Results tagged ‘ A's ’

The Weirdness of the 2012 Season

We haven’t even begin yet this season strikes me as the weirdest one on record.

First, I am admittedly a traditionalist as it applies to Opening Day. There’s something that feels just wrong about not having the Cincinnati Reds hosting the traditional first game of the baseball season. Instead, they are part of Opening Day #3, having been preceded by two games two weeks ago in Japan by the A’s and Mariners and yesterday’s Miami Marlins debut last night. The Reds aren’t even the 1st game of Opening Day 3. They are the 6th game to be played on Thursday.

If that were all that was going on, I could deal with it. Now there’s more.

Today I note that The Rangers farm teams are starting their seasons before the Rangers have even played their first regular season game. I’ve just been so accustomed to seeing the minor league season start a week or two after the big boys, it took me by surprise to see the Round Rock Express in AAA, Frisco Rough Riders in AA and Hickory Crawdads in A all playing Season Openers today while Rangers fans still have another 24 hours to wait before Colby Lewis throws out the first pitch of their 2012 season.

Strangest start to a season I can remember.

Hello Mr. Wilson!

Who knew it would take over 40 years to make me want to act like Dennis The Menace and just drop by CJ Wilson‘s house to bug him. But I do. I want to march over to his house right now and repeat “Please re-sign with the Rangers” over and over and over and over and over and over until he has no recourse but to re-sign, if only to get me off his back and off of his property.

Mr. Wilson took the mound Sunday after the Rangers had seen their AL West lead shrink to a mere game and a half over the second place Angels and proceeded to pitch eight innings of shutout baseball in leading Texas to an 8-1 win and a 2-1 series win over the Oakland A’s. A money performance from a money pitcher, and one who is now working on a 17 inning scoreless streak. Meanwhile, the Angels blew a chance to sweep the Yankees, with a dropped fly ball leading to two Yankees runs which put the lead back to 2 1/2 games, now with only 15 games to go.

To take a little bit of the luster off the Rangers win yesterday and the 11 strikeout performance, the A’s did rest a lot of their regulars in the game, so CJ wasn’t exactly facing an optimal line-up. On the other hand, how many times have you seen your own team rest certain regulars when facing another team’s bona fide ace? For much of the season, the Rangers have been known as having a good starting pitching staff but one without a true ace. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Wilson is turning into an ace right before our eyes, and it couldn’t come at a better time.

Even more heartening than Wilson’s Sunday performance was the one turned in by Adrian Beltre. The third baseman has hit for average since returning from the disabled list, but the power hasn’t been there. Ron Washington has been batting Beltre 5th in the order, saying he’s looking for signs he’s ready to return to the clean-up spot.  One big humongous sign was shown yesterday. Beltre had a double with authority in his first at bat. His third at bat cleared the left field fence, but not by much, for his first post-DL home run. His 4th at bat was a no doubter, easily clearing the fence onto the green in center field for his second dinger of the day. I’d say there’s a pretty good chance Beltre is back in the 4-hole come Tuesday night.

Beltre’s bat is sorely needed because, quite frankly, Josh Hamilton has only been an average hitter over the past month plus. It certainly wasn’t expected for Hambone to match last year’s MVP performance numbers in 2011, but something just doesn’t look quite right with Josh. While much has been made about how poorly Hamilton has done in day games, overall he just hasn’t hit the ball with much authority. Since the beginning of August, he’s been respectable, with 7 doubles, a triple, 6 Homers and 24 RBI, but his batting average has been a pedestrian .274. To add a little perspective, in the same span, Michael Young, Mike Napoli and Ian Kinsler all have more RBI’s than Hamilton, David Murphy has only one less. Napoli and Kinsler have both hit more home runs and Kinsler has more doubles as well. And all the aforementioned except for Kinsler have hit for a higher average as well.

Certainly it’s a good problem to have, as it shows what a consistent threat the Rangers offensive line-up is, even without Nelson Cruz. Still, a nice Hamilton hot streak would be more than welcome right around now. I’m beginning to wonder if the broken bone in his upper arm that he suffered in April has caused a slight adjustment to his swing that’s affected his average and power. Anything’s possible.

