Monday, May 30, 2016

Sultanes catch up to Acereros, All-Star Break ahead

As the Mexican League's five-day All-Star break approaches, the Monterrey Sultanes have taken advantage of a four-game Monclova losing streak to pull into a tie atop the LMB's North Division standings.

Not that the Sultanes have been playing like world-beaters themselves over the past week, losing two of three games in both a series at Monclova and a set at home against Tijuana.  However, Monterrey's 11-6 win over the Acereros last Thursday kicked off the Monclova skid that included being swept in Aguascalientes as both teams ended the weekend with identical 32-19 records while the Rieleros vaulted into third place in the LMB North at 29-21.  Tijuana is fourth with a 29-22 mark, three game behind the co-leaders.

Monterrey pulled into their first-place tie with a 3-0 shutout of the Toros at home Sunday.  Starter Marco Tovar (pictured) scattered three hits over seven innings for the win to go to 2-4 on the season.  Ex-major leaguer Horacio Ramirez dropped to 0-3 with a 7.00 ERA for Tijuana after allowing all three Sultanes runs (including a two-run homer from Alex Valdez) over five innings.

While Monterrey was avoiding getting swept at home, Monclova dropped a 9-4 decision at Aguascalientes.  The Acereros led that one, 3-1, until the bottom of the sixth inning, when the Railroaders put three runs on the board to take the lead.  One inning later, Aguascalientes scored four more times to put the game out of reach and went on to beat the Steelers, 9-4, collecting 17 hits on the way.  Brian Burgamy and Jesse Castillo each had three hits for the winners (with Castillo socking a solo homer in the eighth) while Eliezer Ortiz drove in three runs.  Jose Amador swatted his eleventh longball of the year for Monclova.

In the LMB South, Puebla won two of three home games against Veracruz before traveling to Campeche and doing the same against the Piratas over the weekend, although Campeche did pull out a comeback ten-inning win over the Pericos, 4-3, Sunday night at Parque Nelson Barrera.  The Piratas were trailing, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth when Francisco Rivera lined a two-out single to left off reliever Chad Gaudin, ultimately sending the game into extra innings.  After John Yan retired Puebla without a score in the top of the tenth, Piratas third sacker C.J. Retherford rerouted Pericos hurler Benny Suarez' first pitch of the game over the left field wall for a walk-off homer, his eighth roundtripper of the season.

Despite the loss, Puebla still leads Yucatan by 5.5 games while Quintana Roo trails the leaders by 6.5 games.  Campeche evened their record at 25-25 in fourth place, five games up on 20-30 Oaxaca, who've won won eight of their last ten as new manager Houston Jimenez has breathed some life into the Guerreros since taking the helm earlier this month.  All 16 Liga teams will play three-game series from Monday through Wednesday before taking five days off while the All-Star Weekend is held in Monterrey.  The Sultanes will host Mexico City for a set, Monclova is at home against Saltillo and Puebla will be at Carmen.

Puebla catcher Cesar Tapia still leads the LMB in batting with a .398 average, six points ahead of Mexico City backstop Eliezer Alfonzo's .392.  Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez went a second week without hitting a homer, and now owns a share of the Liga lead in that category with 12, along with Quintana Roo third baseman Alex Liddi and Monclova first baseman Alex Ruiz, who hit one dinger against Monterrey last Wednesday and two bombs in Aguascalientes two nights later.  Hernandez still leads the league in RBI's with 59, 15 ahead of his nearest rivals.  Saltillo outfielder Justin Greene continues to top the loop in stolen bases with 18 swipes, three up on Puebla's Nyjer Morgan.

Tijuana pitcher Hector Ambriz hasn't pitched since a May 22 start against Aguascalientes but his 1.23 ERA is still best in the circuit.  Mexico City starter David Reyes is 8-0 in ten starts to share the LMB lead in wins along with Monclova's ace Josh Lowey, whose 8-2 record comes with a 1.78 ERA and a Liga-best 78 strikeouts over 65.2 innings pitched.  Lowey's moundmate on the Acereros, Jose Oyervides, has been almost as effective, posting a 7-1 record with a 1.78 ERA.  However, the 34-year-old McAllen, Texas native has not pitched since going eight innings against Reynosa May 17.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Rosters announced for LMB All-Star Game

The Mexican League's All-Star Game in Monterrey is a week away and player rosters for both teams have been released.  The North team will be managed by Homar Rojas, skipper of the Monclova Acereros, who won the North title last season, while the South will be managed by Roberto Vizcarra, who is the helmsman for the defending champion Quintana Roo Tigres. Vizcarra took over last May when Jerry Royster was fired and led the Tigres to their sixth Liga pennant since 2000 and twelfth overall by beating Monclova in the title series.

