Pressing.

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From February 16, 2009:

 

This team simply has to have a
better April.  Its record through the end of the first month in the two Ron
Washington seasons is 20-33 – which is a .377 win percentage, or a 61-win pace. 

 

Why does that change in 2009? 
Several factors to consider: (1) Texas opens at home this year, after opening on
the road the previous two; (2) Texas plays more home games than road games this
April, after the opposite the previous two; (3) of the 22 games on the club’s
April schedule, three are against a team that had a winning record in 2008.  And
that team’s winter has been highlighted by the loss of A.J. Burnett and the
addition of Keith Millar on a minor league
contract.

 

But the biggest reason to
realistically believe that April 2009 will be better is that is has to be.  The
Rangers showed some character when their backs were against the wall in May last
year, with major changes reportedly imminent, and in any number of games
throughout the season when they came back to win in dramatic fashion.  In a
sense, their backs are against the wall coming right out of the gate this year. 
Another bad April will mean a new manager in May.  These guys love playing for
Ron Washington.  They know he’s got to have a good start to survive, and that’s
on the players.

 

Better defense in April is
imperative.  Better pitching is, too, obviously, and we can hope that one
offshoot of the stricter off-season conditioning programs and the more
challenging spring training regimens will be that the starting pitchers in
particular will break camp ready to roll.  Even the offense is responsible for a
better start: April was the Rangers’ worst month in terms of OPS last year, and
their second worst in 2007.

 

*          *         
*

 

Does a better April mean a better
season?  Not by definition, but it sets a tone, and forges a momentum.  In the
last seven seasons, Texas has had two winning Aprils, in 2004 and
2006.  Those were the only years in that stretch when the Rangers won at least
80 games.

 

Texas has found
different ways to lose its six games, but most of them have been kicks in places
you don’t want to be kicked.  Pitching and defense have been repeat culprits,
but, on one night or another, every phase of the game you can imagine has
figured in.

 

Kansas
City
came into last night’s game hitting
.216/.297/.373 as a team.  

 

Worst in baseball in average.  Tied for worst in
reaching base.  Fifth-to-last in slug.

 

Last night: .442/.520/.744. 

 

Gil Meche came into the game with a lifetime ERA in
Rangers Ballpark of 8.10.  Texas had hit
.303/.390/.626 off Meche in Arlington. 

 

Last night: 0.00.  And
.261/.320/.261.

 

So tonight, we turn to Kevin Millwood, who has probably
gotten off to the second best start in the league (just ahead of Armando
Galarraga and John Danks).  Second to whom?  Tonight’s opposition, Zack Greinke,
who has yet to allow a run in two starts, striking out 16 and walking five in 11
innings.

 

(That’s Greinke, whom so many of you said I was crazy to
suggest trading for in August, when he was a lifetime 30-44, 4.39 pitcher, crazy
not so much because I was interested in trading for the then-24-year-old who
wouldn’t be a free agent until after 2010, but because I’d proposed offering
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Eric Hurley, John Mayberry Jr., Joaquin Arias, and Zach
Phillips for Greinke and reliever Ramon Ramirez, whom the Royals would later
trade to Boston for Coco Crisp . . . before extending Greinke through
2012.)

 

(For what it’s worth, Greinke has what has been
described as “very minor” no-trade protection in 2009 [$3.75 million salary] and
2010 [$7.25 million], but none in 2011 [$13.5 million] or 2012 [$13.5 million],
prompting one league executive to tell Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports in January:
“He’s going to get traded in one of the thirteen-and-a-halfs, unless he wins a
Cy Young Award before then.  And he could.”)

 

Maybe the more interesting matchup is Millwood, who has
allowed zero extra-base hits in 2009, against the Royals, who hit seven of them
last night alone.

 

Nah, it’s Millwood vs.
Greinke.

 

I want to feel like the Angels’ loss of Vladimir
Guerrero for the next month opens a door even further. 