Hamilton’s problem isn’t nearly as worrisome as former high school teammates and now Rangers teammates Koji Uehara and Yoshinori Tateyama. Uehara hasn’t been very good since coming over from the Orioles and Tateyama has been even worse over the past two weeks.

When Uehara was traded to the Rangers, he sported a 1.72 ERA, a .152 opponents batting average and he had given up 4 home runs in 47 innings of work. Since arriving in the Lone Star State, Koji’s given up 5 home runs in just 13 innings of work, with a .226 opponents BA and a 5.27 ERA.

But that’s nothing compared to Tateyama. On August 23rd Yoshi’s ERA had reached its lowest point of the season at 2.37. Since that time, he’s pitched 4 innings, given up 11 hits and twelve runs, all earned, for a 27.00 ERA. Adding insult to injury, the last two batters he’s faced have both hit grand slams off him. Saturday’s grand slam broke open a 3-3 game and helped the A’s break a 10-game losing streak against Texas.

With only 2 1/2 weeks remaining in the regular season, Wash doesn’t have a lot of time left to figure out who will fill what bullpen roles come playoff time (assuming the Rangers get there). The recent performances of the two Japanese imports, as well as Mark Lowe and Mike Gonzalez, aren’t making the skipper’s decision any easier.

Off day today so the R’s can root for the A’s against the Angels tonight, then Cleveland comes to town Tuesday.

In closing, I’d just like Mr. Wilson to know this: Please resign with the Rangers, please re-sign with the Rangers, please re-sign with the Rangers, please re-sign with the Rangers…..

Rain Rain Go Away (For Just A Little While): Rangers, A’s Split 1-1

Some 30 years ago, I was the Sports Director at a small town western Nebraska radio station and actually received hate mail from a listener when I said I hoped the rain being forecast for the area would hold off just long enough for a scheduled high school track meet to take place. Said listener reminded me of the number of farmers in this agricultural community who were “on their knees praying for moisture” and how inappropriate my comments were. This despite the fact I didn’t say I didn’t want it to rain, just that it would hold off long enough for the meet to take place.

With that in mind, those of you who don’t live in the Lone Star State may not know how dry this state has been in 2011. Statewide burn bans have been in effect. Thousands of acres have caught fire. In a word, rain is desperately needed here.

Still, I couldn’t help but think yesterday how nice it would have been for the rain to hold off just long enough for the Rangers and A’s to get the game in. Hey, I’m praying for moisture as much as the next guy, but the fan in me can’t help but notice that we seemed to be getting into an offensive groove again and, with an off day on Thursday, something like this storm could bring the momentum to a quick halt.

Talk about frustrating. After a two week malaise, the Rangers finally got their bats back in a 7-2 win on Tuesday. They were rolling again Wednesday, riding Mitch Moreland’s grand slam to a 7-0 lead over the A’s after 3 innings. Then the rains came. And they didn’t go away. And they didn’t go away.

Many fans here are wondering why the game was called off, even though the water had been coming down steadily for over two hours when the game was called. Both teams are off on Thursday, so what would have been the harm in waiting the storm out?

My guess is, so much rain had already fallen the grounds crew couldn’t guarantee a playable field for awhile even after the rains stopped. And this team is banged up enough right now that it would be foolhardy to play with so many puddles in the outfield that might lead to more injuries.

And yet, I still wish they had held up just long enough…

I’d better stop. Even 30 years later, that angry farmer may still be around and want to write me another letter.

What Goes Around Comes Around: Yankees 2 Wins, Rangers 1 Win

I have to confess: I did something Sunday that I have never done while attending a Texas Rangers game: I left early.

Believe it or not, it had nothing to do with the final ugly score. I actually left while it the game was still within reach at 6-5, with the Yankees on top. No, I left because it was Mother’s Day and, after the game, we still had a three-hour drive ahead of us in order to have a Mother’s Day dinner with our Texas kids. As much as I love the Rangers, family still comes first!

Sunday’s series finale was a hot one with occasional breezes taking some of the edge off those of us sitting in the left field foul line seats. The game started out well, with a combination of CC Sabathia walks and horrid Yankees defense contributing to a 3 run first and, after two, the Rangers sported a 4-0 lead on the Bronx ace. Meanwhile, fill-in starter Dave Bush (oh, how I wanted to see Alexi Ogando pitching this game) surprised most Rangers fans with two quick efficient innings.

