Is It Time To Shake Things Up?

Here we are, a week into the baseball season’s second month. Statistics start meaning a little bit more than the first three weeks where a hot or cold streak looks great or horrific on paper but signify nothing more than a hot or cold streak. So far, the Rangers have done about as well as could be expected considering all the injuries they’re up against. Now, however, we’re starting to get more of a feel for this year’s team and, quite frankly, it doesn’t look so good. The offense has been spotty, the pitching is growing more suspect by the day and defense seems a dirty word so the Rangers avoid playing it well at all costs.

There are still a number of Rangers who will be arriving in the coming months to help: Derek Holland, Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto. That’s fine for June and July. The problem is, Texas still has a slew of games to play in May and June before the first reinforcement arrives and this team needs help NOW.

Jurickson

Jurickson Profar: Out Until June

Case in point: When Profar went down with an injury in his throwing arm, the Rangers went with a second base platoon of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy. This looked like another one of Jon Daniels’ genius moves, getting two utility guys on the cheap and having them perform way above expectations. On April 17, the Wilson-Murphy combo was hitting .267 with 4 doubles, 7 RBI, 6 walks, a sacrifice and two sac flies. Since that time, they’ve hit a combined .197 and, while they have one more RBI at 8, they also have 23 strikeouts and just three walks in 71 at bats. In other words, they’re showing us who they’ve always been- spare pieces expected to shoulder more of a load than usual. The Rangers have at least a month left before Profar returns and I’m not even convinced it won’t be even longer period. Wilson and Murphy displaced Adam Rosales and Brent Lillibridge from the roster. Rosales in particular is doing a decent job at AAA Round Rock. He’s now up to .283 on the season with 7 doubles and 5 homers. Rosales has some pop in his bat and can play second, third and first. At this point, he might offer more to the Rangers than they’re getting from Murphy so why not give him a shot?

There aren’t any real solutions in the catching department. Soto is out for at least another month, the catchers at Round Rock aren’t anything to write home about and Jorge Alfaro is probably two years away from the big club. Texas is just going to have to lump it with Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia, unless JD decides to trade for a proven catcher.

Meanwhile, the pitching staff still needs sorting out. While the starting staff is starting to settle down, at least until Holland returns in June or July, it will probably remain inconsistent for a while. Matt Harrison came back from the DL and had one good and one bad start. That will likely continue for the next 4-6 starts as he works his way back. Same thing applies with Colby Lewis. Despite almost two years between big league appearances, he’s performed well overall, but not well enough to guarantee any more than six innings in any start. After an incredibly hot start, Martin Perez has looked awful his last two starts. Robbie Ross has had three consecutive bad outings as well. Veteran Joe Saunders is now on a rehab assignment but you won’t find many Rangers fans waiting for him to return.

It's time to bring Nick Tepesch up.

It’s time to bring Nick Tepesch up.

One solution is Nick Tepesch. The righthander had a terrible spring and got sent back to the minors midway through Spring Training despite contributing four wins in 17 starts for Texas in 2013. At Round Rock, Tepesch has pitched like the ace of a AAA staff, going 6-1 with a 1.58 ERA, 41 strikeouts and only 9 walks in 38 innings of work. Tepesch has nothing left to prove at AAA and, if anything, is more likely to give the Rangers 7 innings every time out than Robbie Ross will. Ross earned his rotation spot with a strong spring but, like any walk of life, hasn’t proved it lately. Ross has been a valuable bullpen commodity. It’s time he returned there.

Speaking of the bullpen, it has quickly turned from one of the Rangers strong suits to a mess of stinking you know what. Alexi Ogando has gotten overworked and gave up six hits and a walk in just a third of an inning of work in Colorado last night. Ogando has done nothing to sway me from my earlier stated opinion that by seasons end, he will be a non-factor on the Rangers. Also worrisome is Neal Cotts, who thus far (1-2, 5.68 ERA, 3 Blown Saves) has not come close to being the pitcher he was in 2013 (8-3, 1.11 ERA). Because Perez, Lewis, Harrison and Ross haven’t been able to go deep into games, the bullpen is pitching too many innings. If Texas were to bring up Tepesch and send Ross back to relief, it will help settle down a combustible situation. Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers will return soon as well and should go back to being the 8th inning guy.

It’s only two players, but adding Rosales for Murphy, then adding Tepesch while moving Ross to relief and placing Ogando on the DL for whatever reason they can come up with, could help this team navigate through a tough month of May in better shape than they’re in now.

