Luis Mendoza has done a lot of waiting around this season, having started only two of the Royals' first 24 games after winning a spot in the rotation during Spring Training. On Wednesday night, Mendoza is slated to toe the rubber as the Royals face right-hander Jeremy Hellickson and the Rays.
Mendoza said Tuesday he's been patient as he waits until he finally gets another chance to take the mound for his first start since April 12. He allowed seven earned runs on seven hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings in that outing against the Blue Jays, but he looked much better in 2 1/3 relief innings a week ago in Detroit.
"The good thing is, I feel good physically," Mendoza said. "My arm feels strong, and when I'm on the mound, I feel good with a lot of energy, and I'm going to try to control that."
"He just needs to throw strikes and just do what he does," added Royals manager Ned Yost. "But it's a mindset: You keep yourself prepared by doing your side work down in the bullpen and not thinking about, 'I haven't pitched in two weeks,' or lending that as an excuse. You just go out and do what you've always done. Get good location on your pitches, get ahead of the count and try to keep the ball down. I think he'll do just fine."
Hellickson, meanwhile, is looking for a stronger start -- as in, a better first inning -- than he's grown accustomed to this season. The Rays right-hander has allowed first-inning runs in four of his five outings this year, and eight of his 15 earned runs this season have come in the opening frame. To put it a different way: His first-inning ERA is 14.40 compared to 3.86 the rest of the game.
"I really don't have an answer. I'm usually pretty good in the first inning, I thought," Hellickson said. And indeed, he only gave up 10 earned runs in the first inning all of last season.
"I'm still just a pitch here and a pitch there. I'll get it figured out," he added. "Right now, it's pretty frustrating. But once I'm out there, it's not in my mind one bit."
Hellickson expects to have 50 or 60 people from his hometown in Iowa in attendance to watch him pitch Wednesday night. He's never started at Kauffman Stadium, though he has made one relief appearance in Kansas City. Aside from Houston's Minute Maid Park, it's the only American League park in which Hellickson has never started. That will change Wednesday night.
Rays: Scott hitless in return
DH Luke Scott made his 2013 debut Tuesday night, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first start off the 15-day disabled list. Scott began the season on the DL with a right calf strain and went 4-for-18 (.222) with a double and two RBIs in five games on a rehab assignment with Class A Advanced Charlotte.
"Baseball's a difficult game. Hitting is not easy," Scott said before the game. "For me, it's Opening Day. Sometimes it takes some at-bats to get locked in, but sometimes guys start off the season hot. You can't put your finger on it and dictate exactly how it's going to go."
Royals: Johnson thrives in first game against former club
Tuesday night was all about James Shields' first game against the Rays, the only organization he'd ever known before getting traded to the Royals. But infielder Elliot Johnson, who came to Kansas City in the same trade, also got a chance to face his former club, making his fifth start of the season at second base.
Johnson acquitted himself well, going 2-for-3 with a run scored. He admitted before the game that he was eager to start against his former team.
"I appreciated the opportunity to try to get something going against these guys," Johnson said. "You want to play every day, to be honest with you, but with them coming to town and Shields pitching, there's something to be said for that. I'm happy to get out there and play against these guys."
• The Rays are 4-10 on the road so far this season. Their 12-14 record in April was the club's worst since going 10-15 in 2009.
• The Royals, meanwhile, finished April with a 14-10 record, including a 7-4 mark at home. By comparison, Kansas City went 6-15 last April.
• In 21 games last April, Royals pitchers walked 87 batters. Their revamped pitching staff helped them dramatically reduce that number in this season's opening month: They finished the month with only 65 walks in 24 games.