The Yankees bit back with two runs in the third and added another pair in the 5th, tying things up at 4. Texas brought in Arthur Rhodes in the 7th, who immediately gave up back to back jacks by Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson to make it a 6-4 Yankees lead. Jeter must have gotten some great Gatorade on Sunday. Coming into the game, he had no steals and three extra base hits all year (all doubles). Sunday, he stole his first base and jacked two out of the park. I’d say more nice things about him, but the guy three rows in front of me wearing the Jeter shirt keeps me from doing so. Said fan kept pointing to himself after both home runs, generally trying to take credit for it all like he hit the homers himself. Sorry, dude, your guy would’ve gotten more love from me if not for you!

I really thought we might have a comeback in us when Texas chased Sabathia with a run in the bottom of the 7th to make it 6-5. Joba Chamberlain came close to giving up home runs to Michael Young and Mike Napoli, but both were caught on the warning track. After the 7th, it quickly got ugly. Fortunately, I didn’t witness the carnage of the 8th.

When the smoke cleared, my second live game was a complete mirror of my first game of 2011. That one saw the Rangers beat the Red Sox 12-5. This one saw the Rangers lose 12-5. Texas had four home runs in the Red Sox win. The Yankees had four bombs in their win. Adrian Beltre had a grand slam in the Red Sox game, Francisco Cervelli had one in the Yankees game.

It was a shame, becase the Yankees really did not look that great in the field (4 errors and it probably should’ve been 5) or even on the mound, but that’s just how bad the Rangers are playing right now.

It would be easy to say the Rangers never should have brought Rhodes in to start the 7th. At 42, he’s not a pitcher you should be bringing in on back to back days, let alone when it’s a day game following a night game. Unfortunately, the Rangers bullpen is a mess these days, and there really wasn’t a good alternative.

Now, after Monday’s 7-2 loss to Oakland, the defending AL Champs find themselves a pedestrian 18-18 and in 3rd place in the AL West. This team is just not playing well right now. The hitters are pressing, the defense is pressing, the bullpen is failing and the starting pitching is inconsistent. To top it off, it was hopeful that Tommy Hunter was about ready to return to the Rangers, but then he tweaked his groin again on the final pitch of his rehab start at Round Rock Monday. Now it’s time for an MRI and it could be another month before he’s ready to return.

These are the times that try fans’ souls.

Looking For Silver Linings: A’s 3 Games, Rangers 1 Game

After the euphoric three game home sweep of the Royals, the Rangers celebrated by dropping three of four at home against the Blue Jays, and now three of four on the road to the A’s.

It’s been aparticularly gruesome time to be watching Texas Rangers baseball. The starting pitching that was so strong in the early going has encountered some problems, particularly Matt Harrison or, as one web site so aptly put it, “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Harrison.” As good as Harrison’s first three starts were, his last two have been the polar opposite, including Sunday’s 1 2/3 inning, four run debacle.

It would be easy to lay much of the blame on the lack of Josh Hamilton in the line-up, but the reigning AL MVP doesn’t have anything to do with the Texas defense committing 18 errors in the last 12 games. Even a defensive whiz like Elvis Andrus has been affected. He’s up to 7 errors already on the young season, putting him on pace for almost 40 errors (Elvis had 21 a year ago). As much as I ragged on Michael Young in a previous post for his abysmal D at first base when he plays there, EVERYONE is joing the E parade. Outfielders, infielders, pitchers. If there was a way for the DH to commit an error, right now the Rangers would find a way to do it.

Even without Hamilton, this should be a potent line-up, but the offense is bipolar as well. Sandwiched in between a one and two run performance against the A’s was an 11-run outburst in the second game of the set. The problem has been, outside of Young, nobody is hitting with any consistency, although Elvis is starting to hit a little better. But the biggest culprit to the Rangers offensive inconsistency is Nelson Cruz. The boomstick has fizzled. Since Hambone went down, the Rangers #5 hitter has sputtered, hitting a weak .203 with 26 strikeouts in only 77 at bats. It’s awfully tough to get a sustained rally going when your biggest power hitter is barely contributing.

