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            Former All-Star relief pitcher Roberto Osuna has made the most of what he hopes will be a short stay in the Mexican League this year. Heading into the weekend, the 26-year-old righthander had yet to allow an earned run on seven hits over twelve appearances for the Mexico City Diablos Rojos, winning one game and saving six more while striking out twelve batters and walking none in 12.1 innings of work.


            While much of that was undone by one awful outing on Saturday night against Guadalajara, in which Osuna gave up three runs in one-third of one inning (including homers by Jesse Castillo and Anthony Garcia) and took the loss in a 6-3 defeat at the hands of the visiting Mariachis, the Sinaloa native appears to be back from an elbow injury that derailed his 2020 season with the Houston Astros and may be back in Major League Baseball sooner rather than later.


            Osuna has been a big part of the Diablos' strong start to the 2021 season as Mexico City leads the LMB South with a 22-15 record, although they've dropped five games in a row after being swept at home by the Mariachis over the weekend. Red Devils manager Miguel Ojeda, himself a former major league catcher, thinks it's just a matter of time before an MLB organization brings Osuna back across the border. “He's shown that he's healthy and ready to return,” says Ojeda. “It's just a matter of days and I think he's going to be back in the major leagues. We talk a lot and he tells me he has two real offers.”


            The 6'2” 217-pounder spent six seasons in the big leagues with Toronto and Houston, posting a 14-18 record with 155 saves to go along with a 2.74 ERA in 314 appearances. Osuna was chosen for the 2017 All-Star Game while with the Blue Jays and led the American League with 39 saves as the Astros closer, appearing with Houston in that season's World Series. While an alleged domestic violence incident that never went to trial resulted in a 75-game suspension to close the door on his time in Toronto before being traded in 2018, Osuna headed into the 2020 campaign as a 25-year-old star with one year left on his contract for $10 million and a strong future seemingly ahead of him.


            Instead, Osuna came down with pitching elbow miseries, appearing in only four games before being shut down for the campaign in August. The Astros recommended Tommy John surgery, but Osuna refused and the team placed him on waivers after the season, making him a free agent. When a showcase in the Dominican Republic drew no offers, he signed a one-year contract with the Diablos, the team he made his pro debut with in 2011 at age 16.


            Now that he's showing signs that his arm is recovered, Osuna says he's going to concentrate on getting the job done in Mexico City until an acceptable offer from an MLB organization is made. “I do have a couple of offers out there which I'm still analyzing to see which is the best one,” he said at a press conference last week. “My priority is to stay healthy because I know what I'm capable of when I'm healthy. I've been enjoying every day being with the Diablos and my goal is to help as much as I can.” He added that he'd enjoy pitching for Mexico and Benji Gil at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo if that opportunity arrives.


            The Diablos' recent tailspin has allowed Yucatan to pull to within a half-game at 21-15. The Leones have gone 7-4 since Geronimo Gil was fired last month and have yet to announce the ex-MLBer's replacement. It's assumed that bench coach Chico Rodriguez, a Salon de la Fama member hired the day Gil was canned, is calling the shots, but who knows?  Puebla is one game behind the Diablos in third place with a 21-16 mark while Veracruz is right behind in fourth at 21-17. With six teams per division reaching the playoffs this year, there's a spirited three-way battle for the final two LMB South berths between Tabasco (18-20) and both Leon and Quintana Roo (18-21 each).


            The LMB North is a two-team race right now, with 26-9 Guadalajara one game ahead of 27-12 Tijuana. Saltillo has won eight of their last ten games to pull into a tie with defending champion Monclova, four games behind the Mariachis with identical 24-15 records. Dos Laredos (17-21) is in fifth place while Laguna (16-20) is sixth. Monterrey (15-21), where expectations are high, continues to struggle. The Sultanes have already brought back third baseman Augie Murillo from de facto farm team Leon (the two clubs are co-owned by Grupo Multimedios) and it would no be out of the question that Monterrey could engineer another player swap with the Bravos to bolster their roster.


            Bartolo Colon's comeback continued as the former Cy Young winner by picking up his fifth win for Monclova last week, tying him with Guadalajara's Masaru Nakamura for the LMB lead. The 48-year-old Colon has tossed a league-leading 50.1 innings over eight starts, striking out 34 while walking just nine batters. Former Mariners minor league reliever Rafael Pineda has been converted to a starter with Union Laguna and the former Texas A&M hurler has a 2.31 ERA after seven starts to lead all qualifying pitchers. Aguascalientes' Erick Leal (3-1, 4.22) ranks first with 43 strikeouts in 32 innings, or 12.1 per nine innings for the former Cubs farmhand. Tijuana closer Fernando Rodney, who saved 318 games in 17 MLB seasons (ranking 18th all-time), now leads the Mexican League in salvados with 11. The 44-year-old Rodney has struck out 20 over 18 innings while lowering his ERA to 1.00 for the Toros.


            Four players are still batting above .400, led by Saltillo's Henry Urrutia at .439. Xavier Batista, who came to Leon in the Murillo trade is tops with 13 homers (all hit during his 25 games for the Bravos after hitting none over 13 games with the Sultanes). Batista belted 62 homers over 261 games for Hiroshima in NPB between 2017 and 2019. Tijuana's Leandro Castro is ten RBIs ahead of his nearest competitor with 48 RBIs and Toros teammate Isaac Rodriguez (a .407 batter) leads with 15 stolen bases.