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 4/28-5/4

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

After the 3-game debacle that was the home series against the Oakland A’s, it was beginning to look doubtful the Rangers would have ANY Star Players of the Week in ANY department. The offense wasn’t hitting, the defense wasn’t playing well and the pitching was woeful. Then the Rangers took to the road to play the Los Angeles Angels and all was right with the world again. In taking two of three from the Angels, the Rangers not only got back on the winning track, the offense showed a few signs of life again. Even J.P. Arencibia got into the act Sunday with a two-hit performance that raised his batting average up to a whopping .116 (his OPS went from .271 to .420 in the game). Still the Single Game Star of the Week goes to one of the rookies in the line-up, Michael Choice. In Sunday’s 14-3 pasting of the Angels, Choice led a balanced offensive attack with two hits in five at bats, including a 3-run blast to left center that broke the game wide open. Choice ended the day with 4 RBI, giving him 12 for the season. The two honorable mentions for the week came from the same game as Choice’s winner. Prince Fielder had his first 3-hit game as a Ranger, with two doubles and 3 RBI. And the aforementioned Arencibia came within an eyelash of hitting a grand slam his first time up, only to have the ball caught in a leaping grab at the fence. Had that one cleared, the Rangers catcher would have sat on a 3-hit, 2-home run, 6 RBI game. Baseball is a game of inches, though, and seeing as that first ball was inches short, Choice gets the award by inches.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

In the series at Oakland, Shin-Soo Choo went down with a badly sprained ankle trying to beat out an infield hit and proceeded to miss the next six games. What Choo has done since returning to the Rangers line-up is nothing short of sensational. In the just-completed series with the Angels, Choo came to the plate 15 times and reached base 12 of those 15 times. That’s an On Base Percentage of .800 over a 3-game stretch. For the week, Choo went 8-16 at the plate with a home run and 3 RBI. He also walked six times, two of those intentionally, was hit by a pitch twice, stole a base and scored four runs. For the week, Choo hit .500 with a .667 OBP and an OPS (On-Base plus Slugging Percentage) of 1.354. If The 2-3-4 hitters in the Rangers order (Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder) start producing the way they have in the past, this Rangers line-up will be plenty dangerous in the weeks and months to come.

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

After the Oakland series it was doubtful the Pitching Star of the Week was going to come from the starting rotation. Yu Darvish had the shortest outing of his MLB career on Monday and started his second start of the week against the Angels by giving up solo home runs to two of the first three hitters he faced. Previous 2-time winner Martin Perez came down to earth by a patient A’s line-up that ballooned his ERA northward by over a run in a single outing. Robbie Ross Jr. had his second consecutive poor outing. Colby Lewis did prove pretty effective against the Angels but Matt Harrison laid an egg in his second start off the DL Saturday. The Rangers bullpen had to do an awful lot on the week, accounting for almost half of all the innings pitched for the week. Which brings us to another rookie making a name for himself with Texas: Nick Martinez. Coming into the season, Martinez had pitched only 32 innings as high as the AA level when he earned a starting nod in the Rangers’ 5th game of the season. He returned to AA Frisco after the start, pitched two games and less than ten innings, then returned to the Rangers to fill in as the long reliever, at least until Joe Saunders returned from the DL. After the last week, the question is does Saunders have a place with the Rangers when he’s ready to come off the disabled list? In two games this week against the A’s and the Angels, Martinez threw 7.2 innings of shutout baseball, allowing only four hits and three walks while striking out four batters. The first game was especially welcome to Ron Washington. Yu Darvish had only gone three and a third against the A’s in the first of a 3-game set. Any bullpen breakdown would put the Rangers at a major disadvantage for the rest of the series. After Aaron Poreda finished off the fourth inning for Darvish, Martinez came on and took care of the last five innings of work, allowing the A’s only two hits. He followed that up by again relieving Darvish yesterday and taking care of the last two and a third, falling an out short of qualifying for the rare 3-inning save. Martinez could still find himself back in Frisco soon as the Rangers may prefer he get regular work instead of the inconsistent role of the middle reliever. For now, though, Martinez gets his time in the spotlight here.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Ending the week at 2-4 is probably more than most of us fans expected after Oakland decimated the Rangers in Arlington, outscoring the guys in the white hats (well, actually the red and sometimes blue caps) by a combined 25-4 score. In Arlington, no less. Texas then went on the road and righted the ship somewhat, taking two of three from the Angels to end the week in second place in the AL West, two games behind the A’s. Had the Rangers lost Sunday’s finale against the Angels, they would have fallen to third place, but a 14-3 smackdown ensured second place for at least another day.

This week just about everyone in MLB plays their “rivalry” interleague series. For the Rangers, this year’s rivalry is with the Colorado Rockies. Texas plays two games in Denver, followed by two games in Arlington. The week ends with three games at home against the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, including former Rangers Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara and A.J. Pierzynski.

