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Clemente Mendoza adjusting to new role with Tigers.

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Connecticut’s Clemente Mendoza is making the transition to a reliever. So far, the plan seems to be working well.

By JOE PEREZ

The Bulletin

Posted Jul 01, 2011 @ 11:22 PM

Norwich, Conn. — A year ago, Clemente Mendoza was part of the Connecticut Tigers rotation. Today, he’s been one of the team’s top relief pitchers.

The transition has been anything but smooth, but Mendoza has righted himself after a poor start a Class-A West Michigan.

“I feel OK,” said Mendoza, adding that he “isn’t comfortable” yet with the role. “I’m just trying to do the best I can.”

His numbers weren’t eye-catching last season with Connecticut, going 6-5 with a 4.61 ERA, but over the second half of the season Mendoza was considerably more reliable and was arguably the team’s best starter.

Parent club Detroit wanted Mendoza to make the move to the pen, which he did this spring. Assigned to West Michigan of the Midwest League, Mendoza was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA.

There were a few factors contributing to his ineffectiveness. Tigers pitching coach Jorge Cordova said that from his experience, Latin players traditionally struggle in colder climates, especially early in the season. In Comstock Park, Mich., the average temperature range is 36-56 degrees in April.

Knowing his role

More significant is the mental adjustment. While Mendoza made 35 relief appearances between 2007 and 2009, the 20-year-old Mendoza made the transition to the starting rotation last year.

Getting used to not pitching every five days and not knowing when you will pitch again takes some getting used to. When he is called upon, the amount of time to a reliever has to get ready is shorter out in relief.

It’s part of baseball life that a pitcher may bounce back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen. This is just another stage in that cycle.

“He’s getting comfortable,” Cordova said. “As a starter, he was throwing between 88-90 (mph), sometimes 91. Now out of the bullpen, he throws 92-93. He has better power on his fastball. ... He can be good.”

Cordova added that Mendoza’s fastball used to be straight and now has a sinking motion to it.

Following his 11⁄3-inning stint on Thursday, Mendoza has been one of the better relievers in the New York-Penn League. In seven innings over four games, Mendoza has no record and a 1.29 ERA. He’s allowed just one earned run and four hits. The native of Caracas, Venezuela, has nine strikeouts and has held opposing hitters to a .160 batting average.

Staying in control

If there has been a drawback to Mendoza’s early season success, it’s been his five walks. Those, he said, have been a product of not keeping the ball down in the strike zone. That was a problem which plagued him during his one-month stay with the Whitecaps.

With Connecticut, Mendoza has been much more effective, using a fastball that peaks in the low 90s, a curveball and a solid change-up.

“He’s pitching in and out, he’s mixing his pitches well and he’s pitching ahead — he’s not letting them get into hitters’ counts,” manager Andrew Graham said. “When he has been hurt, he left the ball up and he’s gotten into hitters’ count.”

Back in Norwich, where he has familiarity, Mendoza gives Connecticut versatility out of the bullpen. He can come in to face a tough righty or provided relief over multiple innings.

The biggest concern for Graham is the frequency in which he can employ Mendoza; pitch count is the main factor. If Mendoza throws 35-40 pitches, he won’t throw the next day; more than that and Mendoza would see two days off.

But having previous experience in the league gives Mendoza a boost of confidence that should help him in the future at West Michigan or any other stop along his career.

“I wish I could go there again,” Mendoza said. “I’m just working here to get back there.”

Clemente Mendoza adjusting to new role with Tigers - Norwich, CT - The Bulletin

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That's about as good a baseball name as there is.

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Mendoza got the call up back to West Michigan today. Nice job.

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Not sure whose spot he is taking, he does show up on the WM roster however....3 players on 7-day DL....maybe one of those slots. Hope he can continue his recent success from CT at WM.

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Not sure whose spot he is taking, he does show up on the WM roster however....3 players on 7-day DL....maybe one of those slots. Hope he can continue his recent success from CT at WM.

Right now, there are 26 active members of the WM roster. Afraid that will have to change.

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That's about as good a baseball name as there is.

I love the contrast in first and last names. Roberto Clemente. Mario Mendoza. It's all so Pittsburgh Pirate-ish, too. Seems like his middle name oughta be Stargell, or at least Candelaria.

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Not sure whose spot he is taking, he does show up on the WM roster however....3 players on 7-day DL....maybe one of those slots. Hope he can continue his recent success from CT at WM.
Welcome y2j. Please say hello at a Lakeland game (205-AA-1)

Roger

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