March 2011

Business as usual.

The time changed this morning in Arlington, but not in Surprise, and there’s a parallel to be drawn, something sort of fitting, as far as this baseball team is concerned.

As stunning as the turn of events at Ballpark Way was on Friday, seemingly coming out of nowhere to upset the balance of what had appeared out in the open to be a healthy and united leadership group, you wouldn’t have known there’d been a front office shakeup at all if you’d been on the back fields in Surprise the next morning.  Either that, or maybe nobody had bothered to tell a couple hundred guys in uniform.

While Derek Holland was out on the mound on Nolan Ryan Field very early on Saturday, throwing live BP, I’m sure back in the clubhouse the manager and a number of the rest of the players were asked to react with comment on the departure of Chuck Greenberg.  Afterwards, methodically, as usual, they all started filing out onto the back fields — the manager and players, that is, but no reporters — and while I wondered if there were any new front office developments brewing that had kept the press indoors, the body language and expressions on the faces of the players did nothing to fuel any suspicions.  It’s as if they were either oblivious to all the drama that had played out over the last 32 hours or, more likely, dismissive of it.  

None of their business, on the one hand, and nothing they could do about it, on the other.  And maybe most importantly, whatever was happening in the front office had no effect on the business the players have to take care of on the field and thus wasn’t a distraction, and they weren’t going to let it become one.  A cloudy situation for the franchise, maybe, but not a cloud that’s going to hang over the players.  Maybe every team in baseball, every team in pro sports, is this focused.  (Not true.)  Regardless, this one is, probably in part because the players here have had lots of practice at it, but also because that’s how this bunch seems to be wired.

I was here a year ago when Ron Washington made his own stunning announcement, and after the players all filed in to support him from the back of the room during his press conference, on their own, it was right back to business, putting in the work to get ready for what would be a World Series season.

It’s a tight-knit ballclub, but not wound tight at all.  It was remarkable to me that, just as Elvis and Michael and Josh were cutting up during BP yesterday morning, Adrian Beltre and Yorvit Torrealba and Mike Napoli were right there with them.  I suppose the fraternity of the big leagues is such that these guys all know each other from years of doing battle, but there’s something striking about how loose this club is, not only among the old guard but the newcomers as well.  There’s a hierarchy, no doubt, but at least from the outside you get the sense that there’s no Nuschler to tiptoe around if you’re a rookie, no initiation period if you’ve been the enemy for years and are just now joining the ranks.

Most of the fans I visited with yesterday talked about how being in Arizona, in the tranquility of Surprise, was the perfect distraction from all the extracurriculars going on with the franchise right now.  Maybe that’s part of it.  I feel it, too.  No talk shows, no unplugged sportscasts.  Just the game, back with us after a handful of months of drydock, and not much static to divert attention from the artistry of Beltre taking ground balls, or Chris Davis putting on a display of that easy, easy power that you just can’t teach.

Not everything was the same as always.  Holland and Andrus look bigger — in a good way — and Napoli seems to be in better shape, too, not as big as I remember him with the Angels (maybe it’s the longer hair).  Before taking their own BP cuts, Young and Hamilton hit fungoes to Ian Kinsler and Beltre, Young trying to hit some left-handed and Hamilton trying desperately to get one by Beltre (and trying, almost unsuccessfully, to avoid decapitating BP pitcher Bobby Jones).  

Beltre, incidentally, could see his first game action tomorrow.

Young taking his round of BP in a group with Hamilton and Nelson Cruz is different.  But it didn’t seem all that out of place.  

I think it’s going to be a big year for Young, who seems to have another gear whenever he feels like he’s sold short.  

A very unimportant note: I don’t remember Thad Bosley being that tall when he played.

Jose Julio Ruiz is going to have to put together an impressive season in order to be with the organization a year from now, but man, there’s something there.  You can see it.

But take those last two sentences and apply them to Davis, and triple it.  There’s pressure on him in 2011, but he’s not carrying himself as if there is, and while having options on a player benefits a club, running out of them benefits the player, and he knows that he should be a big leaguer in 2012.  And maybe sooner.  Somewhere.  He’s just not the type of player who 30 teams will allow to get outrighted.

