A good day for Francisco and Feliz.
So much for depressurized
situations to let Frankie Francisco get things straightened out.
And so much for velocity hovering between 91 and 93.
As Texas loaded the bases with nobody out in the top of the
ninth, with the score knotted at 2-2, Ron Washington and Mike Maddux had both
Francisco and Neftali Feliz getting loose, presumably warming the former up in
case the game remained tied and getting the latter ready in case the Rangers
scored and set up a save situation.
The Rangers managed not to score, and Francisco came on with
no margin for error, entering a game tied in the ninth on the road. It was as high-pressure a situation as the
two save opportunities he failed to convert before being stripped of his job.
Make no mistake: Francisco gave up two hard outs to start
the ninth, and it took eight pitches for him to put Austin Kearns away on
strikes (despite getting ahead 0-2) to end the inning. But the results were there, as were the six 95
mph readings and one that tripped the gun at 97. That’s a good start. And the confidence that comes from a 1-2-3
ninth in front of a sold out Opening Day crowd, extending the game and giving the
3-4-5 hitters a chance to come up and do their thing in the 10th, setting
the stage for a nice win to kick off a big road trip – that’s a good day for
the unseated closer.
Jon Daniels has made some outstanding trades since taking
over as general manager in October 2005 – believe it or not, he’s now the 12th
most tenured GM in baseball – and two of his better trade acquisitions highlighted
a high-octane 10th inning: Nelson Cruz turning a Jamey Wright
fastball around 375 feet with a man on (it’s not easy to “break out” two seasons
in a row), and Feliz coming on to slam things shut with at least six of his 18
pitches hitting triple digits (including one at a reported 102 mph).
It’s premature to say whether Texas has its new closer, but
that’s a good start, and if you were going to draw it up, you’d want Feliz to
get one under his belt before the New York-Boston swing.
A good win, the club’s first two-game win streak, and a 4-3
record (yes, that should be 6-1) that sits closer to Oakland in first than Los
Angeles and Seattle in third and fourth.
Rich Harden has a 2.79 ERA and is by far the most frustrating
Rangers starter to watch over the first seven games. A new era in Rangers baseball, without a
Seven games, six quality starts.
Julio Borbon’s throw and Taylor Teagarden’s block of the
plate to erase a thundering Travis Hafner in the sixth and keep the game tied
couldn’t have been any better. That’s more
than just a big out in a 2-2 game. It’s
an entry in an advance scout’s notebook, and another one or two of those from
Borbon and it might lead to a couple opposing runners being held up at third when
they might not have been otherwise.
Joaquin Arias has 10 hits in the last four games. Always a player who tends to get his hits in
crazy bunches, he’s praised Clint Hurdle for helping him wait on the pitch and
go the other way – which is something I’m sure we’ve all noticed as well with
Cruz and Elvis Andrus and Josh Hamilton over the first week. It’s something Michael Young has always done
(and Andrus was adept at it as a rookie as well – as was Hamilton in 2008), but
on the days when this offense has clicked, there’s been a noticeable
opposite-field approach throughout the lineup.
Arias’s fate will be interesting. When Ian Kinsler returns, the utility infield
roster spot is going to be a defense-first role. There’s no question that Andres Blanco is the
better defender, particularly making the throws from the left side of the
infield. Neither Arias nor Blanco can be
optioned at this point, and so there’s a real risk that, whichever player Texas
decides to keep around when Kinsler returns (not an imminent move, as he’s
expected to go out on a brief rehab assignment first), the other could be lost
to another organization.
Speaking of which, I really liked what I saw out of catcher Matt
Treanor on Sunday and hope Texas can keep him in the organization whenever it
is that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is ready to return. It was just one game, but aside from the two
RBI singles he just looked like a veteran catcher out there with Scott Feldman,
Doug Mathis, and Chris Ray.
Doug Melvin purchased Doug Mirabelli for next to nothing
from the Giants at the end of spring training in 2001, and then traded the
30-year-old that June to Boston for Justin Duchscherer. Ray Olmedo for Treanor near the end of camp
this year wasn’t a huge trade, but it looks like a very good one, and not
because we can expect Treanor to be flipped for a solid pitching prospect.
Three walks from Andrus on Monday. More of that, please.
We won’t find out today whether Feliz will be asked to pitch
on consecutive days because we’re instead being treated to the rare (and
unwelcome) mid-series off-day. The bullpen
should be fully rested, though not at all set up the way we thought it might be
a month ago. C.J. Wilson gets the start
instead of the eighth, Feliz gets the ninth instead of the seventh, and
Francisco gets something other than the ninth.
The offense has sputtered, the late relief has prompted an
early bullpen shakeup, and the defense has had a couple ugly moments. Yes, 4-3 could be 6-1 (though the first win
and the last could have just as easily been losses), but the story of the first
seven games of 2010 is that the Rangers’ starting pitchers have an ERA of 1.85,
which is now more than a full run better than the second-best rotation mark
(Oakland, 2.94), have the second-lowest opponents’ batting average (.217,
higher only than Toronto’s .216), and have the second-lowest opponents’ OPS
(.620, higher only than San Francisco’s .604).
It all begins with starting pitching, and there’s no
question that this team would be off to an ugly win-loss if the rotation had even
been league-average. Solid starts do
more than keep the game in check and give the offense a chance. They keep the bullpen rested and allow the
manager to avoid stretching relievers into higher pitch counts than he wants or
pushing them into situations they’re not equipped for, or at least not ready
As for whether Neftali Feliz is equipped for the ninth, at
least for the time being while Frankie Francisco gets straightened out, that’s
a developing story. But it got off to a
very good start.
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(c) Jamey Newberg