Ayala in familiar role at Caribbean Series
Veteran again pitching for Mexico without big league job
SANTO DOMINGO -- From the Yaquis to the Yankees last season, Luis Ayala is familiar with the road he is on now.
A year ago, the right-hander took the mound for Mexico's Obregon squad during the Caribbean Series without a job in the United States and ended up signing a Minor League deal with New York a few days after the round-robin ended.
On Friday, Ayala stepped on the rubber for Obregon again, this time against Puerto Rico's Indios de Mayaguez, and, just like last year, he's in search of one more shot at the big leagues. Whether he gets another chance or not is to be determined. One thing is certain: The veteran is not ready to call it quits anytime soon.
"Fortunately, my participation in the Caribbean Series last year gave me chance at a contract with the Yankees," Ayala, 34, said. "Here I am in the same situation, a free agent again after another year in the Major Leagues having a little bit of a hard time signing. I haven't had any good offers but I'm confident that, God permits, I will get a chance to pitch for a team that will allow me to show my abilities."
Ayala is off to a good start. The veteran was perfect in 1 2/3 innings and picked up the save in Mexico's 2-0 win against Puerto Rico in Friday afternoon's game. On Saturday, Ayala should get another chance to pitch when Mexico (1-2) faces Venezuela's Tigres de Aragua in the matinee, followed by Puerto Rico (1-1) against the Dominican Republic's Escogido squad in the nightcap.
Detroit's Andy Dirks hit an RBI single in the top of the 13th inning to break a 2-2 tie, and Milwaukee's Erick Almonte drove in two more runs to pace the Dominican Republic (2-0) to a 5-2 victory against Venezuela (0-2) in the second game Friday to remain undefeated. Julio Lugo also had a hit for the Dominican Republic in the victory. Almonte drove in three of Escogido's runs in the win.
"I was just waiting on my pitch and did the best I could when I had the opportunity," Almonte said. "We will rest up and come win tomorrow."
In last year's Caribbean Series, Ayala pitched five scoreless innings in four games as Mexico's closer. He allowed only two hits and picked up two saves.
The question remains: Can he keep it up this year? Ayala says he can and there is a reason why he is feeling so confident these days. He had an ERA of 0.92 with 12 saves in 19 2/3 innings this winter for Obregon.
"I feel healthy and I feel confident and I feel it's very important to show what you are capable of doing when you are healthy," he said. "I know I can get back to the big leagues. I think my numbers were pretty good when I was with the Yankees. It was a little difficult at the end because of a few ailments, but I'm confident I can do something in [the Major Leagues]."
Ayala was a pleasant surprise for New York last season, finishing with a 2-2 record and a 2.09 ERA in 56 innings for the Yankees. He does not appear to fit into New York's plans for 2012, although there are reports the club has expressed interest in bringing him back. The Astros, Angels and Orioles are also reportedly interested in the veteran.
Changing teams should not be an issue for Ayala. He's pitched for five teams -- Expos/Nationals, Mets, Twins, Marlins and Yankees -- in parts of seven big league seasons in his career. He was originally purchased from Mexico's Saltillo club by the Rockies in 1999 and then bought back by Saltillo two years later.
In 2002, the Expos purchased his contract from Saltillo and he made his debut with them the following season. The right-hander was in Washington's organization until 2008, but was traded to the Mets that year. He has been with six different Major League organizations since 2009.
That said, the uniform Ayala is wearing this week remains the most important.
"This is something that you will never forget, being in the Caribbean Series, and I'm proud to represent Mexico," Ayala said. "This is an event that has a lot of tradition and it's great to compete against the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and Puerto Rico on this level. It's an honor to defend the colors of your country."