Here are the 31-man player rosters for both All-Star teams, plus coaching staffs:

Pitchers (15) - Hector Ambriz (Tijuana), Alejandro Astuga (Laguna), Lorenzo Barcelo (Aguascalientes), Dustin Crenshaw (Laguna), Barry Enright (Tijuana), Edgar Gonzalez (Monterrey), Arcenio Leon (Monclova), Josh Lowey (Monclova), Wirfin Obispo (Monterrey), Tony Pena Jr. (Laguna), David Reyes (Mexico City), Hector Daniel Rodriguez (Saltillo), Atahualpa Severino (Monterrey), Jason Urquidez (Tijuana), Fabian Williamson (Monclova).
Catchers (2) - Eliezer Alfonzo (Mexico City), Juan Apodaca (Tijuana).
Infielders (8) -Jose Amador (Monclova),  Emmanuel Avila (Mexico City), Juan Carlos Gamboa (Mexico City), Cyle Hankerd (Mexico City), Diory Hernandez (Aguascalientes), Walter Ibarra (Monterrey), Agustin Murillo (Monterrey), Saul Soto (Aguascalientes).
Outfielders (6) - Zoilo Almonte (Monterrey), Justin Greene (Saltillo), Mario Lisson (Saltillo), Felix Perez (Monterrey), Chris Roberson (Monterrey), Ivan Terrazas (Mexico City).
Manager - Homar Rojas (Monclova).
Coaches - Adulfo Camacho (Aguascalientes), Luis Fernando Mendez (Mexico City), Julio Cesar Miranda (Monclova), Noe Munoz (Saltillo), Juan Francisco Rodriguez (Saltillo).

Pitchers (15) - Armando Aguilar (Yucatan), Raul Barron (Quintana Roo), Travis Blackley (Puebla), Esmailin Caridad (Quintana Roo), Chad Gaudin (Puebla), Antonio Guzman (Tabasco), Josh Judy (Quintana Roo), Orlando Lara (Puebla), Mario Meza (Yucatan), Fernando Nieve (Oaxaca), Jose Pina (Veracruz), Armando Rodriguez (Tabasco), Ivan Salas (Campeche), Tiago da Silva (Carmen), Jose de la Torre (Campeche).
Catchers (2) - Alan Espinoza (Veracruz), Cesar Tapia (Puebla).
Infielders (8) - Daric Barton (Puebla), Irving Falu (Oaxaca), Carlos Gastelum (Quintana Roo), Alex Liddi (Quintana Roo), Esteban Quiroz (Quintana Roo), C.J. Retherford (Campeche), Henry Alejandro Rodriguez (Carmen), Jose Manuel Rodriguez (Puebla).
Outfielders (6) - Nyjer Morgan (Puebla), Enrique Osorio (Veracruz), Alex Romero (Veracruz), Dave Sappelt (Campeche), Jesus Valdez (Yucatan), Jorge Vazquez (Quintana Roo).
Manager - Roberto Vizcarra (Quintana Roo).
Coaches - Martin Arzate (Quintana Roo), Isidro Marquez (Campeche), Willie Romero (Yucatan), Gerardo Sanchez (Quintana Roo), Armando Valdez (Quintana Roo).

For those keeping count, host Monterrey will be represented by eight players (including the Sultanes' entire starting outfield) while Puebla and Quintana Roo will each send seven players north for the weekend.  At the other end of the spectrum, Reynosa will have no players nor coaches at the All-Star Game.  Granted, the Broncos have lost 15 straight ballgames and have the worst record in the Liga at 12-35, but even 14-34 Veracruz will have four players on the South team.  Instead of all 16 teams being represented next weekend, Reynosa players like first baseman Max Ramirez (.324, 5 homers) and outfielder Nick Van Stratten (.315 and a .302 hitter over his MiLB career) will have to watch the June 5 game at Estadio Monterrey on TV.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Monterrey, Puebla hot; Reynosa, Veracruz not

The Monterrey Sultanes have won ten of their last eleven games to pull even with Monclova atop the Mexican League Northern Division standings.  Both have 30-15 records and a five-game lead over third-place Aguascalientes and Tijuana, who are 25-20.

