KANSAS CITY -- It’s just January and it’s already shaping up as a big year for Royals right-hander Luis Mendoza.
He’s been picked for Mexico’s team in the World Baseball Classic and now he has a great chance to be in the Caribbean Series with the Obregon Yankees. They have a 2-0 lead over Mexicali in the best-of-seven series for the championship of the Mexican Pacific League; two more wins and they’re in with the champions from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
Mendoza pitched the Yankees’ 5-3 victory in the opener at Mexicali, notching 11 strikeouts in six innings. He gave up two runs and five hits, one a solo homer by ex-Royals teammate Yuniesky Betancourt.
“Yeah, he got me on a sinker in,” Mendoza said, laughing over the phone.
If Obregon reaches the Caribbean Series, Mendoza won’t have far to go. The event this year is being held in a new stadium at Hermosillo, Mexico, where he makes his home.
Mendoza is 3-0 in the six games he’s pitched this winter, his arm feels good and he expects to be in great shape for a busy Spring Training. For one thing, he’ll be on Team Mexico which begins Classic play on March 7 against Italy in Phoenix and meets the United States the next day.
“I’m very happy about that and proud to represent my country,” he said.
Mendoza, 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA last year for the Royals, also faces the task of trying to retain a rotation spot in competition with a formidable gang that includes James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis, Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Will Smith.
“It’s good for the team, it’s going to be more competitive,” Mendoza said. “I know in Spring Training I’ve got to go and win a job -- the fifth spot or wherever they need me. I just want to show them they can count on me.”
Even last year, before the influx of new starting talent, Royals manager Ned Yost was envisioning Mendoza as a “perfect” long reliever for a competitive team. So his fate might already be sealed.
“I just want to be at the big league level and do the job that they want me to do,” Mendoza said. “But in my mind, of course, I want to be a starter and to be in that mix.”
Butler one of four bobblehead promotions
KANSAS CITY -- No jokes allowed. Billy Butler’s teammates are sure to take care of that after they digest this year’s Royals bobblehead news.
Butler will be depicted on the Billy Butler Silver Slugger Bobblehead that will go to the first 10,000 fans at the May 4 game against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
The other three bobbleheads this season? They’re also lovable characters -- from the Hot Dog Derby Race. Yes, it’s Ketchup Bobblehead on May 25 (Angels), Mustard Bobblehead on June 22 (White Sox) and Relish Bobblehead on July 20 (Tigers). All four dates are Saturdays.
Inasmuch as Butler’s nickname is “Country Breakfast,” the bobblehead schedule is a feast, a culinary delight, a gastronomic explosion. Please pass the mustard.
Shields to wear No. 33
KANSAS CITY -- It appears that incoming mound ace James Shields worked out a deal for his favorite uniform number. He’s listed as No. 33 on the roster with the former bearer of that number, fellow starter Jeremy Guthrie, switching to No. 11.
At last Saturday’s FanFest, Shields was asked why he goes by the formal James rather than being a Jimmy or Jim or Jimbo.
“James is my real name,” he said. “People called me Jamie growing up but I guess any other name wouldn’t really rhyme with ‘Big Game,’ right?”
Obviously, Royals fans and his teammates are counting on a lot from "Big Game" James.
“Every day he goes out there, he knows he’s going to win,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “That’s the kind of guy I want to be around.”
Sweeney to be inducted into Missouri Sports HOF
KANSAS CITY -- Former Royals captain Mike Sweeney, will be inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame on Sunday in Springfield, Mo.
Sweeney is among 15 individuals and two sports organizations to join the Hall. Other baseball honorees are former shortstop David Eckstein, who played in two postseasons with the Cardinals, and ex-pitcher Scott Bailes, who went to high school and college in Springfield.
In 13 years with the Royals, Sweeney batted .299, hit 197 home runs, knocked in 837 runs and was a five-time All-Star. He also played for the Athletics, Mariners and Phillies before retiring after the 2010 season.
The first of 16 confirmed Spring Training radio broadcasts on 610 Sports will be the Feb. 22 opener against the Rangers. All of the Royals’ Cactus League games, though, will be webcast on royals.com.
As usual, the regular-season home opener will have a 3:10 p.m. CT start on April 8 against the Twins. The season opener at Chicago on April 1 will start at the same time.
The Royals’ “Salute to the Negro Leagues” this year will be on Saturday, Aug. 24, against the Washington Nationals at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals, as usual, will wear Monarchs uniforms; the Nationals will honor the Homestead Grays.
Fox Sports Kansas City will air two shows produced from last Saturday’s Royals FanFest on six different days; the first broadcast will be at 5:30 p.m. CT on Friday.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.