April 2011

Winning.

The hierarchy of right-handed relief pitchers that Texas took to camp in February looked something like this:

Neftali Feliz

Mark Lowe

Alexi Ogando

Darren O’Day

Dave Bush (NRI)

Pedro Strop

Mason Tobin

Tanner Scheppers (NRI)

Yoshinori Tateyama

Eric Hurley

Omar Beltre

Ryan Tucker (NRI)

Cody Eppley (NRI)

Seth McClung (NRI)

Yhency Brazoban (NRI)

Fabio Castillo

Brett Tomko (non-roster, no invite initially)

Where are they now?

     Neftali Feliz (disabled list)

Mark Lowe (AAA)

Alexi Ogando (rotation)

     Darren O’Day (60-day disabled list)

Dave Bush

Pedro Strop

     Mason Tobin (60-day disabled list)

     Tanner Scheppers (AAA disabled list)

Yoshinori Tateyama (AAA)

     Eric Hurley (60-day disabled list)

     Omar Beltre (60-day disabled list)

Ryan Tucker

Cody Eppley

Seth McClung (AAA)

Yhency Brazoban (AAA)

Fabio Castillo (AA)

Brett Tomko

And we haven’t even played four weeks of baseball.

Remarkable.

Even more so considering Texas has the second best record in the American League.

Texas used 22 pitchers in 2010.  When Tucker first makes an appearance, the club will have used 17 this month.

It’s a drastically different type of adversity from what the Rangers battled through last year, but this shoestring bullpen, as ill-fitting as it looks at the moment, could provide a real rallying point if it manages to hold things together relatively well until Feliz returns.

I saw something really cool the other day.  I stopped by the Rangers’ Dallas Team Shop on McKinney Avenue, and there was a line of people waiting at the register.  Most were without merchandise in hand, so I assume they were there to buy tickets.  Never saw that last year, and I go by that shop fairly often.  We’ve been reading about the huge walk-up mob descending on Rangers Ballpark this month, but it looks like it goes beyond that.

Texas is now fifth in the American League in per-game attendance (behind the Yankees, Twins, Angels, and Red Sox), and boasts the greatest per-game increase from 2010 in the big leagues, by a lot.  Through last night, the Rangers were drawing 9,521 more fans per game than they did last year.  Next is Toronto (7,946), and after that there are a few teams in the 5,000 range.  All told, only 11 of the 30 teams are showing an increase of any kind.

The season ticket increase is a big factor, obviously, but the reason for a big walk-up – and apparently a good amount of advance sales, too – isn’t only because this team is a reigning pennant winner, but also because it’s an easy team to get behind.  There’s a ton of fight in this franchise, in uniform and in the front office, and right now a lot of fights are getting won.

As Jon Morosi (Fox Sports) tweeted minutes ago: “What’s more impressive – that the Indians have the best record in the AL, or that the Rangers are No. 2 despite their injuries?”

(Speaking of which, a sampling of tonight’s in-game @newbergreport tweets:

Young starters losing confidence in their stuff?  Sure hope not.  Harry and Holland dancing outside the zone way too often.  Can’t pitch timid.

I’d like Jim Knox to head over to that fan [the one who stole the foul ball from Adrian Beltre] and give him an on-air, white-shirt, white-pants earful.

Rather than charge premium for first-row seats in foul ground, when I own a team I’ll make customers pass a baseball IQ test.

Slightly dangerous move by Kins – if throw beats him [on Andrus single in the third], tag likely applied before YT scores.  But that’s Rangers baseball, & I’m good with it.

How long before Little Leaguers in DFW start appealing to first on their own check swings?  #genuflection

Fantastic to see Cruz go to right.  That’s a good way to claw your way out of a slump.

Jo-Jo Reyes is more left-handed than you.  #Napoli

Jays tie it.  So Cody Eppley will get his first big league win tonight.

Step One to the Eppley win:  Octavio Dotel enters.

Step Two to the Eppley win:  Mitch Moreland, facing Dotel for the first time ever, trots.

