It had to wait until 16 games into the season, but the Texas Rangers finally have a winning streak. Sure, it’s just three games. But when you consider the Rangers are putting out a daily starting line-up with no Adrian Beltre; guys at the bottom of the order like Donnie Murphy, Josh Wilson and J.P. Arencibia; a slow-starting Prince Fielder sitting at .164 with just one home run and 4 RBI; a pitching staff that started the season with ZERO pitchers who had started for the Rangers the year before; a catching tandem hitting a COMBINED .113 on the season; and a surprisingly porous defense sitting at the bottom of the league with more errors than anyone, then sitting at 2 games over .500 16 games in is really a miracle.
Yu Darvish is the ace of the staff. When he starts, the Rangers are 3-0. What’s unusual about that 3-0 is not that Darvish himself is only 1-0. What’s unusual is Darvish has thrown 22 innings and has yet to take the mound with a run on the Rangers ledger. The only game in which he got credited with the win, Texas scored in the bottom of the 7th and a new pitcher came on in the top of the 8th. A 1-0 record in three games with what is literally ZERO run support.
If you had told ANY Rangers fan that 16 games into the season the most valuable player on the team would be Kevin Kouzmanoff, you either would have gotten laughed out of the room or asked how much money you were willing to bet on it. Yet here’s Kouzmanoff, not even on the team for the first seven games, hitting .414 with five doubles, a home run and six RBI since replacing the injured Adrian Beltre in the line-up 9 games ago.
The Rangers are averaging less than four runs per game and have gotten outscored by five runs thus far, yet they have four walk-off wins and lead the league in shutouts with four. Prince Fielder is only hitting a buck-64, yet he leads the league with six intentional walks. According to Baseball Reference, Texas should have been 6-9 entering the finale of the Seattle series instead of 8-7.
It’s still at least a week before Adrian Beltre is back on the field. Matt Harrison wants to return to Texas by April 24th but is likely out at least a week longer than that, despite the poor performance by Tanner Scheppers in Thursday’s outing. Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto are still at least six weeks away and Derek Holland maybe ten weeks. The spare parts currently outperforming their expectations have to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. They may not sustain their current production.
For now, though, I plan on savoring what they’ve accomplished so far.
The Rangers’ minor league teams uniformly got off to slow starts but Thursday’s games saw all four full-season teams secure wins, the first time all four have won in the same day. Even then, there was good and bad news. On the good side, last year’s first-round pick, second baseman Travis Demeritte, cranked his second and third home runs of the season for the Hickory Crawdads. Hickory entered the game hitting in the .180′s as a team but managed to improve their BA to above the Mendoza line with nine hits overall, including Demeritte’s two dingers. Also on the good side was Myrtle Beach’s third baseman Joey Gallo. At 19, Gallo is among the top power hitters in all the minors. After a slow start at the plate, yesterday Gallo unleashed a 4 for 4 day for the Pelicans including a double and his first two High-A home runs. If Gallo can cut down on his strikeouts, he could be a major league presence for years to come.
The negative side of the ledger came from the pitching staffs. Luke Jackson, one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects, had a bad game, giving up seven runs in only 3 1/3 innings for the AA Frisco RoughRiders. Even more troublesome was the performance by Cody Buckel of Myrtle Beach. Just a year ago, Buckel was not only one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects, he also made his first appearance in the big-league camp in Spring Training. All of a sudden, Buckel picked up a case of what they call the “yips”. Suddenly, he lost all command on his pitches. In the minors, Buckel exhibited great control. Now he was walking batters, hitting batters and struggling to find the strike zone. He got shut down in AA after several ineffective starts. He popped up late in the season in the Arizona Summer League but got shut down again after things didn’t get any better.
This spring, Buckel was back and, while he was a bit on the wild side, he did seem to have improved his command. Buckel had worked with pitching coaches and sports psychologists and looked like he was on the road back. Texas started him at High-A Myrtle Beach this year. His first start showed the strides he had made when he allowed only one hit and no runs in four innings of work. Yes, he walk four in four innings but insiders said he had command of some of his pitches.
