Results tagged ‘ Michael Kirkman ’

Texas Rangers Caliente y Frio: Week 10

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 2-4

Overall: 37-25  (1st Place AL West) (+1/2)

Jalapeno Caliente (Offense):

Adrian Beltre  .333/.360/.708   3 HR   4 RBI

A.J. Pierzynski  .360/.385/.520   4 Doubles

Raspa Frio (Offense):

Leonys Martin   .067/.176/.067

Lance Berkman  .118/.286/.118

Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching):

Neal Cotts   0.00 ERA  2-0 in 3 appearances

Raspa Frio (Pitching):

Justin Grimm   0-1  14.73 ERA in 2 starts

Michael Kirkman   0-1  27.00 ERA in 2 appearances

Plain and simple, this past week sucked. Texas got off to a miserable start to the week, dropping a 17-5 decision to the Boston Red Sox. The only inning the Red Sox DIDN’T score in that game was the 8th, pitched by non-pitcher David Murphy. Texas recovered to take Game 2, but dropped the series finale. In Toronto. one bad inning ruined Nick Tepesch‘s decent pitching performance but the offense went south. On Saturday, Yu Darvish had one bad inning, but the Rangers came back to tie the game in the 9th. After that, the offense went south again and Toronto finally eked out the win in the 18th inning. There was finally some offensive life shown on Sunday as Texas took the finale 6-4. Saturday, the Oakland A’s took over first place in the AL West, but Texas took it back on Sunday.

To add to the Rangers’ woes, the Rangers lost Mitch Moreland for at least two weeks with a hamstring issue, while two pitchers landed on the disabled list Sunday. Alexi Ogando, who had just returned from the DL and made a winning start against Boston, reported shoulder soreness and went right back on the list again. When he returns, it is now doubtful he will be a starting pitcher. Michael Kirkman, who everyone has been expecting to be released due to poor performance, turned up with skin cancer recurring on his non-throwing arm, so he alit on the DL as well. Rookie Chris McGuiness got the call-up from Round Rock to fill in for Moreland and had his first two career hits on Sunday. Replacing Ogando and Kirkman are Kyle McClellan, who pitched in relief on Sunday, and Josh Lindblom, who made a spot start a few weeks ago and will start tonight against the Indians.

Texas gets to enjoy home cooking for the next week and a half, with an 11-game home stand coming up. First up is Cleveland Monday through Wednesday, followed by four against the Blue Jays. Despite the injuries, home cooking should suit the Rangers, so I see them going at least 4-3 for the week. Hopefully, that will be enough to stave off the hot A’s, who also are at home all week against the Yankees and the Mariners.

Texas Rangers Caliente y Frio: Week 8

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 3-3

Overall: 32-18  (1st Place AL West) (+4.5)

Jalapeno Caliente (Offense):

Mitch Moreland  .300/.300/.450    3 Doubles

Raspa Frio (Offense):

Elvis Andrus .150/.250/.150   Not only did he hit poorly, the normally sure-handed Andrus also had three errors on the week.

Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching):

Neal Cotts  6 IP  3 Hits  0 Runs  6 K’s

Raspa Frio (Pitching):

Josh Lindblom/Cory Burns/Michael Kirkman/Joe Ortiz: A combined  10.2 IP   19 Hits  11 Earned Runs  9.28 ERA

The Rangers finally cooled off a little bit, dropping two of three at home to the Oakland A’s. They recovered enough to take two of three on the road at Seattle, but missed out on a sweep with a 13-inning loss on Sunday. As a result, the A’s gained two games on the Rangers for the week and now stand just 4 1/2 games back. For a brief time, the Rangers also had a double digit lead in the AL West over three of their four rivals. The Angels are on an 8-game winning streak, but it wasn’t until Sunday’s Rangers loss that they were finnal able to cut their deficit in the division to less than ten games.