@aandro notes that the fan behind 3B has gone home.  Defense for the 9th just got a tick stronger.)

Ogando gets the ball tomorrow afternoon, hoping to give Texas a chance to split this series before a quick road trip to Oakland and Seattle.  Maybe Tucker will be called upon to get BautistaZilla out in a big seventh-inning spot.

It’s not as if, on the scale of what we’ve already been treated to this month, it would be all that far-fetched.

Cody Eppley, savior.

There’s something dark within me that wishes I were a Mavs blogger today, working on no sleep since Portland 84, Dallas 82, drawn to the idea that I’d be finishing up a report right now, epic in its sloppy length to match a basketball game that was epic in its Fail.

Instead, I’ll write something smaller in scale and shorter in length, rich in player development-y goodness rather than smelling like a barn.

It was less than an hour before Saturday’s tip-off that the Rangers sent out word that they were deactivating Neftali Feliz for two weeks with right shoulder inflammation, an announcement mitigated by organizational assurances that the move is being made out of an abundance of caution – and I’m certainly all for that given the big-picture implications that would set in with a Feliz that’s less than well – but nonetheless worrisome given how we just got through talking about how troublesome the club’s relief situation looks behind the lockdown closer.

Feliz is expected to miss only two home games against Kansas City and four against Toronto, then four in Oakland and three in Seattle.  That is, the Royals and three mediocre offenses.  The Royals and three teams with losing records.  In the season’s first fifth.  It would probably be difficult to handpick a 13-game stretch on the schedule better suited to be without your best reliever.

But April and May wins count as much as September wins, and there will be situations in games these next two weeks when the absence of Feliz, and the unavailability of certain relievers as they’re being held back for later-inning assignments, will be felt.  How the bullpen responds will be a huge story line during the time that Feliz’s shoulder is given the chance to loosen up and calm down.

Two months ago, had we envisioned this late-April event, we’d have probably guessed the temporary ninth-inning duties would have fallen to Alexi Ogando or Mark Lowe.  But for two wildly dissimilar reasons, neither is an option.

Tanner Scheppers?  Too soon, aside from which he’s on the AAA disabled list for the second time this month, with lower back weakness.

The Rangers pitcher with the most career saves is C.J. Wilson.

The Rangers pitcher with the last non-Feliz save – before last night – is Matt Harrison.

Pedro Strop has the stuff but not the command.

Darren O’Day?  Go back those two months and he’d have been near the front of the discussion.  Not anywhere close to the conversation right now.

I’m not here to suggest that one night’s work was enough to think about entrusting a ninth-inning lead to Cody Eppley to protect, but if he does anything like that three times in his next four opportunities, I’m not sure the seventh inning shouldn’t be his, mixed and matched with Rhodes or Oliver to make sure he’s in there to face key righties in key situations.

I talked to several baseball people in October and March who insisted that Eppley has better stuff than O’Day, the key question being whether it would continue to play up as it had through every step of his meteoric rise through the Rangers system.

It was Day Two of the June 2008 Draft when Rangers pro scout Russ Ardolina, then the club’s amateur scout for the mid-Atlantic region, pounded his fist on the table until Texas spent its 43rd-round pick on the 6’5” Eppley, who had posted an unimpressive 4.91 ERA as a Virginia Commonwealth senior that spring, giving up lots of hits (99 in 91.2 innings) and not striking out a whole lot of batters (63) while throwing from a high-3/4 slot.  He’d yielded more hits than innings pitched in each of his four Rams seasons, and nothing about his career ERA of 4.58 suggested he was a candidate for a minor league audition.

But as quickly as Eppley signed, he produced.  Working as the Arizona League squad’s closer, he gave up earned runs just three times in 19 appearances, saving seven games in nine opportunities, punching out a remarkable 34 batters in 25.2 innings while issuing only five walks and scattering 19 hits (.192 opponents’ average).

Still, that was against largely teenaged competition, and after two season-ending appearances with Low A Clinton, a stint in Fall Instructional, and his first spring training, Eppley was challenged by Rangers minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark to completely change what he was.  Clark felt the 23-year-old had the makeup and the physical tools to go from that high-3/4 slot to a much lower slot, and that the transformation would give him a better chance to advance in the system.

