Results tagged ‘ Matt Harrison ’

Looking Ahead To 2015: Starting Rotation

image_20121221102423Here’s the most telling stat on how the Texas Rangers fell from a perennial playoff team with 90 wins to the 67-95 mess of 2014: Texas used THREE complete starting rotations in one year.

That’s right, 15 different pitchers got at least one start for the Rangers in 2014. If a member of the rotation never misses a start, he’s on track to make 32 or 33 starts. For Texas, not a single starter managed even 30 starts and the pitcher who had the most starts, 29, didn’t even play in 2013, was coming back from hip replacement surgery and posted a 6.54 ERA after his first 16 starts.

Yes, 2014 was a disaster from the get go for the Rangers pitching staff. It began before Spring Training even arrived, with Derek Holland messing up his knee in a home accident involving a flight of stairs and his dog. Thanks to a stiff neck, ace Yu Darvish got scratched from the Opening Day assignment and replaced by Tanner Scheppers, making his first ever major league start. Among the names getting a start in 2014 were Robbie Ross (12), Miles Mikolas (10), Scott Baker (8), Joe Saunders (8), Lisalverto Bonilla (3), Jerome Williams (2) and Phil Irvin (1).

More well-known names started but fell by the wayside. Second-year Martin Perez threw back to back complete game shutouts in April, then went down for the dreaded Tommy John surgery in May. Matt Harrison appeared on the comeback trail from back issues and thoracic outlet surgery, but lasted only four starts before back issues resurfaced. His career is in jeopardy. Lastly, Darvish began experiencing elbow discomfort and wound up making only 22 starts before calling it a season.

So why is there so much hope in Arlington this year? Believe it or not, it starts with starting pitching. A year ago, the lack of depth in the minors contributed to the poor performance of the pitching staff. This year, two guys who made over 20 starts for Texas a year ago aren’t even sure if they’ll make the team for the Season Opener. Here’s the rotation as we know it:

Darvish Fist Pump#1: Yu Darvish

There’s no question Darvish is the ace of the staff. On any given night, there’s the potential for greatness. Darvish has the biggest arsenal of pitches most anyone has seen. At any given time, a hitter can expect one of 8 to 10 different types of pitches. Yu is temperamental and will often shelve a pitch for good in the first inning if he feels it isn’t working that day. Still, he’s good for 15 wins or more for the season.

MLB: Los Angeles Angels at Texas Rangers#2: Derek Holland

It was Dutch who suffered the first injury going into 2014. If the results he showed upon his return in September continue in 2015, this could be a special year for the lefthander. Holland made five starts down the stretch in 2014 and posted a 2-0 record with a 1.46 ERA, going seven innings in four of the five starts and giving up two earned runs or less in all of them. Holland has been inconsistent throughout his big league career but his 4-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series ranks as one of the best performances in Rangers history. He’s got the stuff. By all accounts, last year’s injury has upped his desire. If Derek gets consistency, he could easily add another 15 wins to the Rangers total.

Yovani Gallardo#3: Yovani Gallardo

Gallardo is the new kid in town, a guy who lives in Fort Worth in the off-season and now truly gets to plays his home games at home. Gallardo is an innings eater and, as he’s gotten older, has become more of a ground ball pitcher than a strikeout machine. Ask Matt Harrison and CJ Wilson how that ground ball thing works out in Arlington. There’s reason for excitement about having at least a year of Gallardo (he becomes a free agent at season’s end). He was once the ace of the Milwaukee Brewers staff. Now he’s a #3. That’s something to feel good about.

Working For The Weekend: Rangers 4-8, Tigers 8-4#4: Colby Lewis

It’s incredible to believe that Colby Lewis led the Rangers staff in starts with 29 in 2014. As mentioned above, this is a guy who didn’t even play a game in 2013. After blowing out an elbow near the end of the 2012 season, Lewis’ arthritic hip added to his woes,  finally getting to the point where his career was in jeopardy. After getting his hip shaved, Lewis began a long rehab process. As much as a thank you for his contributions during the World Series years as anything, Lewis got the chance to rehab in the minors. Who knew the injuries on the big league club would bring him back to Texas in mid-April. The results weren’t good the first half of the season. Just looking at box scores and statistics, one might think Lewis merely suffered from bad luck from the BABIP gods but those of us actually watching the games knew differently. Colby got shelled often. His pitches weren’t fooling anyone and he wasn’t hitting his spots. Remember, though, this is a guy who was still getting used to pitching without pain when putting pressure on the hip. Once he started getting used to it, the results were outstanding. From July 19 on, Lewis was only 4-8 but his ERA was 3.86. The BABIP through July 18 was .410. The rest of the way it was .267. Now Texas has the fully rehabbed Lewis for a full season and as their #4 starter instead of #2.