Sunday’s loss could have big repercussions as the week begins. Only Joe Ortiz did not pitch in Sunday’s finale against the Mariners and the Rangers open the week with a doubleheader today against the Arizona Diamondbacks. You have to figure closer Joe Nathan is unavailable, having pitched in all three games against Seattle. It’s also possible Neal Cotts, recently recalled from AAA Round Rock, also would not pitch due to going 2 1/3 innings on Sunday. All other hands need to be available for both games and most of them will be tired. That makes it imperitive to get a lot of innings from today’s two starters, Martin Perez (making his first start of the season) and Yu Darvish. The Rangers could make another move today to bolster the bullpen for a day, maybe sending Nick Tepesch down for five days to bring up another arm for the twin bill.

Seven games on the schedule this week: 4 with the Diamondbacks in a home and home (the doubleheader today and two in Arlington beginning Wednesday), followed by three at home against the Royals. Oakland has a home and home with the Giants plus three at home vs. the White Sox while the suddenly invincible Halos do the home and home thing with the Dodgers followed by a 3-game home series with the lowly Astros. Of the three, the Angels appear to have the easiest week and could gain a little more ground. Oakland and Texas will probably remain steady on the week.

It’s Just One Loss, People!

There’s nothing more depressing than taking a Saturday afternoon to watch your favorite team and seeing them fall in a lackluster performance 7-2.

English: Mitch Moreland between innings at the...

Mitch Moreland: Scapegoat(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Rangers pretty much looked awful in Saturday’s loss to the Twinkies. Mitch Moreland committed a key error early in the game. Ian Kinsler made two bonehead decisions on one play late in the game and didn’t even get charged with one error. The Texas offense could muster nothing against a mediocre right-handed starter, who somehow managed five scoreless innings despite Texas getting their share of hits off him. At one point, Texas had zero runs on five hits while the Twins had one run on one hit, and that hit wasn’t a home run.

Still, it was a winnable game until Derek Holland did the really inexplicable. With a runner in scoring position and first base open and a 3-0 count on Josh Willingham, he chose to challenge him instead of just walking him. Willingham is a Rangers killer with 7 home runs and 16 RBI in just 29 games against Texas. After Holland got from a 3-0 count to 3-2, Willingham crushed a curve right in the middle of the plate over the fence in left center, making it 3-0 and effectively ending the Rangers day.

There’s more than enough blame to go around. Dutch had a great game going through five but faltered badly in the 6th and 7th. Moreland’s error led to the first run. Kinsler’s weirdness brought another run home. Willingham’s blast plated two. Plenty of blame to go around.

What it isn’t is the end of the world. It was one loss. It isn’t proof positive that the Rangers HAVE to trade for a better first base alternative. It wasn’t the game to finally nail home the notion that David Murphy and Moreland have no right to face lefthanded pitching late in a game. It doesn’t prove Ian Kinsler is a bad second baseman or Michael Kirkman, charged with 3 runs in the 8th, has no future with this ballclub. While it is frustrating at times, it’s also no reason to question why a player getting a day off isn’t even asked to pinch hit in a game.

Even in defeat, things can have a purpose over a long season. A day of rest here could pay big dividends towards the end of the season when other teams are hurting. They can also have an effect on the next game. Take the previously mentioned Moreland. Mitch slapped a run-scoring double in the 9th inning to save the Rangers from being shut out. One could say, “Too little too late, Mitch”. Not me. That hit very well could impact tomorrow’s series finale. It kept the inning going against Twins closer Glen Perkins. Perkins ended up throwing over 30 pitches to get through the 9th inning, making it more unlikely he will be available tomorrow in a tight game.

Texas just didn’t have it today. In the first 24 games, they’ve had it twice as many times as they haven’t and that’s good enough for a three and a half game lead in the AL West.

When losing skeins hit four or five games, that’s a time to start questioning and looking for solutions. Today? Get off the ledge. It’s just one loss.