Saturday was Day One of full-squad workouts on the minor league side, and there are 166 players suited up, more than at any other time in Scott Servais’s six camps overseeing the organization’s farm system.  One of them, Leonel De Los Santos, is a full-time pitcher now, and a bit to my surprise, he looks like one.  There was never a question about Macumba’s arm strength, but he looked at times like his 170-pound frame was swimming in his catcher’s gear over his first four years in the system.  He’s not all that much smaller than Pedro Strop, though, and I’m very interested to see how this works out, especially given the early reviews (from Jason Parks, for instance).

The beta on outfielder Jordan Akins is substantial.  Built like a young Juan Gonzalez, he’s spectacularly raw, but what he lacks in polish he oozes in projection.

Jurickson Profar: Just the opposite.  So polished.  Not tremendously projectable.  You can’t take your eyes off him.

The players have their names on their backs, so it’s not a problem that some uniform numbers have been given to as many as three different players, but it still seems like a cruel joke that both Robbie Erlin and Robbie Ross have been issued the same number (57).  

But righthander David Perez is the only 71 (at least until catcher Jose Felix returns from big league camp), and he was the best thing I saw in camp at Fall Instructs and it won’t surprise me if I come away with the same conclusion this week.

Don’t forget tomorrow night’s roundtable event in Surprise Stadium, which for now includes Eric Nadel, Tom Grieve, and John Rhadigan as our Q&A guests.  They’ll be seated on top of the first base dugout, and we’ll have free seating in the lower bowl right above the dugout.  We get rolling right at 6 p.m. tomorrow evening, so don’t be late.  The event should last about an hour.  Bring as many folks as you’d like.

In the meantime, lefthander Zach Phillips, righthander Fabio Castillo, and outfielder Engel Beltre have been optioned and thus slide west a couple hundred yards to the minor league fields (along, procedurally with righthander Wilmer Font, recovering from Tommy John surgery), while righthander Brett Tomko trades places with them, getting an official non-roster invite to big league camp.  He’s slated to pitch today as the Rangers host the Giants in a Surprise sellout, following Tommy Hunter, Arthur Rhodes, and Darren O’Day, and preceding Mark Lowe, whose audition as Neftali Feliz’s momentary ninth-inning understudy continues.
 
It’s spring training business as usual, in Surprise Stadium and on Nolan Ryan Field and down a ways around the Eagle’s Nest, and the obvious impression you get that every single man in uniform is trea
ting each day that way, in spite of the events dominating the Rangers headlines this weekend, sets an example that’s pretty easy to follow right now.

 

Changes.

Players and managers and GM’s and CEO’s come and go.

Chan Ho Park and Rich Harden were here too long, Jeff Zimmerman and Cliff Lee not nearly long enough.  But they all come and go.

We don’t.

I’ll be on the back fields in minutes, expecting to see Chris Davis take BP and Adrian Beltre take ground balls, hoping to catch Macumba on a mound, Jorge Alfaro in the cage, Robbie Erlin in a tracking session, Jurickson being Jurickson.  Wondering if Michael Thomas is still part of the organization, but also knowing that if he’s not, it doesn’t really change the picture on the Salty trade and won’t be something I give much of a second thought to.

Bobby Reed’s Rangers career ended before he got to Arlington, John Dettmer’s basically did, and so did Shawn Gallagher’s and Spike Lundberg’s, and I’d rather not talk about John Danks.  There have been disappointments when players I pulled for didn’t make it in Texas, but it never made me any less of a Rangers fan.

I got over Pudge’s first departure and the compound fracture of Ruben Mateo’s career arc, and surviving the trades of Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira (and the reality that they didn’t want to continue playing for my team) turned out to be pretty easy sledding.

One day Josh Hamilton will no longer play for Texas, and Elvis Andrus, too, but I’ll still be around.  (I almost said Eric Nadel and Chuck Morgan, but since they’ll both outlive all of us those are bad examples.)  

