PINAR DEL RÍO.— When he began playing baseball just eight years ago, Liván Moinelo was the youngest member of his team. However, his coach promised his mother that he would one day become a great baseball player. He wasn’t wrong.
As a player in the youth league, it wasn’t until Liván was selected for Pinar del Río’s 53rd National Series team that his trophy cabinet began to fill up, first with the national championship trophy that same year, following the Caribbean Series, while only a few months ago he claimed victory alongside Alfredo Despaigne in Japan’s professional league with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.
According to Liván, he was first contracted to play in the minor leagues but after two weeks of seeing him play, the Hawks decided to promote him to their main team.
“I spent one week training after I arrived. I played in several games during which I threw 12 strikes without giving away a single run. After that I was moved to the main team,” he recalls.
As well as his 34 appearances as a relief in Japan’s regular season, during which the left-handed pitcher won four games, threw 36 strikes and only allowed 10 runs over 35.2 innings; Liván also won two games with his team against the Yokohama DeNA Baystars in the playoffs.
“At the beginning I followed the Japanese catcher’s lead. Before the inning began, with the help of a translator, we decided what kind of throw I should make for each batter. Later I began to decide, but still when I come up against a player I’ve never seen before I always go by the catcher,” explained the pitcher from Pinar del Río, who has needed to make various adjustments in order to make his mark on a sport full of good pitchers.
“They told me that the four throws I have mastered were good enough, but I had to learn to throw them at two different speeds: faster and slower. Before, I always threw at the same speed. I throw straight, curved, slider and change-up, but when you do it at different speeds you’re making more throws.”
What’s the main element of pitching in the Japanese league: power, breaks?
Catchers say that the most important thing is to position pitches well and they’re right because sometimes you don’t throw as hard or as controlled as you’d like. I’ve always had good control, but in Japanese baseball I realized that I had to improve in order to achieve good results, so I did a lot of work in the bullpen until I was able to position the ball where I wanted it.
What about speed?
Before I was throwing at 92 miles per hour, maximum, and there, as I got into the swing of things, I began throwing at 95. I also managed to throw over 90 miles per hour in almost all of my appearances. I think this was down to the training and the work-rest routine, I also gained a little weight; when I left I weighed 68kg and now I weigh 75kg.
What’s the most effective pitching method?
That depends on the batter. It’s not the same here, where they tell you to “pitch low,” because there (in Japan) are home run hitters who hit well from below and if that’s where you place the ball, they’ll hit a home run, so you need to study a lot.
There are also members of the technical team who analyze opponents throughout the season and before the game, and explain where each batter hits best, where they hit fouls, if they hit on the first pitch, or if they’ll go for the count. You don’t have that here. They study our chances, but it’s not the same.
Cuban pitchers often have problems throwing in the strike zone during international events…
At the beginning I found it hard to throw in the strike zone because in Japan the area is very small. When I threw straight toward the corners they didn’t call it, allowing many batters to reach a full count, so coaches told me to throw toward the middle and not to worry, that there were nine players on the field ready to catch the ball.
Would you like to try your hand at being the starting pitcher?
In Japan they told me that I had the potential to be a starting pitcher, that my throws were good and I’m also left-handed, the only thing I need to do is train. Who knows maybe this year I’ll open a game….
What’s changed since you returned from Japan?
I’ve gained in confidence and learned to identify batters’ tricks a bit more.
After winning a National Series, a Caribbean one, and Japan’s baseball championship, what’s your next big dream?
To go to the Olympics, I’ve heard it’s an amazing experience. I’d like to go and win gold.
After playing in the second strongest baseball league in the world, do you still want to play for Pinar del Río and Cuba?
Pitching for my province and making the national team, representing Cuba, is something that continues to motivate and fulfill me. I’ll always be willing to play for Pinar del Río and my country. And although I’ll be returning to Japan shortly, I’ll also be representing Cuba over there.