The Sultanes completed a three-game weekend home sweep over Reynosa Sunday with an 11-3 win over the Broncos.  Starting pitcher Edgar Gonzalez gave up two earned runs to raise his season record to 5-1 for the Sultanes, who got four-hit nights from leadoff hitter Chris Roberson and former Yankees farmhand Zoilo Almonte to lead a 17-hit attack.  A throng of 22,349 turned out Sunday to bring the Sultanes' season average at the turnstiles to 14,118, easily tops in all of minor league baseball.  No other MiLB team is drawing double-figure crowds this season as the two-decade minor league boom appears to be edging into recession, meaning fans face less competition in the stands for t-shirts fired from a cannon.  Hey, you need a positive spin when most of your teams are dealing with declining attendance.

Being swept at Estadio Monterrey extended Reynosa's current losing streak to twelve games while dropping the Broncos' season mark to 12-32, worst in the Liga.  The team canned Rafael Castaneda as manager last week, replacing him at the helm with Hector Hurtado in time for Friday's series opener with the Sultanes.  Hurtado is somewhat of an anomaly among the four men brought in to manage LMB teams in May in that he's never run a Liga team.  Having spent 22 seasons as a catcher in Mexico followed by several more campaigns as a coach, however, Hurtado is no stranger to the game south of the border and losing his first three games indicates a seamless change with the Broncos.  Ex-MLB pitcher Kyle Farnsworth may be putting the football pads back on before long after turning in an 0-1 record with an 8.31 ERA in 13 relief appearances for Reynosa.

In the LMB South, Puebla continues to dominate with a Liga-best 32-12 record (winning an incredible 18 of 22 road games in the process) while pulling to a five-and-a-half-game lead over 27-18 Quintana Roo in the standings.  The Pericos did have a nine-game win streak snapped in Tabasco Sunday, losing 5-1 as Olmecas starter Logan Duran let in one run over eight innings in front of 978 souls in the stands at Villahermosa's Parque Centenario del 27 de Febrero.  It was the Parrots' second defeat in 22 games since April 27.  It's hard to put a finger on the source of Puebla's dominance thus far.  Their team batting average of .304 is tied with Monterrey for second in the circuit behind Mexico City's .319 mark, which certainly is a good place to start, but the pitching staff's collective ERA of 4.91 is eleventh in the 16-team loop.  Whatever the cause, the Pericos have found a way to win under skipper Matias Carrillo in 2016.  It's a long season, but if it ended today, Puebla would be prohibitive playoff favorites.  Things may be different by August.

At the other end of the spectrum, the Veracruz Rojo Aguilas lost a tough 3-1 contest to Oaxaca at home Sunday for their tenth straight defeat and 15th loss in 16 games. There were 2,056 spectators in the stands at Parque Beto Avila as Red Eagles starter Jose Pina turned in a great performance on the mound over eight innings, allowing just one run on four hits, but reliever Jesus Parela allowed two Guerreros runs in the top of the ninth to break a 1-1 tie.  It's almost as hard to put a finger on the lack of success for manager Lino Connell's team, but you can start with the offense (or lack thereof).  Outside outfielder Enrique Osorio's .344 batting average, no Veracruz regular is batting above .290 and the club just isn't scoring enough runs to help the pitchers, whose team ERA of 4.93 is just behind Puebla on the Liga tables.  With his team now at 13-32, Connell's seat may be getting unbearably hot, as we've already seen five LMB managers canned this year.

Catchers Cesar Tapia of Puebla and Eliezer Alfonzo of Mexico are 1-2 in the Mexican League batting race at .404 and .400, respectively, with Monterrey shortstop Walter Ibarra third with a .395 average.  Another shortstop, Aguascalientes' Diory Hernandez, still leads the circuit with 12 homers despite not hitting any longballs last week, but Quinata Roo's Alex Liddi is now just one behind at 11 while Liddi's Tigres teammate, Esteban Quiroz, and Monclova's Jose Amador are tied for third with 10 apiece.  Hernandez' 54 RBI's give him a comfortable lead in that statistical race over Quiroz' 42.  Justin Greene of Saltillo is tops in stolen bases with 17, four more than Puebla's Nyjer Morgan and five up on Monterrey's Roberson.