I’m probably like lots of you in that I rely on sports, and always have, as a diversion, an escape from the problems and stress points that interfere with day-to-day life, with health and family and work and whatever else.  

But then there are those reminders we didn’t ask for, popping up more often than we’d like, that those same problems exist and sometimes interfere with the teams and seasons we look to for some degree of refuge.  Teams may exist for the fans, not just as a marketing pitch but philosophically, but they’re big business for many folks who devote their own day-to-day to making them run and hoping to make them win.  Very big business.

Very big business where the problems get aired out very publicly.  

I respect Nolan Ryan and Chuck Greenberg, just as I respect Jon Daniels and Michael Young, and the last thing I wanted to believe was that there were disconnects between them, issues that they couldn’t work out, clashes that we haven’t exactly had ringside seats for but that still played out, not fully but at least in part, in public.  

Those men have been the faces of the franchise, the reigning American League champion franchise, that I have cared so much about for a lifetime, long before any of them were part of the Rangers family and long after they will have moved on from the organization.  

But Ryan is still here, and that’s massively important.

Some of what Greenberg helped achieve in his seven months here will last a long time.

And while Daniels and Young may not have rebuilt bridges, this team is better with both of them here.  I’d like to think that they both agree with that, but if not, so be it.

I hate it that things aren’t as stable as we’d all hope for them to be, but this is still my team, and that’s the one thing in all of this that I know, with 100 percent faith, will not change.

Chuck Greenberg expected to resign.

I woke up this morning prepared to sit down and type out this year’s 32 Things, as I get set to head to Surprise.
But before opening up my email, I flipped on the TV, and I’m still trying to get my head wrapped around what happened in Japan while I slept, and what they’re bracing for in Hawaii.
And then I saw the instant messages and emails and Twitter posts and newspaper stories, all triggered by a Fort Worth Star-Telegram report from Jeff Wilson that apparently hit the Internet about five minutes after I turned everything off last night.  
Reports are rampant that Chuck Greenberg could announce today that he’s resigning as Texas Rangers CEO in order to pursue other interests.
Rumors of internal differences of opinion swirl, and there’s apparently added detail in a Dallas Morning News story that I don’t have access to because I don’t pay for their online content, but I’m not going to speculate and pollinate on what’s happening.  I don’t know anything.  I suspect we’ll start to get some level of detail soon enough, from the local press and perhaps from the organization itself.
Staggering day, already.

Beer and tacos.