Texas Rangers Caliente y Frio: Week 3

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 4-1

Overall: 12-6 (1st Place AL West) (+1/2)

Jalapeno Caliente (Offense): Jeff Baker  .444/.500/.889   1 HR   3 RBI

Leonys Martin  .400/.455/.900   1 3B   1 HR

Ian Kinsler   .333/.455/.556   1 HR   3 RBI   3 Walks

Raspa Frio (Offense):Elvis Andrus  .143/.143/.143

Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching):Yu Darvish  1-0   0.00 ERA   10 K in 7 IP

Raspa Frio (Pitching): Alexi Ogando  0-1   5 ER in 2.1 IP

What a strange week. First a trip to Chicago where rain washed out Game 2 and threatened to cancel Game 3 as well. Instead, the final game was played in swampy conditions and Alexi Ogando couldn’t do anything right. Even in victory, the Twitterverse was up in arms over Ron Washington‘s decision to leave Jeff Baker in the game in left field, causing consternation when Baker couldn’t make a catch on a routine fly, creating suspense in what had been an easy 4-0 win as Michael Kirkman and Joe Nathan struggled to preserve a 4-2 victory. The team looked lifeless in their loss to the Cubs two days later.

Upon returning home, all was forgiven, as Texas got out the brooms and swept the Mariners and swept themselves back into first place in the AL West. Incredibly, every team in the West participated in a sweep over the weekend, Texas and Los Angeles on the 3-0 end, the A’s, Mariners and Astros on the 0-3 side of the ledger. A little space has now been created amongst the five teams.

While he isn’t on the above list, Derek Lowe deserves to be singled out as a Player of the Week. After rookie Nick Tepesch was hit in the pitching wrist by a line drive in the second inning of Saturday’s 5-0 win, Lowe came in and threw 4 innings of no-hit baseball to earn the win and keep the bullpen from being overused. Michael Kirkman did the same on Sunday, throwing the last three innings of the Rangers’ 11-2 win to pick up the save and ensure a rested bullpen heading into Monday night.

Upcoming: A full week on the road starts tonight with two teams on 3-game winning streaks. The Rangers and Angels match up for the second time this season. Texas took two of three in Arlington. The pitching staff is set up perfectly for this series, with the Rangers throwing their top three in the rotation at the Angelenos. LA starts out the series at a disadvantage, having to burn their bullpen for well over 100 pitches yesterday in their extra innings win over Detroit. Still, it’s the Rangers and the Angels, so anything can happen. After three in Anaheim, Texas flies off to Minneapolis for a 4-game set with the Twins. Hopefully, it won’t be a cold series. Texas went through 5 straight games of sub-50 degree weather from 4/10 to 4/16.

Texas Rangers Caliente y Frio: Week 2

Here’s a wrap-up of the week that was in Texas Rangers baseball. All stats listed are just for the previous week of play.

Rangers Record: 4-3

Overall: 8-5 (2nd Place AL West) (-1)

Jalapeno Caliente (Offense): Lance Berkman   .313/.450/.438   3 RBI   4 Walks

Raspa Frio (Offense): David Murphy .143/.143/.179

Jalapeno Caliente (Pitching): Joe Ortiz 2-0   0.00 ERA   5.2 IP   1 H   .056 BAA

Raspa Frio (Pitching): Michael Kirkman  5.40 ERA in 3.1 IP

Texas ended their homestand by taking two of three from the Tampa Bay Rays, then travelled to Seattle where they split a 4-game set with the Mariners. Ask most Rangers fans and they’ll probably say they were a little disappointed the Rangers didn’t go 5-2 or even 6-1, as all four games with the Mariners were winnable. Instead, the offense has gone decidedly cold. Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz really haven’t provided the power punch in the early going, which in turn magnifies David Murphy’s typical slow start even more, not to mention the overall low results of Mitch Moreland and the center field combo of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry. The offense is scraping, which is too bad, considering the pitching has been excellent overall. Only Michael Kirkman had an ERA above 4.50 for the week. Yu Darvish gave up 3 first inning runs then nothing else the rest of the way, but Texas could only manage one run of their own in the game.