In his second start, though, it was like none of the improvements had ever happened. After getting the first two outs with relative ease, Buckel walked the next four batters to plate a run before getting a groundout to end the first. When he opened the second inning by walking the first two batters then hit the third to load the bases, Buckel’s night ended. One inning, one run, six walks, a hit batter and no strikeouts. I’ve rooted for Buckel to come back. They say his stuff is great. But something has happened to him and it’s iffy whether he’ll ever return to the prospect he once was.
The good news is Adrian Beltre has just a mild quad strain so he isn’t expected to miss substantial time. The bad news is we still don’t know if he’ll be placed on the 15-day DL anyway. The Rangers plan to give Beltre the weekend before deciding what to do. The only thing we know is he won’t play in the home series with the Astros this weekend. Expect Kevin Kouzmanoff as the Rangers’ starting third baseman this weekend. Not placing Beltre on the DL this weekend means the long-awaited return of Colby Lewis won’t happen for a few more days. Lewis was originally slated to start Saturday’s game. With Beltre NOT on the DL, Lewis graciously agreed to push back his return to the Rangers until Monday or Tuesday (he had an out in his contract that would have allowed him to declare free agency if he wasn’t on the Texas roster by Thursday 4/10). For a team already missing Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto, losing a third starter, especially the likes of Beltre, would be a crippling blow. Here’s hoping he’ll be back in the line-up Monday when the Mariners come to town.
BAD “D” IN BIG D
One of the biggest red flags after the first nine games is the Texas defense. It was expected there would be some weakening of the Rangers D in 2014. Prince Fielder isn’t as good a defender at first as Mitch Moreland and Ian Kinsler was a pretty good defender at second when he was a Rangers player. What wasn’t expected was Texas committing eleven errors in the first nine games, easily the worst mark in the major leagues. Even more shocking, six of those eleven errors have been by the most reliable defenders in a Rangers uniform, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre. One of the three errors on each of them can partially be blamed on Fielder’s inability to pick up a short-hop throw. The other two are strictly on them. Andrus in particular got shut down for the last couple of weeks in Spring Training with a sore arm. I think we’re seeing the result of that layoff. As for Beltre, one of the best third basemen in the game, I hope this early showing isn’t a sign of his reflexes starting to slow down at age 35. Only time will tell.
The Rangers begin a 10-game homestand this weekend against the Houston Astros. Texas was 17-2 against Houston a year ago. The Astros are a little improved, ie they could win 70 games this year instead of 60, so 17-2 might give way to 14-5 this year. Still, if Beltre is going to miss a series, this is the one he can most afford to miss. Texas has two of their most trustworthy pitchers, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez, going in the three game set, so winning at least two of the three is realistic.
MAJORS: Houston (4-6) at Texas (4-5)
AAA: Colorado Springs (Rockies 4-4) at Round Rock (RANGERS 5-3)
AA: Frisco (RANGERS 3-4) at NW Arkansas (Royals 2-5)
High-A: Myrtle Beach (RANGERS 3-4) at Wilmington (Royals 2-5)
Low-A: Asheville (Rockies 4-4) at Hickory (RANGERS 5-3)
Just when it looked like things were settling down for the Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre shakes everything up again. As Michael Corleone famously said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”
Everything was going swimmingly well for the Rangers Tuesday night. The offense was churning out hits and scoring runs at will against the Red Sox, even with a different type of line-up for Ron Washington. Michael Choice got the start in center field, leaving Leonys Martin on the bench. Mitch Moreland also got the night off against the left-hander. Wash had both ends of the second base platoon, Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy, in the game and had Beltre occupy Moreland’s DH slot. So of course, on a night when he doesn’t have to play the field to save wear and tear on his body, one of Adrian’s quads tightens up and he pulled himself from the game in the fifth inning. Beltre won’t play today’s finale, either. He’s already jetted back to Texas to get examined by the Rangers’ team doctor.
I’d love to say this is a precautionary measure and Beltre will be back in the line-up Friday night when the Astros come to town. After all, he’s dealt with bad hamstrings the last two seasons and stayed on the field. Going back further, you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody tougher than Beltre, as described in a pre-season article on ESPN.com:
Years before Beltre headed north, Welke discovered how tough the slugger could be when he visited him in the Dominican Republic shortly after an offseason gone awry prior to the 2001 campaign.
