Baseball Mexico

by Bruce Baskin
March 6, 2018 - Mexican League (ML)

Guerreros playing exhibition games in Cuba

The Oaxaca Guerreros are spending a portion of their 2018 training on a trip to Cuba, where manager Jose Luis "Borrego" Sandoval has had his Warriors go up against one Cuban National Series team and among a number of exhibition games. Oaxaca opened the island portion of their preseason schedule last Friday with a 1-1 tie against Matanzas of the CNS. Raymundo Torres went 3-for-3 for the Guerreros, driving in Carlos Paulino all the way from first with a single in the top of the third inning with his team's lone run of the game.

Paulino had a 2-for-2 game for Oaxaca, who started Patrick Johnson on the mound after team owner Alfredo Harp Helu decided in the offseason to drop his "Mexicans-only" player policy after both his Guerreros and Mexico City Diablos Rojos failed to make the playoffs in 2017 while finishing near the bottom of the league attendance tables. Johnson tossed three scoreless innings, walking one Cocodrilos batter and striking out three before he gave way to relievers Luis Payan, Rodolfo Aguilar and Axel Rios. The Matanzas roster features longtime veteran Yoandy Garlobo, who finished second to the USA's Ken Griffey, Junior among batters in the 2006 World Baseball Classic with a .480 average en route to being named to the All-WBC Team that year.

The Guerreros then took on Occidentales, a team comprised of 25 players from CNS West Division clubs, Saturday in Havana. Occidentales took a 5-1 victory over the guests as Oaxaca didn't score until the ninth, with Iker Franco singling in Manuelo Cruz from third. The Westerners roster includes outfielders Yoelkis Cespedes and Frederich Cepeda. The Guerreros came back Sunday by walloping Orientales (25 CNS East players, including several National Teamers) by an 8-0 count as Oaxaca's batters collected 12 hits to support aptly-named starter Daniel Guerrero and five relievers in their shutout effort.

After an off-day Monday, the Guerreros will meet Occidental again Tuesday in Matanzas as starting pitcher Salvador Valdez makes his debut in a Oaxaca uniform. The Guerreros will open the Mexican League's 2018 first season on March 23 at Leon.

Toros meet KBO, CPBL clubs in Tucson

The Tijuana Toros are conducting their training camp in Tucson, Arizona for the fourth year in a row and the 2017 Mexican League champions have spiced up their stay in Optics Valley with preseason games against visiting teams from the Korea Baseball Organization and Taiwan's Chinese Professional Baseball League at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Manager Pedro Mere's champions first met the CPBL's Chinatrust Brothers, a Taichung-based squad managed by former major leaguer Cory Snyder, last Wednesday afternoon. The game was a reunion of sorts between Mere and Snyder, who last managed on the same field during the 2016 LMB title series between Tijuana and Snyder's Puebla Pericos, who won the series and pennant. Snyder has been joined in Taiwan by two other ex-MLBers, pitching coach Rick Waits and batting coach Tommy Cruz, brother of Jose and Hector. The Brothers are in their 29th season, winning seven CPBL titles.

The Toros came from way back Thursday to top Chinatrust, 7-6, thanks to Pedro Arenas' tiebreaking single in the eighth. The win went to reliever Fabian Williamson while the save was credited to Jesus Pirela. The contest was notable for a remarkable Tijuana comeback after the Toros were behind, 6-1, in the fifth inning. Things culminated in the eighth when Gabriel Gutierrez singled Juan Kirk in with the tying run and Gutierrez scored the game-winner on Arenas' safety.

One day later, Tijuana met the Nexen Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization, making it two wins in a row by beating the Heroes, 6-1, at Kino Stadium as the Toros plated four runs in the bottom of the second and scored two more in the fifth in what turned out to be an easy win. Ageless reliever Rafael Diaz, entering his 21st season at age 47 as the only hurler in LMB history with more than 100 wins and 100 saves, earned the win by tossing a scoreless fifth.