Still, I take comfort in the following:

1) The Red Sox, who lost three in a row to the Rangers and almost lost three in a row to the Mariners, are an astounding 5-0 against the Angels this year, helping the Rangers stay tied for the AL West top spot at 16-13.

2) That 16-13 record is a game better than the Rangers’ mark a year ago, and we all know where Texas went from there.

3) It’s pretty funny watching the message boards at the other Rangers sites, where the Michael Young haters are really digging deep to explain why the only consistent offensive force right now for Texas is still somebody the team could easily do without. Even I have to admit that, despite his defensive shortcomings, Young played a GREAT defensive game at second base in Monday’s series closing loss.

4) Chris Davis still doesn’t have an RBI for the Rangers this year, but he’s not stinking up the joint in his latest stint. Since striking out in three of his first four at bats, Davis has since gone 4-13 with two doubles, three walks and only two K’s. I still think Texas would be better served with another outfielder on the roster as opposed to Davis, but he is being productive in his limited playing time.

5) Seeing the young pitchers get an opportunity in important situations. Cody Eppley, Ryan Tucker and Pedro Strop have all gotten some meaningful innings. Strop has command issues, but has also gotten out of some jams of his own making. Eppley has given up only a solo home run in his first four appearances. Tucker struck out the side in his first outing against the A’s on Friday and gave up an unearned run in his second outing on Sunday. While the bullpen is in desperate need of Neftali Feliz coming off the DL on Friday to close games out, these three show the loss of Darren O’Day as a 6th/7th inning righthander might not be as severe a loss as initially thought.

6) CJ Wilson, Colby Lewis and Derek Holland all had pretty good starts against the A’s. Not great, but pretty good. Harrison has posed a problem, but there’s been good news reported on the rehabbing Tommy Hunter and Scott Feldman. Help could be on the way soon.

7) Osama’s gone bye bye.

Three games against the Mariners to close out the road trip. Lay an egg in Seattle and I might not be seeing quite so many silver linings. Still, it’s pretty easy to see that, with better defense and Nelson Cruz coming out of his slump, this team could improve a lot very quickly. It’d be great if it started tonight.

Brain Freezes: Rangers 7-2, Blue Jays 6-5

If you were to conduct a poll of Texas Rangers fans as the month of April comes to a close, you would probably get near unanimous agreement on this statement: The Rangers are the worst first place team in the majors.

 

After dropping three of four to the Blue Jays, it’s easy to see why we’d feel that way. With injuries to Neftali Feliz, Tommy Hunter and Darren O’Day along with the general ineffectiveness of Mark Lowe and Michael Kirkman, the Texas pitching staff bears little resemblance to the corps that dispatched the Rays in 5 games and the Yankees in 6 to get to their first World Series. Already, the Rangers have used almost as many pitchers in the month of April (17) as they used in the entire 2010 season (22).

 

Offensively, Josh Hamilton has missed half of the first 25 games of the season. Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon are all off to slow starts at the plate. And, as was prominently on display in Thursday’s series wrap-up with the Blue Jays, mental errors have been piling up. Thursday alone, Kinsler missed an easy double play chance, allowing a Jays runner to safely reach second. Fortunately, that didn’t cost the Rangers. It just might have cost them the go-ahead run when Kinsler led off the 5th with a double and promptly got picked off second base. I don’t have the stats, but I know Texas baserunners have been picked off at least four times already this season- David Murphy twice.

 

Nothing topped the mental lapses of the 9th inning Thursday when first, Adrian Beltre committed his first error of the season on an easy grounder, bringing home an insurance run. Then, when time hadn’t been called, the Jays’ Jose Bautista made a mistake taking off for 3rd when it was already occupied. Instead of getting an easy out and getting out of the inning with no further damage done, Darren Oliver threw the ball past second and into center field, allowing the 5th and final run to score.

 

And yet, through all the bleakness, the Rangers are still in first place in the AL West. With a successful West Coast swing for seven games against the A’s and the Mariners, they could even put some more distance between themselves and the rest of the pack.

 

To do that, though, they’ll have to get their heads back into the game. It’s been woefully lacking of late.

Viva Las Vegas!: Rangers Sweep Royals

Who knew the way to best way to draw the Rangers out of their lackadaisical play of late would be for the wife and me to take a three day jaunt to Sin City?