“His appendix burst and he nearly died,” Welke said.
The wound from the surgery done in the Dominican Republic also didn’t heal properly. He had to have a second surgery during spring training that year to close it, and he lost about 30 pounds. Yet he was determined to return to the field as soon as possible.
“He tried to play games with a colostomy bag attached to him under his uniform,” Welke said. “Can you imagine? That’s how badly the guy wanted to play.”
That’s what makes this early departure troublesome. Maybe it is just one of those, “We’re just two weeks into the season, let’s make sure he’s ready for everything to come” type of deals. The pessimistic me says, “Nope. This is something more.” After all, Adrian Beltre wants to play baseball. He loves to play baseball. If Wash schedules him for a day off, the odds are better than 50-50 Adrian will talk him out of it and he’ll play. This time, however, he pulled himself from the line-up in the middle of the game and apparently agreed pretty quickly to go get it checked out in Texas. That tells me this is something Adrian is REALLY worried about.
If Beltre goes on the DL, there are no really good options for Texas. Kevin Kouzmanoff had a good spring and could be brought up to replace him but face it: Nobody can replace Beltre’s defense on the field and not many can provide his offense either. A Kouzmanoff MIGHT prove adequate for a 15-day DL stint but not much more than that. Without Beltre, there’s not a lot of protection for Prince Fielder in the line-up. I can see Alex Rios moving from fifth to fourth and that will help somewhat. It will also make the bottom half of the Rangers order even weaker.
Texas pitching is on a three-week trajectory to settling down. Colby Lewis returns Saturday, Matt Harrison is about three weeks away from a return himself. The last thing the Rangers need is troubles on the offense (and defense). Losing Adrian Beltre for any amount of time could be disastrous for the Rangers chances in 2014.
Not much to discuss today, but here are a couple of links worth the look.
TR Sullivan did a great piece on Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington for MLB.com. As big as statistics are to baseball fans, Wash shares his food for thought on what it takes to compile those stats. Basically, he believes if you play the game right the stats will come instead of the opposite.
There’s also this: The rehabbing Derek Holland answers “Rangers player most likely to…” questions.
Martin Perez turns 23 years old today.
Lastly, there’s this photo taken at the Season Opener for the Rangers’ AA affiliate the Frisco RoughRiders. The game got postponed in the third inning. Looking at the picture, I think you’ll know why:
Here’s tonight’s schedule:
AAA Oklahoma City(Astros) (1-0) at ROUND ROCK (Rangers) (0-1)
AA NW Arkansas (Royals) at FRISCO (Rangers)
High-A Salem (Red Sox) (1-0) at MYRTLE BEACH (Rangers) (0-1)
Low-A HICKORY (Rangers) (1-0) at Greensboro (Marlins) (0-1)
In the middle of last night’s series closer with the Phillies, I tweeted about the first two games indicating what the Texas Rangers offense potential is while Game 3 was a sign that they’re not consistently there yet. Then the bottom of the ninth came up.
Rangers trailed 3-1. A lead-off single by Adrian Beltre on a pitch out of the strike zone. A strikeout by Alex Rios. Mitch Moreland then laced a double to the right field corner to put the tying run on second. Jim Adduci, the last position player to get a spot on the 25-man roster, beat a chopper down the third base line and just managed to beat the throw to first, plating Beltre with the second run. A Leonys Martin single ties the game at three. Donnie Murphy, the next to the last position player named to the 25-man roster, coaxed a walk to load the bases. Finally, Shin-Soo Choo, signed to a big free agent deal in part because of his On Base Percentage, fell down in the count 1-2 but still managed to stay patient and let Jonathon Papelbon make the mistake. Choo walked, Adduci scored the winning run, the Rangers had their second walk-off win in as many nights and the Rangers confirmed to me their offense could potentially be something special in 2014.
