TRENTON – Thunder right-hander Jose Mesa Jr. continued his dazzling run as a starting pitcher on Friday night by pushing his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 17 with five shutout frames against the Reading Fightin’ Phils at ARM & HAMMER Park. The 24-year old hurler, who has not given up a run since August 17 against Akron, allowed just two hits and fanned six batters in his 77-pitch outing. Over his last four starts, Mesa has allowed just seven hits and one earned run with 23 strikeouts in 20 innings of work.
A reliever by trade, Mesa Jr. has been asked to step into the rotation based on team need more than anything. The Thunder have lost many key cogs in their rotation like Justus Sheffield, Josh Rogers, Ronald Herrera, Domingo Acevedo, Zack Littell and Yefry Ramirez to injuries, innings limits and trades in the last six weeks. As a guy who has been asked to go multiple innings out of the bullpen throughout his career, Mesa Jr. has been the ideal candidate to occupy one of the vacated roles in the Eastern League’s premiere rotation.
“I think that he has looked good in any situation that we have put him in, and mostly it has been starting” admitted Thunder Manager Bobby Mitchell. “I think that he is very comfortable with it, he’s very calm and makes pitches when he needs to.”
“I think it definitely helps to be able to show the team that I can pitch in any situation,” said Mesa Jr. “It has all been thanks to God; he has been my main support and every situation that has been given to me this year, I have been able to handle it well and I feel that I can pitch in any situation.”
As a starter for Trenton, Mesa Jr. is 3-0 with a 0.36 ERA in 25 1/3 innings spanning five starts for the club. Cumulatively for the 2017 campaign, he is 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA in 29 total appearances between High-A Tampa and Trenton. He has a 101/32 strikeout-to-walk ratio and has held opponents to a .166 batting average in 84 innings.
“The game plan is just pretty much to execute my pitches every time that I am out there,” said Mesa Jr. “I am just trying to make good pitches and get quick outs to stay out there in the game longer and everything has been working pretty well right now, thanks to God. I feel like all of my pitches are working well right now. I feel that whenever I execute them, whenever I am out in front and throw them with conviction, I know that all four of them are going to work well; I am confident in all of them.”
Mesa Jr. added, “The work that I had done in the offseason has prepared me for whatever they bring to me. Between starts we obviously do a side session, which is regular for a starter. That is pretty much what I have been doing; just a lot of running and keeping my resistance up so that when I am out there, I don’t really feel the innings or pitches that I am throwing.”
If his name sounds familiar to you, that is because Mesa is the son and namesake of one of the most successful relief pitchers in baseball history. Jose Mesa Sr. began his career as a starter and put up league average numbers in stops with Baltimore in Cleveland before the Indians moved him to the bullpen full-time in 1995. It was in that season that the imposing righty saved 46 games for the AL championship winning Indians club, which earned him the Rolaids Relief Pitcher of the Year award.
The two-time MLB All-Star went on to record 321 career saves, good for 13th all-time, and is second all-time in franchise saves for the Philadelphia Phillies, whom he converted 112 saves for between 2001-2003. Certainly Mesa Jr. has learned a thing or two from his father, who has 20-years of big league experience and a wealth of knowledge on the dynamics of pitching to pass along.
“Pretty much after every game that I pitch, I always send him videos,” Mesa Jr. said. “He may just need to see one pitch and he will know what I am doing wrong. If I tell him that I was leaving the ball up, or something like that- he can see one pitch and just let me know right away. It definitely helps a lot by having him in my life and just to have him there always to support me in everything that I do.”
Mesa Jr. added, “He has been one of the biggest blessings in my life. To have him there and to be able to lean on him; I know that I can call him at any time in the day and he will be there to answer my call and talk to me about whatever I need to talk about. In the offseason he is the only one that I play catch him – we play catch, long-toss; he still has a great arm. Pretty much everything builds from there. I throw my sides with him and everything that we do, it is always together. He has always been there for me and I am very blessed for that.”
As the Thunder prepare for their opening round postseason match-up against Binghamton next week, the team will rely on the versatility of Mesa Jr. to help in returning to the Eastern League Championship Series for the second consecutive season. Manager Bobby Mitchell says that Mesa Jr. is on target to possibly start a decisive game five against Binghamton, or possibly the opening game of the ELCS if they are to reach that far. Mitchell did also say that he may also be forced to use Mesa Jr. early in the series should any of his starters fail to give him considerable length.
“Wherever the team needs me I feel that I can go out there and do my job and I believe that they have seen that this year,” Mesa Jr. said. “I am real happy about the fact that it is happening now and I just want to build on this moving forward.”