The Rockies are a surprising 19-14 on the season and have a lot of offensive fireworks in their line-up, including Troy Tulowitski, Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Morneau and Charlie Blackmon. The Rangers also will have no DH in the first two games, relegating Mitch Moreland and Michael Choice to the bench. If there’s a bright spot, I really like the way Wash had the starting rotation set up to enter this series. The games in Denver features starts by Martin Perez and Robbie Ross, Jr., two pitchers who get a lot of ground ball outs. In the rarefied air of Coors Field, Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish would find pitching at Coors more problematic. In terms of pitching, the rotation is set up for more success in Colorado. Lewis and Matt Harrison will face the Rockies in Arlington. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will have to face both Darvish and Perez. A 4-3 record or even a 5-2 record on the week is possible if the rotation is as successful as they’ve been set up for.

Elsewhere in the division, the A’s are at home all week against the Mariners and Washington Nationals, the Angels have three at home against the Yankees followed by a 3-game set in Toronto, the Mariners travel to Oakland for 4 then return home for another 4-game set against the Royals, while the lowly Astros take to the road all week with four in Detroit and a 3-game set in Baltimore.

The Friday/Saturday Sundry: 5/2/14

AL West Standings 5-2-14

WTF (Why The Face?)?

It’s amazing how, in the span of four days, an entire month of pretty good feeling is eviscerated. Such is the case of the 2014 Texas Rangers. After taking the last two games of a three game set with the Chicago White Sox, the Rangers went to Oakland and promptly swept a three game road series with the 2-time defending AL West champions. A 5-game winning streak with a line-up occupied heavily by names such as Wilson, Murphy, Kouzmanoff, Choice and Chirinos and a pitching staff held together with rubber bands and Elmer’s Glue was accomplishing the impossible. Then Kyle Seager followed by a home rematch with the A’s happened. Now the Rangers are reeling, losers of four in a row for the first time this season. Adding insult to injury, not only did Oakland return  the favor of a road sweep, they did it in such convincing fashion to make even the hardiest of Rangers fans openly weep in the streets. The A’s played another game of “Who’s Your Daddy?” with Yu Darvish, they not only ended Martin Perez‘ streak of scoreless innings at 26 2/3, they demolished the young southpaw. Then they closed out the old-fashioned butt-whipping with a 12-1 pasting of Robbie Ross with a relatively no-name journeyman pitcher by the name of Jesse Chavez, who was originally drafted by the Rangers.

Now it’s on to Anaheim and the first meeting of the season with the suddenly resurgent Angels. LA is pounding the ball. Albert Pujols is looking like the Albert Pujols of old, Mike Trout is looking like the Mike Trout of always and Howie Kendrick is also hitting a ton. Adopting Murphy’s Law, this of course means the Angels will probably get production this weekend from the likes of David Freese and JB Shuck. The Rangers are “lucky” they don’t have to face CJ Wilson or Jered Weaver this weekend: lucky being in quotes because Texas actually has fared pretty well against them. On the other hand, the Angels are lucky they don’t have to face Martin Perez. They’re further lucky because the first two pitchers they do face, Matt Harrison and Colby Lewis, are both coming off injuries that kept them off a mound for a year (Harrison) and a year and a half (Lewis). Texas has the talent to win this series. After the meltdown they had against the A’s, though, have they sufficiently recovered mentally to do the job?

Elvis Andrus: $15 million manWhat’s Wrong With Elvis?

It’s easy to lay blame for the Rangers offensive misfortune at the feet of Prince Fielder. The big guy finished April right about .200 with less than 10 RBI and just two home runs, both solo shots. Still, the big question in Rangers land is what’s going on with Elvis? The Rangers shortstop has never been a power hitter so that isn’t an issue. What he always has been is a slick-fielding shortstop who makes contact at the plate and is especially dangerous with runners in scoring position. The Elvis we’re seeing now is in a 3-35 slump and has already committed seven errors in only 28 games after committing only 14 errors in all of 2013. Fourteen of his last 20 at bats have resulted in groundouts. Shin-Soo Choo is doing a great job at the top of the line-up getting on base. Elvis isn’t moving him along. Thus far, Elvis isn’t sacrifice bunting as much as he did with Ian Kinsler ahead of him in the batting order. Maybe not bunting is affecting his mentality at the plate a bit. Without Andrus moving Choo along, Fielder and Adrian Beltre have less chances to knock him in. And, with two journeymen occupying second base for another month and Fielder not a great defensive presence at first base, the pitching staff needs Elvis to at his best defensively. This is a situation that needs straightening out fast!