Among pitchers, Tijuana's Hector Ambriz has been in lockdown mode thus far with a 1.23 ERA after nine starts, but his 3-2 record implies a lack of support among Toros batsmen.  Monclova's Jose Oyervides (7-1, 1.72) and Josh Lowey (7-2, 1.84) are tied for the lead in wins along with Mexico City's David Reyes, while Lowey's 68 strikeouts over 58.2 innings tops the LMB in that category.  Lowey (pictured above) was the Mexican League's Pitcher of the Year in 2015, his third such award after winning POY honors for the Frontier League in 2011 and one year later in the American Association, both independent circuits.  Not bad for a guy who didn't focus on pitching until his Junior year at Mercer University.  Now 31, Lowey won't likely find his way to the Majors, but hopes Japan or Korea may be in his future.  Acereros teammate Arcenio Leon has 20 saves and a pair of wins in 26 relief appearances.

LMB STANDINGS (as of May 23, 2016)
North Division:  Monclova 30-15, Monterrey 30-15, Aguascalientes 25-20, Tijuana 25-20, Laguna 23-22, Mexico City 23-22, Saltillo 20-25, Reynosa 12-32
South Division:  Puebla 32-12, Quintana Roo 27-18, Yucatan 26-19, Campeche 23-21, Tabasco 19-26, Oaxaca 15-29, Carmen 15-30, Veracruz 13-32

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tabasco outlasts Veracruz, 6-5, in 23 innings

In a Mexican League game that seemingly lasted as long as a Florida ballot recount, the Tabasco Olmecas were able to stay awake long enough to slip past the Veracruz Rojo Aguilas, 6-5, in 23 innings Tuesday night (Wednesday morning?) in Villahermosa.  The two teams combined to send 19 pitchers to the mound during the marathon, which began at 8:01PM Tuesday night and lasted until 3:35AM Wednesday morning for a total of 7 hours, 34 minutes.

The contest started innocently enough, with the Red Eagles scoring twice in the top of the third inning when Jonathan Herrera singled in Adelaido Martinez from second as Herrera advanced to third on the throw to the plate by Tabasco centerfielder Rogelio Noris.  Herrera then scored on Alex Romero's ground out to second. The Olmecas got one run back in the bottom of the fourth when Abel Martinez lined a single up the middle to bring in Uriak Marquez from third.

However, Veracruz made it a 5-1 game with three more scores in the top of the fifth inning on Enrique Osorio's bases-load double off Tabasco starter Logan Duran.  The score stood until the bottom of the seventh, when the Olmecas plated four tallies off Aguilas relievers Abraham Elvira, Norman Elenes and Roberto Espinoza as Tabasco batted through the order.  The key blow was Robinzon Diaz' two-run homer to  straightaway center off Elenes with two out.

Little did anyone realize at the time that Diaz' bomb would produce the last runs for either team for the next 16 innings.  It's not as though neither team had their chances.  In particular, Veracruz baserunners reached third base five times the rest of the way but came away scoreless.  Their best opportunity may have been in the top of the 22nd when Herrera stroked a two-out double off Olmecas reliever Angel Araiza, who then intentionally walked Romero to set up a force out at any base.  Leonardo Rodriguez then knocked Araiza's first pitch for a single to right and Herrera tried to come all the way around to score the go-ahead run, but was nailed at the plate by a throw from Tabasco veteran Christian Quintero to catcher Adrian Gutierrez.

The score remained knotted at 5-5 as the clock passed 3AM and the game went into the bottom of the 23rd as the Olmecas came up to face reliever Misael Nunez, a 21-year-old lefty merely making his Liga debut.
Gutierrez drilled Nunez' second pitch up the middle for a single and advanced to second when Ivan Bellazetin tapped a sacrifice back to the mound.  That brought up Yosmany Guerra, who lofted a 1-0 pitch to Osorio in center for the second out of the stanza.  Nunez then intentionally walked Quintero to get to Marquez, who watched one strike go by, swung and missed for a second strike and fouled off two more pitches before cracking an 0-2 pitch for a single to left.  Gutierrez (pictured scoring the winning run) rounded third and headed for home, beating the throw from Carlos Lopez to the plate to end the game mercifully for everyone on the field along with the few bodies remaining in the stands from among the 1,438 fans who attended the contest at Parque Centenario del 27 de Febrero.

