Mendez bats righty and wears a thick bit of padding on his left elbow — the kind of body armor you’re more likely to find in a hockey player’s equipment bag than attached to a high school pitcher.
Then again, Mendez has something to protect. Beneath the padding is Weehawken’s most valuable asset: a left arm that was responsible for 11 strikeouts and intimidated other overmatched batters in the Indians’ 10-0 victory over Saddle Brook (5-7).
The senior pitcher dominated the Bergen County team by pounding the inside portion of the strike zone with a steady diet of fastballs, and needed just a handful of off-speed pitches over the course of five innings.
Mendez (2-2), who will pitch for Howard College, a junior college in Big Spring, Texas, next year, threw 76 pitches, surrendered only one hit and walked four, while leading the Indians to their ninth win of the season.
“That’s the one thing about Sal, he has such pinpoint control, especially with that inside part of the plate,” said Weehawken coach Anthony Stratton. “In high school baseball — at any level — that’s a pretty tough pitch to hit and he just pounds that.”
Weehawken (9-4) needed a palate rinse after an unsightly 4-3 loss to Wallington on Wednesday. Mendez set the tone with two strikeouts in the top of the first inning, before the Indians offense struck for seven runs in the bottom half of the frame.
“This was a no-letup situation,” Mendez said. “Losing to Wallington, no disrespect to them, but that’s just a game that we just can’t lose.”
Senior shortstop Dante Cieri, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, spotted the home team a 1-0 lead with an RBI double that plated leadoff hitter Josh Saenz. David Strandberg soon followed with an RBI single and Weehawken added to the early lead when Yandy Gonzalez was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The Indians were just getting started.
The first-inning hits kept coming, as Weehawken took a 7-0 lead on back-to-back knocks from Jimmy McCall and Saenz. McCall roped a two-out, two-RBI double down the first base line, before Saenz made good use of his second at-bat of the inning by driving in two more runs with a single.
And when the offensive surge finally died down, Mendez kept the good vibes going from the mound.
“Scoring seven runs early in the game or a certain amount of runs in the first inning, it leads to a big impact on me because now I’m pumped up,” he said. “I work quick and I get these guys back in the dugout as fast as possible and we start the inning all over again.”
McCall stole home the following inning when Saddle Brook starter Jon Rosa’s pick-off attempt to first base bounced into foul territory. Strandberg (2-for-3) added his second RBI of the day in the bottom of the fourth, before Cieri polished off the victory with a bases loaded single in the fifth inning, bringing Gonzalez home and ending the game by mercy rule.
Mendez, who has yet to surrender an earned run this season, won for just the first time since opening day. He was victimized by a pair of hard luck losses to St. Mary (Rutherford) and Hasbrouck Heights before his decisive performance against Saddle Brook.
“When he’s hitting his spots like that, it’s all fastballs,” said Gonzalez, the team’s sophomore catcher and pitch caller.
Yet, despite the success of Mendez’s fastball, Gonzalez, still sees the need for calling more off-speed pitches. “I’ve jammed my finger a lot of times,” he said of the senior’s explosive fastball.
“It hurts, but I catch it.”
Saddle Brook (5-7) 0 0 0 0 0 X X — 0 1 2 Weehawken (9-4) 7 0 1 1 1 X X — 10 10 0
Doubles: (W) Dante Cieri 2, Jimmy McCall. RBI: (W) Dante Cieri 2, Josh Saenz 2, David Strandberg 2, Jimmy McCall 2, Yandy Gonzalez. Runs: (W) Dante Cieri 2, Josh Saenz, Rafael Totesautt, Sal Mendez, David Strandberg, Ohanny Jeserum, Yandy Gonzalez, Jimmy McCall, Xavier Bautista. WP: (W) Sal Mendez (2-2). LP: Jon Rosa.