Upcoming: Another week of both road and home games- Monday off, followed by three games in Chicago against the Cubs and three at home against the Mariners. Don’t expect to see much of Lance Berkman in Chicago. Texas will have to go by NL rules, which means no DH. Berkman could start one game at first base. Otherwise, he’ll be strictly a pinch hitter, especially with cold conditions expected in the Windy City.

Two Official New Faces For The Texas Rangers Roster

While there are still two more slots in the bullpen to fill, the Rangers made it official that the roster beginning the regular season on March 31st will contain at least two rookies.

Leury Garcia has won the utility infield position which, outside of the long man in the bullpen, is the most thankless job on the Texas Rangers team. Garcia’s job will be to back up mostly Elvis Andrus. Jeff Baker probably will back up Ian Kinsler at second more than Garcia, since Baker is a proven vet with more pop in his bat. And, since Elvis is a 150 game per season player, Garcia’s biggest problem will be to keep himself fresh and ready for that once every other week appearance in the line-up. The odds are pretty good Garcia will see more action as a pinch-runner than he will in the field.

Meanwhile, rookie Nick Tepesch has officially been named the Rangers’ #5 starter. Tepesch, who has pitched no higher than the AA level, turned some heads this spring. Despite an underwhelming effort his last time out against the Rockies, he showed enough to get the nod over Michael Kirkman. It’s also likely Kirkman is viewed as a more valuable bullpen asset than a starter. Tepesch isn’t needed until an April 9 start against the Rays. The move is also only expected to last for the first two months of the season, unless he pitches at an All-Star caliber. Colby Lewis is expected to return by June, which would push Alexi Ogando into the 5 slot.

Two more rookies still have a shot at getting bullpen slots- lefty Joe Ortiz and righthander Cory Burns.

Having as many as 4 rookies earning spots on the team is a contradiction to the supposition that Ron Washington is biased against rookies. I’ve never believed it to be true. Almost any manager will shy away from rookies when the championship window is open, as it has been for the Rangers the past few years. In 2013, with expectations perhaps a little bit lower, Wash is more open to give inexperienced players like Garcia, Tepesch, Ortiz, Burns and Leonys Martin more of a shot. I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ll respond to the opportunity.

Spring Training Worries About The Texas Rangers

There has been a lot more good than bad in looking at the potential of the 2013 Rangers to do some damage in the AL West. Last time out, I mentioned most of those good things. Of course, it turns out the only name I mentioned in passing could just possibly become the #5 starter , that being rookie Nick Tepesch. It’s not a surety, as it was also reported Michael Kirkman, who is on the team anyway, was stretched out to 4 innings in a minor league game. What reason for that if not to move from the pen into the #5 hole?

Enough, though, about the positives. Today is about the negatives. Most fans would agree, as much as we like our teams, we also tend to see our team’s flaws better than just about everyone and there are things this spring that have me a tad concerned (who is this Tad anyway and why is he always concerned?) going into the regular season.

English: Alexi Ogando, Texas Rangers pitcher.

Alexi Ogando (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fortunately, one of those things became more of a moot point after the Rangers played the Reds on Sunday. Alexi Ogando had not been having a real good spring and he’s the #4 starter. While he was an All-Star as a starter two seasons ago, Ogando was in the pen and, following an injury, did not have a good second half. That combined with his poor spring had me thinking, who cares about the #5 starter? If our #4 isn’t doing well, nobody’s going to care about #5! Then Alexi goes out and tosses six goose-egg innings against Cincinnati and all seems right with the world again.

Look, Ogando still concerns me. We’ve heard he still needs to develop a third pitch to become a better starter. In 2012, he somehow managed an All-Star nod despite just a 2-pitch repertoire. Nothing I’ve heard out of training camp tells me Ogando’s third pitch, a change-up, is ready as a consistent weapon. If it is, I’ll breathe a lot easier. If not, the Rangers’ fortunes good go further south.

