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.