Rotation Questions

You would think the rotation is pretty well settled now. There’s no moving Yu Darvish and Martin Perez out of the mix, Matt Harrison’s first start off the DL showed signs of his being the Matt Harrison of old and Colby Lewis, while not pitching more than five innings in his first few starts, certainly has what it takes to be the Rangers’ #5. Up until Wednesday, Robbie Ross looked like he was a rotation lock as well. The A’s torched Ross for eight runs , six earned, on eleven hits in just 3 1/3 innings. In his last start against Seattle, he gave up just two runs in six innings but also hit three batters. Meanwhile, Nick Tepesch has performed brilliantly for AAA Round Rock. Tepesch is now 5-1 for the Express with a 1.59 ERA, a .207 Batting Average Against and a 13-inning scoreless streak. Derek Holland will be ready to go in about a month and the Rangers bullpen is short a lefthander. It would make some sense for Ross to return to the pen and the Rangers to bring Tepesch up from Round Rock to take Ross’ place in the rotation. When Holland returns, if Lewis is still only able to give Texas five innings every time out, Tepesch could replace Lewis, who would then become the Rangers long reliever. I don’t think this is going to happen before Ross’ next start, but I bet it’s something the front office is considering.

Down On The Farm

The Texas minor league guys are doing a pretty decent job thus far. AAA Round Rock sits at 15-12, tied for first in the Pacific Coast League’s Southern Division. Despite an excellent 17-10 overall mark, the AA Frisco RoughRiders sit a half game behind the Midland Rockhounds in the South Division of the Texas League. In High A, Joey Gallo‘s ten home runs gives him a tie for the overall minor league lead and his Myrtle Beach Pelicans are a game up on Salem in the South Division of the Carolina League at 16-9. Finally, the Hickory Crawdads of the Class A South Atlantic League are the only Rangers affiliate sitting below .500. The Crawdads are 12-13 and in 4th place in the Sally League’s Northern Division, 7 games behind my original hometown team, the Hagerstown Suns.

 

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 4/21-4/27

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

In six games, there was not a single over the top outstanding performance that warranted a Player of the Week (Single Game). From a “What’s Going To Happen?” perspective, Michael Choice seems like a good pick this week. Shin-Soo Choo went down with a badly sprained ankle in the first of the 3-game set against the Oakland A’s. It was up to the rookie Choice to not only fill Choo’s shoes in left field but also replace his bat at the top of the Rangers order. Choo has already won over Rangers fans with his patience at the plate and finding ways to get on base. Could Choice do the job? That question got answered in his first game at the lead-off spot. In five at bats, Choice saw a total of 19 pitches, turning that patience into reaching base three times in those five plate appearances: two walks and a single. Choice scored the first run of the game in the first inning and drive in the winning run with a 9th inning single. I don’t see Choice as quite ready for everyday playing status yet but he has been a more than adequate replacement while Choo’s ankle mends.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

Choo, Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre are the players expected to produce the most power. Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin are in charge of the speed. It’s easy to forget the Rangers have one guy in their line-up who provides a little speed, a little pop and pretty good defense as well. Alex Rios could quietly put up the overall best numbers of any Rangers player in 2014. Rios is on a hot streak right now. Over the last six games, Rios hit .375 with 9 hits in 24 at bats, including a double, a triple and a stolen base. Rios got a rap for being a lazy player when he came to the Rangers from the White Sox. When you watch him, what you eventually realize is Rios is fast. He’s tall at 6’5″, so when he runs, he looks like he’s taking it easy. The next thing you know, he’s already taken the extra base. His defensive play in right field is a vast improvement over his predecessor, Nelson Cruz. Like his running, Rios may not have stats that stand out in most weeks but by season’s end you’ll look and realize he had a pretty darn good year. This week, he did good enough to lead the pack.

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

Unbelievable. Only four weeks into the season and Martin Perez has won 75% of the Pitching Star of the Week Awards. In consecutive weeks no less. Another week, another 3-hit shutout. Ho hum. This time, Perez tossed the gem against the Oakland A’s, which is even more impressive than the 3-hitter he tossed against the White Sox his last time out. The A’s are a notoriously patient team. Perez not only shut them down on only three hits, he finished his second straight complete game in just 109 pitches, an average of just 12 pitches per inning. He walked two, struck out three and only allowed one runner to get to second base. As usual, Perez had the double play ball working for him. Two of the A’s five baserunners for the game were immediately erased thanks to ground ball double plays. Can Perez keep up the pace throughout the season? Maybe. Since August of last season, nobody has more wins in baseball than the 23-year-old. Thanks to his success, Texas now appears well on its way to a pretty formidable starting rotation.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