The 23-inning endurance race tied the LMB record for longest game, matching Aguascalientes' 6-2 win in Cordoba on April 28, 1977 and Mexico City's 2-1 triumph in Veracruz on June 30, 2001.  Araiza pitched scoreless ball over the final six innings for the win to go to 3-1 for the season while Nunez absorbed the loss as a Liga debutante.  Veteran first baseman Abel Martinez, who was only activated by the Olmecas last Friday, went 5-for-9 for the victors with an RBI single and the 38-year-old even a stolen base, although you can't really say he caught Veracruz catcher Alan Espinoza napping since the swipe occurred in the sixth frame.  Martinez is now 17-for-27 (all singles) over six games for a batting average of .630.

Special kudos go to umpires Carlos Campechano, Jose Higuera, Erwin Zambrano and Ulises Dominguez for hanging in there all 23 innings of a game during which the thermometer showed 96 degrees for the opening pitch and only fell below 80 near game's end.  In particular, Campechano deserves an award for working home plate behind a mask and chest protector for all 672 pitches.  Next of kin has been notified.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monterrey closing gap on Monclova in LMB North; Diablos' Alfonzo average at .420

The Monterrey Sultanes have won three straight games to bring their Mexican League record up to 23-14, coming to within a game-and-a-half of North Division-leading Monclova, who fell to 25-13 after dropping two of three at home to Laguna.

The Sultanes outscored the Broncos, 5-2, in eleven innings Friday in Reynosa as 2,848 spectators at Estadio Adolfo Lopez Mateos looked on.  Monterrey starter Javier Solano put in eight strong innings on the mound, allowing two runs on five hits over eight innings while walking none, but the righty left the game trailing 2-1 as the Monterrey offense couldn't get untracked against Broncos hurler Ivan Maldonado, who gave up two hits (including a Luis Flores solo homer) in six frames.  The Sultanes knotted the score in the top of the ninth and took a 5-2 lead in the eleventh on RBI singles by Ramon Rios and Humberto Cota and a run-scoring triple from hot-hitting Walter Ibarra, who'd doubled earlier.  It was then left to reliever Marcos Rivas to close out the win with his first save of the year.  The win went to Wirfin Obispo, who pitched the ninth and tenth.  Jesus Duenas allowed all three Sultanes runs in the eleventh and took the loss.  The two teams were washed out both Saturday and Sunday, and a twinbill was scheduled Monday in Reynosa as makeup games.

Meanwhile in the LMB South, Puebla took all three games of a weekend home series against Tabasco, capped by a 9-4 triumph Sunday over the Olmecas in front of 4,715 at Eastadio Hermanos Serdan.  The game was scoreless through the top of the fourth the Pericos plated three runs in the bottom of the stanza and tacked on five more in the fifth to give starter Hector Galvan some breathing room.  The Monterrey native scattered two runs and eight hits over seven innings to bring his record to 4-1, not bad for a guy with a 5.70 ERA after his eighth start of the year and proving that when you pitch for a team scoring 6.37 runs per game, you can afford to be generous.  Nyjer Morgan had an RBI single in the fourth inning and a two-run double in the fifth to bring his average to .342 on the season.  The win was Puebla's fourth straight and 15th in their past 16 games, giving the Pericos a Liga-best 27-11 record, four games better than 23-15 Quintana Roo in the South.

Also over the weekend, the Oaxaca Guerreros snapped a five game losing skid with a win at Tabasco Thursday and a three-game battering of Veracruz at home, outscoring the Rojo Aguilas by a composite 35-12 over the set.  Yancarlo Angula had four hits of the Guerreros' 16 safeties during Sunday's 16-8 rout of Veracruz with 1,240 warm bodies in the seats at Estadio Eduardo Vasconcelos.  Oaxaca broke the contest open early with eight second-inning scores as 13 Warriors came to the plate, starting with Brett Harper's homer to right on Remberto Romo's second pitch of the inning.  The Guerreros still have a long way to go to overcome their 0-11 start to the season, but new manager Houston Jimenez may be starting to turn things around.  A team ERA of 5.52 won't get it done, however.