#5: Up For Grabs

This is the reason for optimism about the Rangers. A former #1 is now a #3, the former #2 is now the #4 and two of the guys fighting for the last spot were the #3 and #4 pitchers a year ago. This bodes well for the Rangers. It certainly gives them more depth than they had a year ago. Nick Tepesch (5-11, 4.36) and Nick Martinez (5-12, 4.55) are the incumbents. Martinez was here by necessity a year ago after never having pitched above AA all year. Despite staying all year, he’d surely benefit by at least beginning the year at AAA. For Tepesch, this is his third year with the Rangers. He needs to show improvement, particularly in facing the opposition batting order the second and third time. He still has at least one option so he could also go to AAA for a while. Martinez and Tepesch will compete with Lisalverto Bonilla, who pitched decently in three starts, newcomers Ross Detwiler (Nationals) and Anthony Ranaudo (Red Sox) and possibly top prospect Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Some have Gonzalez pegged as a possible surprise winner, but GM Jon Daniels would like to get him some more seasoning and not rush him. Before the first exhibition game is in the books, Detwiler and Tepesch are the likely front-runners.

In The Wings

He isn’t available until after the All-Star break at the earliest but Martin Perez will be ready to pitch again this season. Meanwhile, there’s no telling what will happen with Matt Harrison. Nobody has ever attempted to return from the type of back surgery he had. Harrison could come back or his career could be over. If it’s the latter, he can retire knowing he was a vital part of two World Series teams.

No matter how you slice it, this is a much deeper starting rotation than the Rangers had a year ago. It may not stack up in quality to the Mariners rotation or even the A’s but it has the potential of being a very good staff, not to mention one able to withstand an injury or two.

Texas Rangers Fan Fest 2015

I recently relocated from the Rio Grande Valley to the Austin area, so naturally when I had the chance, I somehow managed to bypass going to the Rangers’ Winter Caravan stop in Round Rock, just a 45 minute drive away. Instead, I chose to make the 3 hour plus drive to Arlington to attend the annual Rangers Fan Fest with my son, who lives in the area.

This was my second Fan Fest, having attended the 2011 gathering at the Arlington Convention Center just three months after the Rangers’ first ever World Series appearance. Fan Fest has gotten so big now that the Rangers have moved it to Globe Life Park, opening up the entire stadium to the fans.

Looking up to the top of Globe Life Park.

Looking up to the top of Globe Life Park.

Being among the first 5,000 in line (waiting over an hour in 36 degree “comfort”), we each received 5 scratch-off lottery tickets for the chance to get an autograph from the Big 5: Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Pudge Rodriguez. Unfortunately, only 750 of the 25,000 tickets distributed were winners. As you can see, I was not one of the lucky 750. My son, however, had a winner and got Prince Fielder’s autograph. His impression? “That guy has some GUNS!”

Autograph Lottery Tickets

There were plenty of other autograph opportunities but they weren’t announced until just a few minutes before the session. I was originally in a line to get autographs from Rangers prospects Chi Chi Gonzalez and Spencer Patton but then saw an announcement that propelled me to leave my current location and go halfway around the ballpark (sorry Chi Chi and Spencer!). Thus I was fortunate enough to get Nick Tepesch to sign my Rangers cap and Matt Harrison to ink my 2010 AL Champions T-shirt.

Nick Tepesch Autograph

Nick Tepesch Autograph

Matt Harrison Autograph

Matt Harrison Autograph

Then it was on to a Q&A session with Rangers GM Jon Daniels. It was still early so I got a front row seat and even got to ask him a couple of questions. First one: How many calls and texts does it take to complete a trade such as the one that netted the Rangers Yovani Gallardo from the Brewers? Answer: Sometimes just a few, sometimes a lot. Gallardo was just a few… and Daniels says Brewers GM Doug Melvin doesn’t text much, he prefers talking directly to people. Second question: With hundreds of players in the minor league system, how do the Rangers communicate with them? Is there an employee newsletter or something? Answer: Not really. The managers, coaches and scouts grade every player in every game and share the info with each other but the players usually only know what’s really going on by following each other on social media to find out who’s moving up, getting traded, released, etc. Interesting tidbit: No matter how many people are in the room, Daniels looks the person who asked the question in the eye throughout his answer. Impressive!