All in all, nobody can complain too much about a 4-2 road trip, especially when it involves a 3-game sweep of your main rivals in their own house. An excruciating loss on Sunday to the Mariners only led to “What could’ve been…” thoughts. Still, it was a successful week and one in which the Rangers returned two big components to the line-up. Following the sweep of the A’s, the Rangers activated Adrian Beltre from the disabled list. Two days later, Matt Harrison returned to make his first start in over a year on Sunday. Beltre still is treating his injured quad gingerly. He’s not running at 100% speed but his presence helped the line-up immediately. The downside was Texas lost Beltre’s more than capable replacement, Kevin Kouzmanoff, to back issues. The defending AL Player of the Week is on the DL and may miss significant time to a herniated disc. The Rangers should know soon whether Kooz requires surgery or not. In other words, Beltre now NEEDS to stay healthy as there’s not much help available with some offensive pop at third base if he goes down again. Harrison was brilliant early and got through six innings in pretty good shape against the Mariners and was in line for the win Sunday until the Rangers’ worst nemesis, Kyle Seager, launched a 3-run shot off Alexi Ogando in the 8th to propel Seattle to a 6-5 win and ended the Rangers string of four consecutive series won. Since the start of the 2013 season, Seager is hitting .381 against the Rangers in 105 at bats with 11 doubles, nine home runs and 22 runs batted in, including three homers and 7 RBI in 7 games this year. I don’t actively dislike many players but Seager is really starting to bug me. I even fantasize about the Rangers signing noted headhunter Vicente Padilla to a contract the day before the Rangers face the Mariners and Seager again.

This week continues the Rangers AL West tour. Texas is home for a quick three game set against the A’s, then it’s off to California for the second time in two weeks, this time for a first look at the Los Angeles Angels. The A’s will be looking for some payback after getting swept by Texas in Oakland a week ago. Still, even with the A’s and Rangers tied atop the AL West, Oakland is reeling a bit, having followed up their sweep by the Rangers by dropping to of three in Houston to the lowly Astros. Plus, the A’s have to contend with both Yu Darvish and Martin Perez in the series. The Angels have a lot of offense early and will pose a challenge to Texas pitching. Thus far, the Rangers have posted a 9-4 record within the division, the best mark in the AL West. They’ll need to keep it up this week to keep the pressure on their rivals.

 

The Friday/Saturday Sundry: 4/25/14 -Or- The Apropos Rerun

 

The good news is Adrian Beltre returns to the Texas Rangers line-up tonight after a two-week stay on the DL. Matt Harrison will follow with his first start in over a year on Sunday. The bad news: the man who so ably filled in for Beltre, reigning AL Player of the Week Kevin Kouzmanoff, is himself disabled list-bound. Kouzmanoff, who sat out the last two games of the Oakland series, has a herniated disc in his back. If it doesn’t respond by the end of the weekend, Kouzmanoff will undergo surgery. A herniated disc is what put Matt Harrison on the shelf after just three starts last year.

 

When it comes to injuries, this team seems snake-bit in 2014. So much so I thought it would be appropriate, for those who missed it in the off-season, to run my tongue-in-cheek piece on the Rangers selling the naming rights to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington to insurance corporation Globe Life. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if it wasn’t as tongue-in-cheek as originally thought. This was first written before anything had happened to Geovany Soto, Beltre, Pedro Figueroa, Tanner Scheppers, Jim Adduci, Joe Saunders, Engel Beltre and now Kouzmanoff. Anyway, here’s hoping the weekend in Seattle goes as well as the early week visit to Oakland. Go Rangers!

Globe Life Park copy

The Texas Rangers sold the naming rights to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington February 5th, inking a ten-year deal that turns RBiA into Globe Life Park for the next decade. The deal was surprising because, until the day before the announcement, the public wasn’t even aware the Rangers were pursuing any naming rights deals. I wonder if this is how it went down.

The Scene: Principal owner Bob Simpson’s office. Simpson is sitting at his desk, having a chat with General Manager Jon Daniels.

“Yes, Mr. Simpson?”

“JD, what’s going on around here? Every time I turn around, I hear about somebody else getting hurt and it isn’t even Spring Training yet!”

“Well, sir, I…”

(Phone rings. Simpson puts it on speaker)

“Ann I told you, no interruptions!!!”

“Yes, sir, but there’s a gentleman out here and he appears very insistent on seeing you.”

(Door Opens)

GANGSTER“Bob, JD, how are youse guys doing? It’s a bee-yoo-ti-ful day in Arlington, ain’t it?”

