Dennis Lewallyn’s Pitching in Venezuela, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Elsewhere, plus his Longevity in the Game

Dennis Lewallyn

Dennis Lewallyn, born and raised in Pensacola, Florida, is the current pitching coach for the Mississippi Braves, Class AA Southern League. He pitched in the minors for a decade (1972-82) and parts of eight MLB seasons from 1975-to-1982 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Cleveland Indians. Lewallyn’s stellar Caribbean Series performance (10-inning SHO) for the Licey Tigers on February 4, 1980 was the highlight of his pro baseball pitching career, one which included stints with the 1975-76 and 1976-77 Zulia Eagles in Venezuela; the 1979-80 and 1980-81 Licey Tigers of the Dominican Republic; and the 1981-82/1982-83 Ponce Lions in Puerto Rico’s Winter League. The 6-foot-4 RHP played at approximately 200 pounds.

His favorite MLB players, growing up in Pensacola, were Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris, who starred for his beloved New York Yankees. Lewallyn became the eighth overall draft pick in the January 1972 secondary phase when he agreed to sign with the Dodgers for a $20,000 bonus. The Atlanta Braves initially drafted him in the third round of the June 1971 MLB draft out of Escambia High School, but he opted to attend Chipola Junior College in Marianna, Florida. He benefited from the coaching and wisdom of Fred Waters in Pensacola, a northwest Florida city which also produced Preston Hanna, Phil Hiatt, Ken Wright, and others.

Lewallyn moved up in the Dodgers’ minor league system, 1972-75, starting with Daytona Beach, 1972 Class A Florida State League.  He was 11-6 with a 3.70 ERA for the West champions managed by Stan Wasiak and Bob Shaw. “John Hale was my catcher,” said Lewallyn. “Iván de Jesús [from Puerto Rico] and José Baez [Dominican Republic] played SS-2B.” Daytona Beach lost to the Miami Orioles, two games to one, in the finals. The 1973 Bakersfield Dodgers (Class A) featured a “bad start” for Lewallyn, who ended 11-12, 3.86 ERA, in a team-leading 175 IP. Bakersfield fell to Lodi, two games to none, in the finals. Dennis Eckersley pitched for the Reno Silver Sox in this Class A league. With Waterbury, 1974 Eastern League, Lewallyn went 7-10, 4.30 ERA, in 23 starts. He showed good control (43 walks in 138 IP). Terry Collins and Jim Riggleman, future MLB managers, were Waterbury teammates. Riggleman was Lewallyn’s roommate; OF Joe Simpson was another teammate and friend. Thetford Mines, a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate, won the title, with Willie Randolph at 2B. Dave Bergman starred for the West Haven Yankees, managed by Doc Edwards—Lewallyn’s 1982 manager with Charleston.

Lewallyn’s 1975 season with Class AAA Albuquerque was solid—13-10, 3.90 ERA, 13 CG in 28 starts, 81 strikeouts-to-49 walks in 180 IP. He was called up to the Dodgers in September, and pitched three scoreless innings in two relief outings. On September 21, he retired all six Astros he faced at the Astrodome, including Cesar Cedeño and José “Cheo” Cruz in the eighth. A funny interchange happened between Lewallyn and Red Adams, the Dodgers pitching coach, after the seventh inning, per Scott Brown’s 2013 book Baseball in Pensacola. “You got another inning in you,” inquired Adams, who asked Lewallyn what his best pitch was? Dennis said, “Sinking fastball.” Adams, within close range of catcher Steve Yeager, exclaimed: “So why don’t you throw it?”  Yeager kept asking Lewallyn for different pitches, so he yielded to Yeager. Adams yelled, “Aw, don’t listen to him. He’s just calling off that pitch ‘cause he can’t hit it himself.” Per author Brown, “Yeager hit the roof; Lewallyn got a chuckle and settled into his work.”

