In what has been a frustrating season on and off the field, Yohander Mendez sees opportunity.
The Rangers' seventh-ranked prospect delivered his best start of the year on Tuesday, holding Buies Creek to an unearned run on three hits over seven innings as Class A Advanced Down East posted a 3-1 victory at Jim Perry Stadium.
Gameday box score
Mendez was 0-7 with an ERA near 6.00 and had drawn the ire of the organization. In June, after earning a promotion to the Majors for a start against Kansas City, the left-hander was sent back down for violating team rules, general manager Jon Daniels told reporters. According to reports, Mendez and Rangers infielder Rougned Odor were out late with some Royals players and Mendez's behavior was out of line with team rules.
Complicating matters, the left-hander had not pitched well. After going 0-6 with a 5.26 ERA in 10 starts for Triple-A Round Rock, the Rangers assigned him to the Carolina League.
Instead of pouting, Mendez is trying to rebound. He's 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA in four starts for the Wood Ducks and retired 12 in a row against the Astros after laboring in the second and third innings.
His trademark changeup was working on Tuesday.
"The fastball in to righties and the changeup away," he said through coach and translator Guilder Rodriguez when asked what worked for him. "I am working on the slider right now and trying to throw [the] curveball for strikes ... working on all of my pitches, working to control both sides of the plate."
Down East pitching coach Steve Mintz said the organization has been pleased with Mendez's attitude since the demotion.
"From what we're seeing, he's doing what we want to do, on the field and off the field," he said. "All the things we've addressed, all the things we've asked, he's done."
Mintz said the Rangers are working with Mendez to get his slider and curveball into workable offerings.
"We're trying to make sure we can differentiate the two pitches," he said. "Make sure there are different velos and shapes for the pitches, make sure they don't come together and look like one spin. The curveball needs good hump and spin and the slider needs angle, with more velo."
Just as importantly, Mintz acknowledged, is Mendez's mound presence.
"Yeah, that's one thing, watching his video and seeing his reactions after each pitch, seeing his demeanor, that we made sure he's taken looks at that."
The Wood Ducks gave Mendez a quick lead. LeDarious Clark led off the game with a double to left field, moved to third on a bunt single by top Rangers prospect Leody Taveras and scored on a comebacker by Josh Altmann.
Buies Creek tied it in the second when Astros No. 14 prospect Ronnie Dawson hit a leadoff double, took third on Mendez's throwing error and scored on a single by Cody Bohanek.
The Wood Ducks grabbed the lead for good in the fifth when Abdiel Saldana (7-1) replaced rehabbing Astros right-hander Brady Rodgers. Brendon Davis singled to left with one out and Ricardo Valencia doubled. Melvin Novoa's ground-ball single to left scored Davis and Franklin Rollin made it 3-1 with a sacrifice fly.
Jacob Lemoine struck out five over two scoreless innings for his fourth save.
But Mendez was the story as he finally recorded his first win of 2018. He sees the second half as a chance for redemption.
"It's not a lost year. I still have a lot of time," he said. "I don't feel any pressure. I am working for the organization. The organization has the final word on where I go, but I'm ready every time I am on the mound."