Jon Daniels

Rangers GM Jon Daniels with Rangers announcer/former GM/former player Tom Grieve.

It was good to get to Fan Fest early because after a couple of hours, it became clear to us there would be no other autographs to get. At 11:30 more than 200 people were in line at one location for a 2 pm autograph session and the same held true at all the autograph locations. Thus we decided to walk around and see the other sites.

The home clubhouse was open but the line was too long. There was no waiting to get to the hitting cages, though. There we saw this “Hitter’s Prayer” on the wall and a couple of cracked batting practice bats, including this custom Adrian Beltre model.

The Boy With The Beltre Bat

The Boy With The Beltre Bat

The Hitter's Prayer

The Hitter’s Prayer

We also attended a Q&A with new Rangers skipper Jeff Bannister. He’s not the charismatic rah-rah type like Ron Washington, but he’s just as passionate about the game. He’s a little more sabermetric oriented than Wash and, unlike his predecessor, is unlikely to bunt a lot in the early innings. The cancer survivor Bannister’s mantra, which got a lot of crowd applause, was “Never Ever Quit!”

New skipper Jeff Bannister (with radio announcer Matt Hicks)

New skipper Jeff Bannister (with radio announcer Matt Hicks)

Other items of interest. As I was walking out of the Rangers Hall of Fame, I suddenly realized the newest member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, Rangers radio announcer Eric Nadel, was right behind me. Nadel stands 6-1 or 6-2 so I told him he was taller than I expected. His response: “I sound shorter on the radio.”

In the gift shop, we noticed then Rangers still have shirts for one of their minor league players who likely will never face major league pitching, or minor league pitching for that matter: current Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson.

Russell Wilson has a future with the Rangers if he ever decides to give up his day job.

Russell Wilson has a future with the Rangers if he ever decides to give up his day job.

Strangest sight of all: I’m used to seeing tarp over the infield grass and dirt during a rain delay but, due to the mid-30’s early morning weather, I don’t think I’d ever seen tarp over ALL of the grass on the field!

That's a lot of tarp!

That’s a lot of tarp!

Now the only bad thing is there’s still over two months to go before the Season Opener. Thanks to Fan Fest, I’m ready NOW!

Please. Make. It. Stop.

If you believe in forever

Then life is but a simple dream

If there’s a Rangers DL list

You know you’ve got a hell of a team

Team, team

 

Martin gave us shutouts

Derek won Game 4 ‘gainst St. Loo

And Matty won 18 in two thousand 12

He was gonna mash 50 home runs

Remember Prince that way

They’ve all found a spot we rue

And that is on the shelf

 

If you believe in forever

Then life is but a simple dream

If there’s a Rangers DL list

You know you’ve got a hell of a team

Team, team

(Sung to the tune “Rock and Roll Heaven” by The Righteous Brothers)

Just a few short days ago, my wish for the week was to get through the next seven days without another injury. No such luck. In one fell swoop Thursday, Rangers fans found themselves greeted with the news that 1) Prince Fielder is gone for the year because of a herniated disc that requires surgery; 2) Jurickson Profar is probably out for the year after re-aggravating his shoulder injury; and 3) 5th outfielder Daniel Robertson could be headed to the DL. And oh yeah, if Robertson DOES go to the DL it’s partly Ian Kinsler‘s fault! It was the ex-Ranger’s pop fly which resulted in the collision between Robertson and Alex Rios that took Robertson out of the game.

