uncharacteristic .383 (fourth in the LMB) over 111 games for Laguna in 2013, and has a career average of .296.  Never a longball hitter with only 72 career homers, Morejon has displayed occasional gap power and speed with 332 doubles and 36 triples along with 108 stolen bases.

Morejon has also played ten winters in the Mexican Pacific League, covering the keystone for Guasave, Mexicali and Mazatlan between 2005 and 2014, batting .272 in the more pitching-friendly circuit.

Former teammate Romero has played Oswaldo sparingly thus far this season.  Going into this weekend's series in Monclova, Morejon has gone 6-for-23 in eight games for a .261 average with one double and one RBI for the 11-6 Leones, who are tied with Puebla for first place in the LMB South.  The host Acereros are 13-4 with a two-game lead over Monterrey in the LMB North.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Hernandez off to hot start for Aguascalientes

April is a little early to start talking about Triple Crown contenders, but shortstop Diory Hernandez of the Aguascalientes is apparently willing to at least stake out an early position in the discussion.

The 32-year-old Dominican is in his third year in the Mexican League after spending nine seasons in the Braves system, including 75 games over three campaigns in Atlanta during which he hit .157 with three homers.  After batting .256 for Campeche in 2013 and taking the next year off, Hernandez hit a combined .315 with one homer in 36 games.  Having hit just 49 homers over 13 seasons as a pro and never reaching double-digits in a single season, nobody expected him to have the kind of start to the season he's produced for the Rieleros.

After just 14 games, Hernandez is leading the LMB in all three Triple Crown categories with a .453 batting average, six homers and 23 runs batted in.  He went 4-for-5 with a homer and 6 RBI's against Monterrey on April 7.  Five days later on the 12th, he collected three hits with a homer and six more ribbies at home against Oaxaca before knocking out two solo homers against the Guerreros on the 14th.  Hernandez drove in two more runs Sunday night against Puebla, singling and doubling to stretch his modest hitting streak to six games. However, he's not a likely threat to keep his current output up for an entire season.

Hernandez' early power display has been a key factor in Aguascalientes' battle for first place in the LMB North.  The Rieleros, a perennial also-ran with just one 1978 Liga pennant in the forty-plus years since the team's inception (minus a four-year stay in Nuevo Laredo between 2008 and 2011), ended last weekend with an 8-6 record, two games behind co-leaders Monclova and Laguna and one in back of Monterrey despite being swept by the Pericos over the weekend.  The Rieleros will open a series in Veracruz Tuesday.

Like Aguascalientes, neither Laguna nor Monclova have ever been powers in Mexican baseball, with the old Laguna Algodoneros taking titles in 1942 and 1950 and no Acereros team ever copping the flag.  The Vaqueros helped themselves by winning two of three in their weekend road set in Campeche while Monclova did likewise in Carmen to enter Monday's travel day tied for first with Laguna at 10-4.  Monclova opens a three-game home series with Quintana Roo Tuesday while Laguna will welcome the Yucatan Leones to Torreon the same might.

In the LMB South, Puebla and defending champion Quintana Roo are tied atop the table with 10-4 records. The Pericos' broomification of Aguascalientes stretched Puebla's winning streak to seven in a row.  The Parrots have gotten good production from ex-MLB outfielder Nyjer Morgan, who's batting .368 with three homers and 13 RBI's along with seven stolen bases in 14 games.  Puebla will host Mexico City for a three-game series at Estadio Hermanos Serdan beginning Tuesday.

The Tigres have kept pace with the Pericos by winning eight of their last ten games, including a 4-3 win over Monterrey Sunday in Cancun as Esteban Quiroz singled and doubled to bring in two runs for Quintana Roo in support of rookie pitcher Fernando Miranda, who retired the first ten Sultanes hitters of the game and went five innings in his first start for his second win of the young season against no losses.  Miranda's ERA is at 7.71, so it's not time to call him a sensation just yet.  The Tigres are in Monclova Tuesday.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Liga vets Quintero, Silva dealt to new teams

Two longtime veterans of the Mexican baseball wars have been sent to new teams this week.  On Monday, the Monterrey Sultanes loaned Edgar Quintero (pictured) to LMB North rivals Saltillo.  One day later, Tijuana dealt venerable pitcher Walter Silva to the Laguna Vaqueros for catcher Gilberto Galaviz.

Now 38, the lefty-batting Quintero hit .315 for Monterrey in 68 games.  He broke in with the Sultanes in 1997 and, except for one year in Puebla, has spent his entire career with Monterrey.  Quintero has yet to play this season, in which he entered 11 hits shy of 1,500 for his LMB career and needs 20 homers to reach 250 lifetime in the Liga.

The 39-year-old Silva is another former fixture in Monterrey, spending all or part of twelve seasons in Sultanes togs before being dealt to Tijuana in 2014.  The right-hander has gone 12-18 over the past two summers for the Toros and owns a lifetime 74-66 LMB record, reaching double-figure win totals in three seasons. Silva pitched six games for the San Diego Padres in 2009, losing twice.

Two other LMB vets landed with new teams earlier in the week.  Outfielder Willy Taveras signed as a free agent with the Puebla Pericos while catcher Adan Munoz was loaned to Reynosa by the Tjuana Toros.  Taveras led the National League in stolen bases with 67 swipes for the Rockies in 2008.  He hit .316 with 11 homers for Puebla in 2014 and spent most of last year with Sugar Land in the independent Atlantic League.