Mexico City catcher Eliezer Alfonzo (pictured above) has taken over the LMB batting race with a .420 average over 28 games.  The 37-year-old Alfonzo missed all of last season and didn't appear in a game this year until being signed by the Diablos Rojos as a free agent April 15.  The former Giants receiver went 5-for-5 at Saltillo on May 5 and turned in a 4-for-6 night Saturday at Tijuana.  Never a gazelle, Alfonzo has two stolen bases this year after recording just 26 swipes over 19 seasons as a pro.  Monterrey's Ibarra is second at .394 while Puebla's Cesar Tapia is tied for third with the Tigres' Esteban Quiroz at .390.

Aguascalientes shortstop Diory Hernandez whacked two homers last week to increase his season total to 12, an incredible number for a guy who'd previously hit a total of 46 longballs in 13 minor league seasons.  Quintana Roo teammates Quiroz and Alex Liddi each have 10 dingers to tie for second place.  Hernandez also still leads the LMB in runs batted in with 49 in 39 games, ten more than Quiroz' 39.  Mario Lisson of Saltillo is third in RBI's with 37.  Lisson's Seraperos teammate, Justin Greene, tops the loop with 15 steals, two more than Puebla's Morgan.

Although the LMB has been considered a "hitter's league" for decades, there've been some strong pitching performances over the first six weeks of the 2016 campaign.  Tijuana's Hector Ambriz' 0.96 ERA leads all starters after seven starts (he's 3-1 for the Toros), but it's hard to find anyone who's looked better on the hill than Josh Lowey, who's 6-2 for Monclova.  The 31-year-old Floridian, who kicked around the U.S. independent leagues for six years before signing with the Acereros in 2014, is tied for the LMB lead with 6 wins, matching teammate Jose Oyervides and Mexico City's David Reyes, his 62 strikeouts leads Oyervides by 15 whiffs in that category and his 2.09 ERA ranks fifth.

Then again, Oyervides could stake a claim as the best pitcher in the league because his 6-1 record and 47 strikeouts over 41 frames comes with a 1.32 ERA, second to Ambriz.  Yet another Monclova pitcher, closer Arcenio Leon, has 16 saves in 18 opportunities.  The 12th-year pro had never saved more than 8 games prior to the current season.

NORTH: Monclova 25-13, Monterrey 23-14, Tijuana 22-17, Aguascalientes 20-19, Laguna 20-19, Mexico City 20-19, Saltillo 19-20, Reynosa 12-23
SOUTH: Puebla 27-11, Quintana Roo 23-15, Yucatan 22-16, Campeche 20-18, Tabasco 15-24, Carmen 13-26, Veracruz 13-26, Oaxaca 12-26

Friday, May 13, 2016

Jose Contreras K's 10 in Tigres shutout at Yucatan

Former major league pitcher Jose Contreras continued to turn back the hands of time Thursday in Quintana Roo's 2-0 shutout over Yucatan at Merida's Parque Kukulkan as 9,432 spectators looked on. The 44-year-old Cuban blanked the Leones on four hits over six innings, striking out ten batters and walking two.

Contreras left with the game still a scoreless tie and did not earn the decision as Raul Barron pitched the seventh and eighth to get the win, bringing his record to 5-0 on the season.  Alex Liddi and Sergio Contreras hit back-to-back RBI singles in the ninth to put the defending champions ahead, leaving it to Esmailin Caridad to come in to record a 1-2-3 bottom of the ninth for his eighth save of the year as the 22-13 Tigres slipped past 21-14 Yucatan into second place in the Mexican League's South Division, trailing only the 24-11 Puebla Pericos, who had an eleven-game winning streak snapped Wednesday in Veracruz.

The story of the night Thursday, however, was the pitching of Contreras, who recorded his second ten-strikeout performance in his past four starts.  The former White Sox hurler is now 3-3 with a 3.02 earned-run average in eight starts for Quintana Roo.  His showing in Merida was payback of sorts after the Leones touched him up for six hits and three runs over 3.2 innings in his first start of the season April 1 in Cancun.  Since then, Contreras has registered a 2.66 ERA and went the distance in the Tigres' 10-2 win over Laguna on April 24 in Torreon, whiffing ten Vaqueros' batsmen while spinning a seven-inning four-hitter.