Nobody in baseball has used the disabled list more in 2014 than the Texas Rangers. In fact, one could make the case for the players on the DL being a better team than the one the Rangers now have on the field. Let’s do a side by side comparison:

Texas Rangers

1B           Mitch Moreland

2B           Rougned Odor

SS           Elvis Andrus

3B           Adrian Beltre

C             Robinson Chirinos

LF            Shin-Soo Choo

CF           Leonys Martin

RF           Alex Rios

DH          Michael Choice

SP           Yu Darvish

SP           Colby Lewis

SP           Nick Tepesch

SP           Nick Martinez

RP           Alexi Ogando

RP           Robbie Ross

RP           Neal Cotts

 

Texas Rangers DL

1B           Prince Fielder

2B           Donnie Murphy

SS           Jurickson Profar

3B           Kevin Kouzmanoff

C             Geovany Soto

LF            None

CF           Engel Beltre

RF           Jim Adduci

DH          None

SP           Martin Perez

SP           Matt Harrison

SP           Derek Holland

SP           Joe Saunders

RP           Tanner Scheppers

RP           Joseph Ortiz

RP           Pedro Figueroa

Rangers DL 5-23-14

We’d have to fill in the DL team with an outfielder and DH from AAA Round Rock, which could be Brad Snyder and Bryan Peterson. If Robertson hits the DL, he’d likely replace Snyder, since Snyder then would probably fill his roster spot on the Rangers. Still, while the healthy Texas Rangers offense, even without Prince Fielder, is the superior team to the Rangers DL offense, a case could be made for the Rangers DL pitching staff being stronger than the Rangers Healthy pitching staff. At the very least, three of the four member starting rotation would more than hold their own against the current healthy Rangers rotation.

What has happened to this team in 2014 is beyond comprehension. If there’s any silver lining in the dark cloud, it is this: the Rangers, like every team, has insurance policies on all their players to cover such things. Thus, even though Matt Harrison and Prince Fielder by themselves command hefty salaries, the Rangers will recoup part of their salaries to the tune of over $10 million. Thus, it is not beyond reason the Rangers could make a play for one significant free agent still out there, Kendrys Morales. The former Angel and Mariner mashed 23 home runs and knocked in 80 runs for Seattle a year ago and has 10 homers in 32 games at Globe Life Park, the most home runs he has in any visitors park. Picking up Morales, a switch hitter, would allow him to DH when a right-hander is on the mound while playing first base against a southpaw so Mitch Moreland, a career .231 hitter against lefties, isn’t exposed.

Of course, knowing the Rangers luck this year, Morales would come in and suffer a season-ending injury within a week, much like Kevin Kouzmanoff when he filled in during Adrian Beltre‘s early season DL stint. Speaking of which, I have a message for Adrian: DON’T DO ANYTHING THAT WILL AGGRAVATE YOUR HAMSTRING!!! I know you’re going to want to play like Superman with Prince gone but you’re 35 years old now. You can only do what you can do and if you try to do more, you just might join the Rangers DL team yourself.

On the good news side, the Rangers have won consecutive games for the first time since May 8th and 9th. They haven’t had a three game winning streak since April 21st through the 23rd when they swept the first place Oakland A’s, of all teams, in Oakland. The giddiness of that sweep seems so long ago now. To make it three in a row, Scott Baker has to better Anibal Sanchez tonight in his first start of the season. After that Nick Martinez, slated to start the season at AA Frisco, squares up against 7-1 Rick Porcello, while Colby Lewis draws Justin Verlander on Sunday. Let’s just say the Rangers have their work cut out for them this weekend.

And as for the injuries, I repeat the headline today. Please. Make. It. Stop.

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 5/12-5/18

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):

How forgettable was the Rangers’ last week. So unforgettable there really wasn’t one single game outstanding performance. Texas went 2-4 on the week and no player had more than two RBI in a game. Adrian Beltre had a three hit game once but there just wasn’t anything for anyone to write home about. The best performance for the Rangers came with High Class A Myrtle Beach, where Joey Gallo went 4 for 4 with three home runs and five runs batted in against Potomac on May 16th. Gallo leads the minors in home runs with 18 on the year and has been the Carolina League Player of the Week three times already in 2014. Here’s the last of Gallo’s three dingers:

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

It only figures the Player of the Week for all games is a guy who missed half of the six games to injuries. Yes, we’re talking about Prince Fielder who, although he is the POW, had a pretty mild stat line. In three games, Prince went 4 for 10 with a double, 2 RBI and an intentional walk before missing the Houston series with neck issues. While the ball still isn’t leaving the park at the rate Rangers fans or management would like (he has only 3 on the season), May has been much kinder to Prince than April. In the season’s first month, Fielder never managed to beat the defensive shift and entered May with a pitiful slash line of .206/.331/.644. And that includes nine intentional walks. Things are turning around for the Royal One in May, though. Fielder enters play May 20th at .333/.421/.879 for the month. If he gets it going, the Texas offense might start improving on their meager four runs per game average.