That certainly seems to be what happened. I started having a feeling about the weekend when, on Friday, I managed to win an incredible $11 on the quarter slots… and the Rangers scored 11 runs in their 11-6 series opening win over Kansas City. While we were busy enjoying Janet Jackson, Texas was getting into a “Rhythm Nation” groove. Since fans had been saying “Miss You Much” about the offense, the Rangers pounded out 15 hits, including five longballs. “The Pleasure Principle” for Texas fans, for sure!

The lucky streak continued into Saturday, when I added another $4 to my winnings on the nickel slots and the Rangers scored… well, they didn’t get four runs, they scored three in a 3-1 win. But this is Vegas, baby! Things don’t always add up right! All I know is a win is a win and Alexi Ogando once again was sterling in the starting role he was assigned when Tommy Hunter went down in Spring Training. Through four starts, Ogando’s WHIP is a miniscule 0.79. Amazing.

There was no winning for me on Sunday. I gave up all the previous $15 I had won and a little bit more to boot but the Rangers didn’t care, magically securing the sweep with an 8-7 triumph. Must be the magic left over from the Penn & Teller show we saw Saturday night. Thank you, Penn & Teller! The magic bats appeared again, this time to the tune of 11 hits and three home runs, while CJ Wilson worked his prestidigitation on the mound, striking out ten Royals while only issuing one free pass. Over the past two starts, Wilson has walked only two and struck out 19.

All in all, a pretty impressive weekend, made better by the fact that the Angels, who had taken over first place with a win over Texas on Wednesday, proceeded to lose four in a row to the Red Sox team the Rangers swept to open the season. From one game behind to 2 1/2 games up in a span of four days. Very nice.

The weekend was not without trouble spots. Rangers closer Neftali Feliz was placed on the 15-day DL with shoulder inflammation. Texas insists this was just a precautionary move, but it still is disconcerting. Any shoulder issue has a chance of being something much worse and the Texas relief corps is not a strong suit right now. In addition, as good as he’s hitting right now, Michael Young really has no business playing first base for this team. I can see him backing up Ian Kinsler at second on occasion, but his defense at first is brutal. Young committed his third error at first base in only three games. He’s also not done well on scoops, which I believe has cost the Rangers a couple more errors in the field that they shouldn’t have had. Michael, I implore you, for the good of the team, tell Wash you’ll bypass playing first base!

Going back to the good, rookie Cody Eppley had a spectacular debut with two scoreless innings in Saturday’s game and ancient warriors Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes picked up saves in the last two games of the series.

I’ve spent very little time talking about free agent acquisition Adrian Beltre thus far. The new Rangers 3rd baseman started out slow, but as of this writing, on a team featuring the likes of Nelson Cruz, Michael Young and Ian Kinsler (and Josh Hamilton when healthy), Beltre finds himself quietly leading the Rangers, and the American League, in home runs and RBI. Pretty impressive. Oh, and he has yet to commit an error in the first 21 games. Someone needs to make up for what we’re seeing from Young at first!

Tough week coming up- the Blue Jays are in town for four, followed by a three game set on the road in Oakland. The Jays gave the Rangers fits in 2010 and have an offense to equal the Rangers. There could be a lot of balls flying out of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this week. Colby Lewis faces Kyle Drabek in the opener. Lewis hasn’t gone more than six innings yet in a start and hasn’t once looked like the pitcher who was so brilliant against the Yankees in the ALCS. Even though we’re back from Vegas, I hope we’re still on a lucky roll.

 

Get The Brooms: Rangers 5, Red Sox 1

More than one article during the inexorably long Spring Training period made comment to the effect that in 2011, the Rangers will be the hunted instead of the hunter and how will they respond to that.

It’s a long season, but for the first three games, it sure looked like the new hunted was Bugs Bunny and the new hunter was Elmer Fudd. I only wish I had the audio of the Bugs baseball cartoon that has that wascally wabbit continually saying “WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!” because that’s exactly what the Rangers did to the Red Sox: 26 Runs, 11 HR’s in three games. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

 

dell-comics-bugs-bunny-155.jpgAnd to top it off, Matt Harrison did the honor of actually being the best Rangers pitcher of the weekend, better than both CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis. Harrison tossed a gem, seven innings of 5 hit one run ball with 8 strikeouts. I hope Harrison has finally turned a corner, but this is only one start. A year ago, Harrison outpitched Felix Hernandez in a no-decision in Seattle, but it was his only good start of the year. That said, yesterday may have been the best start Harrison has EVER had at the major league level and I sure hope it’s a sign of things to come.