“Sir, I own the ballclub and you can’t just come barging in…”

“Tsk, tsk, Boobala. Is that any way to act towards someone who wants to do youse guys a favor?”

“A favor? What kind of favor could you do for me?”

“I noticed youse guys have been getting a lot of players, how shall I put it delicately, incapacitated. I can guarantee I can make that go away. Mr. Daniels, I understand you gots a player in Venezuela. Let me check my notes here…a Joseph Ortiz, am I right?”

“Yeah, he pitched for us last year. He was up for a bullpen role this year too.”

“And he got his foot run over by a car. My my my. Ain’t dat a shame? The accidental things that can happen to a player. Unless it weren’t no accident, if you know what I mean.”

“I don’t know what you’re implying, but who are you anyway???”

“Just call me Vinny for now. Now, there’s also Mr. Chirinos. I believe he’s a catcher.”

“He has a chance at being our third string catcher out of spring training.”

“Got hit on the wrist by a pitch. Tragic, just tragic.”

“It wasn’t serious. He’ll be ready for Spring Training.”

“Unless something else happens to that fragile wrist of his. Not saying it’s going to, but hey, anything is possible in this big bad world of ours. Which brings me to Derek Holland. What a shame it was to have him (makes quotation marks with his fingers) trip over his dog. (Closes the quotes with his fingers) Microfracture surgery on his knee. Going to miss half a season. A dog gone shame it is. Hey, youse see what I just did there? Tripped over his dog? Dog-gone shame??? HAR HAR HAR!!!”

“OK, Mr…”

“Vinny. My name is Vinny.”

“All right, Vinny. Why don’t you tell me what you’re really here for?”

“It’s like dis, Bob. You don’t mind if I call you Bob, do you?”

“I mind very much!”

“Bob it is. You see, Bob…JD…I represent a growing concern we call the Globe Life Insurance Company. And I…WE…can guarantee the future safety of your players. In fact, I will personally see to it that some of these accidents stop happening. Just like that!”(Snaps his fingers)

“I don’t see how you can, considering they were accidents to begin with…”

“JD, JD, JD. I can’t believe your brilliant baseball mind doesn’t understand. Sure, Derek had an…accident, shall we say. Who’s to say that a week into spring training, Jurickson Profar just happens to slip on a bar of soap in the shower, throwing his whole shoulder out of whack. Or maybe your new guy….Choo is his name? Who’s to say this Choo fellow doesn’t take his girl to an amusement park and gets into an incident involving the little choo choo that goes around the park? Maybe dese tings happen, maybe dey don’t. Just saying…”

“I think I get where you’re coming from, Vinny. So how much?”

“Mr. Simpson, you’re not thinking about paying this guy off, are you?”

“Quiet JD. This is between Vinny and me. So what’s the bottom line Vinny?”

“Well, the people I represent at Globe Life think it would be really cool to have people partake of a game here in Arlington at Globe Life Park. Whatta youse guys feel about that?”

“I hate it.”

“Fortunately, it’s Bobby here who makes the decisions. So whatta ya say, Bobby? Have we got a deal?”

“And we have no more…accidents?”

“Scout’s honor. No more accidents for the next nine months.”

“Nine months isn’t good enough. I’m not going to do this and have you come back nine months again and do another shakedown!”

“Bobby, Bobby. This ain’t a shakedown. It’s a business arrangement! Tell you what, let’s shoot for da stars. We’ll make it a ten year arrangement. How does that sound?”

“And we won’t see you again for another ten years?”

“You gots my word on it.”

“And if we decide after this year we no longer want to be associated with you?”

“Oh you wouldn’t want to do that. Something bad could happen. I might could persuade A-Rod to return to Texas.”

“Ten years it is Vinny. Great doing business with you! Can’t wait to see the Globe Life Park signage for the next ten years. Hell, I’ll go 20 as long as you keep A-Rod away from here!”

“Gentlemen, it’s been a pleasure.”

(Takes out cell phone. Places a call.)

“Mr. Ryan? Nolan? Vinny here. We got a deal. Worked like a charm!”

