HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- While pitching in the Caribbean Series for his native Mexico the last couple of years, Luis Ayala has been on the mend, still unsigned and hoping to use this stage to secure a Major League job and keep his career in the United States afloat.
Now, thanks to that club option the Orioles picked up this offseason, he can breathe a little easier.
"I'm a little more relaxed this time," Ayala said in Spanish. "I have to be at Orioles Spring Training in [seven] days, but everything else is the same -- I put on my uniform for Mexico and I give it 100 percent. I try to give my best for my country and try to represent the best I can. That's what's given me results. The confidence I have in my abilities, my potential, is what has paid great dividends for me in my career."
In 2011, Ayala starred for the Yaquis de Obregon at the Caribbean Series, tossing five shutout innings while notching two saves, and signed a Minor League deal with the Yankees shortly thereafter. In 2012, he pitched for Obregon again -- giving up a run in 3 2/3 innings -- and promptly secured a $925,000 contract with a 2013 option from the Orioles.
Then the 35-year-old right-hander made that $1 million option a relative no-brainer, posting a 2.64 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 75 innings for a dominant relief corps in Baltimore.
But the security that came with it didn't change his plans. Ayala still played for Obregon in winter ball, appearing in 10 games, and is once again at the Caribbean Series after a third straight Mexican Pacific League title.
At this point, it's routine.
"Part of my success in the big leagues has been the work I've done in the winter -- the work I do to be active and stay active," said Ayala, who has given up a run in 3 2/3 innings for a Mexico team that's 1-2.
"For me, it's an honor to put on this uniform. I was born in Mexico and I came up in this league. One of the conditions to sign with the Orioles was that they'd let me play in this league. Of course, I have to take care of myself and stay healthy. I still feel strong. I feel like my arm is in good shape."
Ayala's Mexico team earned a much-needed win Monday night, beating Venezuela, 2-0, to move into a second-place tie with them at 2-2 and keep their championship hopes alive.
Lugo will likely retire following Caribbean Series
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Julio Lugo's professional baseball career is down to a matter of days.
The 37-year-old middle infielder -- who played 12 Major League seasons, was the Red Sox's starting shortstop when they won the World Series in 2007 and was a part of seven organizations -- is expected to hang up his cleats when the Caribbean Series comes to an end on Friday.
"It might be [the end], unless something comes that changes my mind," Lugo said. "But I think this is going to be it for me."
Lugo, who last played with the Braves in 2011, compiled a .269 batting average and .333 on-base percentage in the Majors, where he was deemed a strong defensive shortstop and valuable clubhouse presence. In 2012, a Minor League deal with the Indians fell apart and he wound up out of pro baseball in the United States.
At Estadio Sonora, he's suiting up for the Dominican Republic's Leones del Escogido, which has won three of the past four Caribbean Series titles and began the tournament 3-0.
Once he's finished, Lugo will dedicate more time to his kids and a construction business he has in the Dominican Republic.
"I played good and had a good career," Lugo said, "and I just think it's the right time now."
Royals farmhand comes up big for Puerto Rico
HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- Royals prospect and Puerto Rico native Rey Navarro picked a good time to come alive in this Caribbean Series.
At Estadio Sonora on Monday, with his team one loss away from being mathematically eliminated and facing an undefeated Dominican Republic powerhouse, the young infielder homered, had two hits, drove in four runs and finished as the hero.
When Navarro stepped to the plate for a big at-bat in the top of the eighth -- his Criollos de Caguas down two, with two outs and runners on second and third -- he was 1-for-10 in this series and had left seven runners on base in the game.
The 23-year-old switch-hitter then proceeded to line a game-tying single up the middle. Two innings later, Navarro gave his team its second lead of an ugly, back-and-forth game with a two-run homer to right-center field, propelling Caguas to a 6-4 victory and its first win in four tries.
The Dominican's Leones del Escogido, seeking back-to-back Caribbean Series titles, moved to 3-1 and will wait another day to clinch a spot in Thursday's championship game.
"In baseball, anything is possible," said Navarro, who batted .257 with four homers, 48 RBIs and 10 steals while playing mostly in Double-A last year. "We had lost three in a row and didn't receive the big hit, but today we played with a little more confidence and got the job done."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.