Of even more concern is the lack of right-handed depth in the bullpen. As glowing as my last post was about the southpaws Robbie Ross, Joe Ortiz, Michael Kirkman and Nate Robertson, the reverse has been true of the righties. The guys the Rangers really need to do well are Josh Lindblom (acquired from the Phillies in the Michael Young trade) and Tanner Scheppers. Lindblom struggled at first with his velocity. Now he’s struggling with his command. Scheppers was slowed by injury in training camp. Of the two, Scheppers seems to be the one turning it around somewhat, with scoreless outings in each of his last four appearances.

A year ago, the bullpen was a Rangers strength. This season, it’s definitely a work in progress. If all goes according to plan, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz will help solidify the pen after the All-Star break. In the meantime, Texas needs at least four of the aforementioned individuals to step up their games, especially Lindblom and Scheppers.

The last concern seems minor but it’s still an important roster spot. Texas still doesn’t know what they’re doing for a utility infielder who can back up Elvis Andrus at short. Last time out, I mentioned Yangervis Solarte as a possibility, but that ended when Solarte was reassigned to the minors over the weekend. Of the players now in camp, only Leury Garcia and Jurickson Profar are left. The Rangers have already said Profar, their #1 prospect, won’t stay unless he can get 350 at bats for the season. Profar would need to play 4 games a week to get those AB’s. With Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus up the middle, that’s not likely to happen.

That leaves Garcia and I just don’t think Ron Washington is ready to hand the job to a rookie. In other words, less than a week from Opening Night and it’s highly doubtful the player chosen as the Rangers’ utility infielder is even in Rangers camp. Ideally, he would be acquired in a straight-up trade for Julio Borbon, who probably won’t make the club despite an outstanding spring. Surely there’s someone out there who needs a 4th or 5th outfielder who could spare an infielder in return. We’ll know in the next 6 days.

Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan (Photo credit: phoca2004)

On a totally unrelated subject: Remember just two weeks ago, when everyone was wondering whether Nolan Ryan was unhappy and ready to walk away from the Rangers? Not only has there been little reported on the situation in the past week plus, but I noticed a tweet today saying Ryan will throw out the first pitch at the second of the Rangers’ two exhibition games at the Alamodome in San Antonio this week. Does that sound like something someone whose departure is imminent would do? I said it when the story first cropped up and I’ll say it again. I think this has been a non-story all along. Does Nolan have less power in the Rangers organization? Yep. But I think this whole unhappiness thing has been more about Nolan just wanting to feel useful in Texas than it’s been about the amount of power he wields.

March 25th. Just a few more days before Texas and Houston in front of a nationwide audience Sunday night. It can’t get here soon enough.

Rangers’ Spring Training Good Signs

Just 11 days from Opening Day and the Rangers line-up is starting to shape up. The first domino to fall occurred Tuesday when Mike Olt was sent back to the minor league camp. Olt was given a chance to win a job as Mitch Moreland‘s back-up at first base and Nelson Cruz‘ back-up in right field but he just didn’t run with it. Olt struggled at the plate throughout the spring and led the club with 12 strikeouts when he was sent down.

I always figured Olt as a long-shot to make the club out the gate. As the second or third best prospect in the Rangers system, it didn’t make sense to me that he would be a back-up. Olt’s struggles, combined with the way Jeff Baker has been locked in at the plate pretty much sealed his fate.

While he hasn’t been sent down yet, the fact #1 prospect Jurickson Profar decided to join the Netherlands team in the World Baseball Classic after the first round was a pretty good sign he won’t be with the Rangers on Opening Day either. Rangers brass has already said Profar won’t be in Arlington unless he could be assured of 350 or so at bats and that appears unlikely.

With the top three prospects all gone (Martin Perez is out with an injury) from consideration, it’s time to look at who is likely to get the few open positions available. Here are the players who have had outstanding springs and will probably be Rangers on March 31st when they play the Astros in Houston:

Jeff Baker

As mentioned earlier, Baker has just been outstanding with the bat all spring long. In 49 at bats, Baker is hitting .449 with a home run and 7 RBI. Best of all, Baker knows his role is as a back-up. Players who know and accept their role prepare the way they’re supposed to and shouldn’t cause problems in the clubhouse.

