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Mendoza in the Rotation Isn’t so Terrible


As we’re all prone to do, Royals fans have made quite a bit of fuss over Luis Mendoza possibly making the Opening Day rotation. Since Bob Dutton even says Mendoza is “expected” to be the choice for the final rotation spot, joining Luke Hochevar, Jonathan Sanchez, Bruce Chen, and Danny Duffy, you can bet there’s something to it. And all of the fuss makes sense based on Mendoza’s history in the majors, where batters haven’t been kind to him.

But, through all of that, I just kept wondering this: why does it matter that much? We’re pretty certain Danny Duffy will make the team, as he’s had a solid Spring. It seems ridiculous that he would end up in Omaha at this point, even though Paulino and Mendoza are out of options. I just can’t get that worked up about Mendoza getting a spot in the rotation to start the season.

Why is that? Well, there are a few reasons. The first is simple. My expectations and hopes are based more on individual success than overall team success. I’m looking for steps forward from Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Johnny Giavotella Salvador Perez Alcides Escobar. I really want to see those guys avoid any pitfalls and find even greater success. Since two of the other guys, as mentioned, are gone or injured, my expectations for a team advance have been mired a bit more, so my focus is even greater on individual achievement first, and team achievement second. If the singular players take a step forward now, the team can take a step forward in the future. Well, at least, that’s how I think about it.

Mendoza fits right into this. If he can continue what he did at the end of last season, fantastic. If not, who cares? The Royals will have given him a shot in a major league rotation. I can’t imagine that they’d let Paulino end up on waivers, so they’d keep him in the bullpen. If Mendoza falters and Paulino pitches well, you swap them. No big deal. Everyone’s happy. Doesn’t make a difference if the Royals don’t compete too tightly with the Tigers (and Indians?).

Another reason I can’t get too worked up is that even though people were raving about Paulino in early spring workouts, he continues to get hammered to the tune of 16 hits and 10 runs in 11.2 innings. Now, I understand that’s not completely fair. There have just been two games in which he’s really given up too many runs:

Vs. Seattle on 3/14/12:                              3 IP,  4 H,  4 ER,  2 BB,  1 K
Vs. Milwaukee on 3/25/12:                   2.2 IP,  6 H,  5 ER,  3 BB,  3 K

In his other two outings, he walked no batters, allowed six hits, struck out five, and allowed just one run in six innings. That’s a much different line than the one above. But I guess it comes down to a simple thought. Do you go with the guy who’s had consistent Spring Training success or with the guy who pitched well in the season last year?

This isn’t an easy question. After all, both guys have had rocky pasts in the league. Paulino has only had one season with an ERA below 6 before coming to the Royals. Mendoza has a career ERA of 7.36. I know there’s some talk about the Royals being concerned about Mendoza being a case like Philip Humber, who went to the White Sox and had a solid year in the rotation. I’m not going to deal with that issue. The main question here is whether you give the spot to the guy who’s earned it this spring or to the guy who was with the team last season.

In my mind, you have to give it to Mendoza. He’s had the better spring, whether you believe in it or not. He’s outpitched Paulino. The Royals have given him extra starts over the other guys to either prove he can stick or to prove he can’t. He’s ran with the opportunity. Has it been perfect? Of course not, but it’s been impressive nonetheless. And there’s that point where you just have to say, “All right, we gave him the opportunity and he earned it. Not much else we can do.” Besides, if you start telling guys that they can’t make the roster even when they have a great Spring Training, then what message are you sending?

Finally, I don’t have a problem with Mendoza in the rotation because there are bigger problems around the team. Like I’ve said, if Mendoza flops, it’s an easily solved problem. The issues at catcher are worse, and the problems in thinking in the front office are scarier. Trade for Humberto Quintero? Only if you’re giving up essentially no one. Send Giavotella to Omaha and then claim it’s solely because of defense? Please. I’ve tried to defend them, but the decisions made in the last week* really make me want to take back some of the things I’ve said. Essentially, Mendoza pitching in what’s already been described as the worst part of the Royals roster can’t make issues much worse. There are bigger fish to fry. Frankly, this just isn’t a huge problem.

*While I was on vacation, I might add. Checking those updates and trying to have a relaxing vacation anyway was almost impossible.

Mendoza may flop. He may be brilliant. More likely, he’ll just be a standard pitcher. No matter what happens, there’s an easy fix to that problem, if it arises, and any success may be fun to see this season. So, if the Royals make the decision to leave him in the rotation, let’s not throw a fit. Let’s root for him to succeed.

Well, at least until the Royals decide to sign him to a long-term contract. Then we’ll talk.

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