Sunday, February 7, 2010

HERMOSILLO STUNS CARIBBEAN SERIES HOST CARACAS TWICE

Although the Mexican Pacific League champion Hermosillo Naranjeros were mathematically eliminated from contention for the Caribbean Series title on February 6, the Orangemen did gain a measure of satisfaction by defeating the host Caracas Leones twice in four days at Isla Margarita, Venezuela.

The Naranjeros opened their CS schedule with a resounding 7-2 win over Caracas on February 2. Starter Pablo Ortega combined with three relievers to scatter two runs on seven hits, but it was a four-run fourth inning outburst that put the game in the hip pocket for the Mexicans. Consecutive doubles by Chris Roberson, Nelson Teilon and Vinny Castilla (pictured) helped put the score at 5-0 and the Naranjeros never looked back.

Hermosillo’s opening win was followed by two losses. The Naranjeros were clubbed by Dominican champion Escogido, 7-1, on February 3 as Leones starter Nelson Figueroa allowed just three hits, including a solo homer by Carlos Valencia in the eighth inning. Then Puerto Rico’s Mayaguez Indios scored three runs in the first inning en route to a 5-3 win over Hermosillo on February 4. Roberson had a single and double, but the Naranjeros just couldn’t put a comeback together. Roberson led Hermosillo batters with a .333 average.

The Orangemen then took a game from the Venezuelans once more on February 5, winning 3-2 in ten innings as Castilla singled home Heber Gomez with the deciding run in the bottom of the frame. Karim Garcia collected two hits, including a solo homer.

Hermosillo was officially knocked out of contention February 6 with a 7-2 loss to Escogido. Leones starter Heath Phillips, who has pitched in the Mex Pac, turned in seven strong innings and let in two runs on three hits with seven strikeouts. Luis Alfonso Garcia crashed a two-run homer in the first, but Phillips shut down the Naranjeros from that point on.

The Naranjeros dropped their final CS game on February 7, losing to Mayaguez, 8-2, as Jesus Feliciano and Angel Sanchez each went 3-for-4 and Armando Rios had two doubles with three RBIs for the Indios. Luis Cruz hit a two-run homer for Hermosillo.

ESCOGIDO WINS CS TITLE, INDIOS’ FELICIANO TOP BATTER

Escogido scored four runs in the first inning on February 7 and went on to beat Caracas by a 7-4 count to clinch the Caribbean Series title in the final game of the six-day tournament. It was the third CS title for the Leones, and the first in 20 winters. Escogido won five of their six games, only dropping a 7-3 decision to Mayaguez on February 5.

The Indios finished second with a 4-2 record despite a .307 team batting average that was 62 points higher than the .245 average Escogido put up. The Puerto Rican pitchers combined for a CS-best .187 ERA, too, but Escogido’s starters were consistently more effective over the Series. Hermosillo finished third at 2-4, while host Caracas brought up the rear with a 1-5 record.

Mayaguez’ Jesus Feliciano (pictured) easily won the Series batting title, going 13-for-27 at the plate for a .481 average. Escogido’s Kevin Barker and Fernando Martinez each hit two homers, while Feliciano and Dominican Juan Francisco both had five RBIs.

Among pitchers, Escogido’s Raul Valdes won both starts despite a 4.09 ERA, and led the CS with 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. Mario Santiago of Mayaguez had the top ERA with a 0.75 mark over 12 innings, while Escogido’s Dario Veras led relievers with three saves.

SIX LMB TEAMS AWARDED RIGHTS TO RELEASED MiLB PLAYERS

The Mexican League Assembly drew lots last Monday for the rights to six Mexican-born players who have been released by Major League Baseball organizations. The first player chosen was left-handed pitcher Luis Martinez, a Mazatlan native who turned 19 on February 5. Martinez, whose rights were assigned to Puebla, pitched eight innings for Atlanta’s Dominican Summer League team last year and posted an ERA of 3.12 with no decisions.

