By Yasel Porto
Not many Cuban pitchers saw action last MLB regular season. The 2022 landscape will not change too much, taking into account that only a handful of them have secured a spot in the active roster. Many, on the other hand, were sent down to the Minors before Opening Day, with an uncertain future regarding their presence in the Big Leagues.
That is the case of Las Tunas-born southpaw Darién Núñez, who despite having had little action, at least managed to make his debut last year with the Los Angeles Dodgers after a solid performance in AAA. His numbers were so good that he finished with a 7-0 ledger and 2.38 ERA with 83 strikeouts in 53 innings.
My colleague Carlos Rojas and I had a good talk to the hard-throwing lefty during Spring Training in Arizona.
Núñez mentioned that everything he has done during the off season was to get a better performance in 2022, something that allows him to stay longer in the big club. Although he admitted that he has worked really hard to continue to improve his command, he admitted that the first criticism came for a very unusual aspect.
“They were stealing my signs from second base too often, and they told me that was the first thing I needed to improve. Besides, every day I throw the ball on the same spot to perfect my control. I think that with my effort, God willing, I will have a better result this season,” said Núñez, who felt great motivation and confidence to return to the Majors.
Considered at one point as the best left-handed prospect among Cuban hurlers, he shared the great experience that brought his MLB debut. “I thought it was going to be in Miami, but in the end it was in Dodger Stadium. It was something extraordinary, and although I didn’t have a lot of people who knew me there, there were many who supported me,” he said.
It is clear that his global numbers were not good, but we cannot look at his performance that way. Most of his outings as a reliever were effective, and manager Dave Roberts even gave him the chance to start a game. He ended the season with one loss, seven innings and eight runs in six games pitched.
Months later, during the current Spring Training, the Cuban moundsman didn’t allow any hits on runs in two innings of work. However, they decided to send him back to the Minors for the start of the season next April 7.
Darién Núñez took advantage of the moment to send a special message to his team of Las Tunas, and although he keeps in touch just with a few players, his thoughts are always with his province, for which he desires the best possible result.
The 29-year-old pitcher said he was hoping to play for Cuba in the next World Baseball Classic, and that he was open to any type of call.
Between 2011 and 2015 he played in the Cuban National Series. His work was mainly with the Leñadores de Las Tunas, although he also reinforced the teams of Pinar del Río and Isla de la Juventud.
After leaving for the Dominican Republic via boat in 2015, he had to wait until 2018 to start his professional career in the United States. From that moment to date, he has left pretty solid numbers and has also played in the Puerto Rican and Dominican Winter Leagues.
Judging from his stats in AAA last year, along with his talent and his always important plus of being left-handed, it is very likely that he will get back to the Majors. The ideal thing would be to stay with the team for a remainder of a season, as they are heavily favored to advance to the postseason.