by Bruce Baskin
October 26, 2020 - Mexican League (ML)
OBREGON SIZZLES AS MEXICALI FIZZLES, MERE OUT AFTER 8 GAMES
One week into the Mexican Pacific League season, the Obregon Yaquis and Mexicali Aguilas are off to opposite starts and one manager is already looking for a new job as a result.
The Obregon Yaquis shot out the gate with eight consecutive wins before suffering their first defeat, a 7-3 home loss to archrival Hermosillo last Friday. A three-run homer by veteran Luis Alfonso Cruz off Obregon starter Dallas Martinez keyed a four-run outburst in the fifth inning that broke open a 1-1 game. Cruz added a single and double while scoring three times to support Hermosillo opener Ryan Verdugo, who gave up three runs in 5.1 innings to collect the win. Roberto Lopez belted a solo homer for the Yaquis.
Obregon vaulted to their hot start behind strong pitching and a solid batting order. Through Friday's defeat, ten Yaquis hurlers had appeared in at least one game without giving up a run while the eight wins during the streak were spread among eight pitchers. Despite being tagged with Friday's loss, Martinez (a former Yankees farmhand) still shows a 0.90 ERA, with Cruz' longball the only earned run among five the righty has allowed in two starts.
The Yaquis offense has been led in the early going by catcher Sebastian Valle and first sacker Lopez. Valle, acquired from Mazatlan in the offseason, was batting .448 with two homers and six RBIs over eight games while Lopez had a .357 average to augment his three homers and seven ribbies. Outfielder Alonzo Harris' .306 average and six stolen bases have been helpful to manager Sergio Gastelum's squad while fellow gardener Tirso Ornelas was hitting an even .400 in limited appearances over six appearances.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Mexicali Aguilas did a pratfall out the gate by losing their first eight games of 2020-21, tying a record for the start of the season previously shared by Obregon (1960-61) and Navojoa (2010-11) and it cost skipper Pedro Mere his job. The 50-year-old Mere has been one of the most successful managers south of the border over the past decade, winning Mexican League pennants in 2012 with Veracruz and 2017 with Tijuana. He took over the Aguilas last November after they finished ninth in the first half with a 13-19 record and brought Mexicali to a second-place finish in the second half to clinch a playoff berth.
However, Mere had to wait until June before his return to El Nido for the current season was confirmed, making him one of the last managers in the LMP verified for 2020-21 and hardly the strongest vote of confidence. Last Thursday's 6-1 loss at home to Monterrey was the final straw for Aguilas owner Dio Alberto Murillo, who has never hesitated to pull the trigger on managers not meeting expectations (which is pretty much all of them). Bobby Magallanes learned that lesson when he was canned after losing 10 of his first 11 games in 2007-08. So did Roberto Vizcarra, who led Mexicali to the 2016-17 pennant (and took Jalisco to the title last winter) but was fired the following season after the Eagles were 16-19 in the first half. Vizcarra's replacement? Pedro Mere.
Bronswell Patrick was tabbed as interim manager after Mere's firing. Patrick was brought in as pitching coach last year after managing Hermosillo to a 37-31 record and second overall in points for 2018-19, a good enough showing for him to poll second in Manager of the Year voting before he was replaced by Vinny Castilla one month after the season ended. Patrick put together a journeyman resume that saw him pitch in Milwaukee and San Francisco as well as Korea, Taiwan and Mexico over 18 seasons before retiring in 2006 and going into coaching. The 50-year-old North Carolinian has been around long enough to know that every managerial job in Mexico is "interim" whether the team uses that tag or not.
Patrick got off to a good start Friday night with a 4-3 win over the Sultanes. Mexicali was trailing 3-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh before exploding for four runs as Michael Choice launched a three-run roundtripper off Daniel Cruz. Aguilas reliever Saul Castellanos was awarded the win while Greg Mahle pitched a scoreless ninth for the save. The loss dropped Monterrey to 7-2 on the season and a second-place tie with Hermosillo one game behind Obregon.
While the Mex Pac season got underway on time and in full swing, the situation regarding fans attending games remains fluid. After giving the go-ahead allowing patrons to occupy up to 40 percent of seating at Estadio Sonora on October 9, the Hermosillo Naranjeros' board of directors said the state government reversed course last week and notified the team that no fans will be allowed to attend home games until further notice. Meanwhile, in Mazatlan, mayor Luis Guillermo Benitez Torres said earlier this month that while the governor of Sinaloa had okayed fans in the stands for that state's four LMP teams, he hadn't. Benitez did eventually sign off on opening up seating for Venados games at Estadio Teodoro Mariscal (among other sporting events), he lowered the allowed capacity from 40 to 30 percent.
On a related note, Septima Entrada's Irving Furlong reports the league office has instituted a policy that allows teams to suit up as few as 14 players to avoid having to forfeit a game. Teams typically suit up 25 eligible players per contest. "This is a rule that we put in place this season," says LMP president Omar Canizales. The policy was put into effect to address the possibility of several players on a single team testing positive for the Wuhan virus, as happened in Monterrey and Culiacan during training camp. Teams are also being allowed to carry more players on their Reserve List in the event that Active List players are required to be quarantined.
