Well folks, it’s three weeks into the 2014 MLB season and time to check in with our Venezuelan faithful. Forgive the gap between posts; moving house in the off-season isn’t as easy as I thought. Before I begin, I send a hearty prayer out for the well-being of my friends in Venezuela; may that country find peace some day very soon.
After three weeks of baseball in the sometimes freezing North:
To no one’s surprise, “King” Felix Hernandez has nearly run the table on his first four starts, and he’d be 4-0 but for a blown save in the last one. You basically get this from the King each time out: about 7 innings and maybe 1 or 2 runs for the other side. His yellow-shirted legion of K fanatics in Seattle are overjoyed, because partner-in-crime Hisashi Iwakuma is injured, and the King has accounted for most of Seattle’s April wins.
Continuing his fine form of second-half 2014, Martin Perez of the Rangers has, in fact, run the table on four starts and topped off a wonderful first three weeks with a complete-game shutout of the White Sox on 4/18. Perez might not get the press that Yu Darvish does-yet—but keep up this form and he certainly will (he hosed the other Sox—those being the champions in Red—at their Fenway Park home recently, too). Perez’ teammate Elvis Andrus—he of the Abe Lincoln beard– enters his sixth full-time season as the Texas shortstop, hitting a tick over his lifetime average currently and perhaps ready to bust his career best of 42 steals in 2013—he has 8 in April, already.
Our Aparicio Heritage Shortstop counter has Andrus at Texas, Asdrubal Cabrera at Cleveland, and silky-smooth Alcides Escobar with the Royals of Kansas City. Escobar’s teammate Salvador Perez made the All Star team and won the Gold Glove at catcher last season, and a productive off-season in Venezuela has us looking at him for big things in his sophomore stint. Manager Ned Yost, an MLB receiver himself during the 1980s, rates Salvador as second only to Yadier Molina of the Cardinals in the catching department—high praise indeed. The Royals, with players like this and a few others who field their positions well, are a joy to watch for us lovers of fundamental, well-defensed baseball. 2010 All Star Omar Infante, born in Puerto la Cruz, VZ, takes over second base in Kauffman Stadium this season.
Carlos Gonzalez (“Cargo” to the annoying ESPN jocks who have to have a two-syllable nickname even for their breakfast cereals) made a literal splash this month with a monster homer over the right-field stands in San Francisco and into McCovey Cove. Gonzalez remains one of the best all-rounders in the game and was Venezuela’s other Gold Glover in 2013, in the centerfield position. Cargo’s teammate Jhoulys Chacin, a revelation last season with 14 high-altitude wins for the Rockies, unfortunately came up lame in spring training and is back rehabbing his shoulder with the Modesto Nuts of A-Ball. Lefty reliever Franklin Morales of San Juan de los Morros, VZ, returns to Colorado, where his career began, after a two-year stint in Boston and part of the 2013 World Series championship squad.
In Boston, lefty Felix Doubront has won 11 games each of the past two seasons for the Fenway faithful, but is struggling at the outset of the 2014 campaign along with the rest of his team, in a bit of a post-World-Series hangover, it would seem.
In the big ballyard in the Bronx, a youngster from Venezuela is trying to make the Bomber faithful forget all about Alex Rodriguez (and wouldn’t we all like to, for just a day or two?). Yangervis Solarte has hit well (.328 thus far) and fielded the position aptly, hopefully ending the non-so-merry go round of hot corner habituents in the (corporate) House that Ruth did not build. Venezuelan Francisco Cervelli has ably filled in at the catcher position for five games; although not hitting much at this point, he brings a veteran calm to the side.
On the other side of the Whitestone Bridge, Wilmer Flores hasn’t had a chance yet to show his stuff for the Mets, but a tough off-season regimen in Michigan prepped the young man for the rigors of a full MLB season and hopefully he’ll be up with the big club before too long. 40-year-old former VZ superstar Bobby Abreu also got himself in condition over the winter and is plumping for a part-time role with the Metropolitans, but currently enjoying his senior status, above youngsters like Flores, with the team’s Las Vegas 51s affiliate. Expect to see him soon, since lefty Ike Davis was traded this past Friday. New York Times quote of the day from Abreu’s current manager Wally Backman: “he’s still Bobby f**ing Abreu.” Amen.