The 1975-76 winter season with Zulia—team based in Maracaibo, Venezuela—was due to “Al Campanis sending [pitcher] Greg Shanahan and myself to Maracaibo,” recalled Lewallyn. “First year, I lived in a 3-bedroom condo near a supermarket…next year (1976-77) in a hotel with a restaurant. Travel was tough—eight-hour bus ride to Caracas [so we] would fly to Caracas with seven-to-eight day road trips. Wives would stay behind in Maracaibo. Luis Aparicio [Hall of Fame shortstop] was my manager…were paid in U.S. dollars but could exchange them, if needed.” Lewallyn and several U.S. teammates favored each other; so if one had a good outing, they could take credit for it after the game; but a bad performance meant “pointing to someone else,” per Lewallyn’s memories.

Per www.pelotabinaria.com.ve, Lewallyn was 3-7, 3.46 ERA in 1975-76, with 17 games, 12 starts and three complete games. He allowed 112 hits in 96.1 IP, with 33 strikeouts to 26 walks. Zulia finished 26-35, fifth of five teams. Miguel Dupouy, a rabid fan of league champion Aragua Tigers, noted Aragua’s line-up included David Concepción, Enos Cabell, Adrian Garrett, Cookie Rojas, Terry Whitfield, Duane Kuiper, among others. Aragua won the 1974-75 title with some of these same players, plus Phil Garner.  The 1975-76 Lara Cardinals, runners-up to Aragua, were managed by Bobby Cox. Most of Lara’s starters were New York Yankee prospects such as Ron Guidry, Ken Clay, Scott McGregor and Dave Pagan. And Mickey Mahler pitched for Aragua.

Lewallyn pitched the latter part of 1976-77 in Venezuela, plus the post-season, going 1-1, 2.70 ERA in his six regular season games, with one start for 35-29 Zulia. His pinpoint control resulted in two walks over 20 IP, with seven strikeouts and 22 hits allowed. He pitched one game in relief versus the Magallanes Navigators in the semi-finals, allowing three earned runs in 3.1 IP.  His teammates included pitchers’ Carl Frost, Greg Shanahan, Roy Lee Jackson, Milt Wilcox;  catcher Charlie Moore, IF Jim Gantner and Tim Johnson, OF Bob Darwin, the club’s top HR hitter with eight; 1B Lamar Johnson, among others. Magallanes won the 1976-77 title over the LaGuaira Sharks. Dave Parker and Mitchell Page were Magallanes’ “top guns” and Jamie Easterly and Paul Reuschel two of their best pitchers. Cito Gaston and Dave May starred for LaGuaira, as did pitchers’ Larry Gura, Aurelio Monteagudo, Dick Pole and Mike Kekich.

The Dodgers called up Lewallyn between 1976-and-1979, after he posted a combined 46-40 ledger with Albuquerque those four seasons. He was 3-1, 4.24 ERA, with one save for the 1977 NL champions under Tommy Lasorda. His four-inning save was in game 158 on September 28, 1977, versus San Francisco, allowing four hits with one strikeout and no walks. Willie McCovey homered off Dennis in the sixth; and John “The Count” Montefusco was his strikeout victim. “I threw a sinker, slider, change-up; did not throw a lot of pitches in a game,” said Lewallyn. “The [1977] pitchers got healthy…did not pitch in post-season…they did not have six-year free agency back then.” His final win of 1977 came on September 30, after pitching the scoreless 14th frame at home versus Houston, and Steve Garvey’s walk-off RBI single, in a 6-5 win. Two days later he suffered his only 1977 Dodgers loss in the final regular season game, with a blown save. His comments on Lasorda were: “What you see is what you get,” but “Walter Alston was quiet, spoke to you in a fatherly manner.” Lasorda had managed the Licey Tigers between 1972 and 1976, and the Dodgers continued sending players to this club in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Del Crandall, manager of the 1979 Albuquerque Dukes, along with Lewallyn, Dukes’ pitchers Gerald Hannah and Bill Swiacki, OF Rudy Law and Mickey Hatcher, and catcher Mike Scioscia, went to Santo Domingo to manage/play for the 1979-80 Licey Tigers. Licey won the league title at 40-19, before disposing of the Estrellas Orientales, five games-to-one, in the league finals. “Lewallyn recalled the camaraderie on the 1979-80 Licey club. “That [1979-80] season was the one I enjoyed the most of winter ball. We had [Leon] Durham, Rudy Law, César Gerónimo, Jesús Alou, Dámaso García, Teddy Martínez, Rico Carty, Manny Mota, Scioscia, Hatcher…for the [1980] Caribbean Series we picked up Tony Peña, Miguel Diloné, Joaquín Andújar, Pedro Guerrero, Mario Soto and Silvio Martínez.” Jerry Dybzinski, the Licey SS, “only hit .220 but was league MVP after committing three errors all season,” per Lewallyn. “His nickname was ‘Jandao’ since he was bow-legged.” Site for Dominican Winter League team and player stats is http://wbdata2.winterballdata.com/.

