The Undercards: Jon Weber, Wes Bankston, Humberto Cota All Slam 2-Run Homers
By Robbie Knopf
Why is the famous phrase “wait for the 3-run homer” and not any other kind of homer? Well, if you wait for a grand slam, it probably won’t come and solo homers aren’t significant enough. What about the 2-run homer? Apparently it isn’t significant enough either- of the three ex-Rays that stroked 2-run homers on Thursday night, two of their teams lost their games.
Dominican Winter League: Leones de Escogido 8, Aguilas Cibaenas 2
This was the playoff opener for the Aguilas, and it was definitely not what they had in mind. Escogido 5-hit Cibeanas, with starter Edward Valdez going 7 innings allowing just 2 unearned runs on 5 hits, striking out 4 while walking none. Hector Luna and Manny Ramirez each went 1 for 4 in the loss for the Aguilas, with Luna scoring a run.
Mexican Pacific League: Naranjeros de Hermosillo 12, Aguilas de Mexicali 7
This game was wild, with Mexicali jumping out to a 6-1 lead before Hermosillo began to pull away with an 8-run 4th inning. The two teams combined for 6 homers in the game, with 2 of those homers coming off the bats of ex-Rays players. Humberto Cota had a nice game to help lead Hermosillo to victory, going 1 for 3 with a walk and a 2-run homer, while Jon Weber stayed scorching hot in the loss for Mexicali, going 2 for 5 with a 2-run homer and an RBI single. Weber now has 2 homers in his last 3 games after slamming 2 homers in his previous 61. Weber is currently on a 6-game hitting streak, hitting 10 for 25 (.400) with 2 homers, 6 RBI, and a 4-4 strikeout to walk ratio and on the season, his numbers continue to get better as he’s up to a .323/.416/.466 line on the year.
Caneros de los Mochis 7, Venados de Mazatlan 4
Everyone is entitled to a bad game. This was certainly that for Matt Buschmann. Entering with a 1-run lead in the 8th, Buschmann allowed the Caneros to tie it in that frame before allowing a walk-off 3-run homer to Sandy Madero in the following frame to seal the Caneros win. Buschmann went 1.1 innings (the walk-off homer was with 1 out), allowing 1 runs on 4 hits, striking out just 1 while walking 2 and throwing just 17 of 34 pitches for strikes. It was certainly a rough outing, but it was not completely Buschmann’s fault. Buschmann hadn’t pitched since December 22nd after never going more than 3 days between an appearance between December 11th and the 22nd, and he also was not that bad in this game, forcing a 5-1 groundball to flyball ratio to go along with a line drive single and getting unlucky that the one flyball he allowed left the yard. Buschmann has had a couple tough appearances in a row now, but his stuff remains electric and his command has been good, and he should be fine moving forward.
Algodoneros de Guasave 8, Mayos de Navojoa 5
The Mayos were out of this one early, facing a 5-0 deficit after 3 innings, but Wes Bankston wound up having a really nice game in the loss, going 2 for 4 with a double, a walk, a 2-run homer, and 2 runs scored. It was Bankston’s second straight game with a homer and third straight game with a walk after patience had been a major issue for him in his recent stuff. We’ll have to see if Bankston can continue his strong performance of his last couple games, but it’s certainly a good sign that he has been able to readjust after the league apparently figured him out after his red-hot start.
Venezuelan Winter League: Caribes de Anzoategui 9, Tiburones de La Guaira 5
This was another game where things got out of hand early, but La Guaira actually came back from a 4-0 deficit to tie it before allowing 4 more runs in the 7th inning to ice the game. Cesar Suarez was strong in the Tiburones loss, going 3 for 5 with a double, a stolen base, and a run scored. Suarez now has himself a 5-game hitting streak, and he has a trio of 3-hit performances among those 5 games to put his average over the course of the streak at .500 (11 for 22) with 4 doubles. He’s up to a .323/.370/.476 line in 60 games for La Guaira as he started off on fire and never got around to cooling off.
Aguilas del Zulia 9, Cardelanes de Lara 7
A pair of ex-Rays opposed each other on the mound, but neither pitcher would be particularly proud of their performance in this one. Brian Sweeney had a nightmare start, allowing 3 runs on 5 hits while recording just 1 out in the first inning. Ouch. Another former Rays minor leaguer, Romulo Sanchez, struck out both batters he faced later in the game to get ex-Rays pitchers at least through a full inning for Lara. But the pitcher we’re most interested in here is Alex Torres. Torres actually earned the win for Zulia in this one, but he went 5 innings allowing 5 runs on 6 hits, striking out 8 while walking 3. He had a very strange outing. All his walks came in the second inning, when he allowed them all in a row with 1 out, leading to 2 Lara runs. He then had a streak where he retired 11 of the 13 batters he faced from the end of the 2nd through the 4th, striking out 6 in the process. But then Torres was thrown off by an Alcides Escobar comebacker right to the mound that he actually managed to catch, and he proceeded two allow 2 singles and then a Luis Valbuena 3-run home run to end his outing on a sour note. At the end of the day, Torres’ stuff remains absolutely electric- he now has struck out 86 batters in 60.1 innings, a ridiculous 12.8 per 9 innings, while walking just 27, a reasonable 4.0 per 9- and the Rays hope that something is finally clicking and he’ll be ready to contribute to the big league bullpen next season. Torres is out of options so this season is critical, but he has shown for Zulia this offseason that he has ability to come through.