To start the Liga Mexicana del Pacífico season I will admit, I was highly concerned for Carlos Juan Viera. He was coming off of a rather dreadful showing in international play and the concern existed that his arm was just dead tired. As a Cuban ace, he pitches a lot every single year in Serie Nacional de Béisbol competitions as well as international play and in other leagues. When he was shellacked in his first couple of starts it only made sense for that concern to creep into the back of my mind. Maybe the long-time stud for Leñadores de Las Tunas had finally reached a point where his arm no longer wanted to carry on with all the heavy usage?
Thankfully, now that we are a few more games into the LMP season I think it’s safe to say that I jumped the gun on my concern for the right-hander. He’s come on strong with four quality starts in a row, including his last out against Tomateros de Culiacán where he went six innings and gave up zero runs while only allowing three hits and no walks. It’s a stark change of pace from the Viera who started the year getting battered all over the baseball field and typically found himself hitting the showers after a few scant innings.
Viera changed things around by augmenting the new approach he had employed to start the year. Viera has always been a fourseam fastball and sinker/changeup pitcher. He relied heavily on his fourseamer to set up his off-speed pitches. He found plenty of success with this approach, so much so that he has spent the last few years ranked as one of the best pitchers in all of Cuba. His approach did lead to one very large problem though, free passes. He attacked hitters with his fourseamer but wanted to put them away with his other pitches and when unable to was prone to lots of walks. In limited LMP action last year he walked seven in 8.2 innings during the regular season. This year Viera came into the season with a clear change to his approach, he was going to live around the zone with all of his arsenal.
The early returns were not pretty. In the season opener, he surrendered 10 hits and was quickly yanked. With each start Viera was getting hit hard and in the early going it appeared as if he had no answer for his woes. It soon became clear that Viera wasn’t looking for an answer. He wanted to keep plugging away with his new approach of attacking the zone with every pitch at his command until the results changed. That may never have happened if not for Viera making one minor tweak. He started incorporating his offspeed offerings earlier in the count. Instead of loading hitters up on his fourseamer, he started mixing in his sinker and changeup.
The results were an instant dip in contact, but Viera wasn’t done quite yet. His contact was going down but his walk rate was rising again. In the past couple of starts, it’s been quite evident that Viera is searching for that middle ground. He wants to be active in the zone, to avoid giving up free passes, but he also wants to miss bats and induce soft contact. It’s taken Viera a bit, but the start against the Tomateros is the clearest indicator we have yet that he’s finding that middle ground. For six innings he attacked the zone but kept opposing hitters off balance. They weren’t able to square up what he was throwing nor were they able to work deep into the count on a regular basis. That’s the Viera, Cañeros de Los Mochis were hoping to get when they signed him last season.
So far in 2021-2022, Viera has a 3.62 ERA and 1.390 WHIP in 32.1 innings of work. I’d expect to see both numbers continue to drop as the season goes along. When it comes to Viera there’s no denying his immense talent or his ability to adapt to situations in-game. Now, he’s showing an ability to change his profile as a pitcher in order to bring about even more success as he moves into the twilight years of his career. Throughout the remainder of the LMP regular season and into the playoffs Viera is poised to once again remind the baseball world why he is one of the best pitchers to come out of Cuba in recent years.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – Liga Mexicana del Pacífico