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.