Licey’s three best regular season pitchers were Hannahs (9-0, 1.69 ERA), Bill Swiacki (8-5, 2.22 ERA) and Lewallyn (7-5, 2.10 ERA), who started 16 games, completing three, with one SHO. In 115.2 IP, he allowed 111 hits; struck out 39; walked 12; had a 1.06 WHIP. The Licey team ERA was 2.25 with a 1.11 WHIP! The club only scored 223 runs in 59 games, hitting 12 HR, three each by Durham and Sam Mejías. Hannahs (2-0, 0.57 ERA), Lewallyn (1-1, 0.90 ERA), Swiacki (1-0, 0.00 ERA) and Chuck Fore (1-0, 0.00) were outstanding in the finals. Lewallyn also pitched an inning in relief along with his CG, in fanning two without any walks in 10 IP. The best was yet to come—Lewallyn would throw a 10-inning SHO in the 1980 Caribbean Series.

Art Howe’s Bayamón Cowboys were no match for Lewallyn’s pitches, February 4, 1980, in Santo Domingo, game three of this Series. Dickie Thon (SS), Dave Bergman (1B), catcher Eliseo Rodríguez, OF Héctor Cruz and DH José Morales, were baffled by Lewallyn’s 115 pitches in 10 innings. “Del wanted to take me out after eight,” said Lewallyn. “Then, he wanted me out after nine, but I pitched the tenth…won it in the bottom half.” The Series All-Star Team included six Licey players—RHP Dennis Lewallyn, 1B Durham, 2B Dámaso García, 3B Ted Martínez, SS Jerry Dybzinski and CF Rudy Law. Other All-Stars were catcher Eliseo Rodríguez, LF Oswaldo Olivares (Venezuela), RF Héctor Cruz, LHP Pablo Torrealba (Venezuela). Licey won their fourth Caribbean Series title (4-2 W-L), followed by Puerto Rico and Venezuela at 3-3 and Mexico with a 2-4 record. Licey’s earlier titles were the 1971, 1973 and 1977 Caribbean Series.

Lewallyn transitioned to the bullpen for Crandall’s 1980 Albuquerque Dukes, going 15-2, 2.13 ERA with 24 saves. He was 1980 Pacific Coast League (PCL) MVP on a club with two other 15-game winners: Dave Stewart (15-10) and Gerald Hannahs (15-9). Ted Power (13-10) pitched well. Lewallyn’s 127 IP were in 54 relief appearances and one start; he struck out 58 and walked 40. “We’re in Ogden [Utah] late in the [1980] season,” said Lewallyn. “Del tells me as soon as we are mathematically eliminated, you are going to the Dodgers. We went on a win streak, in the second-half; beat Tucson (2 games-to-none) in the playoffs; won five-game series versus Hawaii.” On September 12, 1980, Crandall called Lewallyn into his office with the “bad news—you are no longer a Dodger; good news—you were traded to the Texas Rangers.” Per Crandall, Bill Russell was HBP in Houston the night before and the Dodgers needed a SS. So Jesús “Pepe” Frías was traded to Los Angeles for Lewallyn. When Eddie Robinson, the Texas GM, got through to Lewallyn, he asked the pitcher: “When can you be in Arlington, Texas?” Lewallyn and his wife were in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, making a stop to rest at the home of in-laws, en route to Pensacola. Lewallyn surprised Robinson by stating: “I can be there in 30 minutes.”