The six apparent candidates for the final two spots in the Rangers rotation – Dave Bush, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Eric Hurley, Michael Kirkman, and Alexi Ogando – have each gone three innings their last time out.  The composite numbers?
Eighteen innings, nine hits, zero runs, six walks, 13 strikeouts.   
No, you can’t put too much stock in a short sample of spring training statistics, but 18 scoreless frames (for a team whose offense is hitting .304/.355/.511, so this isn’t exactly Dead Ball Era baseball) is pretty impressive.
A key example of the numbers not telling the story is in the case of Julio Borbon, certainly the position player with the most tenuous hold on a starting job.  The 25-year-old is hitting .391 with a .565 slug, has yet to strike out in 23 at-bats, and has three stolen bases in four tries.  Encouraging for a player who’s only being counted on to hit ninth, huh?
Maybe, until you hear from the men in charge of evaluating where Borbon is and determining his fate.
Paraphrasing Jon Daniels from a radio interview he did on Tuesday: “Julio hasn’t had a great camp . . . he’s had lots of hits but mechanically he doesn’t look locked in and focused . . . and he missed a cutoff man yesterday . . . we need to see some improvement . . . we’re not shutting the door on putting Hamilton back in center field but would love to see Julio take the job and run with it.”
Those comments came before Tuesday afternoon’s game against the Angels, during which Borbon frustrated Ron Washington when he got the hit-and-run sign and “swung like he was trying to hit the ball out of the park,” as the manager pointed out during a Wednesday morning interview.  “Julio,” said Washington, “is capable of doing the job.  It’s up to Julio to go take that job.”
And then there’s the occasional performance about which evaluations can differ diametrically.  Regarding Neftali Feliz, who was assigned the sixth through eighth innings on Wednesday, touching 98 and mixing in not only a handful of breaking balls and changeups but also a brand new cut fastball, one scout told Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, “He’s got the best stuff I’ve seen all spring,” noting that the cutter was “unfair – not Mo [Rivera] in his prime, but it’s a hell of a fourth pitch.”  Meanwhile, our own Jason Parks, whose scouting chops are now on display at www.texasfarmreview.com, tweeted that Feliz’s new offering “wasn’t very good; poor arm speed, poor pace, poor location . . . . The cutter showed promise, but that and the [changeup] were poor.”
(And let’s consider the fact that, while Feliz did register four strikeouts, two swinging at fastballs in the upper 90s and two looking at breaking balls up in the zone, the four late-inning victims were Andy LaRoche, Jemile Weeks, Josh Horton, and Jai Miller, two of whom are fringy big leaguers and the other two of whom haven’t gotten out of Class AA.)
One player for whom the numbers and the reviews matched up on Wednesday was Holland, who punished the A’s for three innings, locating a low-90s fastball that touched 95, a swing-and-miss slider, and an effective change down in the zone.  He started nine of the 10 hitters he faced off with a strike, never got to a three-ball count, and overall threw only seven balls to those 10 A’s, in 37 pitches.  
“Pretty sharp,” said Washington, who said Holland made a “statement” with his appearance.  “Very impressive. . . he was on the attack. . . he was pounding the strike zone.  He was bringing the action to them.  He wasn’t waiting.”
Added Mike Maddux about Holland’s effort: “He looked like a pitcher out there today.  He had a plan.  And the firepower to back it up.”
Earlier in the week, Michael Young and C.J. Wilson said that Ogando was the sleeper so far in camp, while a group of 10 Rangers players and coaches made Chris Davis far and away the consensus choice as the player having the most impressive camp.  Ogando did nothing to hurt his standing on Monday (three scoreless innings, two singles, two walks, four strikeouts), but the way Holland dealt yesterday against Oakland gave us a glimpse of the pitcher who was a top 30 prospect in baseball two years ago and has had brief moments of dominance each of the past two seasons.  
The next step for Holland is elevating his consistency.  If he can get to the point at which he commands the baseball like he did on Wednesday more often than not, this will be the last camp in which we’ll be asking whether he’s a big league number four.

The CD universe.

Could Chris Davis factor in for Texas this season?  No question. 
We didn’t expect Davis to struggle like he did in 2009, or 2010.  We didn’t expect Justin Smoak to lose his command of the strike zone like he did in 2010.  We have to leave room for the possibility that the league might adjust to Mitch Moreland at a more advanced pace than he adjusts himself.  Moreland’s having a great camp (.350/.458/.750), but Davis finished camp strong in 2009, too, coming off his own promising rookie season.  It might not feel like a front-burner concern right now but, face it, Moreland could struggle.
Or he could get hurt.
Or Adrian Beltre could get hurt.
Or Mike Napoli could, or Michael Young could, or Ian Kinsler could, making Young the everyday second baseman for some stretch.   
It’s even conceivable that if there are a couple outfield injuries, the club might decide its best maneuver would be to put Moreland in right field, at least for a bit.  
Take a look at Scott Lucas’s fluid organizational depth chart, which sports a projected Round Rock lineup featuring the unproven Chad Tracy and lots of journeymen.  It’s not like the Express pitching staff, which could include two or three of Derek Holland, Michael Kirkman, Matt Harrison, and Dave Bush, especially once Brandon Webb is ready, plus Pedro Strop and Tanner Scheppers.  There are a couple Tracy equivalents in Cody Eppley and Zach Phillips, and plenty of Esteban German/Matt Kata types (Seth McClung, Brett Tomko, etc.), but the pitching depth, as it should be, is far more reassuring than what Texas has in position player reinforcements.
You don’t want to have to fight through a dead spot offensively or defensively, or run with what amounts to a short-handed bench, if one of your frontline players goes down for three weeks.
Davis could be very important in 2011, and that one remaining option allows the Rangers to avoid what otherwise might have been a very challenging decision at the end of this month, one way or another.
And that leaves aside the possibility that St. Louis decides at some point this summer that it’s not going to exercise Chris Carpenter’s 2012 option, and isn’t crazy about continuing to run David Freese out there at third base for the next three years while Zack Cox develops.  Or that the White Sox aren’t sold on young third baseman Brent Morel and, out of the race, put Mark Buehrle on the market.  Or that, more immediately, Texas is willing to risk a deal with the Angels, who are said to be hunting for a left-handed bat.
Or that the Twins opt to shop Francisco Liriano and, even if they believe Justin Morneau can still be a two-way player long-term, covet a player out there from a third team that the Rangers might be able to acquire for a deal by using Davis (as in this winter’s rumored attempt to acquire Cubs catcher Robinson Chirinos this winter to facilitate a flip to Tampa Bay as part of a Matt Garza trade).
Or maybe there’s a Young trade still to be made.
There are different ways that Davis can help the Rangers, and maybe significantly, this year.  While it’s wise not to make too much of an impressive eight-game run at the plate (.435/.480/.870) and in the field, I think we can all agree that this sort of small sample sure beats a .167/.167/.250 slash or a situation in which the club is trying to hide the player defensively.
And that it’s especially true for a club that expects to win this season and will need more than 25 players to get it done, still has an option it can use on the player in 2011, and, in the words of the general manager, is getting asked about the 24-year-old quite a bit by other clubs who, gradually if not suddenly, may be growing disenchanted with their own infield corner situation and increasingly interested in the possibility that Chris Davis is in fact figuring a few things out. 