Yangervis Solarte

In the first part of the spring, anytime someone mentioned Solarte as a possible candidate for the utility infield position, those more in the know would say it wasn’t going to happen because Solarte doesn’t play shortstop. Lo and behold, in the past two weeks, Ron Washington has given Solarte four or five games at shortstop. Whether this results in a roster position remains to be seen, but Solarte, who played in AAA Round Rock in 2012, has some pop in his bat and could be a consideration.

Leonys Martin & Craig Gentry

Most folks figured Martin would be on the big league level this year. The question was would it be as part of a platoon with Craig Gentry or would he win the job outright. The competition has been on and neither player is giving an inch. As of this writing, Martin is hitting .350 with 4 extra base hits, 5 walks and 2 steals. Gentry is at .286 but with a surprising 2 HR’s and has 5 steals without being caught. Other teams have been calling about obtaining Gentry, so Martin could still be the guy fulltime but if Gentry stays, center field could be a fun position to watch on the Rangers this year.

 

English: Michael Kirkman, Texas Rangers pitcher.

Michael Kirkman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Michael Kirkman

Kirkman is anothe rplayer who figured to make the club as he is out of options. What was unexpected was how impressive he would be this spring. The southpaws in camp have been excellent and none more than Kirkman, who has now pitched 9 scoreless innings this spring, allowing only three hits with 0 walks and 8 strikeouts. With the injury to Martin Perez, Kirkman has even put himself into the mix for the #5 starter position.

Derek Lowe

I wasn’t necessarily a big fan of his signing but now I look at Lowe the same way as I see Jeff Baker. Lowe has been signed specifically for the thankless job of being the Rangers’ long reliever and spot starter. This is the pitcher who is used the least but expected to give multiple innings whenever he appears in the game. Over the past few years, that role has been filled by Dustin Nippert, Scott Feldman and Roy Oswalt. It’s a tough role but one Lowe is willing to take on and, unlike Feldman and Oswalt last year, is unlikely to grouse about the way he’s being used. Since signing, Lowe has twirled five scoreless innings this spring.

Joe Ortiz

Last year, Robbie Ross opened eyes when he just threw strike after strike and earned his way onto the Rangers despite pitching only in Class A the year before. This year, the same can be said of Joe Ortiz. While he played at the AA and AAA level last year, the diminutive 5-7 Ortiz was said to not have much of a chance of getting to the majors strictly because of his lack of stature. All Ortiz has done is what Ross did last year- throw strikes and make batters swing. The lefty has now thrown 9 scoreless innings, striking out 9 and allowing a meager .167 batting average, putting him well into the bullpen mix.

Nate Robertson

Another lefty, this major league veteran last pitched in the bigs in 2010. Robertson has a career ERA in the 5′s but has been nothing short of outstanding in trying to come back from injuries. Robertson has 10 innings of 3-hit no-run ball so far.

Another minor leaguer to watch out for is Nick Tepesch, who was a combined 11-6 for Hi-A Myrtle Beach and AA Frisco in 2012. Tepesch has opened some eyes in Rangers camp and is still in the mix for the #5 starter job, though I doubt he’ll get it. He could get consideration for an early call-up in case of injury, though.

11 days to Opening Night Easter Sunday.

Don’t Panic

The good news: Exhibition play has started.

 

The bad news: The Rangers, in essence, got swept by the Royals, getting a tie on Friday and dropping games on Saturday and Sunday. I don’t think they even had a lead in any of the three games.

 

BUT I’M NOT PANICKING!!!

 

I’m sorry. I should just say I’m not panicking. All caps bolded would tend to lead to the impression I am indeed already panicking about the upcoming season.