To say he took to it would be grossly understating things.  Returned to Low A in 2009 (this time in Hickory), Eppley struck out 76 South Atlantic Leaguers in 67.2 innings, and walked six.  Opponents managed to hit .244 off him, but grounded out 2.38 times as often as they flew out, a sparkling number.

Still not quite on the radar (at least externally) given the extraordinary depth of the Rangers system, Eppley was assigned out of camp in 2010 to High A Bakersfield, the natural next step in his development but, as with any pitcher, a challenge given the hitting environment of the California League.  The organization was optimistic that his arsenal would play up in that circuit.  They couldn’t have expected what happened.

Eighteen innings.  No runs.  Nine hits (.143 opponents’ average).  One walk.  Twenty-four strikeouts.  Six saves in six opportunities, a couple wins.  Five times more groundouts than flyouts.  And a mid-May ticket to AA Frisco.

He settled in as the RoughRiders’ closer right away, and was nearly as dominant.  In 22.2 innings, he gave up 12 hits (.154 opponents’ average) and eight unintentional walks, fanning 27 and inducing an absurd 5.67 groundouts for every flyout.  Three runs (1.19 ERA), but no home runs.  Nine save chances, nine converted.

Then it was on to AAA Oklahoma City.  The numbers were a little less extraordinary (4.08 ERA, 32 hits and 13 walks in 28.2 innings, three home runs, 31 strikeouts, 2.38 G/F), but again, this was a kid from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania two years removed from an ordinary senior season in college and a 43rd-round flier.

The Rangers named Eppley their Minor League Reliever of the Year.  While opponents at his three levels managed to hit only .207 collectively, the number shrunk to .147 when looking strictly at right-handed hitters, who collected only three extra-base hits in 150 at-bats and struck out 40 percent of the time.

Off the roster but invited to big league camp this spring, Eppley struggled in Cactus League play in March (seven runs [six earned] on eight hits and three walks in seven innings, with three strikeouts), but he got himself into a good groove with AAA Round Rock as the season got underway and has yet to fall out of it.  In six Express appearances, Eppley blanked his opponents on six hits and three walks in 8.1 innings, fanning nine and inducing three times as many groundouts as flyouts.  Right-handed hitters were 0 for 12 with one walk and five strikeouts.

And then last night, hours after arriving in a big league clubhouse for the first time, Eppley was brought on in the seventh inning of a 3-1 game against one of the league most productive offenses.

Two scoreless innings.  A strikeout of the first big league hitter he faced (Matt Treanor).  The remaining five outs?  Four groundouts and a pop to shortstop.

Thirty-five pitches.

Twenty-seven strikes.

If Feliz hadn’t gotten hurt, Eppley probably wouldn’t have been up here, at least not as quickly as last night.  But if Frankie Francisco didn’t struggle so much out of the gate in 2010, Feliz wouldn’t have been the closer for the World Series team, at least not that quickly.  If the Yankees had agreed to part with Ivan Nova or Eduardo Nunez, Cliff Lee wouldn’t have been a Ranger, and if Justin Smoak had hit a little bit, Mitch Moreland would still be in AAA today, if not traded over the winter.  Things happen.

I don’t know how long Eppley will be up here this time, or if he’ll be as effective the second and third time out on the mound as he was the first, but I can’t wait to find out.

Eppley didn’t save last night’s game, but he saved my sports night.

Relief map.

We’re all used to Rangers seasons when, three weeks in, the complaint was that there was no dependable starting pitching, or a porous defense, or a lineup full of hitters allergic to taking pitches.  One of the welcome changes symptomatic of getting behind a contender is that you can typically direct your frustration at just one or two discrete spots.  Caring about a winner doesn’t necessarily mean any less aggravation.  It just breeds a different type.  Less malaise, more focused angst.

