Series giving Mendoza head start on competition

HERMOSILLO, Mexico -- In hopes of cracking the final spot of a revamped Royals rotation, or at the very least ensuring that he sticks in the big leagues, Mexico's Luis Mendoza is getting a nice head start.

Mendoza is here with the Yaquis de Obregon, champions of the Mexican Pacific League and participants in a Caribbean Series that's being played at the brand-new Estadio Sonora. In his team's first game on Friday, Mendoza hurled six scoreless innings of three-hit ball, striking out three and walking two in Mexico's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico's Criollos de Caguas.

Mendoza, like so many others, is here to do what he can for his country.

But the 29-year-old right-hander is also here to fine-tune -- specifically his changeup -- in hopes of securing a spot in a much-improved staff that includes James Shields, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Guthrie, Wade Davis, Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Will Smith.

"Spring Training is always a battle," said Mendoza, who's out of options. "Nobody has a solidified spot except Shields and the first two or three starters. But I'm very happy with the team right now. I feel like we're going to compete more this year with a stronger group, and I'm happy to be with a team that's competing. I'll do what they ask, either long relief or starting."

Mendoza was Pacific Coast League Pitcher of the Year in 2011, then got his most Major League action in '12, going 8-10 with a 4.23 ERA in 30 games (25 starts).

"For me," Mendoza said, "the most important thing is to be in the Major Leagues and establish myself."

A native of Veracruz -- on the southeast portion of the country, about 1,500 miles from the Caribbean Series -- Mendoza also plans to suit up for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic. Major League clubs are often hesitant to send their pitchers to these events, specifically a Caribbean Series that takes place so close to the start of Spring Training.

But Mendoza sees this as a way to get a leg up.

"It's part of the preparation, and you have to take care of yourself," Mendoza said. "We know that we didn't come to party like people think about with the Caribbean Series, or to relax. It's to come and keep working.

"Like Kansas City said when I talked to them -- 'Take care of yourself. We support you completely, but you know your body and you know your limits.'"