Our AZ event and a Feliz development.

The Rangers travel to Scottsdale tonight to take on the Giants, sending close to a starting lineup out against lefthander Jonathan Sanchez, the lone San Francisco pitcher that Texas hung a loss on in the World Series.  The game starts at 8 p.m. Central time.
Calling the game on a free MLB.com webcast will be John Rhadigan, making his Rangers play-by-play debut, along with John Blake.
And speaking of Rhadigan, he and Eric Nadel and Tom Grieve will join us for a free fan event inside Surprise Stadium at 6 p.m. (Arizona time) on Monday, March 14 (one week from tonight).  The Q&A event will last one hour.  No need to RSVP.  More details soon. 
And by the way, if you’re wagering on whether Neftali Feliz will start or close when the season opens in three and a half weeks, bet on a return to the ninth inning.  Among the things the front office has alluded to recently is the importance the club places on the pitcher’s own ambitions, and how C.J. Wilson craved a transition to the rotation a year ago and put every ounce of his energy, both in the off-season and in camp, toward convincing the organization that he should start.
Feliz, according to a handful of tweets just shared by our local beat reporters in Surprise, said today that he’s comfortable in either role but would prefer to close.  
Feliz is expected to start on Wednesday (despite yesterday’s scare when he took a Craig Gentry BP line drive off his left shin), but I’d give the experiment another week or 10 days before he’s back working the ninth.

The JD extension.

