Ten weeks until Opening Day for the minor league season…. just in case anyone besides me is counting.
Three playoff games on Wednesday evening, plus the Australians begin their playoffs early on Thursday morning. I’ll be away from the computer for a couple of days, but we’ll catch up after that.
PUERTO RICAN LEAGUE
Criollos de Caguas 7, Leones de Ponce 2 – Los Criollos forced a seventh game with a win over Los Leones. Caguas broke a 1-1 tie with 2 runs in the top of the 4th, on a hit batter and a pair of RBI doubles. That 3-1 score lasted until the top of the 9th, when JR Rodriguez took the mound in relief for Ponce. Rodriguez had an uncharacteristically tough night, giving up a single and a walk, and then having a batter reaches on a fielding error to load the bases. Then Caguas’ 3B Rey Navarro smashed a grand slam to seal Los Leones’ fate. Ponce added one more run with a single, a walk, and a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the 9th. The final game of the series will be played on Friday night.
Tigres de Aragua 8, Caribes de Anzoategui 4 – Los Tigres won their first game of the championship series tonight, with both LF Lastings Milledge and 1B Hector Gimenez contributing an RBI. The game began in a shaky way for Los Tigres, as the first three Caribes’ batters in the top of the first all walked, then a run scored on a sacrifice fly. A solo home run began the top of the 2nd for Los Caribes, and a single and a double added another run. Los Tigres got going in the bottom of the 2nd with a double and a fielding error, then an RBI double by Milledge and a sacrifice fly by Gimenez. Aragua tied the score at 3-3 in the bottom of the 5th with two walks, including one by CF Jorge Cortes, and an RBI single. Los Caribes went ahead with a solo homer in the top of the 6th, but Los Tigres tied it again in the bottom of the frame with three singles, one by Gimenez. Aragua took a definitive lead in the 7th with a 3-run homer, then added an insurance run in the 8th with a walk, a hit batter, and an RBI single. Wil Ledezma came out to pitch the top of the 8th for Aragua. He walked the first batter he faced, then got a strikeout, then another walk, and was removed. Another reliever came on to strike out the next two batters to end the inning.
An update on some recent roster moves by the Pirates:
Pitcher Jose Veras took a few days, but did sign a minor league contract with the Pirates. Veras is a 30-year-old who was first signed by the Rays in 1998. He began playing in the US in 2002, and split both the 2003 and 2004 at the AA and AAA levels. He was granted free agency after 2004 and was signed by the Rangers for 2005, spending that season at the AAA level, where he made 57 relief appearances with a 3.80 ERA. Veras signed with the Yankees after that, and pitched in their organization for the next 3+ seasons. He split that time between the AAA level (2.56 ERA in 95 innings, with 115 strikeouts) and the major league club (4.50 ERA in 102 innings, with 94 strikeouts). The 2008 season was his best of those, with 60 relief appearances for the Yankees and 3.59 ERA and a 5-3 record. In 2009, the Yankees traded Veras to the Cleveland Indians, where he finished the last 3 months of the season. The Dominican native made 22 relief appearances for Cleveland with a 1-2 record and a 4.38 ERA, with 22 strikeouts. He signed with the Marlins for 2010 and began the season in AAA New Orleans. He began the season slowly, but got better in May and was tough in June: a 1.80 ERA in 10 innings (10 games) with 12 strikeouts. That earned him a promotion to the Marlins, where he finished the season with 48 relief appearances. In 48 innings, he earned a 3-3 record and a 3.75 ERA with 54 strikeouts. Veras did not play winter ball this off-season. The righty will be competing for a spot in the Pirates’ bullpen
C Wyatt Toregas has also been inked to a minor league contract. He was the Cleveland Indians’ 24th pick in the 2004 draft, and began his pro career in 2005, reaching the AAA level in 3008 and the major leagues in 2009. Toregas hit .284 for the Columbus Clippers (AAA) in 60 games in 2009, with 7 homers and 69 RBI. In 19 appearances for the Indians in that season, he hit only.176 with 6 RBI. The Virginia native was still on the Indians’ 40-man roster at the beginning of 2010, but spent the entire season in the minor leagues, possibly battling injuries. At AA Akron, he got into just 17 games, hitting .203 with one home run and 6 RBI. At AAA Columbus, he was in just 14 games and hit .200 with 2 homers and 6 RBI. He has a slim chance of sticking with the Pirates out of spring training, but will more likely be in Indianapolis to begin 2011.
In addition to Veras and Toregas, a few other minor leaguers have been invited to big league camp for spring training: catchers Tony Sanchez and Eric Fryer, infielders Chase d’Arnaud and Brian Friday, and outfielder Andrew Lambo.
A few signing notes for former Pirates, all minor league contracts:
1B Brad Eldred signed with the Giants, P Ian Snell and INF Ramon Vazquez signed with the Cardinals, and OF Matt Kata signed with the Rangers.
Cheering for a few Pirates’ players and friends in the winter league playoffs….
PUERTO RICAN LEAGUE
Leones de Ponce 2, Criollos de Caguas 1 – RJ Rodriguez earned his 3rd save of the playoffs with a perfect 9th inning of work. Los Leones scored their runs in the 4th, on three straight hits — a single and two doubles. Los Criollos’ only run came in the top of the 6th, on a double, a ground out by SS Luis Figueroa which moved the runner to third, and a RBI single. 3B Ramon Vazquez singled to lead off the 5th for Los Criollos, but he was caught stealing second base.