 

Nope, not me. Yeah, Matt Harrison had a putrid one inning of work on Sunday, giving up six hits and four runs. Elvis Andrus doesn’t have a hit yet and committed an error on his first play. Mike Olt started out 0-3 with three strikeouts before finally getting a soft liner to third to end the K streak. He also mixed in an error and an almost error with one nifty play at third defensively. Also among the hitless are Mitch Moreland and Geovany Soto. On the pitching side, Alexi Ogando‘s spring debut was almost as bad as Harrison’s.

 

BUT THERE’S NO NEED TO PANIC!!!

 

English: Michael Kirkman, Texas Rangers pitcher.

Michael Kirkman (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Really. Harrison, Ogando, Andrus and Moreland have shown enough over the past 2-3 seasons, worrying about them three games into a 38 game exhibition schedule is like worrying about a new CD from Elton John on which the first cut sucks and you decide his career is over. That’s not to say there’s nothing to pay attention to in exhibition games. For players like Julio Borbon and Michael Kirkman, these are extremely important games. Both are out of options, so not making the Rangers out of spring training no longer means going back down to the minors, it means looking for a new employer. For Kirkman, the first appearance couldn’t have gone better, twirling two shutout innings with three strikeouts. For Borbon, the results are more a mixed bag. Defensively, he’s been OK and made an outstanding play in left field in the first game. Offensively is another question. The .250 average is OK, but he’s also fouled off a couple of bunt attempts and Sunday hit into two double plays. For a speed guy on the bubble, these are the things Ron Washington pays close attention to. Julio’s got to step it up.

 

I also like hearing about the players turning heads in camp. A.J. Pierzynski has been impressed with Robbie Ross so far. Yangervis Solarte, who also had a decent spring training a year ago before playing for AAA Round Rock, has impressed with his bat again. He’s still a long shot to make the team as a utility infielder, as he doesn’t play much shortstop. Rangers radio broadcaster Eric Nadel had high praise for the change-up of Cory Burns. And Wash has liked what he’s seen from corner utility candidate Jeff Baker.

 

In other words, right now I’m just excited to listen to some actual games, regardless of the final score. As the spring progresses, there will be days I turn the game off around the sixth inning when the scrubs I know have no chance of making the club come in. But for now, I’m a happy camper, even with an 0-2-1 start.

 

A Tale Of Two Pitchers

One is one of the AL’s best pitchers in 2012 and will barely get a whisper of consideration for the Cy Young Award. The other was a trade that didn’t go well for the Rangers a year ago. Both pitchers were nails in Sunday, allowing the Texas Rangers to get a little more breathing room against the hard-charging Oakland A’s.

PITCHER #1

 

Matt Harrison

Matt Harrison (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matt Harrison was magnificent Sunday, picking up his 17th win and almost getting a complete game in beating the Seattle Mariners on his 27th birthday, 2-1. The only blemish for Harrison was a lead-off 8th inning home run by former Ranger Justin Smoak. Harrison’s only walk came in the 9th inning.

Harrison was the second big piece acquired on that fateful trade deadline day years ago, when young GM Jon Daniels acquired Harry along with Elvis Andrus from the Braves system for Mark Teixeira. He’s been a part of the Rangers every year, but it wasn’t until 2011 that Harrison turned a corner and became an effective starter. Harry said he read a book in the off-season that year that helped him change his mental approach on the mound. True or not, something worked. He won 14 games for the Rangers last year and has added 17 this year, with an outside shot at being a 20-game winner on the season.

This year, Harrison has arguably been the Rangers’ most consistent starter from beginning of the season to today. He’s not a strikeout pitcher at a little over 5.5 strikeouts per 9 innings. He gives up about a hit per inning. He also gets ground-outs. Lots of ground-outs. That leads to lots of double plays. With three more today, his total is now at 23 double plays induced in 2012.

All Matt Harrison does is give you innings and win. You’ll see his name near the top of the charts in all sorts of categories: Wins, WAR for pitchers, ERA, WL%, Innings Pitched, Complete Games, Shutouts, Home Runs Per 9 Innings (among the lowest rates), Adjusted ERA, Adjusted Pitching Runs, you get the idea.