Adam Morris of Lone Star Ball pointed out one fact about this opening series that provokes die-hard fans to say, “Yup. That’s baseball.” The fact? Texas only scored one run against two different Phillies starters and won both games. They scored 8 against the Phillies best starter and lost. Yup. That’s baseball.
It’s baseball when the Rangers go 2-1 in a series in which none of their starting pitchers managed to get through six innings of work. They won a series in which three relievers who may not even be with the club in another two months combined to throw four innings of shut-out baseball. They won a series when the big guy they want to provide most of the power this season was mostly impotent.
Oh, yeah, and the haters are already in mid-season form. When Mitch Moreland ended a potential rally by grounding into a double play, the Twitterverse was alive with fans questioning why Jon Daniels still wanted to keep him around (despite the fact Beltre would have been the DP scapegoat two batters earlier if not for the first baseman dropping the relay throw). When he plated the game’s first run a couple of innings later with a triple, it was mostly a “Yeah but…” reaction. Even when Moreland’s double in the ninth set the stage for the rally to come, there were mostly complaints about his success, such as “Now Wash will play him all the time and we’ll NEVER see Michael Choice in the line-up.” Hey Mitch- kudos to you. You’re a big reason the Rangers won the series this time.
Winning the first series feels good, especially when the two wins are in walk-off fashion. Now it’s on to Florida for three with the Rays. Texas announced Yu Darvish will come off the DL and pitch Sunday’s series finale, another piece of good news. Who loses their rotation spot when Darvish returns is unknown but it might come down to who performs better as a starter, veteran Joe Saunders on Friday night or rookie Nick Martinez on Saturday. My guess is Martinez is here for just one start but if he excels in that start, anything could happen.
Today is an off-day, but the minor league season begins today. Matt Harrison gets the start for AA Frisco as he works his way back into the rotation mix by the end of the month. Meanwhile, I’m taking today to savor this first series win.
Schedule for April 3, 2014
AAA: Round Rock hosts Oklahoma City
AA: Frisco hosts NW Arkansas
Hi-A: Myrtle Beach hosts Salem
A: Hickory at Greensboro
Sorry, Ian Kinsler. The Texas Rangers won’t go 0-162 in 2014. They ensured that with a walk-off 3-2 win over the Phillies Tuesday night in Arlington.
Among the highlights of the Rangers first win was Ron Washington winning his first challenge of a call. In the 6th inning of the scoreless game, the Phils had runners on first and second when Martin Perez wheeled around and threw what appeared a perfect pick-off throw to second. Donnie Murphy slapped the tag down on Ben Revere who the umpire declared safe on a bang-bang play. Wash asked for a review and got it. The sequence is available on MLB.com here.
Most reviews during the testing phase in Spring Training tended to last for a minute to a minute and a half. This one went for two minutes. It was a very close play but it confirmed Murphy got the tag down before Revere’s hand reached the second base bag. Good news for the Rangers, right?
Not necessarily. Perez had been in a groove most of the night and the two-minute delay seemed to throw him off his game. Once play resumed, Perez gave up a single and a double, giving the Phillies their first runs of the game. Perez didn’t get out of the inning. Jason Frasor came on to get the last out.
This brings up an interesting wrinkle to the review process. How will it affect the pitcher on the mound? It could be this threw Perez off because he’s still young and learning. A seasoned pro like Felix Hernandez may not get bothered by it at all. Still, pitchers have a rhythm in which they operate and a two-minute delay can disrupt that rhythm. It bears looking at as replay reviews go forward. Maybe a manager will decide not to appeal a play because of how it would impact his pitcher.
In other news, as bad as Opening Day was, last night’s win over the Phillies was a great look at how we want to envision the 2014 Rangers. There was Shin-Soo Choo working counts and getting on base. There was Adrian Beltre bringing him home. Leonys Martin stole a base, Robinson Chirinos gunned down a potential base thief and the pitching staff performed the way we fans expect them to. Perez, Frasor, Neal Cotts and Joakim Soria all started their seasons on a good note. Yu Darvish threw 86 pitches in a sideline session, inching towards a return to the rotation next week. Colby Lewis went five plus innings in a minor league exhibition and is about to force the Rangers into a decision. They could recall him for this weekend to become a regular in the rotation or ask him to make one more minor league start. If the front office chooses the latter, they have to recall Lewis after that next start or he can opt out of his contract and look for a better deal elsewhere. Let’s not forget Matt Harrison either. He’ll be ready to go within the next two weeks as well. All these potential moves have implications for Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jr., Joe Saunders, Nick Martinez, Pedro Figueroa and Shawn Tolleson. One or two may get moved from the rotation back to the bullpen, one or two could go back to AAA and a couple could find themselves out of the organization in the next two weeks.