This afternoon Zack Greinke will stride to the mound in the stadium that, for the first time in his pro career, he won’t call home.  A bit of an upset, some think.
The Rangers’ two biggest off-season pickups, Adrian Beltre and Brandon Webb, are expected to take big steps forward today in their preparation for the season, but neither is ready to make his spring debut. 
It hasn’t been a perfect off-season for Texas, but almost no team’s ever is.  
Still, Beltre is expected to be ready for Opening Day.  Webb could be, too, and if he’s not, remember that Tommy Hunter didn’t pitch until June last year and still won 13 games.
And Greinke?  Love him, wish Texas got him, but if it meant Hunter or Derek Holland, plus Tanner Scheppers or Martin Perez, plus Jurickson Profar, plus Engel Beltre, and maybe more?  Maybe if you were a GM on an instant gratification blitz like Atlanta’s John Schuerholz was four years ago.  
Plus, within the next year Greinke could be available again.  As could Mark Buehrle, or Chris Carpenter.  Or Yu Darvish.  
And if, in that time, Holland emerges as a solid number three and Scheppers arrives as a lockdown setup weapon and Profar finishes the year playing shortstop for Myrtle Beach at age 18 (just as Elvis Andrus did when the Pelicans were a Braves affiliate in 2007) and Beltre has a season in Frisco and Round Rock that puts him on the doorstep going into 2012 – or if just a couple of those things happen – it sets the farm system up to pay dividends again, just as it did in July when Cliff Lee became available, and the idea of refusing to grossly overpay for Greinke this winter will have been validated.
Texas could have parted with half a dozen players to get Greinke in December.  Or Matt Garza in January.  
Ask the Mariners how that Erik Bedard trade worked out.
The Rangers could have guaranteed the 32-year-old Lee a seventh year and $161 million.  They could have.
The first half of the contract would have been a risk well worth taking.  Beyond that, hold your breath.
Nobody doubts that Jon Daniels is just as motivated to make sure 2010 isn’t a flash year as he was to embark on the five-step teardown plan four years ago to move the Rangers toward contention.  It would have been easy to view this World Series team as one that needed just a little winter tweaking: lock Lee up or trade some future assets (that wouldn’t really have affected the immediate core) to get Greinke, go find a veteran catcher, consider a change at DH.  The mainstream media would have celebrated the off-season, the fan base would have largely bought in, the clubhouse would have been fully on board.
But Daniels and his group took a few bold steps, apparently set in motion only when the efforts to land Lee or Greinke or Garza reached levels at which they were deemed foolish to act on, and Texas moved in a direction that was neither the easy way out nor an impulsive pushing in of all the chips.  Signing Beltre to improve the defense and taking a flier on Webb were more unconventional ways to address the club’s pitching needs than landing a number one, but evidence that the front office had backup plans that they were ready to move on, something we’ve come to expect these last few years.
Daniels was already positioned to become the second-longest tenured general manager in franchise history when his existing contract expired at the end of the 2011 season, and while his term has been marked by aggressive decisions, I doubt anyone expected that he’d operate this year with a Schuerholz mindset, going all in without the security of a long-term contract and without regard for the young players two and three years away from Arlington.  
It takes nobody by surprise that Rangers have locked Daniels up long-term – his deal now goes through 2015, which would give him a 10-year run matching Tom Grieve’s – but there was also this in one of the local write-ups of the Daniels extension:
The next step is to keep the foundation in place.  Team president Nolan Ryan said that with Daniels’ deal out of the way, the focus can shift to locking up key core players as well as members of the baseball-operations staff.

Assistant GM Thad Levine will be first, and the Rangers plan to have contacted all their targets within a few weeks.

“We’ll work on extending people within the system because we feel like we have personnel that we really count on and are really important to us,” Ryan said.  “That’s going to be a priority of ours to do in the very near future.”
If this team continues to make the type of noise it made last summer, it’s inevitable that Levine will start to get interviews to run someone else’s franchise, and A.J. Preller and Scott Servais and Don Welke head a group of baseball operations assets that other clubs are going to come after, dangling promotions.  But Ryan and the Rangers’ ownership group seem determined to make sure that key folks in the Daniels group aren’t going to reach free agency in eight months (the way Mike Maddux did after the 2008 season), and that’s a very good thing.
There’s no Rangers player with a guarantee that extends now beyond the one given to Daniels (Beltre is locked up through 2015, with a 2016 club option), and whether that was symbolic or not in settling on his contractual term I have no idea.  But the continuity that it recognizes and promises more of, both at the GM post and presumably in other roles on Daniels’s team, makes Friday’s announcement one of the more invigorating made by this organization since the season ended with Texas one of the two final clubs standing.

Erratica.