In four games with Texas, Lewallyn had no decisions and a 7.94 ERA in 5.2 IP. Pepe Frías, ironically, was a Licey teammate in 1979-80 and in part of Lewallyn’s 1980-81 season with Licey, one where he pitched in 19 games, three of them starts, one SHO, one CG, plus two saves. Lewallyn was 2-3 with a 2.15 ERA in 50.1 IP, allowing 43 hits, with a 25-to-12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Licey’s starters included Rick Sutcliffe (6-3), Hannahs (5-5), Paul Mirabella (5-3) and Al “The Mad Hungarian” Hrabosky (3-6). The defending champions sported a 30-30 mark, before losing the semi-final series to the Aguilas Cibaeñas, three games-to-one. Licey’s only win was a seven-inning start by Lewallyn, where he allowed nine hits, fanned one and walked none. The Escogido Lions (40-20) bested the Aguilas in the 1980-81 finals, but there was no February 1981 Caribbean Series—it was cancelled due to a players’ strike in Venezuela.

Lewallyn was the last player sent down by Texas in spring training 1981. “Jim Kern was a question-mark, but started throwing 97 MPH and started the season with Texas,” said Lewallyn. “Eddie Robinson told me I will get you back to the majors…” With the Wichita Aeros, Class AAA American Association, Lewallyn was 8-5, 3.44 ERA with 25 saves, in 52 relief appearances. He allowed 68 hits in 68 IP, with 45 strikeouts and 31 walks, and selected as a league All-Star at season’s end, but was purchased by Cleveland, from Texas, on August 25. His four games with Cleveland showed a 0-1 record, 6.97 ERA. Rich Donnelly, Wichita’s 1981 manager, accepted the Ponce managing job in Puerto Rico. DH-1B Bobby Jones and Lewallyn became Ponce Lions in 1981-82, a season with five teams competing for the Puerto Rico title.

Ponce went through a managerial change when Donnelly left for the States due to his daughter’s serious illness a month into the season. The Lions finished third (28-32), but defeated Santurce in one semi-final series, followed by a seven-game final series win versus Bayamón. Lewallyn noted that Jeff Ramson caught and OF Chili Davis joined the team in-season to give them a spark, but credited RHP Edwin Nuñez (9-3, 1.72 ERA) for being a “difference-maker.” Dave Schmidt (5-4, 2.47 ERA) also gave Ponce quality starts. Lewallyn’s 29 games in relief included 46 IP, 19 strikeouts, just six walks, eight saves—third best in the league—and a 1.37 ERA.  Lewallyn’s two saves versus the Santurce Crabbers were a “difference-maker” in their six-game semi-final series. He saved one more in the finals against Bayamón, but also lost a contest. He pitched in his second Caribbean Series; one held in Hermosillo, Mexico, February 4-9, 1982.

Venezuela (5-1) won the 1982 Caribbean Series, with Puerto Rico (3-3) finishing second and the Dominican Republic (2-4) and Mexico (2-4) tied for third. Lewallyn pitched two scoreless innings, one in each of the two games he pitched. Edwin Nuñez handed Venezuela their only loss. Lewallyn recalled how impressive Fernando Valenzuela looked in shutting out Puerto Rico (14-0) in the series opener for both teams. Willie Hernández took the loss. Valenzuela was the LHP on the Series All-Star Team. Alvin Moore (3B), Mario Mendoza (SS) and Dan Gladden (RF) also made this select team representing Mexico. Bo Díaz (catcher), Steve Sax (2B), Luis Salazar (LF), Tony Armas (CF) and Luis Leal (RHP) were the five All-Stars from team Venezuela. Efraín Vásquez (1B) was the sole All-Star from Puerto Rico.