That can wait for another day. For now, let’s savor the season’s first win.
By the way, much to my surprise, I learned today my humble blog got a mention on a Dallas Morning News blog which listed various Texas Rangers and general baseball blogs worth reading.I’m humbled this space was one of only four Rangers blogs mentioned in the post. Thanks to author Phillip Morales for the shout out!
When the Texas Rangers take on the Philadelphia Phillies today in the season opener for both teams, the Rangers Opening Day 25-man roster includes 17 players who were NOT on the Rangers Opening Day roster just one year ago today. The only holdovers? Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando, Elvis Andrus, Mitch Moreland, Leonys Martin and Adrian Beltre.
Part of the turnover is due to the current length of the Rangers disabled list. Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland and Geovany Soto were all on the 2013 roster when the Rangers played the Astros on Sunday Night Baseball. Still, that’s a better than 50% turnover of the roster in just one year’s time.
Of the Rangers 2010 squad that appeared in the World Series for the first time, only Andrus, Moreland and Ogando are on the Opening Day roster in 2014.
From the 2011 World Series team, you can add Adrian Beltre to the list.
Even accounting for the players currently disabled and expected back this year (Harrison, Holland and Colby Lewis), the 2014 Rangers bear only the vaguest resemblance to the team that came within an eyelash of being the 2011 World Champions. Still, this is a team that has playoff aspirations. If the injury bug that him them in Spring Training gets fixed and remains fixed, maybe they can do it. We just don’t know. To borrow a cliché, that’s why they play the games.
#1 of 162 begins today. Time to find out what these 25 guys, including the 17 newcomers, have got.
Just days before Opening Day, the Rangers added players with only a short time to decide whether they will be on the roster this coming Monday when the Rangers take on the Phillies.
The first was infielder Donnie Murphy, picked up on waivers after not making the Cubs. With Jurickson Profar on the shelf for up to three months, Texas is in need of an infielder with a little pop in his bat to at least serve in a second base platoon. In Friday’s exhibition against the Quintana Roo Tigres of the Mexican League, Murphy made a great first impression on the fans at Globe Life Park in Arlington:
Also joining the team for the game was Seth Rosin, a Rule 5 guy picked up from the Los Angeles Dodgers. All Rosin did was nail down the save with two innings of work against the Tigres:
Murphy is sure to stick with Texas while Profar recovers from a torn shoulder muscle. He’s a veteran utility guy and isn’t phased about being part of a platoon at second. Rosin is a little more of a surprise. As a Rule 5 player, if he doesn’t start the season with the big club, then Texas has to offer him back to the Phillies for a mere $25,000. Rosin this off-season has gone from the Phillies to the Mets to the Dodgers to the Rangers. He had good spring stats with the Didgers but they have a full bullpen and let him go. The Rangers may have the extra bullpen need but, because of his Rule 5 status, they only have four days to decide whether to put him on the roster. That isn’t a lot of time to consider a guy who’s never pitched above Double-A in the regular season.
The Rangers, as everyone knows, have real injury issues. Murphy definitely addresses one of those and Rosin might. In the meantime, as much as Spring Training records don’t mean much of anything, it does make the injury woes feel better seeing the Rangers go on a four game winning streak in exhibition play right before the start of the regular season.
Two last exhibitions in San Antonio against the Astros then the games count. Let’s get it on!
Just seeing Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington in this promo today on MLB.com has me pumped up for some Texas Rangers baseball:
Opening Day. March 31. Rangers-Phillies. I’m ready.
