If Yohander Mendez doesn’t make the Texas Rangers’ roster next spring, that might be it for him with the club that signed him as a 16-year-old in 2011.
He will be out of minor-league options after this season, meaning that if he isn’t one of the 25 players March 28, 2019, against the Chicago Cubs, he will be either on the disabled list or on the waiver wire.
After his mid-June slip-up in Kansas City, Mendez emerged Sunday from the hole he dug for himself to embark upon the most important stretch of a career still in its infancy.
It very likely could be bumpy at times, as it has been in the few outings he has made in his career, but that’s how is it for almost every young MLB pitcher. But time is of the essence for the left-hander, who has September and to a lesser extent spring training to convince the Rangers he is part of their future.
He will be if Sunday is any indication.
Mendez tossed six scoreless innings, scattering three hits and a walk, and Nomar Mazara hit two of the Rangers’ six home runs in an easy 18-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
The Rangers collected a franchise-best 13 extra-base hits, but Mendez’s showing was the biggest development Sunday.
“I wanted to come back and be ready for this game and show those guys,” Mendez said. “I want to say thank you for everybody that supported me. For me, it’s learning about a process. Everybody knows I was in Down East. I kept pitching and kept my mind clear. After that I want to have fun. That’s it.”
Neither September nor spring training are ideal times to evaluate players. They’re traditionally considered the two worst times, but September is better than nothing with games that count in big-league ballparks with big-league hitters.
It’s conceivable that Mendez could make the 2019 rotation with sub-par showings this month and in the Cactus League because the rebuilding Rangers might not want to risk losing him by designating him for assignment, but he can’t rely on his out-of-options status to help force the Rangers’ hand.
His best chance at the 2019 roster is do pitch the rest of the season like he did Sunday.
“With the teams we’re playing we can get a better evaluation of Mendy,” manager Jeff Banister said. “There’s different evaluations. There’s stuff. Does the stuff play? How does he use it? Where’s his command and control, and also his poise and how he pitches? We can get a pretty good sense of where he’s at.”
Mendez didn’t have much to say about what happened after the Rangers won June 18 at Kansas City. Here’s what has come out since: He and Martin Perez, Rougned Odor and Carlos Tocci went to the home of Royals catcher and fellow Venezuelan Salvador Perez.
Adult beverages were consumed. More than one. While the night did not end with any violations of laws or police involvement, Mendez’s actions ran afoul of Rangers rules and Mendez took the hardest fall.
He was scratched the next afternoon from his start a day later and sent to High A Down East. Only five days earlier he had replaced Matt Moore in the rotation but pitched poorly (six runs in three innings) in a loss to the Colorado Rockies.
“I think I was just trying to get back and working there,” Mendez said. “Now I want to have fun pitching. For me, I want to try to get a chance to get the team wins.”
Even after he was sent to Down East, the Rangers insisted it was for a reset (not punishment) and that he still had a path back to the majors this season. They knew then that they needed to give Mendez a lengthy evaluation as they rebuild for the future.
But Mendez wasn’t just sent down with orders to pitch better. The Rangers wanted to be better behind the scenes, and not just behaviorally. Or course, Mendez had never been much of a problem.
He needed to work differently between starts and pitch differently during starts. The initial results would be overlooked as long as the process was being followed.
Mendez received high marks all the way back on a route that also took him to Double A Frisco and Triple A Round Rock. His received rave reviews after Sunday’s start, his second with the Rangers this season.
“It was a nice outing coming back from everything he’s been through,” Banister said. “We challenged him with early contact, early outs. The idea of throwing strikes early, some of the soft early, some of the spin, and I think that was the key to how he used his fastball. I thought that was as well as he could go for his first outing back.”
The Rangers’ defense helped Mendez. Mazara made a nice sliding catch of a foul flyball in right field in the third, and shortstop Elvis Andrus, who hit a two-run homer in the first, followed with a nice play to his left to end the inning.
The Twins put runners on the corners to open the fourth, but Ronald Guzman and Robinson Chirinos combined on a 3-2 double play, and Jurickson Profar snagged a hard liner at third to end the threat.
Mendez didn’t hurt himself too much, walking only one.
He also didn’t hurt himself as he tries to pitch his way into the 2019 rotation.
“For me, it was the best feeling,” Mendez said. “It was the first win of my life, and I felt great because I threw well. That’s what I want. I want to have fun pitching. I don’t want to have any pressure on next year.”