Lewallyn pitched for the 1982 Charleston (West Virginia) Charlies, Class AAA International League (1-5, 4.24 ERA) and with the 1982-83 Ponce Lions (1-1, 5.25 ERA). Ponce (34-27) lost a tie-breaker with the 35-26 Santurce Crabbers for first place. They won their semi-finals versus Bayamón, before losing to the “Cinderella Team” Arecibo Wolves in the seven-game finals.

Lewallyn spent 1983-to-1994 as a minor league pitching coordinator with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 1995 he was hired by the Arizona Diamondbacks to help as a pitching coach in their new minor league system starting in 1996 with the 50-22 Lethbridge Black Diamonds, managed by Chris Speier. Lewallyn served as pitching coach of the 1997 South Bend Silver Hawks managed by Pat Listach. Barbaro Garbey, a native of Cuba, was the hitting coach. The 1998 High Desert Mavericks (82-58) benefitted from Lewallyn’s expertise as a pitching coach. Brad Penny (14 wins, 207 strikeouts) thrived under Lewallyn’s coaching. The 1999-2001 El Paso Diablos (Class AA Texas League) were Lewallyn’s next stop with the Diamondbacks, whose parent team won the 2001 World Series over the New York Yankees. Minor league pitching coordinator, 2002-to-2006, was Lewallyn’s final job title with the Diamondbacks.

From 2007-to-2010, he served as pitching coach for the Tennessee Smokies, in the Class AA Southern League, followed by being the Cubs minor league pitching coordinator, 2011-12. Since 2013, Lewallyn has been associated with the Atlanta Braves, primarily as the pitching coach for Class AA Mississippi Braves, 2013-16 and 2018-present, and the 2017 Florida Fire Frogs’ (Class Advanced A) pitching coach. 

Lewallyn’s MLB stats were 4-4 W-L, 4.48 ERA; 34 games, three starts, one save, 80.1 IP, 92 hits, 40 ER, 28 strikeouts, 22 walks, 1.419 WHIP. His minor league stats, including four games with San Antonio in 1987, were 112-91 W-L, 4.04 ERA; 407 games, 164 starts, 58 CG one SHO, 85 saves, 1,499.2 IP, 1,609 hits, 674 ER, 789 strikeouts, 543 walks, 1.435 WHIP. Venezuelan Winter League stats (two seasons): 4-8 W-L, 3.33 ERA; 23 games, 13 starts, three CG, 116.1 IP, 134 hits, 43 ER, 40 K, 28 BB, 1.393 WHIP. Dominican Winter League stats (two seasons): 9-8 W-L, 2.11 ERA; 36 games, 19 GS, four CG, two SHO, 2 saves, 166 IP, 154 hits, 39 ER, 64 strikeouts, 24 BB, 1.133 WHIP. Puerto Rico Winter League stats (two seasons): 3-3 W-L, 2.17 ERA; 36 games, nine saves, 58 IP, 14 ER, 22 strikeouts, nine BB. His post-season Winter League stats, including 12 scoreless innings in two Caribbean Series, are included earlier.

After 48 years in professional baseball, he can still relate to today’s players, per a June 1, 2019 article by Bill Vilona in the Pensacola News Journal. “Part of it is, I was there once,” said Lewallyn. “It has been a long time ago but I was there once.” Lewallyn, in response to Van Hyning’s question on what he most enjoys about being a pro baseball pitching coach, stated: “Watching guys get to the big leagues…continue their careers.”

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