Yet when the votes for the Cy Young Award get tabulated, Matt Harrison is almost guaranteed to finish no better than fifth to a group that includes the names Hernandez, Verlander, Weaver, Price and Sale. There’s an outside chance fellow Ranger Yu Darvish will get more votes than Harrison. It’s all a shame. One could make the case it’s harder for a pitcher like Harrison to reach the heights he has since he doesn’t have the raw stuff of those other pitchers mentioned, so he should be entitled to more votes. But it won’t happen.

In fact, here’s a new twist. It is also conceivable that Matt Harrison, the Rangers most consistent pitcher of 2012, will be no more than the #4 starter in post-season play. Yu Darvish has been pitching more and more like an ace his last five starts, so he could get the #1 nod. If the Rangers rotate between righthanders and lefthanders, Harrison would be either #2 or #4, and Derek Holland has started to look a little more like a solid #2 lately as well. The Rangers top winner a #4 playoff starter? It could happen.

PITCHER #2

The day before the July trade deadline a year ago, the Rangers were rumored to be hot and heavy in on Heath Bell, then of the Padres. A deal hadn’t been made yet, with speculation a trade could fall through. Just in case, Jon Daniels swung another deal, sending Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter to the Orioles for righthander Koji Uehara.

The Japanese import had been nails in the Birds bullpen all year, compiling a 1-1 record with 13 holds and a 1.72 ERA in 43 appearances. Opponents were hitting just .152 off Uehara and his strikeout to walk ratio was an astounding 62-8. When the Rangers added the Padres’ Mike Adams a day later, Rangers fans were salivating over a 7th, 8th and 9th inning featuring Uehara, Adams and Neftali Feliz.

Uehara, though, would be a bust for the Rangers. While some of his peripherals still were decent, he gave up 5 home runs in just 18 innings of work, helping explain his 4.00 ERA in a Texas uniform. The playoffs were even worse. In two appearances over the ALDS and ALCS, Uehara surrendered three home runs and five runs in just an inning and a third of work. The Rangers didn’t even use Uehara in the World Series.

His confidence shattered, Uehara spoke openly of preferring Baltimore to Texas and it appeared the Rangers’ front office tried hard to make a trade back to the Orioles a reality. It never came to fruition.

Instead, Uehara started 2012 in a Rangers uniform once again. The difference was, instead of being a trusted late-inning reliever, the man with the long sideburns was now brought into games for mop-up work: either big wins or big losses. That’s the way Ron Washington operates: Show me you can fill this role, then I’ll give you a better role to see if you can handle that.

Koji filled that role and was actually doing quite well in it. By June 2nd, his ERA was down to 1.33 over 19 appearances, but he was only credited with three holds over that time. Following a bad outing June 9th against the Giants, Uehara was placed on the DL, where he spent the next two and a half months with a strained rib cage.

When activated August 26th, Uehara was back in the mop-up role again. Now Wash started seeing something he hadn’t seen for awhile. Uehara, a righthander who had always handled lefthanded hitters well, started getting leftys out with regularity again. Last week, Koji was given another chance. With set-up man Mike Adams on the shelf with tightness in his back, Uehara was given the 8th inning again. Appearing in 4 consecutive games, Uehara allowed just one hit in 3 innings with 4 strikeouts, all with low pitch counts.

Sunday, with runners or the corners and two outs in the 9th inning of a 2-1 game, it was Uehara brought in to try to nail down the save, not overworked closer Joe Nathan or the usual second-best option Alexi Ogando. No, it was Koji Uehara, who proceeded to strike out the only batter he needed to face on four pitches to nail down his first save since 2010.

Koji Uehara gave up 11 home runs in the regular season a year ago and three in the playoffs. He’s only given up four in 2012. His strikeout to walk ratio is now 30-3, the Batting Average Against .184. Four weeks ago, the names being discussed for the post-season bullpen featured names like Michael Kirkman and Tanner Scheppers. Today the name Koji Uehara is prominent, which is what the Rangers were expecting when they traded for him a year ago.

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