Had a chance to hear a lot of AL West baseball on the long 8 hour drive to and back from Arlington. Heard the vaunted A’s defense commit five errors in their opener against the Mariners. Heard two of the Royals three wins over the Angels as well. Well done, Matt Treanor (3-run shot in the 13th to beat the Angels Sunday)! The Royals have endured a lot of misery over the past 15 years and radio broadcaster Denny Matthews has been there for all of them. So when I hear him comment that, from what he’s seen, the Angels have a long way to go as a team, that’s coming from someone who knows because he’s been living it. Maybe the Angels just aren’t as good as some think they are.

It’s early yet. Three games do not a season make. But it’s hard not to feel pretty giddy today after the beat-down that was inflicted on the pre-season favorites to win the AL Championship over the weekend. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!

Is The Sky Falling Or Are The Clouds Just Dark?

 Even coming off a World Series appearance, we Rangers fans are a pessimistic lot. Give us one thing wrong and soon we’re ready to roll that snowball down the hill watching for the avalanch to start.

Thus it is, one week from Opening Day, that we’re already biting our nails, wondering if this confluence of events is a sign of a disastrous regular season to come:

1) Neftali Feliz will remain the closer.

    Regular readers know I have no problem with this one, but there sure are a considerable number of fans out there who liken this decision to going to war with one of your generals wearing a colonel’s uniform.

2) Tommy Hunter pulls a groin.

    Not two hours after the Rangers announcement of Feliz staying in the bullpen, Tommy Hunter goes and pulls a groin muscle and appears headed for the DL to start the season. Those in the Feliz as starter camp start howling even louder.

3) The Rest of the Bullpen

    A big reason for the Feliz staying as closer decision has to do with the Spring Training performance of the bullpen. Among the ERA’s: Alexi Ogando 5.59, Darren O’Day 9.00, Arthur Rhodes 12.60, Mark Lowe 14.14. Among the returning set-up men, only Darren Oliver at 2.25 has had what would be considered decent spring numbers while Pedro Strop is making a real play to be added to the mix at 2.00.

4) Brandon Webb Suffers Another Setback

    The former Diamondbacks ace, who’s missed most of the past two seasons with shoulder problems, has yet to pitch in a game for the Rangers. A few days ago, he couldn’t get loose and had a planned batting practice pitching session cancelled. At best, Webb won’t be ready to pitch for the Rangers until May.

5) Julio Borbon’s 5 errors and Michael Young’s 2 errors at 1st Base

    Immediate howls to send Borbon down to AAA and debates on why it’s horsehockey that Josh Hamilton would be more prone to injury in center field as opposed to left field. Move Hamilton to center! David Murphy in left! OK, let’s see Murphy in center and keep Hamilton in left!

    This series of setbacks also caused a ripple of “The front office didn’t do a good enough job in the off-season” accusations. “Feliz should be a starter, so why didn’t they go out and address the relief staff in the off-season so Feliz could start now?” is the most common example of finger-pointing. 

    What’s going on here? Isn’t it supposed to go like this? “Baseball season’s getting started, all’s right with the world.” For countless years, this fan felt that way, even when the Rangers didn’t have a chance to climb out of the cellar. It didn’t take much to envision what would happen if everything went right.

    Now we’re coming off a trip to the World Series, yet the feeling seems as pessimistic as I’ve ever seen it. What gives???

    Maybe it’s what happens once there are actual expectations for a team. Now that the Rangers have reached a level never seen before, we so don’t want it to end we see huge chasms where we once saw a little pothole. In truth, going into Spring Training, while there were questions about the starting pitching, there was no question about the depth of the starting pitching. Even with Hunter on the shelf and Webb at least a month away, the depth is still there.

    Based on past results, the bullpen should still be a strength in 2011, but the results in the exhibition games has the faithful feeling uneasy because, in truth, we don’t feel like we have a lot of depth in the bullpen. That, more than anything, is why Feliz finds himself as the team’s closer once again in 2011.

