SURPRISE, Ariz. — What has already been a whirlwind winter for right-hander Luis Mendoza shows no signs of slowing down as he looks to pitch his way into the Royals rotation.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Mendoza, 29, is only 10 days removed from being selected as the Most Valuable Player in the Caribbean World Series after spearheading Mexicos surprising championship run.
He is roughly two weeks away from departing camp to join Mexico for its run through the World Baseball Classic.
And next Sunday, he is scheduled to make his spring debut when the Royals conclude a series of three games against complex co-tenant Texas at the outset of their Cactus League schedule.
The thing is I'm ready, Mendoza said. I feel confident that I can do the job. I trust all of my pitches. I worked on my changeup in the offseason. Right now, whenever I'm on the mound, I think I can get people out. That's the main thing for me.
Mendoza was dominant in the Caribbean Series after joining the Obregon Yanquis in the closing days of the Mexican Pacific League season. He beat Mexicali in the first game of the leagues championship series, which ignited a four-game sweep.
It only got better when Obregon advanced to the Caribbean Series, which took place in Hermosillo, Mexico.
Mendoza pitched six shutout innings in a 3-0 victory over Puerto Rico in the Series opener and came back five days later in an elimination semifinal and carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning against Puerto Rico.
When he departed after yielding two hits in the eighth Obregon was cruising to a 10-0 victory the crowd rose for a rousing ovation.
The new stadium (in Hermosillo) is amazing, he recalled. It's almost a big-league stadium. For Mexico, it is a big-league stadium. There were like over 60,000 people. When I came out, everybody stood up and gave me an ovation.
It was definitely one of the top moments of my career.
Obregon won the title the following night, Feb. 7, with a 4-3 victory over the Dominican Republic, the Series favorites, in 18 innings. The game lasted more than seven hours and the ensuing party lasted far longer.
People in the Caribbean, Mendoza said, they love baseball. That part of Mexico around Sonora, baseball is the No. 1 sport. They don't like soccer or any other sport. It's just baseball, and they wait for the (winter) season to start every October.
You can ask the guys from Puerto Rico or Venezuela, the best Caribbean Series are in Mexico. It's the people. They really love baseball.
One cautionary note: Mendoza threw 113 pitches in that semifinal victory an extraordinary number for a big-league pitcher in winter ball.
Ive always been a big advocate of winter ball, general manager Dayton Moore said, but theres always a level of fear with your pitchers. How many pitches did he throw 113?
I dont like it, but I can respect it. Caribbean baseball is a great part of baseball history.
Ultimately with Luis Mendoza, he has to take ownership of his career. I dont think he would have gone out there and pitched if he didnt feel he was capable of performing.
Mendoza acknowledged: That was because of the situation. All of my starts in the winter ball were at least six innings, and then I would shut it down. But that game, it was like, OK, let's go for it.
That same attitude is likely to exist when Mendoza pitches next month for Mexico in the WBC. That could keep him away from the Royals camp until March 20 if Mexico reaches the title game in San Francisco.
How his absence will affect his ability to win a spot in the rotation is uncertain.
Weve got a lot of competition, manager Ned Yost said. Is he going to be on our staff? Yeah, hes going to be on our staff. He pitched well enough to deserve that.
Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar, these guys are competing for the fifth spot but theyre going to be on our staff somewhere.
Yost said he isnt concerned by Mendozas busy off-season but added the veterans success in winter ball isnt likely to affect the evaluation process: Weve pretty much got a pretty fair evaluation of him before that.
That suggests Mendoza is probably ticketed, at this point, for duty as a long reliever. That might seem to be a demotion in that 25 of his 30 appearances last year came as a starter while he compiled an 8-10 record with a 4.23 ERA.
Whatever they want, Mendoza insisted, as long as long as they take me. My future is here, and I want to be on this team. You look at what they did by bringing in (James) Shields and other pitchers in the off-season. I'm happy that this team wants to compete.
So however they want to use me, reliever or starter, I'll be happy with it. I just want it be in the big leagues and show I can pitch. If I'm a reliever, I'll try to pitch well enough to get back in the rotation. If I'm in the rotation, I'll try to hold that job for rest of the year.