Professor Jason Parks watched Neftali Feliz pitch yesterday afternoon and he put it best: “First of all, [Thursday] was his first spring training appearance, so unless he gets injured, or strikes out-the-side while throwing 105 mph, it’s best to chew on the performance for a few minutes and then move on.  Today wasn’t a good day for Feliz, but it wasn’t a nightmare either.”  
There were inconsistencies in command and velocity and tempo and the quality of his secondary pitches, and he apparently wasn’t comfortable mechanically from the windup, but it was a two-inning effort that probably didn’t do enough to bolster either camp as far as what his role should be in a month (one team source told a local columnist that righty’s somewhat erratic effort should usefully cool the hype a bit), and the process will continue with another game assignment next week.  
Derek Holland’s two-inning effort across town in Mesa was evidently a mixed bag as well.  The bigger pitching news to come out of that game was Tanner Scheppers’s lower back stiffness, which presumably explains the drop in his velocity in what was an extremely ineffective outing (groundout, walk, infield single, infield single, double, sac fly, single, single, walk: four runs while recording only two outs).  Scheppers was a longshot to make the Opening Day staff, so this development shouldn’t impact any roster plans, but it would be a setback for the righthander if it lingers, and is worth keeping tabs on, particularly since his projection as a power piece for the bullpen at some point this year factors into the idea that the relief corps would ultimately survive any transition of Feliz or Alexi Ogando to the rotation.  
On the subject of the back of the bullpen, enthusiasm for Mark Lowe’s inning at the end of the Feliz game (three outs, two on strikes) ought to be tempered to a point, given that the Indians side he retired was comprised of minor leaguers Juan Apodaca and Nick Weglarz and utility man Luis Valbuena.  But the nine Lowe strikes in 12 pitches was encouraging, as was Eric Hurley’s solid work in the third and fourth innings, as he needed only 21 pitches to dispose of Michael Brantley, Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana, Travis Buck, Austin Kearns, and Jason Donald, most of whom figure to be in Cleveland’s starting lineup on any given day.
Big days, too, from Ian Kinsler and Chris Davis, Mitch Moreland and Michael Young, David Paisano and Mike Olt, but focusing too much on a big game at the plate is something we’ll save at least for April.
But Davis . . . man, it’s really good to see him regularly coming up big in both phases.  Would love to see him keep playing with confidence and in rhythm.
Again, though, take these early March box scores with a scrap of a crumb of a grain of salt, which is to say virtual indifference, unless you’re willing to bet that Cliff Lee’s first spring work with the Phillies (a hit-by-pitch and RBI triple to start the game, followed an out later by a run-scoring sac fly, and a leadoff walk in his second inning of work, with a wild pitch mixed in) is a dark cloud forming.
Yorvit Torrealba is expected to play today after his own bout of back stiffness held him out of action for a few days.  Adrian Beltre is reportedly making progress with his calf strain, but the club is pushing back its initial timetable that he’d return in 10 to 14 days (sometime next week).  No specifics, but team officials remain confident that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.
The Lee trade in July arguably gave righthanders Josh Lueke and Blake Beavan a better opportunity than they would have had in Texas, but Seattle’s trade on Wednesday of the other minor league piece in that trade, infielder Matt Lawson, essentially put another big league pitcher in their way.  The Mariners shipped Lawson to Cleveland for lefthander Aaron Laffey, reuniting the 25-year-old with former Indians manager Eric Wedge, who plans to look at him in relief.  Neither Lueke nor Beavan was expected to make the Opening Day roster, but a 2011 debut for each is a good bet.
 
A few more things, quickly:
Jonathan Mayo (MLB.com) weighs in with his Top 10 Rangers prospects, plus a sleeper.
Chuck Morgan posted a message on the Newberg Report forum about the new main video board at Rangers Ballpark, which is now in place.  Check it out here.
If you were lucky enough to have missed my mystery caller segment on the Ticket yesterday, in celebration of Dan McDowell’s birthday, you can double down and lose everything by listening here: Part 1 and Part 2.  You’ll get the rare opportunity to hear my voice get modulated into that of a mouse, and to cringe at ill-advised Steve Olin and Bill Robinzine references.
(It was actually a lot of fun, and managed to avoid candidacy in this morning’s Emergency Break of the Week segment.  But man, what a letdown for Dan once he realized it was me . . . . )
If you missed MLB Network’s excellent “30 Clubs in 30 Days” feature on the Rangers last night, you can catch a reairing of the hour-long show this morning at 10 a.m. or again at noon, or at 1 a.m. tonight.
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