With a strong outing yesterday against the Oakland A’s Luis Mendoza has seemingly all but locked up his spot as the Rangers 5th starter come April 12th. The 24 year-old Mendoza tossed 5 innings Tuesday, the longest outing by a Ranger starter this spring, and gave up one run on just two hits while walking no one and striking out one. Mendoza said the key to his success was using his changeup more against the A’s predominantly left-handed lineup: "I have been struggling against left-handers, so I mixed in my changeup, and my sinker was down."
That’s an interesting (and encouraging) development, as lefties have been a bit of a problem for Mendoza in the past: they hit .283 against him at AA Frisco last year, as opposed to the .233 line he held right handed batters to. Going back even further, lefties hit .327 against him in 2006 as well (.307 for righties), so this appears to be a bit of an established trend for Mendoza. Not that this is that much of an aberration for a right-handed pitcher, but Mendoza obviously needs to continue to use that changeup against left-handed batters if he’s to be successful in the Majors.
That’s why it’s a very encouraging development that he seems to have figured this out – mark this as perhaps a minor epiphany for Mendoza, who is probably going to get his best shot at establishing himself in the Majors this April. With the caliber of some of the pitchers behind him, such as Eric Hurley and Matt Harrison, Mendoza could find himself quickly passed up if he doesn’t make the most of this opportunity – it appears that he may have just made an important adjustment to do just that.
Now we come to this. I’m frankly not too sure what to make of this latest attempt by the Rangers to outline their "plan" (something I thought Jon Daniels did in this recent MLB.com piece). TR Sullivan tells us there’s two different philosophies at work here, JD’s "3-5 year plan" and Ron Washington, who "tries to think of ways to beat the Mariners on opening day." And yet Sullivan alleges that these two lines of thinking don’t conflict – in fact they mesh, as part of "A two axis attack" as a "mid-market team that that can’t afford to go checkbook to checkbook with the Yankees or the Red Sox, but also isn’t willing to scuttle all hope for winning now."
That, right there, is one confusing statement. What does that even mean? We’re not rebuilding? We can’t compete with the big market teams… but we’re not scuttling all hope of winning now? Huh? Well unfortunately for me, TR does nothing to explain that. He instead moves on to a quote from JD:
"We’re going to continue to give opportunities to young players. But we want them to be ready for it. We want them to earn a job, and not have it given to them. We’re not going to go with young players before they are ready. We want them to be able to come at their own pace."
So that’s what this article is about now? Not bringing guys up too fast? But that’s not what we where just discussing really… but okay, let’s try and roll with it…
Next TR writes "The Rangers will go with young players. But if they don’t feel there is a young player who will fill a particular hole, they will look elsewhere besides the farms system." He talks about how none of the "veteran players" Jennings, Ponson, Bradley, ext got multi-year contracts. He talks about how having Jennings fills out the Rangers pitching depth, and allows Eric Hurley to start the season at AAA.
He talks about how the Rangers wanted Luis Mendoza to "win" the 5th starters spot, and how Sidney Ponson was the insurance if he didn’t (this here is about the only time TR actually touches on a real issue of discussion – and he’s only half right on it too, as the Rangers had options that are arguably as good as or better than Ponson). He uses this to illustrate his point about the Rangers bringing guys up only when they’re ready. Which is feasible. I don’t really agree that Ponson was the solution, but I see his point. But next, he starts reaching.
He tells us about first base prospect Chris Davis and how he has only 109 at-bats in AA, and why it’s necessary that the Rangers have Ben Broussard keep his seat warm. He tries to tell us "A small market team might have pushed him into the opening day lineup. A large market team might have signed or traded for a big-name first baseman like Mark Teixeira, and forgotten about Davis."
Huh. Really. I don’t think there’s too many teams, no matter how desperate they are, that would have slotted a guy with only 109 AA at-bats under his belt into the opening day lineup. Furthermore, I don’t know of many people that would have wanted to see that. It seems to me, TR is trying to defend things that don’t need defending here, instead of addressing the actual issue that he brought up at the beginning of the article: the difference between the philosophies of JD and Ron Washington.
No, it’s not wise to rush your young players. I don’t want that, I don’t think anybody really does. But what you don’t want to do is sign veterans, trick yourself into thinking you have a team that can compete, and then ignore your younger talent when it is ready. The Rangers have a track record of doing that. And with Ron Washington at the wheel, thinking he’s going to try and compete this year, the prospect of that happening is a very real one.
That’s what I’m concerned about here, is watching that history repeat itself. I have no problems with the stopgap veterans – just so long as we don’t fall in love with them, and they don’t take the place of players that are in fact ready for the majors (like Jarrod Saltalamacchia – who by the way, is conveniently omitted from this article). That’s the real issue here – the Rangers refuse to let go of that forlorn hope of winning. They want to rebuild, but they also don’t want to hit rock bottom, and scare off all the season ticket holders – so they have their beat reporter write articles like this, and try to duck the issue. That’s the one thing that’s holding the Rangers back – and if they can’t get past that hurdle, they’re never going to go anyplace.