 

But then, down 9-0 but with the bases loaded and seven
outs to play with, Michael Young is lifted for a pinch-hitter.  Seemed strange
to me not to let him have his cuts in that situation, where one swing (and the
middle of the order waiting) might have made the game interesting, as this team
has managed to do a couple times late this year.  Pull him after that if you
want to give him the final couple innings off (following yesterday’s off-day). 

 

But if you do hit for him, why Vizquel (1 for 5 with six
walks against Jamey Wright) rather than Andruw Jones (.318/.423/.636 in 22
career at-bats against Wright – including two home runs)?  Why not hit Jones
there and then bring Vizquel in to play defense? 

 

What’s the message to the
team?

 

It’s nitpicking, I know.  The issue here is much bigger
than a call from the bench in the late innings of a 9-0 game.  How many times
can you say “It just wasn’t our night”?

 

There’s a lot going on in this organization to be
excited about in the early going.  A farm system whose pitchers, as a whole,
have an ERA of 3.66, an opponents’ batting average of .243, eight strikeouts per
nine innings, and four walks per nine. 

 

Brilliant offensive starts to the season for Greg Golson
and Ben Harrison, Marcus Lemon and Manny Pina, Tim Smith and Matt Lawson and
Jonathan Greene, Mike Bianucci (who went 6 for 6 last night, a Hickory franchise
first) and David Paisano (watch out) and Jacob Kaase. 

 

The mound work of Thomas Diamond and Beau Vaughan (who
takes a scoreless five innings, featuring one hit, one walk, and seven
strikeouts, from AAA to AA to make room in Oklahoma City for Warner Madrigal),
Guillermo Moscoso, Michael Kirkman and Blake Beavan, and just about every
pitcher wearing a cap with a Crawdad on it, contributing to that club’s
shockingly sweet 2.11 ERA (including 1.51 by the
starters).

 

Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus (check this
out) and Nelson Cruz and Marlon Byrd.


Frankie Francisco and Jason
Jennings.

 

Millwood.

 

And it’s worth pointing out that, for all that’s gone so
badly so far for the big league club, the record is just 4-6.  Make just one of
those bad losses a win, and the team is at .500.

 

But even a .500 record this month, given the way the
schedule set up, would feel like a letdown.

 

I gave the proprietor of the local Uwe Blog website an
interview in March that finally made it to that site yesterday
.  One of the
questions I was asked was: “What is success for the 2009 Texas
Rangers?”

 

My response: “Knowing, going into 2010, who at least
four of our five starting pitchers will be.  Having Brandon McCarthy and Jarrod
Saltalamacchia turn the corner, and Nelson Cruz establish himself.  Getting
Elvis Andrus through the challenges of a rookie season so that he’ll be a
dependable piece of the puzzle in 2010.  Getting Derek Holland acclimated at
some point this summer.  Maybe Justin Smoak or Max Ramirez as well.  Getting an
unexpected bullpen boost from someone like Corey Young or John Bannister.
 Staying in the race at least until mid-August would be a point of success as
well.”

 

There are long-term benefits in staying in the
race.

 

Last year the Rangers played very good baseball in May,
but starting with Game Ten of the season, a five-game slide that turned into 12
losses out of 14 put the club in a hole in April it could never dig out of, even
if it was as good as anyone in May.

 

We’ve just gotten through Game Ten this year and have
already had the five-game skid.  Can’t afford to let it blow up into something
uglier, like it did in 2008. 

 

The tone and the momentum from that season-opening
series against Cleveland now feels like weeks ago, and it would be an extremely
welcome development for Millwood to reassume his role as number one tonight and
set a new tone, and maybe triggers a better momentum.  Half of this fortuitously
scheduled April is now gone, and we learned a year ago that finding a groove and
playing lights-out in May is probably going to be too late. 

 

Maybe I’m pressing now, but it seems like it’s time to
turn it around.

 


You can read more from Jamey
Newberg
at www.NewbergReport.com.

 


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