By José Alejandro Rodríguez Zas
The team of the Cocodrilos de Matanzas is currently going through an unsteady stretch in the 61st installment of the Cuban Baseball National Series. With only three wins in the last ten matches, plus a running losing streak of three games, last season’s runner ups, are trying to stay afloat in the qualification zone (the top eight teams), but last Tuesday’s defeat against the Leñadores de Las Tunas left the team playing for .500, tying for the eighth to tenth spots with the Vegueros de Pinar del Río and the Piratas de la Isla de la Juventud.
If it is true that they had a solid start this season, even leading the standings for several days, after the departure of some players who went abroad to honor their international contracts, the team’s face has changed. On top of it all, the ace of the pitching staff, southpaw Yoanni Yera, will leave for Mexico.
Obviously, the team’s fans have shown their constant concern on social media and other forums, even trying to find an explanation for the current performance of their team. Many of them are talking about the aforementioned absences, others are talking about players’ apathy, and the boldest ones are talking about internal problems within the team, among both management and players.
To bring clarity about the actual situation of the Matanzas team, manager Armando Ferrer had an exclusive interview with Periódico Girón, the province’s local newspaper.
“There are no internal problems between players and management, or vice versa,” said Ferrer. “To put it simple, everything is failing: hitting, pitching and defense. But that doesn’t mean there is any will to underperform. Do we want to lose? There is nothing more absurd!”
During the weekend two-game series, Matanzas got swept by the Avispas de Santiago de Cuba, losing twice on one-run games: 3-2 on Saturday and 7-6 on Sunday. The latter was a late-game blown lead.
“For instance, what happened last Sunday against Santiago de Cuba. we used two of our best hurlers: Damichel Pérez and Joel Suárez, and they were both easily hit, just as in previous games, lost by one run,” said Ferrer, talking about a team that struggles in tight games and has failed to hit in the clutch.
“We not only lose because we don’t hit in the necessary moments, but also, having one of the oldest age-wise teams in this National Series, we are forced to swing for the fences, because when we ground there are great chances for a double play. Our players are slow, and if we add some of them have leg injuries, we are at risk of becoming out when we ground to the infield,” emphasized the knowledgeable manager.
Another element he spoke about was the crowd’s attitude in Estadio Victoria de Girón, when instead of supporting the team, they jeer the players, openly disagreeing with the team’s results.
About that, Ferrer said:
“What happened in Estadio Victoria de Girón in the second game against the Santiago de Cuba team was an embarrassment. One of the support groups started offending Bárbaro Arruebarruena after he was out. It is unforgivable that for missing one, two, three times, something completely logical in this sport, they offend a player like they did.”
It is true that Arruebarruena has diminished his production in the last games, because at first he was among the leaders in different offensive categories, but currently his only high is his .384 batting average. He is sitting at four homers and 20 RBI.
However, Ferrere stressed on the great effort that “El Grillo” (The Cricket) is making on a daily basis to play baseball, and he explained the situation the talented player is currently going through.
“It is important that people know that before playing every game, Erisbel must take an insulin shot in his thigh because he has diabetes. He plays because he carries baseball in his heart and soul, since he has enough money to skip doing it, take care of his health and ultimately his life. He deserves our respect and that of the fans, who owe him applause and admiration.”
“Next to him, I place several athletes who sacrifice and give everything they have in terms of knowledge and experience for every day’s victory. If they miss with the bats, their gloves or their arms, it is because that is part of the game. I don’t know a single player who misses intentionally.”
According to the source, the Matanzas manager highlighted the attitude of veteran right handed pitcher Joel Suárez, who, seeing the struggles of the team, decided to drop his special training for his future departure to Italy to meet his contract, and returned to the Cocodrilos’ pitching staff willing to be used any way necessary.
Ferrer ended his interview repeating his team’s commitment to fight until the last day of the season to reach their playoff berth and try to repeat and even improve the second place they got last year.
“Despite our current struggles, we are still in the playoff run. We will defend that position against Las Tunas and the other rivals to come. We will not give up on the idea of being in the second stage, let alone fight for the National Title one more time.”
“You can count on us, despite what we have lived and the absence of some players like Medina and Eduardo, both of them excellent fielders and hitters, as well as Dueñas, Ariel Sánchez and others who are currently injured.”
Next week marks the end of the second third of the 61st National Series regular season, and Matanzas needs to improve all aspects of their game to have a spot among the top eight teams in the standings. Once in the postseason, it is back to square one.