    As much as I want to see the chasm, this fan is trying mightily to retain that spirit of optimism the start of the season brings. Texas is remarkably healthy heading into the regular season, Hunter’s groin notwithstanding. There is depth in starting pitching. While past history is not necessarily a guide to future performance, there’s enough past performance to indicate the bullpen is not as bad as they’ve shown when the games haven’t counted. In addition, there are injuries on other clubs. Look at the Angels. Kendry Morales won’t be ready to go at season’s open. There’s concern about Joel Pineiro’s health and Scott Kazmir is stinking up the joint. Meanwhile, the A’s and the Mariners have good pitching but, even with additions, their offenses don’t come close to matching the firepower the Rangers have to offer.

    Oh yeah, and Michael Young and GM Jon Daniels are talking to each other again.  

    In other words, the 2011 Rangers still have to be considered favorites to win the AL West and Spring Training bullpen woes, groin pulls and errors shouldn’t make us think otherwise. I don’t like some of the things I’ve seen from the team this spring, but Mike Maddux has a great reputation as a pitching coach, Julio Borbon rates slightly above average defensively and an injury to Hunter isn’t as bad as an injury to CJ Wilson or Colby Lewis would be.    

The answer to the headline? Dark clouds that should be moving out of the area soon.

The Third Story

Much anticipation among Rangers faithful today. Two exhibition games in the Cactus League thanks to a split squad (the Rangers won both). Each game had one pitcher fans were anxiously awaiting for different reasons.

Neftali Feliz got the start for the Rangers in their game against the Indians in his quest to become a starter in the Rangers rotation. That was the top story. The result: Two scoreless innings but he didn’t wow anyone with them. Feliz got out of a two on mess of his own making in the first and allowed a hit in the second. It’s only one start but my gut tells me Feliz remains the Rangers closer in 2011.

Story #2 came against the Cubs, where rookie Tanner Scheppers was scheduled to make his first appearance of the spring in an effort to make the club’s relief staff in only his second year as a pro. Scheppers is one of the Rangers’ top prospects. He blew through AA in less than half a season and was performing well at AAA when Rangers brass decided to try him out as a starter. He didn’t do well in that role and ended the season on a sour note. His spring debut went about as well as last fall’s end. Scheppers started the 4th and didn’t make it out of the 4th, lasting only 2/3 of an inning and giving up 5 hits, 2 walks and four runs.

All that leads to the story I was most interested in- the Eric Hurley story.

Three years ago, Hurley was one of the bright upcoming stars in the Rangers organization. The Rangers’ first round pick in 2004, Hurley was twice listed as one of the top 100 prospects in the minors. In three seasons at the AA level, Hurley was 11-3 with a 2.71 ERA. And, while his AAA line in 2008 wasn’t great (2-5, 5.30), the Rangers called Hurley up on June 12th when Kason Gabbard went on the DL.

Hurley pitched five games for the Rangers in 2008. In the first four, each start was better than the one before it: 4 runs in 6 innings against the Royals, 2 runs in 5 innings against the Braves, 2 runs in 6 innings against the Astros, and then a magnificent 5 2/3 inning, 1 hit 1 run game against the Phillies (the eventual World Series Champions). Through four games, Hurley was a quite respectable 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA.

The success ended quickly. His fifth start, against the A’s on July 27, 2008, lasted only two innings, in which he gave up two HR’s and six runs overall. After the game, Hurley was placed on the disabled list- torn rotator cuff. He would miss the rest of the season.

It got no better after that. After the rotator cuff came a broken wrist. Then the wrist didn’t heal properly. Hurley missed the entire 2009 season as well. He also missed most of 2010 before finally starting his rehab in the Arizona Fall League, where he went 3-0 with a sub-2.00 ERA.

Today Eric Hurley faced major league hitters for the first time since that last 2008 start against the A’s. He faced six Indians. He retired all six on only 21 pitches.

Eric Hurley isn’t expected to break camp with the Rangers in 2011, but he could still be a key ingredient in the Rangers’ quest to successfully defend their American League Championship. He took a great first step today and made a lot of people forget what the two biggest stories were supposed to be.

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