Spare Parts

When you talk about the first World Series run by the Rangers, the names that come to mind are Josh Hamilton, American League MVP; Cliff Lee, mid-season acquisition and Yankee Killer in the ALCS; Michael Young, the long-time “Face” of the franchise; and Nelson Cruz, who can carry a team on his back for two-week stretches, including the playoffs.

Those players deservedly got a lot of the press, but another key to the Rangers first run to the pennant were the spare parts. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the DL after just two games. Enter last-minute Spring Training acquisition Matt Treanor. Treanor held down the fort so well until the July acquisition of Bengie Molina, Saltalamacchia never again wore a Rangers uniform. Salty was optioned to AAA after coming off the DL, then went to the Red Sox in a September deal.

The Rangers had a winning record during Nelson Cruz’ three trips to the DL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of David Murphy as a viable 4th outfielder. Murphy remains an integral piece of the Rangers today, though speculation grows he’ll become part of a deal sometime this summer.

Ian Kinsler also had two DL stints in 2010. Again, Texas survived just fine, especially in mid-August when Andres Blanco filled in for 19 games and hit .333 with 8 doubles and .818 OPS, playing sterling defense as well.

The pitching staff also had its moments. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, expected to be the top two rotation pieces, never panned out. It was new acquisition Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, who helped keep the Rangers above-board until the trade for Cliff Lee. Likewise, the bullpen got a boost when Alexi Ogando was recalled from Oklahoma City. All Ogando did was earn wins in his first three relief appearances and ended up being the Rangers 7th inning go-to guy.

The pattern repeated itself in 2011. When center fielder Julio Borbon went down in May with an injury, Endy Chavez was called up from Round Rock, hit .301 in 83 games and banished Borbon to the minors, where he remains today. Ogando again served as a vital piece, this time moving into the starting rotation when off-season signee Brandon Webb proved not ready to go out of Spring Training. Ogando thrived as a starter, making the All-Star team. Yorvit Torrealba was expected to be the primary catcher, until Mike Napoli had an offensive year that nobody saw coming.

The stars propel teams, but the spare parts are often the ones that give winning teams the extra edge. The previous 400 words were all written with Robbie Ross in mind.

Robbie Ross, Texas Ranger

Just a year ago today, Ross was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach. The Rangers 2nd round draft pick in 2008, Ross compiled a 9-4 record with a 2.26 ERA as a starter  to earn a late season promotion to AA Frisco. In 6 games with Frisco, Ross was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Those stats earned Ross an invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2012.

Ross was expected to do what most rookies his age (21) do. Stick around big league camp for a couple of weeks, mop up a few games, then return to minor league camp, where he would most likely start the season at Frisco, maybe Round Rock if he was lucky.

Ross, however, didn’t recognize his long odds. He just did what he’d been doing since being drafted. He threw strikes. Because he threw strikes, he got outs. There were veteran southpaws in the Rangers camp this year, looking to fill the role vacated by Darren Oliver when he departed for the Blue Jays, chief among them Joe Beimel. He didn’t pitch badly, but a late camp injury ended his chances. Michael Kirkman, who contributed key late-season innings in 2010 but slipped in 2011, was another prime candidate. Kirkman struggled from the outset and has continued to struggle at Round Rock in 2012.

By the time Spring Training was over, Ross had leap-frogged everyone and earned a spot on the Rangers roster. He was expected to be brought around slowly, used in mop-up roles to get his feet wet. Most thought Ross would just hold down the fort until the Rangers either re-signed Mike Gonzalez or traded for another lefty in the pen.

All Ross has done is succeed, in whatever role the Rangers have asked him. Sunday, he was asked to replace another famous spare part, Alexi Ogando. Ogando, who was made a starter again when Derek Holland went on the DL, threw three hitless innings, then strained his groin legging out a bunt single that was supposed to be just a sacrifice bunt. Ross came in and this time threw four innings of 1-hit ball at the Giants and earning the victory. Ross is now 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA. If Ogando goes on the disabled list, Ross could be the Rangers starter this Saturday against the Astros.

Not bad for someone who wasn’t even projected to be in the big leagues until next year at the earliest. Let’s hear it for spare parts!

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