Going into camp this year, and even coming out of it, I think we’d all admit that the back of the rotation had us holding our breath, as Derek Holland was pounded through much of spring training, we’d seen the Matt Harrison show before, and Tommy Hunter’s late-March injury left us with so little to go on as far as Alexi Ogando’s ability to go through a lineup a couple times was concerned that even the question mark was poorly defined.

But to date, the success of the 3-4-5 starters (7-2, 2.53) has been as big a reason as any for this club’s 11-7 start.  Colby Lewis’s work – not just the results, but the command and velocity – is a concern, and center field is a hot button, with Josh Hamilton hurt, Julio Borbon failing to execute in ways he needs to, and David Murphy getting exposed at the position.  Borbon will continue to get chances, but Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez could be options at some point, and Leonys Martin is about to enter the system, though even in a best case he’s not going to factor in until late in the season.

But the real trouble spot with this roster, foreseeable to a point but not to this extent, is in the bullpen, where behind Neftali Feliz the two righthanders counted on to hold things down in Ogando’s absence, Darren O’Day and Mark Lowe, have been unreliable, leaving Ron Washington in the uncomfortable position of having to depend on Pedro Strop to get very big outs (a situation that could pay off substantially).  Texas went with an unconventional eight-man relief crew to start the year, but when things get to a point at which you’re hesitant to entrust key at-bats to half of them (O’Day, Lowe, the now-injured Mason Tobin, and long man Dave Bush), suddenly it feels like you’re playing with both a short bench and a short pen.

Yes, 11-7 is a win rate that would translate to 99 victories, but what’s the fun in shrinking from an opportunity to overreact to a bit of a skid – or a weak spot on the roster, to which a growing sense of dread may not be an overreaction at all?

Here’s the thing.  At this stage last year, the Rangers were 8-10 and in last place.  It wasn’t until a solid May and a blistering June that the club could think of itself as a frontline buyer in July.  This season, coming off a World Series and armed with far more financial muscle, Texas went to camp in February – especially having failed to convert on multiple winter attempts to land a marquee starting pitcher to fill the void left by the departure of Cliff Lee – expecting to be a July buyer.

It would be easy to assume that the Rangers will be on the hunt for another Lee this summer, but there’s that one little problem: There’s not going to be a Lee on the market, or a Dan Haren or a Roy Oswalt.  I hold out hope that Milwaukee staggers into the summer, even after Zack Greinke begins to contribute, and that the Brewers gauge the weakness of the market and decide to flip Greinke’s final two summers under contract for more than they gave Kansas City to get him (thought yesterday’s Ryan Braun extension probably seals Prince Fielder’s fate there and means the Brewers are going all in this year), but otherwise it seems unlikely that anyone is going to put a pitcher on the market with the skins to pitch Game One of a playoff series.

Center field?  You’ll hear names like Grady Sizemore, Michael Bourn, Marlon Byrd, and maybe even B.J. Upton, but those would be more along the lines of last year’s Bengie Molina add – an upgrade the way things look right now, but one that may not be necessary if the situation here improves internally.

The bullpen, on the other hand, seems fairly certain to be a need spot in three months, unless O’Day gets straightened out and Strop earns and converts on higher-leverage assignments (the way Ogando did last summer) and someone like Lowe or Tanner Scheppers finds a rhythm.  Maybe Ogando returns to his eighth-inning role at some point, but that’s neither easy to imagine nor all that pleasant a thought, given what he’s done so far as a starter.

Is it possible that Cody Eppley becomes a factor, a key bullpen piece?  Yoshinori Tateyama?  Tobin or Tommy Hunter or Michael Kirkman or Seth McClung or Yhency Brazoban or Neil Ramirez or Eric Hurley or Ryan Tucker or Ramon Aguero or Fabio Castillo or Miguel De Los Santos?  Sure.  It’s possible.

But nothing we can count on, and there’s no void here as obvious as an eighth-inning righthander, made even more important considering you don’t want to ride Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes so hard from the left side late in the game that they run out of gas late in the year.

And that’s where this gets interesting.

