Veteran pitchers reign in Caribbean
Skill, not speed key to pitching success
SANTIAGO, Dominican Republic -- The language is different. The atmosphere is louder. The formula is the same.
In the Caribbean Series, just as in the states, good pitching beats good hitting. It's not always about talented pitching, but good pitching.
Nelson Figueroa didn't hit 90 mph on the radar gun, either on the scoreboard or in the scouts' hands, but opponents -- namely eventual series champion Licey -- didn't hit much of anything off of him. Giovanni Carrara, a month shy of his 40th birthday, earned a win with five scoreless innings over Mexico. Ramon Ortiz, more finesse pitcher than power thrower these days nearing 35-years-old, beat tournament favorite Aguilas twice in four days with 11-plus scoreless innings and won Caribbean Series MVP honors for it.
In a place where Major League All-Stars come to represent their country and hot prospects can make a name for themselves heading into Spring Training, the wily, experienced pitchers seemed to win out more often than the hot young arms this time around.
For Figueroa, it proved a point.
"Arms are funny here," Figueroa said before Thursday's games. "There's 95- to 100-mph throwers here, and I don't want to knock anyone, but they're throwers. They throw hard. A guy like myself, like Jose Santiago [of Venezuela], we've been at the big-league level. We've got the experience. Experience takes over. Talent can only do so much.
"You can go anywhere on the streets here in the Dominican and there's a kid throwing a rock 97 mph, but you can't underestimate experience."
It certainly couldn't be overstated in this setting. The electricity of Aguilas' all-star lineup, of Licey's talented young sluggers, could only take them so far. Winning out was about who could pitch better.
In the United States, pitchers are always ahead of hitters in February, because it's Spring Training. In Winter Ball, however, most hitters who make their national squads have been playing for most of their leagues' seasons. There are only so many hitters who start out in late December and end up making national teams, Licey's Jose Bautista being an exception.
Just about everyone asked, from Figueroa to Venezuela's Andrew Lorraine to others, believe that pitchers and hitters are on equal footing. But while star names such as Miguel Tejada, Rafael Furcal, Edwin Encarnacion and Ronnie Belliard earn the attention, the pitchers aren't usually as well known with the exceptions of relievers like Cubs closer Carlos Marmol and Aguilas' cameo starter, Bartolo Colon.
"Everyone's pitching well," Lorraine said. "There are tremendous arms. But as far as talent-wise, the Dominican side is tremendous."
Many gifted arms, however, had their struggles. Marmol looked dominant for much of the series before Mexican champion Yaquis de Obregon scored three times off of him in the ninth inning Wednesday. Francisco Cruceta and Denny Bautista, both of whom will have a chance to fill in for Joel Zumaya in the Detroit Tigers bullpen, were up and down for most of the week for Aguilas.
"That's a difference between people who pitch in the leagues, who star in the big leagues and those that get picked up on waivers and bounce from team to team," Lorraine said. "That's a big difference. The guys that maybe aren't flashy but get guys out can pitch for 15 years. It's a different kind of pitching, obviously. I'd love to have the arms that those guys have, but any game, it doesn't really matter.
"If those kids figure it out, it's scary. You have Pedro [Martinez], you have [Carlos] Zambrano, you have [Kelvim] Escobar. A lot of them are going to be erratic, a lot of them are going to be flashy. A few of them are going to be good starters."
Figueroa served as one example that a good starter doesn't necessarily have to light up a radar gun.
"There are guys that come in throwing 97 and hitters are excited," Figueroa said. "I think that speaks volumes about the beauty inside the game. For the scouts that sit there with the guns and place everything on the number that pops up, this isn't the state county fair."
"I'm not trying to win a Barbie doll. I'm not trying to win a teddy bear. I'm trying to get a hitter out. I'm trying to make sure that my family's going to eat well, trying to make sure that I can get back to the big leagues."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.