Commentary

Martinez making his case

Updated: February 4, 2009, 12:26 PM ET
By Jorge Arangure Jr. | ESPN The Magazine

MEXICALI, Mexico -- In a conversation with Mets general manager Omar Minaya this offseason, super prospect Fernando Martinez, 20, says he was told he likely will begin the season at Triple-A Buffalo. He might not stay there long -- if at all. Martinez's pinch-hit, game-deciding, seventh-inning home run for the Dominican Republic's Tigres de Licey in a 2-1 win against Puerto Rico's Leones de Ponce in Tuesday's second day of the Caribbean World Series fully thrust the prospect into the international spotlight.

Fernando Martinez
AP Photo/Guillermo AriasFernando Martinez, right, is congratulated after hitting a go-ahead home run Tuesday.
"Perhaps this can help me open some doors," Martinez said of his participation in the Caribbean series.

Martinez hit .314 with six home runs and 26 RBIs for the Escogido Leones in the regular season of the Dominican winter league. At the end of the regular season, Martinez hit only .160 in eight playoff games for the Leones de Caracas of the Venezuelan winter league, where he signed as a free agent, since he was not picked up by a Dominican playoff team. Martinez was added to Licey's roster for the CWS as a reserve, although his home run might push him into the starting lineup.

"Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves," Licey manager Jose Offerman said. "We'll see [Wednesday]."

With the Mets choosing not to sign a big-name outfielder this winter, Martinez, named the Mets' top prospect in 2009 by ESPN.com's Keith Law, hasn't counted out the possibility of starting the season in the majors.

"Perhaps if I have a good spring, then who knows," he said.

Hoping for Hill

Tigres de Aragua (Venezuela) manager Buddy Bailey is one person who hopes Rich Hill's recent trade from the Chicago Cubs to the Baltimore Orioles revives a once-promising career.

"Anytime somebody has 'something,' then they could always get it back," Bailey said.

After a disastrous 2008 season in which he tried to regain his control, Hill, once considered one of the National League's best pitchers, pitched for Aragua. In nine games for Bailey's Tigres this winter, Hill was only 1-2 with a 6.86 ERA. He walked 23 batters in 21 innings. Bailey said he believed Hill's biggest fault was his lack of confidence.

"He pitched well at the beginning, but then he struggled with his command," Bailey said. "We kept giving him the opportunity to pitch; we eventually ended up trying him in the bullpen. Some outings were good, and some weren't."

Eventually, Hill complained of arm trouble and ended his stint in Venezuela.

"I like Rich," Bailey said. "He's a great person. I hope it works out for him."

Stopping the drought

Puerto Rican manager Eduardo Perez said his Ponce Leones will not break the Naranjeros de Hermosillo's record 12-game losing streak in the series. The Leones have lost nine consecutive CWS games dating back to 1982.

"There's still time to win a game," Perez said. "We only lost 3-2 [Monday] and 2-1 [Tuesday]."

Some of Ponce's struggles might be due to inactivity. The Leones had seven days off from the end of their league championship to the start of the CWS.

"That's the problem when you have to wait so long to play," Perez said. "Perhaps next time the players, if they get here, will arrive 48 hours before the start of the series to acclimate themselves. But you know what, Venezuela was in the same situation, and they won their first game."

Pitchers in control

The four teams in the CWS have combined for just 14 runs in four games.

"Right now, it appears that the pitching is controlling the series," Mexico manager Lorenzo Bundy said. "Why? I don't know. Three of the four teams went seven days without playing. That's a disadvantage to the hitters."

Hector Gimemez, whose game-winning, 11th-inning solo home run gave the Leones a 1-0 win, said perhaps the CWS tradition of not taking batting practice before games has affected hitters.

"But that's the way the Caribbean series goes," Gimenez said. "Teams come here to play and not to practice."

Running on his own

A key play in Mexico's loss to the Leones came when Agustin Murillo was thrown out at home in the seventh inning while trying to score from first on Christian Presichi's double in the gap. Murillo ran past coach Antonio Aguilera's stop sign at third base.

"Augie never saw the stop sign from Tony," Bundy said. "He was running hard with his head down. It was a key play for us. He didn't have a good read on that ball in that situation. His second mistake was that he didn't see the sign from the third-base coach."

Jorge Arangure Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.