At no point before the night that drastically altered his season did the Texas Rangers believe that Yohander Mendez was a problem child.
And, truth be told, what he did the night of June 18 in Kansas City wasn’t outrageous. If it had been, a police report would be available for all who wanted to see it.
What did he do? It likely wasn’t anything that wasn’t done by scores of 23-year-olds just last night.
“It happened,” the left-hander said Friday. “It’s in the past.”
Mendez, though, was pitching in the major leagues, and the Rangers were still waiting for him to take the next step in his career. Instead, he took a misstep that gave them the excuse they had been seeking to make Mendez realize that time was slipping away.
He’s back now and was back on the mound Saturday afternoon against the Oakland Athletics, who have made life hell on more polished starting pitchers this season than Mendez.
But for four innings only Khris Davis did anything hellish to Mendez, who allowed only a first-inning two-run homer to Davis before running out of pitches.
For the second straight September outing, though, Mendez showed well.
“I thought he made some really good pitches,” manager Jeff Banister said. “I thought the changeup was a solid pitch for him today. I thought there were some breaking balls inside the set of pitches and even some good fastballs that I thought were in good locations.”
“He continued to compete through the four innings. I thought the tempo was great. He held his delivery together very well and had some moments that he was able to pick up his teammates.”
Beltre’s second blast tied the game at 6-6 in the eighth, but Chris Martin surrendered a leadoff homer to Matt Olson in the eighth to put the A’s back in front. Mendez was long gone by then.
His performance wasn’t without its blemishes. The Davis homer followed a two-out walk and came after having Davis in a 1-2 hole. Mendez had too many three-ball counts and averaged nearly 22 pitches an innings, which won’t get a starter deep in any game.
“I was always getting behind in the count,” said Mendez, who tossed six scoreless innings Sept. 1 against the Minnesota Twins. “I tried to come back, but I was always at 3-2. My pitch count was too high. I was trying to attack early, but today I didn’t have my pitches. I couldn’t get my pitches back. It was a hard time for me today.”
But he also had some quality moments, such as striking out Matt Chapman the pitch after shortstop Elvis Andrus dropped a foul pop that would have ended the inning. Mendez also remained composed in the fourth after a two-out walk, his second walk of the inning, and got Mark Canha on a pop to right field to end another A’s threat.
“It didn’t get out of hand,” Banister said. “Those are moments for pitchers you look back, and we’ve seen in the past where for you pitchers some times those can get sideways and he didn’t let it. He stayed focused. He made some pitches to get himself and his team off the dirt and into the dugout.”
Mendez found himself out of the Rangers’ rotation and at High A Down East after he and three teammates drank excessively while at the home of fellow Venezuelan and Kansas City Royals All-Star catcher Salvador Perez.
The Rangers gave Mendez a plan to follow to make his way back to the majors and help to get thing sorted out. Roy Silver, a special assignment coach, was dispatched to get Mendez started.
The focus was fastball command and incorporating his curveball while also being accountable to between-starts work.
Basically, he needed to mature some, similar to what happened Guzman in 2014 when he missed a team bus and was sent to extended spring training for a quick reset. Guzman has also never been accused of being a troublemaker.
Looking back on his season, Mendez said that a negative has become a positive.
“For me, it was a bad situation, but for me it was a great experience,” Mendez said. “I learned a lot about the process. I have to work. ... I understand the process. I’ve got to be more mature.”
The results have played out on the field after two September starts.