Gigantes de Carolina 5, Senadores de San Juan 4 – Benji Gonzalez made the start at second base for Los Gigantes, and he scored their first run. In the bottom of the 1st, Gonzalez singled, advanced to third on a throwing error, and scored on a sacrifice fly. San Juan scored 3 runs in the top of the 2nd, and Los Gigantes countered with a run in the bottom of the 3rd, on 3 singles. They tied the score in the 7th with a double, a hit batter, and an RBI single. The tie continued into the top of the 10th, when Los Senadores took the lead with a single and a double. But four singles in the bottom of the inning drove in 2 runs to give Los Gigantes the win.
The Dominican and Puerto Rican Leagues wind up their round-robin playoff series this weekend, while the Venezuelans continue theirs for another week or so.
PUERTO RICAN LEAGUE
Criollos de Caguas 5, Gigantes de Carolina 2 – Los Criollos began the scoring with a fly out-RBI for 3B Ramon Vazquez after two singles. An RBI single gave them a run in the 3rd, and a 2-run homer made it 4-0 in the 5th. Los Criollos wrapped it up with a run in the top of the 7th, on two singles, a walk, and a throwing error. Carolina scratched out a run in both the 7th and 8th innings. SS Luis Figueroa singled and walked for Los Criollos, but did not score.
Leones de Ponce 7, Senadores de San Juan 2 – A 4-run inning in the top of the 8th gave Los Leones the win. San Juan out-hit Ponce, 10 – 9, but they couldn’t bring the runners around, leaving 11 on base. RJ Rodriguez pitched the bottom of the 9th for Ponce, but gave up three consecutive singles to open the inning, which drove in one run. He struck out two, then loaded the bases with another single, then ended the inning with a grounder force out.
Aguilas de Zulia 7, Bravos de Margarita 4 – Los Bravos got the game started with 3 runs in the top of the 1st, on three singles and two throwing errors. But Los Aguilas scored a run in the bottom of the 1st, another in the 3rd, and took the lead with a 3-run homer in the 5th. They added a run on a double and a triple in the 6th, and their 7th run on a double, a hit batter, and a single in the 7th. Jhonathan Ramos came on in relief for Los Bravos after that run scored in the 7th, and he ended the inning with a ground out. Ramos came back out to begin the bottom of the 8th. The first batter of the inning reached on a fielding error, then Ramos gave up a single. A ground out and a line out followed, and then Ramos was relieved. Another ground out ended the inning without a run scoring.
Caribes de Anzoategui 6, Leones de Caracas 5 – This one took 13 innings to decide. Los Leones broke a 2-2 tie in the top of the 8th when C Carlos Maldonado started a rally with a single. He was replace by a pinch-runner, who scored on an RBI single. Los Caribes tied the score again with a 2-run homer in the bottom of the 9th, and the game went into extras. Neither team could get much going in the 10th or 11th, and though Los Caribes threatened in the bottom of the 12th, they still could not get a run across. Los Leones broke the tie in the top of the 13th. A double, an intentional walk, and a fielder’s choice loaded the bases. A grounder to third was fired back to the plate, for a force out at home. Then LF Mike Ryan, who had already singled twice and walked three times in the game, grounded to second base. The runner going from first to second was out, but Ryan was able to beat out the throw to first, and a run scored. But Los Caribes were not done yet — a single and two walks loaded the bases in the bottom of the frame, and a line drive single into left field drove in two runs for the win. Jose Ascanio pitched a perfect inning in the bottom of the 8th for Caracas.
Cheering for the Pirates’ players and friends in winter league playoff action …
Tigres de Aragua 5, Bravos de Margarita 4 – A double and a single in the top of the 10th gave Los Tigres the winning run. Los Tigres had started the scoring in the top of the 1st, on three singles, including an RBI single by LF Lastings Milledge. Los Bravos countered with a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 4th. Milledge tied the score with a solo home run in the top of the 6th. With Jean Machi on the mound for Margarita in the top of the 8th, a walk, a sacrifice bunt, and a wild pitch put a Tigres’ batter on third base, and he scored on an RBI single. Machi came back to pitch a quick 1-2-3 inning in the top of the 9th. Los Bravos tied the score again in the bottom of the 9th on a solo homer. Los Tigres broke the tie in the top of the 10th, then held off Los Bravos in the bottom of the frame. Wil Ledezma pitched a perfect 6th inning for Los Tigres, then gave up a 2-out single in the 7th. C Raul Chavez and 1B Hector Gimenez picked that runner off first base to get Los Tigres out of the inning. Gimenez went 0-for-4 at the plate, and Chavez went 0-for-2. Miguel Perez came into the game as a late-inning defensive replacement behind the plate, but did not have a plate appearance.
Leones del Caracas 10, Caribes de Anzoategui 6 – Seven runs in the top of the 1st gave Los Leones an edge that Los Caribes could not overcome. Los Leones sent 11 batters to the plate in the 1st inning, and the first 6 batters reached base safely: single, single, walk, grand slam, single, single (by C Carlos Maldonado). After a pop out, LF Mike Ryan hit a 2-run homer, which was followed by a double, before the inning ended. Maldonado added another RBI single in the 2nd inning, and Caracas picked up another 2-run homer in the top of the 9th. Los Caribes scored in all but one of the first 6 innings, but four of those innings brought in just one run, not enough to catch up.