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Now healthy, Jaime Melendez back on track in AFL

Houston Astros' Jaime Melendez
Jaime Melendez | Credit: Tammy Tucker

As one of the younger pitchers in the Texas League in 2022, Jaime Melendez put himself on the map.

Melendez navigated the toughest leap in the system against hitters with an average age of four years his senior. He posted a 5.01 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 73.1 innings for the Hooks, starting the majority of his appearances. 

To the Houston Astros, Melendez earned an opportunity in big-league camp.

In two Grapefruit League outings last spring, Melendez totaled three scoreless innings. The righty issued two walks and struck out three batters without allowing a hit. He put himself in position to churn out another year in Double-A, but he didn’t escape the first month without a setback.

Melendez made three appearances, two starts, in April. He battled control issues with seven walks to eight strikeouts, and on April 24, the Hooks placed Melendez on the 7-day injured list with lower back discomfort.

Melendez suffered from inflammation in the sacroiliac joint and went on to miss the remainder of the season. Over the following months, he took two trips to Houston to see team doctors but wasn’t cleared for return before the Double-A season came to an end.

“It prevented me from throwing at more than 70% of my capacity,” Melendez said in June.

After rehabbing the rest of the year at the Astros spring training complex in West Palm Beach, Florida, Melendez received the news that he was being sent to the Arizona Fall League. For a young pitcher who turned heads last spring, this decision offered Melendez the extra innings he needed after a lost season.

“I was excited to receive this opportunity to be able to pitch again this year and more in this league that has a very good level of players,” Melendez said Tuesday.

Melendez made his AFL debut Saturday. He threw 19 of his 32 pitches for strikes over three scoreless innings, touching 93.8 mph on his fastball. He struck out one batter, issued two walks and surrendered a pair of singles.

Command is on the forefront of Melendez’s mind. Prior to his injury, he didn’t pitch deep into outings, but he built success in high-strikeout performances. He added a cutter and sweeper to his arsenal, bolstering his options as wipeout pitches.

Melendez also throws a changeup that he looks to perfect in the AFL, but above all his advancements in pitch shapes, he wants to stay healthy.

“This offseason, I want to work on my body, come back stronger to avoid any injury, which for me is the most important thing after this difficult year,” Melendez said.

The Sultanes de Monterrey, Melendez’s winter ball club, asked him to play this year in the Mexican League. Melendez chose not to compete this offseason, focusing on his own development before heading to spring training in February.

“My goal for next spring training is that if the opportunity arises to fight for a place on the Astros to be able to win that place,” Melendez said. “And if not, I hope to win one in Triple-A.”

Melendez, now 22, set his goal high for 2024. The righty sees himself as a major leaguer, and with the expectation of being invited back to big-league camp, he would pitch before the staff that could get him there.

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