02/02/2013 8:42 PM ET
Series giving Mendoza head start on competition
By Alden Gonzalez / MLB.com
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- In hopes of cracking the final spot of a revamped Royals rotation, or at the very least ensuring that he sticks in the big leagues, Mexico's Luis Mendoza is getting a nice head start.
Mendoza is here with the Yaquis de Obregon, champions of the Mexican Pacific League and participants in a Caribbean Series that's being played at the brand-new Estadio Sonora. In his team's first game on Friday, Mendoza hurled six scoreless innings of three-hit ball, striking out three and walking two in Mexico's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico's Criollos de Caguas.
Mendoza, like so many others, is here to do what he can for his country.
But the 29-year-old right-hander is also here to fine-tune -- specifically his changeup -- in hopes of securing a spot in a much-improved staff that includes James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis, Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Will Smith.
"Spring Training is always a battle," said Mendoza, who's out of options. "Nobody has a solidified spot except Shields and the first two or three starters. But I'm very happy with the team right now. I feel like we're going to compete more this year with a stronger group, and I'm happy to be with a team that's competing. I'll do what they ask, either long relief or starting."
Mendoza was Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year in 2011, then got his most Major League action in '12, going 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA in 30 games (25 starts).
"For me," Mendoza said, "the most important thing is to be in the Major Leagues and establish myself."
A native of Veracruz -- on the southeast portion of the country, about 1,500 miles from the Caribbean Series -- Mendoza also plans to suit up for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Major League clubs are often hesitant to send their pitchers to these events, specifically a Caribbean Series that takes place so close to the start of Spring Training.
But Mendoza sees this as a way to get a leg up.
"It's part of the preparation, and you have to take care of yourself," Mendoza said. "We know that we didn't come to party like people think about with the Caribbean Series, or to relax. It's to come and keep working.
"Like Kansas City said when I talked to them -- 'Take care of yourself. We support you completely, but you know your body and you know your limits.'"
Figueroa denied chance to pitch in Caribbean Series
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Nelson Figueroa is a man with little to do these days.
The 38-year-old right-hander, signed to a Minor League deal by the D-backs this offseason, helped pitch the Dominican Republic's Leones del Escogido to the Caribbean Series. But Figueroa, a Brooklyn native of Puerto Rican descent, has been blocked by the Puerto Rico Baseball League from playing in the Caribbean Series, which pits the winter league champions from the Dominican, Mexico, Venezuela and Puerto Rico in a seven-day tournament.
So here, at Estadio Sonora, Figueroa is more a fan than an active pitcher trying to help Escogido win its third Caribbean Series title in four years.
And he isn't happy about it.
"That hurts," Figueroa said in Spanish. "It hurts a lot for everyone who's here, playing the whole regular season, playoffs and championship series just to get to this moment, to play or pitch in the Caribbean Series. For us even more, because we have a championship to defend from last year, and for this team that has supported me so much the last four years."
Figueroa has played in the winter leagues of all four nations, representing Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican in past Caribbean Series. Last year, he pitched for the Leones in winter ball, then for Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez in the Series. And next month, he plans on suiting up for Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
Figueroa was on loan by the Puerto Rican League to pitch for the Dominican winter ball squad, but apparently that did not extend to the Caribbean Series. The veteran pitcher, who has compiled a 4.55 ERA in nine Major League seasons, didn't find out about it until the start of the tournament. And everybody -- his teammates, coaches and general manager Moises Alou -- was taken by surprise.
Figueroa maintains that he never signed anything that would disallow him from playing in the prestigious Series, and he's threatening to take legal action.
"We have a crown to defend here," Figueroa said.
His anger, at least, is somewhat tempered by the prospect of being in D-backs camp this spring, one year after going 12-5 with a 3.89 ERA in 25 games (15 starts) for the Yankees' and Red Sox's Triple-A affiliates.
"I have a chance to return with my first Major League team," Figueroa said. "I still live there, in Arizona."
Valenzuela set for Caribbean Hall of Fame induction
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Fernando Valenzuela's no-brainer induction to the Caribbean Baseball Hall of Fame will take place Sunday, at 10 a.m. MT at the University of Sonora's Arts Center.
Valenzuela -- a six-time All-Star with the Dodgers, who won the National League's Rookie of the Year and Cy Young awards while en route to a World Series title in 1981 -- will be joined by ex-manager Tommy Lasorda, Dodgers vice president Lon Rosen and broadcaster Jaime Jarrin, now Valenzuela's partner in the booth.
Caribbean Baseball Federation president Juan Herrera will make a speech and present Valenzuela with his Hall of Fame plaque, officially placing him in a group that includes Tony Perez, Rod Carew, Willie Mays, Dave Concepcion, Edgar Martinez and Roberto Alomar. Also being inducted Sunday are ex-players Houston Jimenez and Ever Magallanes, along with former Mexican Pacific League presidents Renato Vega and Dr. Arturo Leon Lerma.
Valenzuela's last season in the Majors came in 1997, but he continued to suit up for his home country in the Mexican Pacific League until 2006 -- at age 46 -- and pitched in three Caribbean Series (1982, '93 and '01).
On Friday, Valenzuela kicked off the 55th Caribbean Series and helped christen a brand-new ballpark in Sonora by throwing out the ceremonial first pitch.
"It looks like a very comfortable stadium for the fans," Valenzuela said while hounded by the Spanish press. "It's a stadium designed for baseball, and I think the people here will enjoy it."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.