Cancun is the latest stop in a long and winding career for Contreras, who was a mainstay for years with Cuba's Pinar del Rio team as well as a starter for that nation's gold-medal winning side at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics along with Baseball World Cup champions in Rome and Sydney before defecting while pitching at the Americas Series in Saltillo in October 2002.  He signed with the Yankees, as so many Cuban expats did at the time, and spent part of the 2004 season in New York as a 32-year-old "rookie" before being traded to the White Sox for fellow pitcher Esteban Loaiza in midseason.  The 6'4" right-hander was 41-25 between 2004 and 2006, pitching for the Chisox World Series winners in 2005 and in the All-Star Game in 2006.

Things started going south for Contreras in 2007 when, at a listed 35 years of age, he was 10-17 for Chicago with a 5.57 ERA.  Although he pitched all or part of six more MLB seasons for the White Sox, Rockies, Phillies and Pirates, he never won more than seven games again.  He was converted into a reliever during a short stay in Colorado during the 2009 season and never started a big league game again.

Contreras began a third stage of his career in 2014, when he started 23 games for Tijuana in the Mexican League and went 10-3 with a 3.49 ERA, striking out 140 hitters in 134 innings.  That led to a season in Taiwan with the Chinatrust Brothers before returning to Mexico this year to pitch for manager Roberto Vizcarra's Tigres, who will open a three-game home series against Carmen Friday night at Estadio Beto Avila.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Merry-Go-Round Time: Four LMB teams recycle managers

It's not unusual for Mexican League teams to fire managers before the All-Star Break (this year's will be June 3-5 in Monterrey), but the triggers have started firing a little sooner this season.  Three teams canned their skippers before the end of April, replacing each with other former managers who've been aboard the same merry-go-round the recently-dispatched helmsmen have boarded once more themselves.  While younger managers will filter into the Liga here and there, there are many veteran LMB leaders who seemingly recycle from team to team for years.

The axe first swung on April 28 when Oaxaca let Enrique "Che" Reyes (pictured) go after the Guerreros got off to a 4-18 start, losing their first eleven games.  Reyes previously managed in Aguascalientes, Puebla, Dos Laredos, Cancun, back to Puebla, Angelopolis, Quintana Roo, Veracruz, Tabasco, Monterrey, Aguascalientes (again) and Tabasco (again) before coming to Oaxaca.  He was replaced by Alfonso "Houston" Jimenez, who has managed in Mexico City, Saltillo, Puebla, Minatitlan, Veracruz and (of course) Oaxaca.  Jimenez' first stint with the Guerreros was from 2002-04.

It didn't take long for Reyes to find his next stop, replacing Francisco Estrada in Tabasco after the well-traveled "Paquin" (Toluca, Minatitlan, Puebla, Cancun, Chihuahua, Tabasco) posted a 7-15 to start the year, leading to his dismissal. Estrada was hired in the offseason, plenty of time to build a winning team in Villahermosa.

Not to miss out on the fun, the Laguna Vaqueros determined that an 11-13 mark was enough to sack Mario Mendoza on April 30.  The man who gave baseball the Mendoza Line, the Chihuahua native led teams in Monclova, Aguascalientes, Dos Laredos, Angeleopolis, Tabasco, Campeche, Monclova (again) and Tijuana before coming to Torreon this year.  The Vaqueros opted for youth in bringing Daniel Fernandez in.  The 50-year-old Fernandez has only been managing long enough to work in Mexico City, Tabasco, Veracruz and Yucatan before his hiring in Laguna.

And to stay with the theme after this story was first posted on May 9, the Veracruz Rojo Aguilas sent yet one more first-year manager, Mark Weidemaier, packing after the Red Eagles began the year with a 12-21 record.  Weidemaier, who also managed Torreon in 1988, was hired by Veracruz in the offseason after spending two years coaching with the Washington Nationals.

He was replaced by another of the new breed, Lino Connell, who'd been managing the Northern Mexico League Ensenada Marineros, a farm team shared by Mexico City and Oaxaca.  Connell has seen enough of the world to be a Samsonite spokesman, playing in the United States, Mexico, Italy and his native Venezuela from 1991 to 2010.  He spent from 2000 to 2006 with Veracruz, Oaxaca and Reynosa during his 20-year playing career.  Connell began last season in Ensenada before finishing out the campaign running the Monterrey Sultanes and was recently named bench coach of the winter Venezuelan League Zulia Aguilas.