CHARROS HOPING TO ADD OSUNA, VILLANUEVA
Although the defending Mexican Pacific League champion Jalisco Charros were sitting in seventh place after winning three of their first nine games, there shouldn't be too much concern in Guadalajara about a collapse this season. After all, the Cowboys ARE the defending champions and (more to the point) it appears that considerable help is on the way. Two players that manager Roberto Vizcarra is hoping will join the team are Houston Astros closer Roberto Osuna and Nippon Ham Fighters infielder Christian Villanueva.
After posting an American League-leading 38 saves for the 2019 American League champions and another save in the World Series, Osuna was placed on the Injured List August 1 after four appearances this year with what the team termed "right elbow soreness." An initial diagnosis recommended Tommy John surgery but those concerns have lessened to the point that Houston's front office has given the okay for the 25-year-old righthander to pitch in the Mex Pac this season for rehab purposes.
Osuna joined the Charros last weekend in Los Mochis and is expected to pitch for the team next month. "Expected" is the key word because while Osuna has said in the past that he wants to play in the LMP (and even held press conferences to that effect), he has never thrown a ball in winterball. He has two younger brothers in the Jalisco organization, however, and that may be enough to advance from posturing to pitching this time around. Just in case history repeats itself, MLB veteran hurler Sergio Romo (who HAS pitched for the Charros) says he plans to join the team for the second half while fellow reliever Humberto Castellanos, who made his big league debut with Houston this year, has joined the team.
Although Osuna's season with the Astros ended when they were eliminated by Tampa Bay in the American League Championship Series, Villanueva is still playing in Japan. While the Fighters are out of playoff contention for all intent and purposes, the ex-Padres third baseman is hoping his final two weeks with the Hokkaido team will rehab his ailing bat. After batting .223 with eight homers over 73 games for the Yomiuri Giants last season, a change of teams and leagues did nothing to improve things as Villanueva has a .220 average and four homers to show for 50 games with the Fighters. Villanueva's plan is to finish the season in Japan and take a couple weeks off for rest before debuting with his hometown team (after playing six previous winterball seasons in Obregon) during the second half of their schedule.
Once he reports, Villanueva will present Vizcarra with the sort of dilemma most managers hope for: Where to play the onetime Mex Pac MVP? According to Puro Beisbol's Fernando Ballesteros, Jalisco already has longtime star Agustin Murillo holding down third base, veteran Henry Urrurtia has been playing first and is batting .379 for the young season and no less than Mexico's most-feared slugger, Japhet Amador, is the team's designated hitter., although the 38-year-old Murillo is off to a slow start (.230) while Amador (.269) is still adjusting after a year off from playing. There's a possibility that Urrutia could return to the outfield, his normal position during a 13-year career that began with five seasons in Cuba, but the Charros already have Dariel Alvarez, Carlos Figueroa and Julian Ornelas as flychasers with Sergio Perez in reserve.
FOUR-TEAM TOURNAMENT IN MEXICO CITY TO OPEN NEXT MONTH
At a press conference held in Mexico City last Thursday, the Mexico City Diablos Rojos announced that they'd be hosting a tournament consisting of four teams with players drawn from both the Diablos organization and their Mexican League sister team Oaxaca Guerreros. Both franchises are owned by billionaire Alfredo Harp Helu, whose namesake ballpark in the capital city will host all games.
The Copa Juntos por Mexico (Together for Mexico Cup) will be played Tuesdays, Wednesday and Thursdays over five weeks, with the regular season opening Tuesday, November 10 and ending Thursday, December 10. It appears teams will play doubleheaders of seven-inning games for four games per day, but the schedule was only defined as 56 games. A nine-inning consolation game for third place between teams finishing third and fourth will take place Friday, December 11 while a nine-inning title match involving the top two seeds will be held one day later.
Games will be played daily on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, with afternoon tilts slated for 1PM and nightcaps beginning at 7PM. The four teams will be comprised mostly by prospects, several of whom have already been signed by major league organizations out of the Alfredo Harp Helu Academy in Oaxaca.
Among team representatives at the press conference were Diablos vice president Miguel Ojeda, a former MLB catcher and onetime Mexico City manager, and Guerreros sports manager Jaime Brena, who played second base on Opening Night of the 2019 season for Oaxaca before officially retiring after appearing in 21 seasons for that club.
Ojeda told the gathering, "I had to create four teams made up of the 106 players that we have on our Reserve Lists, including players who have already signed with Major League Baseball organizations. The Diablos will have 56 players divided into two teams called Jose Luis Sandoval and Daniel Fernandez, two historical players who will be the managers of those nines." Oaxaca will be represented by the remaining 50 players on teams named after Alfredo Ortiz and the late Nelson Barrera. Managers for those two teams were not announced.
Among the prospects who'll be representing Mexico City in the tournament are Javier SÃ¡nchez (Royals), Oliver Zepeda (Blue Jays), Brandon Valenzuela (Padres), Carlos Pacheco (Cubs), Hansen López (Athletics), José Ignacio RodrÃguez and Hendrick Briones (Dodgers) and Jhoxan Alfaro (Mets).Oaxaca will send MLB signees Yamir Leal and Oscar Valenzuela (Royals), Cristian Pacheco (Padres) and Edgar Zuniga (Phillies).
While games will be played in bubble conditions with no fans in the stands, watching them shouldn't be a problem. All games will be broadcast live on TVC Deportes and streamed online on MediaTiempo.com plus social media channels (Facebook, YouTube and Instagram) for both the Diablos and Guerreros.
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