Needing some relief.
They were rotation-mates at both Bakersfield and Frisco in 2005, one coming
off Tommy John surgery and the other a year and a half short of his own elbow
ligament reconstruction. Four years
later, they’re probably the Rangers’ most important stories in relief at two
levels, one in Texas and the other in Oklahoma City.
It might not be exactly what the Rangers envisioned for C.J .Wilson
and Thomas Diamond when they were Blaze and RoughRider teammates, but it
reinforces a reality worth pointing out, particularly with this franchise
committed to building from within, and in better shape in that effort than any
team in baseball, according to most: with prospects, even the best ones, and
especially those on the mound, past is not always prologue.
After his catastrophic third of an inning on Sunday, Wilson
was seen getting loose in the sixth inning last night and was summoned to pitch
the seventh, a statement move considering he’d been this team’s ninth-inning
man late in 2007 and in 2008 until his injury, and was its primary eighth-inning
weapon going into camp and coming out of it.
Until Sunday’s disastrous eighth.
Wilson breezed through the seventh,
eight, nine, and one hitters like he’s supposed to, needing only 14 pitches
(eight strikes) to keep the game tied and get the offense back to the bat
rack. The eighth was once again cruel to
Wilson, as he walked
Adam Jones after getting ahead 0-2 and, after inducing a nifty 3U-6 double play
ground ball off Nick Markakis’s bat, issued another free pass, putting Aubrey
Huff on base on five pitches and surrendering the ball to Frankie Francisco.
But there’s a huge difference between Sunday’s results and
last night’s, in that Wilson
didn’t break the second time around, even if he bent a bit in his second inning
of work. This bullpen has been unbelievably
bad as a whole – sporting a collective 8.17 ERA this season (the starters sit
at 5.64) – but Wilson has as much of a chance as anyone outside of Francisco to
get big outs, as long as he gets right, and not just every other time out.
As for Diamond, who hasn’t been a regular bullpen pitcher since
his sophomore year at the University
of New Orleans, his first two Oklahoma City relief
appearances have been sensational. He
gave up one hit (a solo home run) in 2.2 innings in his RedHawks debut on
Friday, fanning three, and then fired a perfect eighth last night, striking out
Nashville’s four and five hitters (including momentary Ranger Joe Koshansky
swinging) and coaxing a flyout to right field to finish the quiet frame. Eleven of his 15 pitches were strikes.
In his two outings, Diamond has allowed one hit and no walks
in 3.2 innings, getting five of his 11 outs on strikes. Yes, Willie Eyre and Dustin Nippert will probably
get opportunities to help in Arlington
before Diamond does, but the 26-year-old is on the 40-man roster, is on his
second of three options, and is dealing.
If he keeps anything close to this up, he’s going to be in Texas soon, as long as
the big league bullpen remains the club’s biggest issue.
How about this for a staggering statistic: while the Rangers’
bullpen has been absolutely terrible, Texas
hitters are doing almost no damage against opposing relievers. The Rangers are hitting .311/.387/.649 against
starting pitchers; an anemic .219/.273/.375 against relievers.
Stated another way, through eight games this lineup is Alex
Rodriguez against starters, Pablo Ozuna against relievers.
reliever Beau Vaughan, off to just as strong a start as Diamond (one hit [a
single] and no walks in three scoreless innings, six strikeouts), is off to an
equally outstanding start with the blog he’s writing for MLB. Check out his first entry, which includes an unconventional
interview of his roommate Derek Holland, at http://rangersprospect.mlblogs.com/.
In his first two appearances of the season, Frisco reliever
Guillermo Moscoso, like Diamond on the 40-man roster, has allowed one hit (a
double) and one walk in 4.1 scoreless innings, fanning five. Don’t rule out the idea that he could be on a
very important watch list right now.
RedHawks reliever Pedro Strop has allowed a run on one hit
and two walks in two innings, fanning two.
He’s thrown 22 strikes and 19 balls, and that, as much as his non-roster
status, puts him behind Diamond and Moscoso (not to mention Eyre and Nippert) for
now if you’re thinking about candidates to reshape the big league bullpen.
Throw Brian Gordon (one run on two hits and no walks in four
innings, four strikeouts, 70 percent strikes) in the mix as well. Not so much, at the moment, for Derrick
Turnbow (three runs on four hits and four walks in two-thirds of an inning) or Kason
Gabbard (one hit and three walks in 1.1 innings, 40 percent strikes). Frisco righthander John Bannister, who is on
the roster, has permitted one run on three hits and no walks in 2.2 innings,
And while it’s not time yet, don’t forget Nolan Ryan’s comment
a week ago that he’d like to see Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz eased into
their big league careers as relief pitchers.
Few minor league clubs can boast the pitching prospect power
that Hickory does, featuring a staff that includes Martin Perez, Wilmer Font,
Wilfredo Boscan, Fabio Castillo, Carlos Pimentel, and Jake Brigham (and, before
long, Joe Wieland and perhaps Neil Ramirez), and then a guy like lefthander
Cliff Springston, who posted a 5.09 ERA last summer after signing as the Rangers’
11th-round pick, goes out there last night and does this to Greenville
in his 2009 debut (though the Crawdads ultimately fell to the Drive in 15
innings, 2-1): seven innings, two singles, an unearned run, no walks, three
strikeouts, 11 groundouts/six flyouts. He
maintained a no-hitter until there were two outs in the fifth.
According to ESPN, “[s]everal sources expect the Texas
Rangers to be major players in the [Latin American] signing market this summer.” The one name mentioned in the note as a
Rangers target was left-handed masher Guillermo Pimentel, considered one of the
best pure hitters on the market.
When Elvis Andrus homered on Opening Day, he became the fourth-youngest
Ranger to go deep. The three younger
hitters? Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez,
and Sammy Sosa.
Einar Diaz will manage Baltimore’s
Appalachian League entry at Bluefield. He coached for the Orioles’ Gulf Coast League
squad in 2008.
The Washington Wild Things of the independent Frontier
League signed lefthander Eric Evans. The
Fargo-Moorhead Redhawks of the independent Northern League signed righthander
Josh Giles. The Lincoln SaltDogs of the independent
American Association signed first baseman Phillip Hawke. The Long Island Ducks of the independent
Atlantic League signed righthander Dan Miceli.
Want a shot at writing something that shows up in the
Rangers game program for the entire month of May? Go to http://forum.newbergreport.com/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=7893.
Typically, a 3-5 stretch wouldn’t be cause for alarm or
urgency, but when it includes five straight losses and, maybe more importantly,
comes at the beginning of a month and a season in which the club knew it had to
get off to a better start than the last two years – with a schedule stacked to better
that opportunity – a sense of urgency seems like a good thing, and the Rangers reportedly
had a postgame meeting after last night’s loss.
The bullpen is not solely to blame for this current skid,
but it’s certainly the part of the team most susceptible to a change in roles,
if not personnel. Barring a dramatic
reversal of fortune, almost immediately, the relief crew is going to look different
the next time all hands gather in the clubhouse to meet after the game.