Who are Wilson Ramos, Joe Testa, Matt Gorgen, Matt Cusick, Andrew Shive, Andrew Lambo, James McDonald, Joe Martinez, John Bowker, Rick Vanden Hurk, and Daniel Turpen?

One organizational top 10 prospect (Ramos), one who was so ranked a year ago but isn’t now (Lambo), and a bunch of journeymen and fringy minor leaguers.

That group was traded, last July 29 and 30 and 31, for closer Matt Capps, closer Chad Qualls, closer Kerry Wood, closer Octavio Dotel, and fellow veteran relievers Javier Lopez, Will Ohman, and Ramon Ramirez.

Now, the closers didn’t all close with their new teams (in fact, only Capps did), but that’s what would happen if Texas were to go after a lower-division club’s ninth-inning man.  Like the Yankees trading Cusick and Shive to Cleveland for Wood, the Indians’ closer, on July 31 and making him their primary set-up reliever.

Cusick and Shive were not among New York’s top 65 prospects in 2010, according to Baseball America.

And they weren’t among Cleveland’s top 81 prospects coming into 2011.

It cost more than that in prospects for Texas to pick up Molina.  And Jorge Cantu.  And even Christian Guzman.

So who are we talking about as candidates to be shopped on this summer’s relief market?  Brandon Lyon?  Kyle Farnsworth, Joel Peralta, Juan Cruz?  Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor, Frankie Francisco?  Wood?  J.J. Putz, Juan Gutierrez?  Joel Hanrahan, Evan Meek?  Tyler Clippard?  Kameron Loe?  Leo Nunez, Clay Hensley?  Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson?  If things don’t pick up for Boston, Jonathan Papelbon?  Under certain circumstances, Francisco Cordero?  A heavily subsidized Francisco Rodriguez?  If you really want to load up a package of prospects, Heath Bell or Joakim Soria?

The names don’t matter right now.  We don’t know now which teams will be sellers.  And as we saw last year, relievers tend to get traded right at the deadline.

And not for a heck of a lot, relatively speaking.  Texas won’t have to dip into its upper tier of prospects to get a veteran with stronger credentials than the right-handed relievers the club is now relying on to get the ball to Feliz.

There was one other notable reliever trade last July, one that could serve as an interesting template for Texas this summer.  On the 31st, Kansas City and Atlanta hooked up, with the Royals sending Farnsworth and center fielder Rick Ankiel to the Braves for role player Gregor Blanco, journeyman reliever Jesse Chavez, and diminutive minor league lefthander Tim Collins – whom Atlanta had acquired just 17 days earlier in the deal with Toronto in which the clubs exchanged shortstops Yunel Escobar and Alex Gonzalez.

Could Texas approach Houston with an offer for both Lyon and Bourn?  The Cubs for both Wood and Byrd?  The Rays for both Peralta and Upton?  Chris Davis could make some sense for all three, on one infield corner or another.  (And I’d submit July opportunities are a key reason Texas hasn’t traded Davis yet – even if the determination has been made to move Davis, you have to time it right and maximize his value in the right deal.  Adrian Gonzalez and Travis Hafner say hello.)  Tack on a Kirkman or Hunter or healthy Hurley, plus a pitching prospect?  Obviously, those three duos aren’t equal and wouldn’t command equivalent offers, but again, trying to pin down the names in April is nearly pointless.

But the concept isn’t, and for whatever reason, the cost to add the type of reliever that this bullpen – at least in its current state – could really use isn’t anywhere near as prohibitive as late July trades for starting pitchers or middle-of-the-lineup hitters tend to be.

After yesterday’s day off, Texas now faces 20 games in 20 days.  It will still only be mid-May when that stretch runs its course, but if at that time the seventh and eighth innings remain as much of a question from the right side as they do now, this April exercise in getting rid of a little concentrated nitpicking by throwing a couple thoughts against the wall is probably going to begin to take on a little more life, if not a lot – because there’s just not that many holes on this club to get all worked up about.

Yo.

I’m on the two-day DL with a broken bone in my finger.  Day-to-day thereafter.