The Toros and Nexen, whose roster includes 2-time KBO MVP and former Twins first baseman Byung-Ho Park plus 2017 KBO Rookie of the Year Jung-Hoo Lee (who hit .324 last year at age 19) met again last Thursday. This time, the Heroes were victorious, 10-5, to earn the split. Joe Munoz swatted a two-run homer for Tijuana, but not before Nexen had already built a commanding 6-1 lead by the time Munoz clobbered his panoramic shot to left in the seventh frame. Alex Sanabia absorbed the loss for the Toros, but he was hardly the only pitcher touched up by the Koreans.

The Toros then played the Quintana Roo Tigres, also training in Tucson, in a three-game series at Kino Stadium over the weekend starting with a 7-1 win over manager Tim Johnson's Cancun nine on Saturday. The two teams then played to a scoreless draw Sunday before the third and final game Monday before the Toros start playing MLB teams this week. Rumor has Angels prodigy Shohei Ohtani pitching against Tijuana on Friday.

Fernandez out in Mazatlan; Gil fined 100K pesos

It's already been a busy offseason in the Mexican Pacific League, whose season officially ended less than a month ago when Guadalajara hosted the Caribbean Series at Estadio Charros. The Mazatlan Venados have said "adios" to manager Daniel Fernandez, Culiacan manager Benji Gil was fined 100,000 pesos by the LMP after he celebrated his team's Game Seven win in the championship series at Navojoa with an obscene gesture and speculation is that three-time MexPac pennant-winning manager Eddy Diaz is returning to Obregon, but not as dugout boss.

Let's begin with Fernandez, one of the all-time great batters of Mexican baseball (representing the Mexico City Diablos Rojos in 15 All-Star Games) and the LMB's Manager of the Year with Veracruz in 2008. Fernandez also excelled for Mazatlan as a player, and he was brought back to the Pearl of the Pacific in 2016 to replace Juan Jose Pacho at the Venados' helm. Although the Deer appeared in the postseason both seasons under Fernandez, they were first-round casualties each time. Mazatlan improved eight games last winter to a composite regular-season record of 37-31, but owner Jose Toledo and GM Jesus "Chino" Valdez will be looking for a manager with a "smallball" philosophy of crafting runs from scratch instead of one swing.

Now we move on to Gil, already known as a combustible sort during his first stint in Culiacan, where he won a title in 2014-15 but also nearly came to blows in the dugout with outfielder Rico Noel during a game and essentially wore out his welcome with the Tomateros and the Ley family, who has owned the franchise since its 1966 inception. The former Angels shortstop was brought back this winter and rewarded the Leys and Culiacan with a second pennant, but made a gesture (think PeeWee Herman in an adult theater) during a celebration after the Tomateros won the LMP Championship Series deciding game in Navojoa in January. Gil's rewards were a verbal rebuke from league president Omar Canizales and a fine of 100,000 pesos (about $5,300 in US dollars). A statement signed by Canizales states that Gil violated Article 36 of Mexico's federal labor laws "based on maintaining respect and discipline." Gil faces suspension or outright expulsion from the LMP if he commits any further transgressions.

Finally, there's Diaz, who managed Obregon to three consecutive LMP titles in 2011, 2012 and 2013 (the only skipper in MexPac history with a three-peat), winning the Caribbean Series in 2011 and 2013. Things have gone south with the Yaquis after promised player bonuses tied to that 2013 CS title were never given, resulting in a lawsuit from former MLB pitcher Luis Ayala, a five-year suspension handed to then-GM Francisco Minjarez by the LMP and Diaz' eventual exit from the franchise. The Yaquis missed the playoffs last winter while attendance at 15,000-seat Nuevo Estadio Yaquis was noticeably down. Diaz has visited Obregon in recent weeks, leading to speculation that he may replace manager Juan Navarrete (who will not return next winter) or even move into the front office as GM. Then again, Minjarez' suspension has been completed and the current Diablos Rojos general manager, embroiled in the "Rookiegate" scandal at present, may return to his old post in the Sonora city.

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Mexican League Stories from March 6, 2018


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