Catcher Rogelio del Campo, who played one game for Buffalo of the International League in 2009, was taken second by Campeche. Pitcher Juan Pablo Menchaca, who did not play organized ball last summer, was selected third by Monterrey. The Torreon native was 5-4 with a 3.76 ERA for Eugene of the Northwest League in 2008. The fourth player taken was catcher Gerard Bustamante of Nogales, who last played in the Diamondbacks organization in 2008. Bustamante’s rights were assigned to Yucatan.


The final two players picked were listed as Ivan Villaescusa and Juan Pablo Oyervides. Villaescusa, a former catcher in the Angels system who spent last year playing independent ball with Coastal Bend of the United League, was assigned to Oaxaca. Oyervides’ name was drawn by Nuevo Laredo, but no information could be found on him (although there is a pitcher named Jose Pablo Oyervides who spent a number of seasons in the Padres’ organization).

SIX UNSIGNED PLAYERS DECLARED INELIGIBLE TO PLAY IN LIGA

The Mexican League Assembly has ruled that six players will not be able to play in the Liga this summer due to not having signed contracts. The two most notable names are former major league first baseman Erubiel Durazo (pictured), who hit .245 in 14 games for Monterrey last year, and longtime outfielder Luis Arredondo, the Mexican League’s all-time stolen bases leader who batted .338 and swiped 31 sacks in 2009 at the age of 38.

Others ruled ineligible to play in the Mexican League this season include pitchers Antonio Osuna, Emil Kamar and Alonso Beltran plus catcher Julio Cesar Parra. Osuna spent all or part of eleven seasons in the majors.

The Assembly also voted to begin the 2010 League Championship Series with two games at the Southern Zone champion’s ballpark, alternating annually with the Northern Zone.

CHIHUAHUA SIGNS MAC SUZUKI, EYING TWO CARIBBEAN SERIES PITCHERS

Now that their management situation appears to have been settled, the Chihuahua Dorados have taken a proactive approach to bringing players to training camp later this month.

According to Dorados general manager Iram Campos, Chihuahua had a list of 35 players heading into February, as well as options for five Monterrey Sultanes players (including major league veterans Benji Gil and Jose Silva). The Dorados have also brought another former big league pitcher, Mac Suzuki (pictured), on board for 2010, as well as ex-MLB outfielder Jacob Cruz.

And Campos isn’t done yet.

Campos was in Venezuela along with Dorados team president Mario Rodriguez for the Caribbean Series, where he had talks with Caracas pitchers Orber Moreno and Darwin Cubillan. Puro Beisbol quoted Campos as saying he was “very advanced” in talks with Moreno, and that Cubillan had contacted him during the tournament to discuss playing in Chihuahua.

Moreno, a 32-year-old submarine pitcher who has MLB experience with Kansas City and the New York Mets, was 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA in 37 innings for Mexico City and Quintana Roo last summer. The 37-year-old Cubillan has pitched for four major league teams, and was 3-5 with a 5.20 ERA while splitting the 2009 Mexican League season between Oaxaca and Mexico City.

The Dorados would likely use Moreno in the closer’s role this year, while both Suzuki and Cubillan would alternate between middle relief and setup man.

2010 CARIBBEAN SERIES RESULTS

TUESDAY, February 2
Escogido (DR) 2, Mayaguez (PR) 1
Kevin Barker’s HR in the bottom of the 6th ended up as the game winner. P Mario Santiago let in 2 runs in 7 IP for Mayaguez.

HERMOSILLO (MX) 7, Caracas (VZ) 2
Vinny Castilla doubled, homered and scored 3 runs for Naranjeros as Caracas starter Guillermo Moscoso lasted just 3.2 innings.


WEDNESDAY, February 3
Escogido (DR) 7, HERMOSILLO (MX) 1
Willis Otanez’ 2-run 2B and Fernando Martinez’ solo HR keyed 4-run 1st for Dominicans. Carlos Valencia hit HR for Mexicans.

Caracas (VZ) 5, Mayaguez (PR) 2
Raul Padron crushed a 2-run HR and cracked an RBI single to lead the Leones. Mayaguez SS Angel Sanchez went 3-for-4.


THURSDAY, February 4
Mayaguez (PR) 5, HERMOSILLO (MX) 3
Michael Hernandez’ 2-run HR in 6th inning put game away for Indios. Hermosillo scored 2 runs on 3 Mayaguez errors in 4th.