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

I was originally going to give this to Nick Tepesch, who arrived from Round Rock and gave the Rangers 5.1 innings of work a day after Matt Harrison went down less than two innings into his start. Tepesch gave the bullpen a bit of a breather and struck out 8 Astros in the process. Still, there was only one truly outstanding performance for the week and, for the second consecutive week, it belonged to Yu Darvish. In a loss to the Blue Jays, Darvish again flirted with a no-hitter before a single led off the fifth inning. Because of a weak Rangers offense, Darvish lost the game 2-0, but he struck out eleven Blue Jays and gave up only two runs on five hits in eight innings of work. Darvish lost four games 1-0 a year ago and this is the third time this season Texas hasn’t put a run on the boards while he was in the game. The Rangers have one of the top pitchers in all of baseball but his Win-Loss record doesn’t begin to show how good he’s been. Now I know how the Mariners have felt all these years with the job Felix Hernandez has done.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Last week, I said it was sad that a 3-3 record on the week for the Rangers would make me happy. The week ended with me not being very happy at all. In what could be the worst week in Rangers history, and that’s not hyperbole, the Rangers not only limped home with a 2-4 record on the week, they A) dropped a series to the Astros for the first time in six years; B) lost Prince Fielder for three games to a neck injury; C) lost Martin Perez for the next 1-2 years to Tommy John surgery; and D) lost Matt Harrison to back issues which may result in him NEVER PITCHING AGAIN. EVER.

Yep, it was definitely a week to forget in Rangers baseball and the road ahead doesn’t get any easier. This week, Texas has a brief two game set at home with the Mariners, followed by a four game road trip to the team with the best record in baseball, the Detroit Tigers. Perhaps frustrating us Rangers fans the most is seeing our team struggling while five pieces of the 2013 team (Nelson Cruz, David Murphy, Ian Kinsler, Craig Gentry & A.J. Pierzynski) are enjoying excellent starts to their 2014 with new clubs. The off-season was one in which Job Daniels wanted to rebuild the offense and now, the pieces he let go are doing better than the pieces he picked up.

Robbie Ross is still struggling as a piece of the rotation but thanks to the Perez and Harrison injuries, he’ll likely continue starting for the foreseeable future, unless Texas decides to try Scott Baker out the next time Ross’ spot comes up. The Rangers today sent J.P. Arencibia to AAA Round Rock, replacing him at catcher with Chris Gimenez. Arencibia was horrible offensively and not any better than horrible defensively. Still, in a 5-year career, Gimenez hasn’t been proven as a superior option. He comes to the Rangers with a career slash line of .199/.292/.585. The only positive that can be said for the Rangers catching corps in 2014 is that Robinson Chirinos has been excellent in throwing out would-be basestealers. His 45% mark is second in the AL and third in all of baseball.

What will make me happy this week? Nobody getting hurt is the best I’ve got. As to the record, I’ll be surprised if Texas does better than 2-4 for the week. It gets sadder by the day.

Coming To Grips

In 2010, I had hopes the Texas Rangers would finally make a name for themselves in the American League. They exceeded my expectations and went to the World Series.

In 2011, I KNEW the Rangers had a championship caliber club and hoped they’d prove it. They came tantalizingly close to sealing the deal.

In 2012, Yu Darvish came along and I thought the Rangers could make another run for the elusive title, but a massive Josh Hamilton slump and the loss of Colby Lewis midway through the season translated into a late-season meltdown and a one game and done Wild Card appearance.

In 2013, Hamilton, Mike Napoli and Michael Young all departed, Lewis missed the entire season and Matt Harrison went down for the year after only two starts. Then Nelson Cruz got suspended for 50 games and Adrian Beltre‘s hamstrings sapped him of his power in the stretch run when needed most. Despite that, Texas managed to get all the way to the end and forced a one game “regular season” playoff against the Rays to earn a spot in the Wild Card round. The Rays won.