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 4/14-4/20

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

 This is an important year for Leonys Martin. A few years ago, the Rangers spent a good deal of money on the Cuban import, although not as much as countrymen Yoenis Cespedes and Aroldis Chapman, among others, received. Martin spent two seasons in the minors before breaking into the starting line-up in 2013. He went through one great hot streak in the middle of the season but overall hit a mild .260 with eight home runs and 36 stolen bases, but also over a hundred strikeouts. For the Rangers to compete for a pennant, Martin’s numbers must improve. So far, so good. Martin’s season has started at a .322/.385/.421 clip. His strikeout rate is about the same, but his walk rate has improved thus far from about once every 16 at bats to once every 9 at bats. In Friday’s 12-0 pasting of the Chicago White Sox, Martin fell a double short of the cycle, going 3 for 5 with a single, triple and home run, scoring twice and knocking in four runs. With Geovany Soto and Jurickson Profar out at least through May and the Rangers making do with Donnie Murphy, Josh Wilson, Robinson Chirinos and J.P. Arencibia, Martin’s production is even more vital at the bottom of the order. Thus far, he’s doing the job.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

Prince Fielder is off to a slow start as a new member of the Rangers. While Prince hit his first two home runs in a Rangers uniform in the past week, his power numbers are NOT why he’s being honored as the full week Star of the Week. No, it’s his PERCEIVED power that brings him the award. For the week, Fielder hit a mild .273, albeit with two doubles and two home runs among his six hits on the week. What really pops out on the week is the seven walks compared to only four strikeouts. Of those seven walks, five of those were intentional walks. With Adrian Beltre on the shelf, Fielder has no real protection behind him in the line-up. Add to that the fact Fielder entered the week without a single home run on his ledger, you would think pitchers wouldn’t worry too much about pitching to him. Guess again. I could give the weekly award to Kevin Kouzmanoff, who made opposing pitchers pay for walking Fielder by knocking home eight runs on the week. He would deserve the award, but not more than Prince Fielder. After all, pitchers intentionally walking the big first baseman changed the complexion of the games played and were integral to the Rangers’ 5-game win streak from Tuesday through Saturday. Fielder also was, surprisingly, a fielder on the week, with several outstanding defensive plays at first base. Here’s Fielder’s first home run in a Rangers uniform:

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

Now for the first repeat winner of 2014. Thanks to the strong work of Martin Perez, Rangers fans haven’t been sweating as hard about the return of Matt Harrison to the rotation. Sure, Harry’s missed and is vital to Texas in 2014, but Perez has made Rangers fans realize he is a very good #2 to Yu Darvish. That will take a lot of stress off of Harrison’s back as he’ll only need to worry about being a decent #3. The 23-year-old Perez tossed his second complete game of his career and his first complete game shutout with a superb 3-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox on Friday. Perez got staked to a quick lead and never let the pile-up of runs affect him on the mound. Many pitchers lose focus when staked to a big lead, but Perez went the full nine on an economical 109 pitches in securing the 12-0 win. Perez has now tossed 17 consecutive scoreless innings.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

After going through a roller coaster of win, lose, win, lose, win, lose, the Rangers finally put together a string of wins. After dropping the opener of their series with the Mariners, Texas ripped off five wins in a row, all at home, with three coming against the Mariners and two versus the White Sox before falling to Chicago 16-2 in Sunday’s finale. With Kevin Kouzmanoff making teams regret intentionally walking Price Fielder and Robinson Chirinos staking a claim as more than just a platoon catcher, the Texas offense is starting to gel just a bit. Meanwhile, the pitching has been bi-polar. Most of the time it’s been very very good, but when it’s been bad, it’s been rotten. With this team, there aren’t a lot of 6-5 or 5-4 games. Either the pitching staff is throwing goose-eggs or they’re giving up runs in bunches.

Texas will be on the road the entire week and all six games will be against division rivals, starting tonight with a 3-game set in Oakland against the 2-time defending AL West champions. The Rangers send their two top pitchers, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez, against Oakland Monday and Wednesday. For the weekend series with the Mariners, the Rangers will welcome back Adrian Beltre, expected to get activated off the DL for Friday’s opener at Safeco Field. Matt Harrison could also return to the fold and start one of the games against the Mariners. Harry threw eight shutout frames of 3-hit baseball in his last rehab start for AA Frisco and is accompanying the team on the West Coast trip. The Rangers coaching staff will watch over his off-day bullpen session. If they like what they see, Harrison’s next start will be in a Rangers uniform this weekend. This team is coming close to resembling the Rangers team most folks were expecting at the start of the season.

 

What A Pleasant Surprise

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.