Escogido (DR) 3, Caracas (VZ) 2
Freddy Guzman broke 2-2 tie by stealing home in 7th for Escogido. Oscar Salazar belted a 2-run HR for Caracas.


FRIDAY, February 5
Mayaguez (PR) 7, Escogido (DR) 3
Danny Valencia singled and doubled for the Indios, driving in 3 runs. Juan Francisco had 2 hits and 2 RBIs for Escogido.

HERMOSILLO (MX) 3, Caracas (VZ) 2 (10)
Vinny Castilla’s single in the 10th inning drove in Heber Gomez with the game-winner. Michael Ryan hit HR for Caracas.


SATURDAY, February 6
Escogido (DR) 7, HERMOSILLO (MX) 2
Juan Francisco, Kevin Barker and Fernando Martinez all homered for Leones. Luis Alfonso Garcia hit 2-run HR for Hermosillo.

Mayaguez (PR) 7, Caracas (VZ) 1
Jesus Feliciano cracks a 2-run HR in a 3-run 5th inning for Indios. Jackson Melian scores lone Caracas run on sacrifice fly in 5th.


SUNDAY, February 7
Mayaguez (PR) 8, HERMOSILLO (MX) 2
Jesus Feliciano and Angel Sanchez each had 3 hits and Armando Rios had 3 RBIs for Indios. Luis Cruz hit 2-run HR for Hermosillo.

Escogido (DR) 7, Caracas (VZ) 4
Raul Valdes combined with 4 relievers on 3-hitter for Escogido. Cesar Quintero hit 3-run HR for Caracas.


FINAL STANDINGS
Escogido (DR) 5-1, Mayaguez (PR) 4-2, HERMOSILLO (MX) 2-4, Caracas (VZ) 1-5

MEXICAN BASEBALL ROAD TRIP (Stop #19): Minatitlán, Veracruz

Minatitlán is a city in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Veracruz, located on the railway and on Highway 121. It is a sister city of Minatitlan in the state of Colima (on the other side of the country), and is one of the smallest cities in Mexican League baseball.

In 2005, the metropolitian area had a population of 152,907. The Minatitlan municipality has an area of nearly 1,600 square miles and includes many small outlying communities.

Much of the city sits on reclaimed marshlands, and many new homes built on this reclaimed land have a tendency to sink as much as several feet before settling. Much of the surrounding undeveloped land is marshy, especially toward the northeast en route to Coatzacoalcos. There is a large Zapotec Indian population in Minatitlan. They are easily recognizable in their traditional Zapotec clothing. Most speak Spanish, but their traditional Zapotec language is still in common usage among them.

One of Mexico's six oil refining facilities is located in Minatitlan. The refining complex processes about 300,000 barrels a day and produces diesel, fuel oil, and gasoline. The local economy basically depends on the petroleum industry, but corn, fruits, sugar, and rice are also cultivated in the area.

Culturally, Minatitlán is home to a religious Candlemas festival in early February; a carnival running between the end of February and early May features folk music and dancing, cockfighting, horse racing and fireworks; a celebration of the so-called “Petroleum Expropriation” in late May centers on music, sports and fireworks; while similar events take place during the annual San Juan Bautista Festival on June 24.

The Minatitlán Petroleros (or “Oilers”) have an interesting history. The team spent several years in Cancun, where they were known as the Langosteros. The Lobstermen were one of the less successful Mexican League franchises, advancing to the Southern Zone Championship Series just once (in 1997). The damage Hurricane Wilma wreaked on the ballpark in Cancun after the 2005 season forced the team to move to Poza Rica, where the team was renamed the Petroleros. However, the team and city had a falling out on their ballpark lease, resulting in the team moving to Cordoba in the midst of the 2006 season and being renamed the Cafeteros. After finishing the schedule, the club once again re-settled in Minatitlán for the 2007 season and reclaiming the Petroleros nickname.

Last year’s edition finished a Liga-worst 34-73, winning just 13 of 54 games in the second half of the season.

NEXT ROAD TRIP STOP (#20): Oaxaca, Oaxaca