Martin Perez: Tommy John Surgery Bound Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Martin Perez: Tommy John Surgery Bound Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In 2014, the writing was on the wall early. Derek Holland tore his meniscus when he fell over his dog and down the stairs. Joseph Ortiz had his foot run over by a motorcycle. That was just the beginning. Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto had injuries that have kept them out of the line-up and they’re still not back. Yu Darvish missed the Opening Day start to neck stiffness. Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers is now on the DL and #5 starter Joe Saunders followed him shortly afterwards. Now comes word the Rangers will likely be without #2 starter Martin Perez for the rest of this year and maybe next year as well, while Matt Harrison, who recently returned from the DL, now has back issues so severe he might never pitch again.

The Rangers now have a better rotation on paper residing on the DL (Harrison, Scheppers, Saunders, Holland) than they do on the active list (Darvish, Lewis, Robbie Ross Jr., Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez). Profar and Soto aren’t back for another month at least, nor will Holland. Prince Fielder, while hitting better in May, still isn’t hitting balls out of the park at the rate he’s expected to hit them and Texas no longer has an extra active starter on their 40-man roster.

Let’s face it: In 2014, I have NO expectations of a playoff appearance for the Texas Rangers.

I hate saying that. There’s still talent on this team. Shin-Soo Choo. Darvish. Beltre. Alex Rios. Fielder. Leonys Martin. Joakim Soria. Jason Frasor. There really is talent on this team. What one can’t escape is, outside of Darvish, this is not a strong starting rotation. Lewis will have some outstanding performances but he’ll also have a lot of clunkers on the way and one can’t expect more than six innings out of him in any start. Martinez and Tepesch are young and have good ceilings but because they’re young they’re going to take their lumps as they learn how to pitch in the big leagues. Ross has talent and started the season well but has failed to impress in his last three or four starts. Just one week ago, it looked like Tepesch was ready to take Ross’ rotation spot. Now Ross is still in the rotation by default, because there’s nobody else available.

Matt Harrison: Career Over?

Matt Harrison: Career Over?

Even when Derek Holland returns, there’s no guarantee he’ll pitch the way he did in 2013. Scott Feldman had microfracture knee surgery and it was over a year before he started pitching well again. By then, he was with the Chicago Cubs and not the Rangers.

Jon Daniels could go out and trade for a pitcher but there’s a good chance the other GM’s he deals with will try to fleece him. After all, the Rangers must look desperate to get starting pitching today. If I were an opposing GM, I’d want to take advantage of that and see how high JD’s willing to go with his prospects to make a deal happen. As a result, I don’t think Daniels is in a rush to get a deal made.

On the other hand, if he doesn’t make a deal, I think he’ll be admitting the Rangers aren’t a playoff team this year. There’s no harm in that because NOT making a deal also means he’s sticking with his long-term plans to keep the Rangers competitive for the foreseeable future. In basketball, the Spurs had a bad year once when Tim Duncan missed significant time due to injury. The Spurs didn’t over-react. They held steady, let the bad year go by and came back as good as ever the next season. If Daniels stays pat, it’ll be frustrating to the fan base but understandable. I’ll just grit my teeth, watch the Rangers win some, lose some and never seem to gain any traction while looking forward to next year.

Then again, Ron Washington strikes me as the type of guy who feels more comfortable in the underdog role. There’s always the possibility he’ll take this injury-laden Rangers teams to heights nobody thought they could reach. If he does, I hope it shuts up for good the contingent who think he’s too Old School to succeed.

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.

 

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.

Roster Projections 3/25/14

Jurickson Profar: Out 10-12 Weeks

Putting the roster pieces together.

Putting the roster pieces together.

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:

Prince Fielder

Adrian Beltre

JP Arencibia

Leonys Martin

Alex Rios

Michael Choice

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:

Elvis Andrus

Mitch Moreland

Shin-Soo Choo

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:

1B: Fielder

2B: Wilson or Rosales

SS: Andrus

3B: Beltre

C: Arencibia

LF: Choo

CF: Martin

RF: Rios

DH: Moreland

Bench: Chirinos, Kouzmanoff, Choice, Mystery Infielder

BaseballFor 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:

Martin Perez

Tanner Scheppers

Robbie Ross

Alexi Ogando

Joakim Soria

Neal Cotts

Jason Frasor

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:

Starters

Darvish

Perez

Scheppers

Ross

Saunders

Bullpen

Hanson

Soria

Ogando

Frasor

Cotts

Tolleson

Figueroa

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!

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