 

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 4/7-4/13

Star of the WeekEvery Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

 Robinson Chirinos is making a claim to start most of the games as catcher while Geovany Soto is on the mend.While this award is for a single game, Chirinos actually had two outstanding games during the week. In Tuesday’s 10-7 win over the Boston Red Sox, Chirinos led off the third with a towering home run over the Green Monster to stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead. It was the start of a 5-run uprising in the inning. Chirinos also added the last RBI of the inning when he walked with the bases loaded. In the fifth, with Texas up 8-1, Chirinos led off with a double and later scored the ninth run of the game. That’s the OFFICIAL game Chirinos gets Star of the Week for. As an honorable mention, Friday’s and Sunday’s twin 1-0 wins over the Astros both featured Chirinos prominently. In Friday’s 12-inning nail biter, Chirinos provided the 12th-inning single that plated the only run of the game in walk-off fashion. Sunday it was time for his defense to shine, as the Rangers catcher threw out two would-be Houston base stealers, helping Martin Perez earn his second win of the season. Below is Chirinos’ home run in the Boston game:

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

Kevin Kouzmanoff was the last man NOT to make the Texas Rangers 25-man squad out of Spring Training. The only reason he didn’t make the team was because he was strictly a corner infielder, while Texas needed someone like Josh Wilson, who could play three infield positions. When Adrian Beltre went down with a tight quadriceps muscle in Tuesday’s win over the Red Sox, Texas summoned Kouzmanoff from AAA Round Rock in a hurry. Despite not having played in the majors in almost three years, Kouzmanoff got off to a quick start for the Rangers, getting hits in each of his first four games with Texas. Kooz actually has a six game big-league hitting streak going now, with a 900+ day gap between games two and three of the streak! For the week, he hit .417 with a double and RBI. With Sunday’s announcement of Beltre going on the disabled list retroactive to Wednesday 4/9, Kouzmanoff will be the Rangers starting third baseman for the next week and a half minimum. If he continues to play the way he has the first four games, not only does it help the Rangers short-term, it will make it hard for Jon Daniels to send him back to Round Rock once Beltre is back.

 

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

Originally, Yu Darvish was my winner for the second consecutive week for his dominant effort against the Astros, where he threw one-hit ball at the Astros over eight innings, striking out nine. Then along came Martin Perez on Sunday. To be sure, Darvish had a “better” game than Perez but the 23-year-old was just as spectacular against a woeful offensive attack from Houston. Plus, unlike Darvish, Perez got credited with the win. In his third start of the season, Perez went eight strong innings, giving up no runs on five hits and three walks with two strikeouts. The young lefty also started resembling southpaws who have come before him over the past few years in Texas, Matt Harrison and C.J. Wilson. Both were among the league leaders in getting hitters to ground into double plays. Over his past two starts, Perez has induced nine double plays including four by the Astros in Sunday’s game. Add in the two caught stealing by Robinson Chirinos and Perez never allowed an Astros baserunner to get into scoring position. Click here to see highlights of the Perez win.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Texas went 3-3 the second week, treading water while dealing with their injury woes. Texas went 1-2 in Boston against the Red Sox, while winning two of three from the Astros at home. The offense has struggled mightily since Beltre went down as shown by the two 1-0 games against the lowly Astros. With no Beltre, Houston intentionally walked Prince Fielder three times over the weekend. Fielder has yet to hit a home run as a Rangers player, though he stung the ball hard both Saturday and Sunday. The once-feared Rangers power attack has only managed five home runs in the first 12 games. That HAS to improve or treading water will soon become an extended losing streak, no matter how great the pitching.

The Rangers are at home all week with four games against division-rival Seattle and three against the Chicago White Sox.  The biggest highlight of the week is Wednesday night’s game, when Yu Darvish squares off against Felix Hernandez. Darvish has thrown 15 scoreless innings thus far (15 innings in which the Rangers have not scored a run for him either), while Hernandez has struck out 30 batters in his first 21 1/3 innings. Also on tap: the return of Colby Lewis, who throws the opener against the Mariners tonight. Lewis hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 18th, 2012. He’s not only coming back from elbow surgery but also a hip resurfacing procedure. Nobody knows whether Lewis will have the stamina to go every fifth day for the rest of the season, let alone if he can still pitch effectively in the big leagues. Nobody has ever tried coming back from hip resurfacing in baseball before. What we do know is, based on how he performed in the World Series years for Texas, Globe Life Park will be rocking tonight and Lewis is sure to get an incredible reception from the fans when he strides to the mound in the top of the first.

Oddity of the Week

Elvis Andrus got ejected from Sunday’s game for arguing a called third strike at the end of the third inning. As a result, from the top of the fourth until the top of the ninth, when Alexi Ogando came in to record the save, Texas for the first time fielded a line-up containing NO players from the Rangers’ 2011 World Series team.

The Friday/Saturday Sundry: 4/11/14

BaseballMinor-League-BaseballDOWN ON THE FARM

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.

 BELTRE’S QUAD

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.

THIS WEEKEND

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)

Bad Moon Rising

Adrian Beltre 2Just 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.

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