            Mexican League president Horacio de la Vega is finding himself embroiled in another controversy. According to Alejandra Crail of the EME/EQUIS digital news site, a fledgling company in which the former two-time Olympic pentathlete is majority owner was awarded a no-bid contract worth almost 11 million pesos by the federal Commission of Physical Culture and Sports. CONADE is headed by another ex-Olympian, Ana Guevara, who represented Mexico in the 2000 Sydney Summer Games as a track athlete along with de la Vega.


            De la Vega's company, Hype Fund, was formed in May 2019, six months after being replaced as director of Mexico City's Sports Institute (INDEPORTE), a job he'd held for six years, to succeed Javier Salinas as president of the LMB. Hype Fund received a contract of 10.994 million pesos to refurbish a pavilion at the National Center for Development of Talent and High Performance (CNAR) in which basketball, volleyball and team handball are played, including replacing vinyl flooring on a multisport playing surface and installing a portable wooden basketball court.


            The contract, which was the highest awarded by CONADE in 2020, was signed at approximately the same time it was announced that the Mexican League had awarded Veracruz an expansion team for this year at a ceremony in the National Palace overseen by Mexican president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and attended by de la Vega along with representatives of both new franchises in Veracruz and Guadalajara. A related story in Proceso says the Veracruz team fulfilled a campaign promise by AMLO to facilitate the return of the Mexican League to the port city.


            In her EME/EQUIS story, Crail says the contract “represents a conflict of interest given the closeness that exists between Horacio de la Vega and Ana Guevara, director of CONADE, as well as with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with whom de la Vega has close relationships.” Guevara was appointed by AMLO shortly after he took office in late 2018 to serve as CONADE's executive director, a position de la Vega had been considered for prior to his selection and LMB president.


            The CONADE contract represents the only such deal between Hype Fund and a federal or local governmental entity, although the company has also inked a pact to represent  the MONDO sports flooring of Italy. MONDO presumably will play a role in replacing the playing surfaces at the CNAR facility in Mexico City, which was opened in 2006 by former Mexican president and houses over 500 young athletes in several sports.


            In an interview with EME/EQUIS, de la Vega denied that his role as a supporter has opened doors for him to obtain contracts with the AMLO administration. “It has nothing to do with it, I openly tell you. The government people have no idea that I am the legal representative. There is a work team that does it...I do not influence it at all and there is no relationship. We are all trying to work on various things, to make our way.


            “I was fortunate that they hired me in some other places: the Pan American Games in Lima as general advisor, in Chile, and then I brought the representation of MONDO in Mexico, which is a most important sports equipment company, characterized by making the running tracks from Montreal 76. You scrub and work your best. There is no relationship between these situations.”


            De la Vega is ALSO one of three people facing criminal complaint charges from the mayor in Mexico City borough Iztalcalco of “fraudulant administration” stemming from his leadership at the National Sports Institute between 2013 and 2018, including allegations that he awarded contracts far exceeding the value of work done on projects within the Sports City complex.


            Among those were construction of an artificial lake for 15 million pesos to be used for swimming, diving and water skiing. The lake, which displaced five soccer fields and four basketball courts, is currently inoperative. In all, de La Vega and former Mexico City mayor Miguel Angel Mancera are rumored to have privatized 70 percent of the Sports City complex with no appreciable benefit to the government that owns it.





            After last year's standout Korea Baseball Organization debut with the LG Twins, Roberto Ramos has seen his 2021 KBO season cut short after suffering an injury to fifth spinal nerve in his lower back. The Hermosillo native had been struggling in his second season with the Twins, but was still reportedly under consideration as a first baseman for the Mexican Olympic Team in Tokyo later this summer.


            Ramos was hurt on Tuesday, June 8 in Seoul during the eighth inning of a game against the NC Dinos. While fielding a grounder hit in the hole between first and second by the Dinos' Lee Myung-ki, according to South Korea's News1, Ramos wrenched his back when he attempted to throw the ball to first base to beat Lee to the bag.


            Ramos was pulled from the game and did not appear again in the Twins lineup up to his June 29 release by the Twins, who two days earlier signed former Marlins first sacker Justin Bour, who hit .213 with six homers in 33 games for AAA Sacramento this year before the parent San Francisco Giants released him from his contract so he could play in Korea.


            It was a frustrating end to a frustrating season for Ramos, who was batting .243 with eight roundtrippers and 25 RBIs in 51 games for the Twins this year. The former Rockies minor leaguer had gone 2-for-4 in the game against the Dinos before getting hurt and went 2-for-3 with a homer and three RBIs two nights before against the KIA Tigers to raise his average 13 points over his last two games.


            In 2020, Ramos burst on the KBO scene by swatting 38 longballs to shatter the Twins' previous single-season record of 30 homers by Lee Byung-kyu in 1999 while topping Karim Garcia's old standard for Mexicans playing in Korea of 30 homers. Garcia set the mark in 2008  with the Lotte Giants.


            Ramos' performance translated to a large raise from the Twins in 2021 after he'd explored playing in Japan, where salaries are higher. After being paid a reported $500,000 last year, Ramos came to terms with the Twins for a $600,000 salary plus a $200,000 signing bonus and performance incentives that would have paid up to another $200,000.


            Instead, the former College of the Canyons star (who hit 62 homers over his last two seasons in the Rockies system before heading overseas) is now a free agent. There's a chance Ramos will play an eighth Mexican Pacific League season for hometown Hermosillo Naranjeros this winter after some rehab time but for now, the 6'3” 220-pound free agent is weighing his options.


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