Fear the ‘stache.
These days, there is a reason for the angst Midwest League batters have displayed whenever Daniel Mengden has taken the mound for Quad-Cities.
With his trademark handlebar mustache, the River Bandits right hander is easy to spot.
But while blending four- and two-seam fastballs with his curveball, slider and change-up, he hasn’t been so easy to score against.
Mengden has worked 21 consecutive scoreless innings, improving to 3-0 when he put together his second consecutive six-inning start Monday in a win over Beloit.
“I’ve spent a lot of time working on keeping the ball down and trusting my defense to help me come up with a lot of groundball outs and that approach is working,’’ said Mengden, a fourth-round pick of the Astros in 2014 and the highest-drafted pitcher selected by Houston in last year’s draft to sign with the organization.
“It’s as much about the guys behind me as it has been about me and when you have guys playing defense the way our team has played it, it gives you confidence whenever you step on the mound.’’
Mengden developed a true appreciation for that as a two-way player during his collegiate career at Texas A&M.
He earned all-Southeastern Conference honors during his sophomore season with the Aggies as a utility player and designated hitter, splitting time between pitching and playing the outfield during his first two years in college.
“I miss that a little, chasing down fly balls and taking some cuts. Pitching here and preparing yourself to go every fifth day, that’s a different deal,’’ Mengden said. “I’m enjoying it, but it is different than being out there every day. But, if they need somebody to go into a game in the 16th inning some night, I’m ready.’’
Mengden welcomes any opportunity, appreciating that the Astros were willing to draft a Houston native and provide a unique chance for a hometown player.
He considers that motivation.
“You never know how it will all work out, but to have a chance to play for a team I grew up watching, that would be special,’’ he said. “I won’t ever take that for granted.’’
After dealing with a stress fracture in his lower back a year ago throughout much of his junior season at Texas A&M, something that helped him develop his off-speed pitches as a complement to his fastball, Mengden spent his initial weeks in pro ball rehabbing at the Astros spring training facility in Kissimmee, Fla.
The plan was for him to return in time for the start of instructional league in late September, but quick healing led to 11 innings of work in the Gulf Coast League and Tri-City.
“It was the best thing that could have happened for me,’’ Mengden said. “I got to know most of the guys who are on this team and I was able to learn what competing at this level was about. That was important as I got ready for this season.’’
During the offseason, Mengden worked on improving his stretch and the quickness of his delivery to the plate.
He also worked on his mustache, something he first grew during his sophomore season at Texas A&M because it was the only facial hair allowed by Aggies coach Rob Childress.
“This one, it’s been there probably since November. It’s something to have a little fun with, a part of who I am and something to kind of keep the mood light,’’ Mengden said. “It gives people something to talk about. At A&M, my teammates called it the ‘Power ‘Stache,’ but nobody’s given it a nickname here yet. We’ll see. It’s here to stay.’’