On Monday, a five-person media panel announced one of their easiest decisions of the year — Texas Longhorns first baseman Ivan Melendez is the Big 12 Player of the Week after posting a .625 batting average, 2.152 OPS, and four home runs over the last week, including a streak of reaching base in 13 consecutive plate appearances.
Between flying out to third base in the sixth inning of of Tuesday’s 7-2 win over Central Arkansas and a strikeout in the third inning of Sunday’s seven-inning 12-1 win over then-No. 16 Texas Tech, Melendez recorded eight hits with three home runs, a double, and five walks.
Here’s what happened in every one of those at bats, with a side bonus of his home run in the third inning against the Bears.
Tuesday, March 22 vs. Central Arkansas
Bottom third inning, one out, Texas leads 2-0
With the wind blowing in from left field on Tuesday, even the strength of Melendez wasn’t enough to hit the ball out of UFCU Disch-Falk Field in that direction. So although Melendez has been entirely pull-heavily with his home runs throughout his Texas career, that finally changed last week.
Ahead in the count 1-2, the Central Arkansas pitching was trying to put Melendez away with a breaking ball in the turf, but left it up. Melendez, trying to protect against a strikeout, let the ball get deep before starting his swing, then powered it over the wall in right field.
Bottom eighth inning, two outs, Texas leads 7-2
The streak started without a lot of drama — after Melendez took three straight balls, the Central Arkansas pitcher was able to work the count full before declining to challenge Melendez on the 3-2 pitch, leading to a walk.
Friday, March 25 vs. Texas Tech
Top first inning, one out, Texas leads 1-0
Melendez had to battle against Texas Tech starter Andrew Morris in this at bat — Morris was able to get ahead 1-2 when Melendez fouled off a pitch, but Melendez took a ball, fouled a pitch off, took another ball, fouled another pitch off, then took the full-count walk.
Top fifth inning, two outs, Texas Tech leads 3-1
After getting ahead 1-0, Melendez showed off his ability to keep his swing simple and try to start a two-out rally with a base hit through the left side of the Texas Tech infield.
Top seventh inning, two outs, Texas Tech leads 3-1
After failing to score since the leadoff home run by left fielder Eric Kennedy, Melendez was able to get the comeback started for the Longhorns with another opposite-field home run. On a 1-1 pitch, Melendez saw a breaking ball and treated it the same way he did against Central Arkansas, waiting back on the pitch to see it deep, then putting a powerful swing on it when it caught too much of the plate. Melendez sees a lot of breaking balls because opposing pitchers don’t want to challenge him with their fastballs and this developing ability to hit home runs to the opposite field on them has be a scary sight for future opponents.
Top ninth inning, one out, tied 4-4
On a 1-1 pitch, Melendez scorched a double down the left-field line, but right fielder Murphy Stehly and catcher Silas Ardoin weren’t able to come through with Melendez on second base to take the lead. Another example of Melendez not focused too much on creating a lot of lift, but being willing to settle for hitting the ball hard in the ballpark and giving his teammates a chance to pick him up.
Saturday, March 26 vs. Texas Tech
Melendez was sensational on Saturday against the Red Raiders, going 5-for-5 with two home runs, four runs scored, three RBI, and a walk.
Top first inning, one out, runner on first, 0-0
You hang it, Melendez bangs it. The Texas slugger started out the scoring on Saturday by absolutely crushing a hanging breaking ball from Texas Tech starter Brandon Birdsell. A side effect of not seeing many fastballs is that Melendez does get a fair share of hanging breaking balls as opposing pitchers try to throw their off-speed offerings for strikes. And Melendez almost never misses those opportunities.
Top third inning, no outs, Texas Tech leads 7-2
Struggles by center fielder Douglas Hodo III forced Melendez to lead off several innings, as he did here when he hit a 1-0 opposite-field single, making sure once again not to get into the type of pull-happy mode that results in rolling over on pitches that often end as harmless groundouts.
Top fifth inning, no outs, Texas Tech leads 7-2
Leading off once again, Melendez took the first four pitches to work a favorable 3-1 count. For most hitters, that’s a fastball count — time to sit dead red. Melendez, quite obviously, is not most hitters, and Birdsell again tried to throw a breaking ball for a strike. It wasn’t nearly as flat as his pitch on the first home run by Melendez on Saturday, but it wasn’t close to having enough bite, and Melendez sent it well out of Dan Law Field over the wall in left center.
Top seventh inning, no outs, Texas Tech leads 7-4
For a third straight at bat, Melendez had to lead off the inning, taking a first-pitch strike and then fighting off the second pitch for a bloop single into left field even though the pitcher was able to successfully jam Melendez, who is so dangerous when he can get extension out over the plate. Melendez eventually scored on a double by Ardoin after advancing to second base on a wild pitch.
Top eighth inning, one out, runner on first, tied 7-7
Having successfully completed the comeback from down 7-2, Melendez finally came to the plate with a runner on base again. More remarkably, Melendez got down in the count after twice doing what he so rarely did during his streak of successfully reaching base — swinging and missing. Melendez whiffed on the 1-0 pitch and the 1-1 pitch, falling behind 1-2. But once again, Melendez shortened his swing and went into protection mode, singling to left field. Two pitches later, Melendez scored on a three-run home run by Stehly.
Top ninth inning, two out, tied 11-11
With Kennedy and Hodo unable to reach base ahead of Melendez, the Red Raiders were able to effectively pitch around Melendez, walking him on five pitches.
Sunday, March 27 vs. Texas Tech
Top first inning, two out, 0-0
After taking a first-pitch strike, Melendez continued his streak with a five-pitch walk.
The streak finally ended when Melendez struck out swinging on a 2-2 pitch in the third inning, bringing to a close a stretch of baseball arguably more impressive than the six consecutive games with home runs last season when the El Paso slugger truly broke out into the national college baseball consciousness.
Melendez has cut his strikeout rate from 31.9 percent to 20.6 percent, a steep decrease brought about because Melendez understands that pitchers want to get him out with breaking balls and is seeing those pitches better as he’s improved as an opposite-field hitter, including the first opposite-field home runs of his career.
Melendez is now hitting .402 on the season with a .528 on-base percentage and a 1.466 OPS. His .938 slugging percentage ranks third nationally, his 13 home runs are tied for the national lead, and his 38 RBI rank fourth nationally.
After such a torrid streak, Melendez may well cool down this week with four rivalry games on tap, but he’s now proven that he’s grown from an impressive home-run hitter prone to strikeouts to an excellent all-around hitter flashing power to virtually the entire field. It’s been fun to watch.