It's not often that you see a pitcher get called up for one game, look impressive, and then get sent back down the next day. Well, unless you play for the Baltimore Orioles. However, that was exactly what happened with Melvin Mercedes. He was called up on August 15th to make his MLB debut. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Seattle Mariners, collecting a pair of strikeouts. The team rewarded him with a trip back to Triple-A Toledo, and he never made it back to the Tigers' 25 man roster.
There is more to this story, though. Mercedes struggled throughout the year in Toledo, and while he looked impressive in his lone MLB outing, the Tigers were wary of what he would do in more innings.
Mercedes is a 24 year old right-hander -- today is his birthday, actually -- who was signed by the Tigers as an amateur free agent in 2008. He has slowly worked his way through the system, and did not reach Double A ball until 2013, as a 22 year old. Mercedes logged 25 innings for the Erie Seawolves, allowing a 1.44 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. This was a bit of a misnomer. Mercedes allowed 10 runs in those 25 innings, but only four were earned. He struck out 19 batters and walked nine.
The performance must have been enough for the Tigers' brass, though. He began the season in Triple A, marking the first time he did not repeat a level to start a season. He got off to a slow start, allowing a 5.25 ERA in 12 April innings. Oddly, his 1.17 WHIP was his lowest of any month.
Things settled down soon after for Mercedes. From April 26th to the All-Star break, Mercedes allowed a 2.78 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 32 1/3 innings. He only struck out 10 batters to nine walks, but this is par for the course from him. Mercedes is blessed with an imposing frame, but he primarily relies on a sinker in the low-to-mid 90s (but can get up to 96-98 miles per hour) to induce weak contact. Jordan noted prior to the season that Mercedes has a solid slider, but he tends to rely on the fastball too much.
Mercedes struggled a bit to open the second half, allowing a 7.20 ERA in 10 innings before being called up to the majors. His MLB debut came in the seventh inning in a game against the Seattle Mariners, with the Tigers down 6-1. Mercedes breezed through two innings, throwing 23 pitches (including 14 strikes) to six batters. He racked up a pair of strikeouts and did not allow anyone to reach base. The success would be short-lived, though. Mercedes allowed eight runs on 14 hits in his final 8 1/3 innings of the season at Triple A.
Despite the lengthy run of success during the first half, Mercedes' overall numbers were not pretty. He allowed a 4.92 ERA and 4.85 FIP in 60 1/3 innings. He struck out 31 batters while walking 16, a 1.94 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Left-handed batters hit .297/.363/.475 with 10 extra base hits in 113 plate appearances.
Sure, we were a bit cruel to Joakim Soria for 12 innings' worth of work yesterday, but one appearances doesn't get you a grade in this classroom. Mercedes' grade would not be very good if we included his Triple-A numbers, but given his slow progression throughout the rest of his career, this was an aggressive placement for him.
Looking to 2015, Mercedes may be one of the players with an inside shot at a spot in the Tigers' bullpen. He is already on the 40-man roster and could benefit from Alex Avila's pitch calling and sequencing. Bruce Rondon's iffy status for the start of the season will open up another spot, and it would not be surprising to see Mercedes sneak onto the 25 man roster with a strong spring.