Jurickson Profar: Out 10-12 Weeks
Geovany Soto: Out 10-12 Weeks
The Rangers’ injury woes have mounted, but at least we can hold on to this: If anyone was going to miss 10-12 weeks, from an offensive perspective, Profar and Soto were probably two of the LEAST important cogs in the line-up. Not to say the line-up won’t miss them, but compared to Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo, it’s a hit that’s tolerable to the Rangers..
Still, these events open roster spaces and, with only six days to go before the Rangers have a date with the Philadelphia Phillies and Cliff Lee on March 31st, the thought of what the Rangers’ roster will look like (come Monday (it’ll be all right) (Thanks Jimmy Buffett) becomes an interesting exercise.
Here’s what we know with certainty on offense because they aren’t injured in any way, shape or form as I write this:
Here’s what is highly probable, as in they have reported injuries but it isn’t expected to put them on the DL to start the season:
That’s only nine players. The Rangers still need a back-up catcher, another outfielder, a starting second baseman and a utility infielder. I suspect Robinson Chirinos will be the second catcher. He’s been excellent in camp and deserves a roster spot. Since Moreland has gotten some reps in left field, I think the Rangers are leaning towards him as the fifth outfielder at this point, meaning Texas really needs a starting second baseman and TWO utility infielders. Kevin Kouzmanoff has had a good spring as well and likely will get one of those spots to provide a third base back-up for Beltre. Now the question is, will Texas go for a platoon at second base while Profar is out? The candidates thus far are Brent Lillibridge, Josh Wilson, Adam Rosales and Kesuke Tanaka. Of these, I think one stays, either Wilson or Rosales. As for the last offensive roster slot? I’m betting on someone who is among the last cuts in someone else’s training camp or gets obtained in a minor trade before Opening Day. That’s how the Rangers got Matt Treanor in 2010 and Andres Blanco in 2011.
Thus, the Opening Day offense is:
2B: Wilson or Rosales
Bench: Chirinos, Kouzmanoff, Choice, Mystery Infielder
For the pitching staff, Texas has a starting rotation in flux. Matt Harrison isn’t ready to help at season’s start. The back-end of the rotation is still unsettled. Let’s start by looking at health again. Here are the definite roster members who have no reported health issues:
The only one with a potential health issue that’s a lock is Yu Darvish, who’s officially ruled out to pitch Opening Day. That’s seven pitchers, leaving another five slots open. The following are in the mix for roster spots: Colby Lewis, Tommy Hanson, Joe Saunders, Neftali Feliz, Michael Kirkman, Pedro Figueroa, Rafael Perez and Shawn Tolleson. For this exercise, I’m going to assume Robbie Ross will be in the rotation, leaving one open starter position and four bullpen slots.
I want Colby Lewis in the Rangers rotation. I just don’t know if he’s ready yet, having gone through hip replacement surgery. Lewis is the talk of the camp and I think he’ll help Texas in 2014, but I think it best if he starts the season at AAA Round Rock. By default, that would hand the fifth starter spot to Hanson or Saunders. Neither one excites me. I’ll go with Saunders only because the DFW media seem to feel Hanson would work better than Saunders in the long reliever/spot starter role.
In the bullpen, it has already been established Soria is the closer and Ogando will set him up in the 8th. Frasor and Cotts are there for the seventh inning. Assuming Hanson is the long man, that leaves two slots open. Neftali Feliz has disappointed Rangers brass with his lack of velocity as he comes back from Tommy John surgery. I think he starts the season in AAA. Michael Kirkman is out of options but I don’t think the Rangers see any future for him with the club, either. He might be a trade piece for the extra infielder the Rangers need. I think Tolleson and Figueroa will be the last two pieces added to the pen. Thus we have a pitching staff that looks like this:
More moves still could be on the horizon between now and Monday that throw these predictions all out of whack. For the short-term, I hope this roster will be okay because for a pennant run, there’s still a lot of help needed.
QUICK NOTE: Every year, the C70 At The Bat blog, part of Cardsconclave.com, does a “Playing Pepper” feature looking at the other MLB teams. Today is Texas Rangers Day and some of my comments, along with a half dozen other Rangers bloggers are there. Make sure you give it a read!