Although it's not unusual to see players spend 10 to 20 seasons with the same Mexican League team, managers have less job security than being married to a Kardashian.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Streaking Pericos complete second straight sweep

Ex-MLB pitcher Travis Blackley (pictured) left the game after six innings with an 11-1 lead as the Puebla Pericos went on to post a 14-7 win over the Tabasco Olmecas Thursday night in front of 4,451 fans at Puebla's Estadio Hermanos Serdan.  The victory was the seventh straight for the Parrots, who claimed their second consecutive series sweep after copping three straight triumphs against Yucatan in Merida last weekend.

Blackley allowed just two hits and struck out five Tabasco batters for his second win in three decisions in 2016.  The Australian lefty had one shaky inning, giving up a walk, hitting a batter and giving up a two-out RBI single to Jorge Guzman in the fourth to put the Olmecas on the board, but the Pericos had already scored four runs to that point to give Blackley a cushion before exploding for seven runs in the bottom of the fourth.  Rodolfo Amador socked a two-run homer as Puebla sent ten batsmen to the plate.

After Blackley tossed two more scoreless frames, the Pericos scored three more times to make it a 14-1 lead after six innings.  To their credit, Tabasco showed late signs of life with four runs in the eighth, with Juan Silverio stroking a two-run single to left, and Rogelio Noris and Silverio hit back-to-back homers off Rogelio Bernal in the top of the ninth to bring the score to 14-7, but too much damage had already been done and Benny Suarez retired two of the Olmecas' next three batters to end the game.

The two teams combined for 27 hits (16 by Puebla) and 12 walks in the game, which lasted three hours and 27 minutes.  Pericos catcher Cesar Tapia, one of the top batters in the LMB thus far, went 4-for-4 with two doubles, four RBI's and three runs scored to raise his average to .394.  The 33-year-old Tapia is in his 12th Liga season (all but one with Puebla) and has a career .327 mark and has hit below .300 just once since 2006.

For his part, Blackley (also 33) recorded his best start of the young season.  The well-traveled hurler has pitched for five MLB teams in his 16-year career, mostly bouncing between AAA and the bigs along with stints in Korea and Japan.  He married model Jenna Cecil in the offseason.

The 19-10 Pericos are tied with Quintana Roo for first place in the LMB South.  Puebla is 11-2 on the road this year while the Tigres are 11-5, as are the third-place Yucatan Leones, who lost, 2-1, at Campeche Tuesday.  In the LMB North, Monclova withstood a five-run ninth by visiting Monterrey to hold off the Sultanes, 6-5, to go to 21-8 on the season while building their lead over the Sultanes to four games.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Monclova leads LMB North by 3 Games

Josh Lowey turned in six dominant innings to lead the Monclova Acereros to a 7-1 win over the Tijuana Toros Sunday as 14,120 watched at Tijuana's Estadio Gasmart.  Lowey allowed no runs on two hits with nine strikeouts to register his fifth win in six starts.  Denis Phipps doubled and tripled to drive in five runs for Monclova, who now lead the Mexican League's North Division by three games over Monterrey with a 19-7 record, best in the Liga.

Also on Sunday, Willy Taveras hit a bases-loaded triple to key Puebla's 5-4 win over Yucatan while Esteban Quiroz went 3 for 4 with three ribbies to pace Quintana Roo to a 7-1 victory against Oaxaca to create a three-way tie for the LMB South lead between the Pericos, Leones and Tigres (each with 16-10 records).  For their part, Oaxaca parted ways with manager Enrique "Che" Reyes last week after the Guerreros stumbled to an 0-11 record out the gate.  The team's performance has leveled off since then, but their awful start had apparently sealed Reyes' fate.

Monterrey shortstop Walter Ibarra leads the LMB with a .430 batting average, forty points ahead of Diory Hernandez of Aguascalientes.  Hernandez had a strong week and now leads the circuit with 9 homers and 33 RBI's.  Monclova's Jose Amador, Alex Liddi of Quintana Roo and Campeche's Dave Sappelt are tied for second in homers with 7 apiece; Mario Lisson of Saltillo trails Hernandez in RBI's with 29.  Monclova's Lowey tops LMB pitchers with 5 wins and 48 strikeouts with Hector Ambriz heading the ERA table at 0.80.

Monclova will host Monterrey in a three-game series starting Tuesday, while Tabasco is at Puebla, Quintana Roo visits Carmen and Yucatan takes on Campeche in Villahermosa.