The London Majors are rising through the ranks. Even if you include the Major’s two losses in a doubleheader Sunday (July 6) to the Barrie Baycats at Labatt Park, they still boast nine wins in their last 13 games.
So, what’s changed in the last month when the Majors started rolling?
London scored 105 runs in the last 13 games, but picking up points has never been much of a problem for them all year — the Majors batted in five or more runs in 21 of 26 games this year.
London’s batting average has gone up over the time, but not by much — .273 after the season's opening 14 games and .292 now.
One thing has changed. Foreign pitchers have highjacked the rotation since the Majors picked up their victory pace. A Canadian hasn’t started on the mound since June 14 — the game before London started winning at will.
Instead, the Majors decided to make Dominican Wander Perez and Cubans Deinys Suarez and Carlos Martinez the team’s aces. They might not be from Canada, but they’ve certainly found a home on London’s mound.
The trio has collected a combined 7-0 record in 13 starts this year with a 3.96 ERA, compared to a 5-5 record in 14 starts from all other pitchers and a 5.68 ERA.
Each Caribbean pitcher brings something different to the team like the ingredients on a Cuban sandwich.
The 30-year-old Suarez picks his spots, looking for groundouts over strikeouts. He had trouble finding his zones in Sunday’s first game, issuing six walks in two innings of work — by far his worst performance of the year.
Martinez, 23, throws the hardest out of the three pitchers. His hardest fastball reaches the high 90's mph, assures Majors pitching coach Max Escrogin. He adds that Martinez is a workhorse who the team can count on to go deep in games — he’s played 19 innings in three starts.
Perez, 29, is the most unique of of them all, slinging the ball from his hip using the sidearm style. The left-hander has a deceiving throw where is arm motion looks like it might be better suited for the sport of jai alai.
“The ball moves everywhere,” Perez said about his pitches, using Escrogin to translate his words.
The three pitchers can’t speak English very well. When the Caribbean players are pitching, the Dominican-born Escrogin takes over duties doing trips to the mound.
All three know what it means when the catcher puts down the index finger (fastball) and they certainly understand the umpire when he yells, “Strike out.”
“At the end of the day it’s baseball,” Chanderdat said. “Whether we have Japanese or Spanish (players), there’s the point where they got to go out and perform on the mound.”
Perez, a former Chicago White Sox prospect, has been harassing opponents in each of his four starts this year, sitting down 31 batters on strikes in 22.2 innings of work — an IBL-high for strike out percentage.
Perez isn’t the only one with the high-K ratio. The Majors have a promotion where if their pitchers strike out five batters the crowd gets free chicken wings. The import hurlers have fans stuffed all weekend, striking out five or more in seven of their last 8 starts — Sunday broke the streak when Suarez only sat one batter down.
“He’s accurate and he knows what he’s doing with it. At the next level he’d obviously be a specialty guy to come in and face lefties, (they’re) not going to hit (him),” Chanderdat said about Perez. “We’ve had lefties from other teams go, “Holy mother, he’s a nightmare to face’.”
Corey Hammond and Brett Sabourin were two of London’s most reliable pitchers last year. With the new hurlers here this season, Hammond has been relegated to relieving duties and Sabourin is penciled in as the team’s fourth starter. Sabourin pitched in the second game of Sunday's doubleheader, playing the full seven innings and giving up four runs on eight hits in a 4-2 loss.
Perez, Suarez and Martinez weren’t Chanderdat’s first option. The manager planned to bring in two Mexican pitchers and a Venezuelan ace, but visa problems derailed the idea. Plan B has never looked so good.
“They don’t come up here to try,” Escrogin said, commenting that each of the hurlers were MLB prospects who still have the potential to do big things in the sport. “They know what to pitch and know how to pitch.”
London’s stock might still be on the rise. With nine games left on the schedule the Majors won’t have to see the Baycats — the IBL’s top team — for the rest of the regular season. The six other teams in the league don’t have that luxury.
The Majors will head to Kitchener on Thursday (July 10) to play the Panthers. London will return home Friday (July 11) in a rematch with Kitchener.