Monday, December 19, 2016

Mazatlan leads by 2 games; another skipper canned

The Mazatlan Venados shut out the potent Mexicali Aguilas, 2-0, Sunday night in the border city to maintain their two-game lead in the Mexican Pacific League's second-half standings.  The Deer have a 16-8 record, ahead of Mexicali, Navojoa and Los Mochis, who are tied for second at 14-10 with nine games left in the regular season.

A crowd of 12,178 at Estadio B'Air looked on as nine-year minor league veteran Jeremy Kehrt (pictured) tossed seven innings of shutout ball for Mazatlan in picking up his second win in as many starts.  Kehrt went a combined 8-11 for the Dodgers' AAA Oklahoma City and AA Tulsa affliates last summer.  A University of Southern Indiana product, the 6'2" righty spent seven years in the Red Sox system before becoming a Dodgers farmhand in 2015.  This is his fifth season of winterball but first in the LMP.  Perhaps his two wins for Mazatlan will aid his inclusion in the Venados roster on the team website.

The Venados' turnaround after a last-place finish in the first half has come under manager Daniel Fernandez, who replaced Juan Jose Pacho on November 23. Pacho led Mazatlan to the Caribbean Series title last February but in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of Mexican baseball, that was forgotten in the wake of a 9-28 record over the first six weeks of the current season.  Pacho remains with the Venados organization in a lesser capacity...just in case.  Fernandez spent 25 years as an outfielder with the Mexico City Diablos Rojos and hit .313 for his career before becoming manager of the Red Devils in 2008, when he won the Mexican League pennant.  He was fired after a first-round playoff loss in 2009 despite posting the Liga's best regular season record and has been on the carousel ever since.

Canning season among MexPac managers took another victim last last Thursday when Culiacan cut ties with Lino Rivera (with the ever-present press release praise for Rivera's work accompanying his firing).  Rivera's crime after winning the first half title with a 22-13 record was stumbling out the second stanza gate to a 6-15 mark. Enrique "Che" Reyes, a familiar figure on Mexico's managerial merry-go-round, was tabbed to replace Rivera.  The Tomateros lost two of three under Reyes in Navojoa over the weekend and currently occupy last place in the standings (although their 8 first-half points virtually guarantees a playoff berth in January).

Catcher Luis Juarez of Mexicali witnessed his own managerial change with the Aguilas a month ago (Gil Velazquez out, Roberto Vizcarra in), but seems to have gotten over it and leads the LMP with a .357 batting average.  Juarez, a Culiacan native who's spent all or part of eight summers with the Monterrey Sultanes, has gone 14-of-33 (.424) with 8 walks over his last ten games for a .524 on-base percentage in that span.  Hermosillo's Jose Amador went homerless last week but still leads the MexPac with 14 longballs, four more than Quincy Latimore of Navojoa.  Amador also leads the loop with 55 RBIs, ahead of the 44 from Mazatlan's Brian Hermandez.  Obregon's Corey Wimberly stole one base last week but that was enough to scoot ahead of Navojoa rookie Randy Arozarena on the steals tables, 17 to 16.  Arozarena was placed on the Mayos' reserve list last Thursday, presumably shut down for the winter by the Cardinals organization (with whom the Cuban utilityman signed in August).

Navojoa pitcher Hector Velazquez went to 7-3 last Thursday at home against Mexicali, hurling seven innings of one-run, four-hit ball against the Aguilas and striking out four.  He is tied with Mexicali's Javier Solano for most wins, leads the LMP with 78 strikeouts and his 2.43 ERA ranks fourth.  Although Solano (7-4) has pitched a shutout, his 3.91 ERA indicates a bit more offensive support than Velazquez has enjoyed.  Juan Pablo Oramas of Hermosillo has a 4-2 record with six no-decisions in 12 starts, but the lefty's MexPac-leading 2.34 ERA implies that he's been holding up his end of the bargain.  The 2009 Mexican League Rookie of the Year with Mexico City, Oramas subsequently spent five years in the Padres system before returning to the Diablos in 2015, going a combined 15-8 the past two summers.  Mexicali closer Jake Sanchez saw his streak of nine saves in as many appearances snapped when he picked up his first win of the winter Saturday against Mazatlan, but the Californian's 16 saves for the season remains tops on that list.