Rangers' Mendoza waits for call
Right-hander works way back from shoulder injury in Triple-A
OKLAHOMA CITY -- First Eric Hurley, then Kason Gabbard. Next in line may be Luis Mendoza.
Hurley made his Major League debut Thursday in Kansas City while Gabbard is set to rejoin the Texas rotation Saturday in New York, but Mendoza is still in Oklahoma City, working on building up his stamina with Triple-A Oklahoma.
A breath of fresh air for the Rangers late last season, Mendoza has been set back this season by shoulder problems. Already with three starts for the Rangers this season, Mendoza's goal is to make it back to the big leagues. For now, though, he's concentrating on the task at hand.
"We think about that stuff, but with me, I just try to focus on what I'm doing down here," Mendoza said. "Every start I feel better."
Mendoza is coming off two straight solid starts for Oklahoma as he recovers from the right shoulder inflammation that landed him on the disabled list on April 25. On a pitch count Tuesday night, Mendoza threw 60 pitches, 37 for strikes, in four shutout innings. He allowed only three hits and one walk while striking out five.
In his previous start, he threw four perfect innings, striking out two and throwing 26 of 39 pitches for strikes. Oklahoma manager Bobby Jones has noticed the progress Mendoza is making.
"The first couple of times out he really struggled, but his last time out, he got to the fourth inning and he was cruising, getting good sink on his fastball and a lot of ground-ball outs," Jones said.
Those performances were reminiscent of his first start of the season, which came at Oklahoma. In 7 1/3 innings, he allowed one run on seven hits while striking out two. From there, Mendoza made three starts for the Rangers before his shoulder started acting up.
Mendoza missed more than a month due to shoulder inflammation. When he returned, it was obvious how much strength he'd lost in his throwing arm. In his first two starts off the disabled list, he allowed 12 runs in just 2 2/3 combined innings. His command was there -- he walked only one batter -- but he just wasn't missing bats -- he didn't strike out a single batter.
However, he's looking more and more like the pitcher who went 1-0 with a 2.25 ERA in six games last September for the Rangers. The biggest hurdle left for Mendoza is to fully regain his arm strength.
Because he was getting lit up his first two starts after coming off the disabled list, Mendoza was pulled before reaching his pitch counts. Only now is he beginning to build up his pitches. But Mendoza is trying to remain patient. He knows it's only a matter of time until he returns to the big leagues.
"I know I'm going to get back," Mendoza said. "I want it bad and I try to show that with how hard I work down here. Every start I feel better. But nobody knows what's going to happen, so I have to be ready."
Shawn Shroyer is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.