The Time is Now for Texas to Consider Yohander Mendez

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 05: Relief pitcher Yohander Mendez #65 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the fifth inning at Safeco Field on September 5, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 05: Relief pitcher Yohander Mendez #65 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Seattle Mariners in the fifth inning at Safeco Field on September 5, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images) /

As I wished I could continue basking in the everglow of Cole Hamels’ masterpiece one night before, I couldn’t help but feel bad for Mendez, and a bit frustrated, myself, as a Rangers fan. 

If you’ve been paying any attention to the Texas Rangers this season, you don’t need me to tell you that they are working with a patchwork pitching staff. Of the six Rangers pitchers who have started five or more games this season, two have ERAs north of 7. Martin Perez and Matt Moore have been truly, truly awful, and while Texas has long had love affairs with both pitchers, one has to think (hope? wish? pray?) that a change is in order. 

(Personally, I’m ready to DFA Moore and trade Perez to any baseball team for anything, animate or not, but hey, what do I know! I’m sure their next start will be the one where, finally, after so many seasons of searching, things begin to click!)

Here’s the thing: I don’t think that Yohander is going to be the #2 or #3 starter that baseball believed he might be some years ago. As recently as 2016, Mendez was the #56 overall prospect in baseball (ahead of Robert Stevenson and Carson Fulmer), and the #7 left-handed pitcher (ahead of some guy named AK Puk…)

In 2016, he pitched across three levels in the minors (A+, AA, AAA). His line looked like this:

GS: 21

ERA: 2.19

W-L: 12-3

IP: 111

H: 72

BB: 41

K: 113

AVG: .184

The Texas Rangers brought him up for a cup of coffee in September of that year, and in three innings over two games, he allowed five hits and six earned runs. Ho hum. Mendez was 21 years old, feeling things out, and the Rangers were on their way to the postseason. 

2017 was less glamorous, though Mendez pitched to a respectable 3.79 ERA, allowing 114 hits across 137 innings, with 43 walks and 124 strikeouts, all at AA. Texas called him up, again, and the lefty pitched a whopping 12.1 innings across 7 games, allowing 13 hits and 7 earned runs.

Again, nothing spectacular. Again, small sample size. 

It should be noted, too, that in all of Mendez’s outings with the Texas Rangers, he’s never started. Every outing has come in relief. 

Obviously, there is an argument to be made for this when a club is prepping for a postseason run. Mendez isn’t going to force a starter out of their routine in September. Bring him up, have him eat a few innings, continue getting a feel for the major leagues…fine. 

But, try to imagine:

The year is 2018. 

The Texas Rangers have abandoned defense and pitching. 

Jeff Banister continues abusing his managerial privileges, worshiping lefty-righty splits, pulling pitchers, caution to the wind. 

Across the street, a new stadium is being built. Turf is being considered; attracting free agents is not. 

Back at Globe Life, Bartolo Colon, unfettered by age, continues his dominance over both strike zones, and size-48 pants.

Martin Perez (he of the pitch-from-behind) and Matt Moore (he of the “I look like George Nelson from O Brother Where Art Thou”) are technically “pitching,” yes…however, Texas, with an eye to the future, ought to consider their options. 

Naysayers, I’ll spot you this: Mendez, in his first action this season in AAA, has struggled. His walks are way up, his strikeouts are way down, and his line ain’t pretty. Something about a 6+ ERA and a WHIP around 1.7…


He’s also only thrown 24 innings this season, and his body of work in years prior shows that it’s safe to expect a little more from him.

I’m not arguing for the Texas Rangers to bet their future on Yohander Mendez. I’m not even trying to make the case that he’s going to find his form, settle into the #2 spot in a rotation, and win 18 games in 2019. 

What I am arguing, with, at the very least, some compelling evidence, is that he makes more sense in the Rangers 2018 rotation — right now — than Matt Moore does. He makes more sense than it would have made to trade for Matt Harvey, and, if you ask me, he makes more sense than a bottom-feeding Martin Perez, in his seventh season, continuing to flatline as a professional baseball player.

Colon won’t finish the season with Texas; Hamels won’t, either. If Mendez is going to be up with the club, there’s no sense in continuing to alter his routine by having him pitch in relief. Texas did this in 2016 and got poor results, and again in 2017.

Mendez has shown that he clearly works best as a starter at this juncture in his career (subject to change, to be sure), and I believe that the Texas Rangers would be smart to give him the ball from first pitch, and see where we stand with him in ten or twelve starts. 

Worst case scenario? He’s not ready, Texas sends him back to AAA to work on mechanics, and we give his rotation spot to some past-his-prime veteran that the Texas Rangers are desperate to squeeze the glory days out of. 

Best case scenario? I’d take an ERA in low 5’s…that’s far and away more promising than anything Moore or Perez are delivering, and with a pitcher who is still just 23. At least then, the future looks a little bit brighter. Because that’s what this season is: a peek into the future. 

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The Texas Rangers are a sinking ship. While injuries have played a role, they have begun to give young prospects a long look at the major league level. The argument could be made that Ronald Guzman isn’t MLB-ready yet. Same could be said for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and even Ryan Rua (seriously, how is he still on the 25 man?) 

It’s time to give Mendez a shot. In a lost season, his performance — if it is indeed middling — won’t be the difference in making or missing a Wild Card. Let the kid pitch; let him struggle, and learn, and sit beside Cole Hamels and Bartolo Colon while they’re still around.

Let him get comfortable in a major league clubhouse, with major league guidance. In the grand scheme of the 2018 season, there is very little left to lose. There’s no future for Texas in Matt Moore or Martin Perez. There is, conceivably, a future for Yohander Mendez. Maybe he’ll rise to the occasion.

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Maybe he won’t. Either way, two garbage outs in the eighth inning of a blowout loss isn’t doing him — or the Texas Rangers — any favors.