It’s a rare thing when a pitcher from short-season A ball is the de facto centerpiece of a major-league trade – but Roman Mendez has the makings of a rare pitcher.
That was the first impression he made Monday night, striking out eight in a spectacular five-inning stint as the Spokane Indians opened an eight-game Northwest League home stand with a 7-0 whitewash of the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes.
An Avista Stadium crowd of 3,465 watched the Indians even their second-half record at 3-3 with dominating pitching, some efficient station-to-station offense that produced an early lead and a brief power display in the late going to put the game away.
But the buzz was about the new guy – who was hoping to create some.
“I felt good,” Mendez said, with hitting coach Josue Perez serving as interpreter. “For the first day, I got very excited to be here, with a new team, to show what I can do. And it worked out great for me.”
Mendez joined the Texas Rangers organization last week in the trade that sent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Boston Red Sox. Saltalamacchia’s star had stalled – he spent virtually the entire year in Triple-A after three major league seasons – and though the Rangers also acquired minor league first baseman Chris McGuiness, cash and a player to be named later, the prize was Mendez.
The 6-foot-4 native of San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic just turned 20 last week, but has a fastball that has reached 98 mph – and overpowered hitters in the Dominican Summer League and Gulf Coast League the past two seasons. This summer, he’s struggled – he had an 11.40 earned run average in six starts at Greenville in the South Atlantic League before being sent down to Lowell in the short-season New York-Penn League and going 2-3 in eight starts.
But he seemed like a new man Monday night.
“You can tell he’s something special,” said Indians catcher Brett Nicholas. “He’s got a fastball like no other – it’s got run on it, he throws it 95 and he has three other pitches to go along with it that are major league stuff.
“He did a much better job of locating his other pitches than I thought he might. Usually, a new guy comes in who’s known for a live fastball and he can get a little wild. He did a great job locating his off-speed stuff and that’s why they were so off-balance against him.”
The Volcanoes (1-5 in the second half) certainly seemed relieved to see him exit after five innings. But double plays in both the sixth and seventh innings wiped out leadoff singles, one started by a fine grab of a line drive by reliever Justin Earls. In all, the Volcanoes struck out 12 times against Mendez, Earls and Tim Steggall.
The Indians, meanwhile, had just one more hit than the visitors, but made almost all eight of them count. Singles by Nicholas, Ryan Strausborger and Jared Hoying all plated runs in a four-run second inning. And in the seventh, Hoying’s single, a sharp double down the left-field line by Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt’s fifth homer of the season – a bomb just wide of the scoreboard in right-center on a 2-0 pitch by reliever Brennan Flick – ended even the slightest mystery.
“Something was missing down in Eugene,” said Nicholas, referencing the Indians’ 2-3 start to the second half after winning the East Division first-half crown. “We had runners on but we couldn’t drive them in. To see us come through with those hits in the second inning with one out was big for our team in making sure we don’t take the second-half for granted.”
Mendez’s arrival was timely. The Indians had starting pitchers Chad Bell (2-0, 3.25 ERA in eight starts) and Miguel De Los Santos (2-0, 1.69 in seven starts) called up to Class A Hickory on Monday. … The Rangers announced that they have assigned Kellin Deglan, the 22nd overall pick in the 2010 MLB first-year player draft, to the Indians. Deglan, a catcher from Langley, British Columbia, was Texas’ second first-round pick behind Indians outfielder Jake Skole. Olt was a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds. … The Indians announced that they will host Game 2 and, if necessary, Game 3 of the East Division series in the expanded Northwest League playoffs Sept. 7-8. If the Indians win the best-of-3 series, they’ll also host Game 1 of the best-of-3 championship round on Sept. 9, with the remainder of the series on the road. Three-game packages are on sale now at Avista Stadium only; individual game tickets will go on sale Aug. 20, when they will be available for order by phone (509-343-6886), on line (www.spokaneindiansbaseball.com) or from TicketsWest (1-800-325-SEAT).