Carabobo native Ronny Cedeno is on his second Pennsylvania National League team, re-signed by the Phillies this season. He begins the season at the AAA level with Lehigh Valley. Always a slick fielder, Cedeno is not a consistent batsman, unfortunately.
In San Francisco, veteran infielder Marco Scutaro has missed all of April thus far with a back injury, and The Panda, Pablo Sandoval, in a contract season, is coming up small thus far, batting just .171 in 18 games. Across the Bay in Oakland, Alberto Callaspo of Maracay proves that if you hit it, they will play you—he’s featured mostly at DH this season, but also played at first and third. Callaspo is not only a switch-hitter, but has played most of the infield positions through a steady journeyman MLB career in both leagues.
Detroit has had one of the most Venezuelan-heavy roster in the bigs in recent seasons, and the best hitter in the game with Miguel Cabrera. Miggy has struggled, perhaps under the weight of that billion-dollar ten-year contract, but Victor Martinez is at his career .300 level, and Anibal Sanchez has thrown together three decent starts, and is on the hill again Monday. Professional sports can be cruel at times. One-time Cabrera teammate (2003 champion Marlins), Alex Gonzalez, found out on Sunday. Beginning the season as a platoon player at short for the Tigers, Gonzalez, aged 37, was released just three weeks into the season.
In Minneapolis, Eduardo Escobar of Villa de Cura, VZ has played 10 games at shortstop for a young Twins team. He turned 25 in January and played 66 games with the big club last season, after a cup of coffee with the White Sox the previous season. Dominican Pedro Florimin certainly is the man in the plans of the Minnesota hierarchy, as he recovers from an off-season appendectomy.
Houston joined the American League last season, which is still a bit hard for some of us to wrap our heads around, but it didn’t slow down mighty-mite Jose Altuve, the all-star second baseman. He hit around 280 again, and stole 35 bases, and seems primed to have a similar quality season at Minute Maid Park (or whatever replaced the Astrodome, Enron Field, etc). Teammate and countryman Marwin Gonzalez was called up this month from Triple-A when Altuve was sidelined with a hamstring problem, and Gonzalez’ all-around infield skills will keep him in the Big Time for a while, yet. So far this short season he’s played second, short, third and all three outfield positions! Is MLB ready for the second coming of Luis Sojo?
Resurrection alert on Easter Sunday: Francisco Rodriguez of the front-running Brewers, currently crushing everything in their path like a discarded six pack of Old Milwaukee empties, has 7 saves in 10 innings pitched and 15 strikeouts. Somebody apparently forgot to tell him he was washed up.
Fellow Rodriguez Henry, has had a wild ride, literally, in MLB and although he had the stuff to record 9 saves in 2012, he begins this season with the Miami Marlins’ AAA team. You can’t be washed up if you never washed ashore in the first place, Henry.
Another bad luck candidate for April is Wilson Ramos, the Nationals’ catcher who was famously kidnapped three seasons ago—he broke his hand in spring training and is out indefinitely. He’s missed a lot of time the past two seasons with various leg ailments. Countryman Jose Lobaton, picked up by Washington from Tampa in the offseason, showed promise in 100 games for the Rays and stands (or sits) in for Wilson while his hand melds back together. And this might be a record, folks—the Nationals *third* catcher is a Venezuelan, too, young Maracaibo native Sandy Leon.
Add to the unlucky list Avisail Garcia, the big outfielder who was part of the White Sox plans this year. The 22-year-old massive dude (6’4” and 240) had already had the first two-homer game of his career when he tore the labrum in his left shoulder on an attempted diving catch. April is indeed the cruelest month.
Well, folks, that’s all for now, as we prepare for King Felix’s next start on Monday. Don’t forget your “K” signs.