Before the season began, the Royals were making a decision between Luis Mendoza, 2011 Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year, and Felipe Paulino, who was arguably the best Royals starter in 2011. For many, the decision was simple: Paulino was better. For others, like myself, it was a bit tougher. And that’s what the Royals faced as well. They saw the Mendoza that made huge strides forward and looked like a different pitcher from previous years. With Mendoza out of options, the Royals were concerned about letting him get away, a la Philip Humber the year before.
Well, Paulino went out with an injury and Mendoza took the fifth starting spot, joining Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, and Danny Duffy in the Royals rotation. In his first four starts, Mendoza threw 18.0 innings and compiled a 6.00 ERA. He was quickly moved to the bullpen, making one spot start in May, and was just so-so in his six appearances between May 6 and June 6, putting together an ERA of 4.91 over 25.2 innings. It seemed that Mendoza might be nearing his end in Royal blue, as he didn’t see many outings.
When the Royals needed another starter for their June 12 game against Milwaukee, they called on Mendoza, and he hasn’t relinquished the starting role. Since that start, Mendoza has a 3.27 ERA over 44.0 innings in seven starts. He’s only pitched fewer than six innings once, which is essentially the opposite of now-Rockie Sanchez. And he’s the Royals’ second-best starter since June 8, after Hochevar (3.06 ERA in eight starts) and above Chen (7.42 ERA in 9 starts). He’s become a valuable member of a fledgling pitching staff.
And some people didn’t even want him around.
We could never see the injuries coming. It’s not predictable. You can suspect, but you can’t know. And having those insurance pitchers around is potentially the most valuable part of having depth on your team. It allows you the flexibility to fill holes and find the best fits in certain situations.
In this situation, the best fit has been Luis Mendoza. I know not everyone will agree, but at this point there’s no reason to not have Mendoza in the rotation for the rest of the year. I was at the K to see his start on Saturday night, and I can say that I was impressed at his ability to induce grounders from the Twins’ (admittedly weak) lineup. It’s always good to see that ability.
So, enjoy Mendoza. He’s pitching well, which is something that’s seemingly hard to come by in Kansas City. If we have to ride him and Hochevar through the rest of the year, it seems we’re in good hands based on what we’ve seen lately. Let’s hope that’s true.
I’m just happy to see Mendoza pitch like I hoped he would. Welcome to the Royals’ starting rotation, Luis Mendoza. Keep fighting for that spot.