Munoz, who turned 38 last month, made his Liga debut in 1998 with Monclova, batting .348 in 22 games.  While he's only topped the .300 threshhold three times since then, the 6'2" 215-pound Sonora native has built a reputation as a timely hitter with some power and a tough catcher who is not one to be messed with.  It may be interesting to see how well he works with Kyle Farnsworth in Reynosa.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Kyle Farnsworth signs with Reynosa, tosses two scoreless frames against Aguascalientes

Kyle Farnsworth's long strange trip through the world of sports has taken him to Reynosa, where the 16-year MLB veteran reliever signed a contract with the Mexican League Broncos last weekend.

This is not the Wichita native's first go-round in the Liga.  Farnsworth spent part of last season in Puebla, where he was 2-1 with a 2.04 ERA in 17 appearances for the Pericos.  Prior to signing with Reynosa, the 6'4" 230-pound righty was playing minor league amateur football with the Orlando Phantoms of the Florida Football Alliance.

The sometimes-controversial Farnsworth has been one of the more well-traveled players in the Majors since his debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1999, going 5-9 with a 5.09 ERA as a starter that year before being converted into a middle reliever the following spring.  After six seasons calling Wrigley Field home, Farnsworth's journey through the bigs took him to Detroit, Atlanta, New York, Detroit (again), Kansas City, Atlanta (again), Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and New York (again, this time with the Mets) between 2005 and 2014.  In 893 appearances during his MLB career, Farnsworth had a 43-66 record with 57 saves, including 25 for the Rays in 2013, with a 4.26 ERA.

Farnsworth made his first appearance Sunday against Aguascalientes in Reynosa, pitching scoreless ball in the eighth and ninth innings and striking out three as the Broncos fell, 1-0.  Seventeen of his 24 pitches were strikes.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Five Liga teams go 6-2 for first week of season, Oaxaca out the gate at 0-8

The Mexican League's 2016 season got into full swing last week after home-and-away series marked Opening Weekend, and no less than five teams are off to 6-and-2 starts.  In the LMB North, Monclova and Monterrey are tied for the division lead while Yucatan, Campeche and defending champion Quintana Roo are atop the LMB South standings.

Both Campeche and Quintana Roo are riding five-game win streaks going into Monday's travel day.  The Piratas took a 3-2 win at Veracruz Sunday as a double by shortstop Paul Leon (pictured) in the top of the ninth inning drove in C.J. Retherford with what proved to be the game-winning run.  Leon also homered and finished the game with three hits to raise his team-leading average to .448.  The Tigres completed a three-game sweep of the Guerreros in Oaxaca with a convincing 8-2 win Sunday as first baseman  Jorge Vazquez homered twice and singled to drive in four runs.  Oaxaca starter Ruddy Acosta only last 1.2 innings, giving up five runs on nine hits to drop to 0-2 for the young season.

Monclova extended their own win skein to four in a row Sunday by scoring eight runs in the bottom of the sixth frame to wipe out a three-run deficit in their 11-5 comeback win over Mexico City.  Jose Amador and Denis Phipps combined to drive in five runs for the Acereros as Amador cracked his second homer of the campaign during Monclova's outburst in the sixth.  The win came despite an outpouring of 17 hits by the visiting Diablos Rojos, including three for 21-year-old second sacker Samar Leyva, but the Red Devils left 13 runners on base after batting 4-for-18 with runners in scoring position.

Monterrey outfielder Felix Perez is the early leader in the Mexican League batting race on an 18-for-33 performance for a .545 average, Tigres teammates Alex Liddi and Esteban Quiroz are tied for the lead in homers with four apiece while Liddi tops the loop with 16 RBIs (Liddi has also struck out 14 times in 35 at-bats thus far).  Puebla's Nyjer Morgan is tied with Irving Falu of Oaxaca for the stolen bases lead with 4 apiece.

Seven pitchers already have two wins against no losses, with Carmen's Mario Gonzalez the most effective of the bunch after throwing 12 shutout innings and allowing just 7 hits over his two starts.  Veracruz' Maneul Al Flores has been almost as good, giving up just four hits and no runs over 11 frames, but has only two no-decisions to show for it.  Antonio Guzman has 18 strikeouts in 12 entradas for Tabasco to top the K category while Campeche's Jose de la Torre has earned four saves in five outings to lead the circuit.

Attendance leaguewide has unsurprisingly dropped off after Opening Weekend but Monterrey is still looking strong after 25,845 fanaticos attended Sunday's 7-5 win over Saltillo home.  In three openings, the Sultanes are averaging 23,430. Yesterday's loss to the Tigres ended a miserable week at the gate in Oaxaca, where just 2,708 spectators per game attended seven Guerreros home games at Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.

LMB NORTH STANDINGS: Monclova 6-2, Monterrey 6-2, Aguascalientes 5-3, Laguna 5-3, Reynosa 3-5, Saltillo 3-5, Mexico City 2-6, Tijuana 2-6.
LMB SOUTH STANDINGS: Campeche 6-2, Quintana Roo 6-2, Yucatan 6-2, Veracruz 5-3, Puebla 4-4, Carmen 3-5, Tabasco 2-6, Oaxaca 0-8.