I’ve got a report written in my head but it’s a fairly lengthy one, so it’s gonna have to wait a couple days.  Sorry about that.

Unrelated note: I think I might love Adrian Beltre.

The Great Brad Newton

I genuflect with thee, 3B.

Texas 5, New York 3.

To Dan McDowell and all those who call him Leader, I bring you a sampling of last night’s in-game tweets:

All that it took for me to get my Yankee hate on was to be reminded that Nick Swisher plays for them.

 

I actually have an abundant fondness for this ballpark now, as it was the site of the greatest sports experience of my life.  #gimmeahug

 

I predict I’ll write about I.Nova at least once a year for as long as I keep doing the Newberg Report.  Unsubscribe now if that’s a problem.

 

[after what appeared to be Cano’s muff of A-Rod’s throw] That’s a bad call.  Move on.  But that’s a bad call.

 

Second base ump debating whether to call Nellie’s drop a catch. #fail

 

Extra benefit of all those double plays is pitches they save.  The less this bullpen is needed, the better.  #obviousman

 

Ivan Nova.  Seriously.  Ivan NOVA.  #clifflee

 

If Borbon has as much value/upside as many insist he does, he ought to have tremendous trade value.

 

Query: forget what you know about 2011.  Think back to July.  Cliff Lee deal w/ SEA depends on you adding Harrison to the deal.  Do you do it?

 

Almost unanimous on agreeing to put Harrison in the Lee deal.  Now: Harrison vs. Nova…discuss.

 

All-Smiling-While-Hitting Team: Joe Randa, David Murphy, Andruw Jones.

 

I really like this #42 pitching for NYY.  (Sorry.)  This Pendleton appears to have something.

 

Check out Salty’s game defensively tonight.  #isitjuneyet?

 

Rangers’ 3-4-5 starters are 7-0 this season.  (Actually, arguably 4-6-10 starters?)

Anyway, Texas takes on Freddy Garcia at noon today.  Check Garcia’s game logs and you’ll find that the last time he had a poor start against the Rangers was in 2003, with six pretty good ones since.

But Yankee Stadium is also where Derek Holland, in spite of ugly regular season numbers (all in 2009), was brilliant in Game Four of the ALCS: 3.2 scoreless innings in relief of Tommy Hunter, one hit, two walks, three strikeouts, and six ground ball outs, earning the victory to put Texas up, three games to one and the doorstep to a trip to the World Series.

In the meantime, two words to wrap up Texas 5, New York 3, certainly not the cleanest win of the season but one which, in that sense, says something about this team’s ability to grind W’s out:

Matt Harrison.

The breaks.

Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

This isn’t going to be a lengthy report.

This we know: Josh Hamilton plays the game gracefully, but at times violently.  Texas plays the game aggressively on the bases.  Josh Hamilton’s body, for reasons people will feel at liberty to speculate on, seems more susceptible to injury than most.

It’s a slightly new equation, one we’re not quite as used to as the instinctive expectation of bad things when Hamilton and an outfield wall collide, but a fractured arm on a head-first slide probably shouldn’t come as any sort of great surprise to us, not when we know what we know, that his style of play – call it aggressive, call it reckless, call it what you want – is going to make the issue of his brittle body something we have to deal with fairly regularly.

These aren’t Ruben Mateo or Dave Dravecky or Bryce Florie injuries.  Sometimes the only indication we have that Hamilton is hurt is the look on his face.

But we do brace for that look, a lot.  And we’re forced to accept that it’s part of what you get with Josh Hamilton, the most gifted baseball player many of us have ever seen.

So Texas, off to baseball’s best start, will play what’s likely to be almost all of the first half without Hamilton in the lineup and without him in the field.  Depth has been a priority for Jon Daniels and his group, which is why “luxuries” like David Murphy as a fourth outfielder (despite having Craig Gentry and Endy Chavez around) and Michael Young as a DH and backup infielder (despite the presence of Mike Napoli) and Chris Davis as a AAA infielder (despite another All-Cactus League spring) never were really luxuries at all, but roster pieces that, in all likelihood, were going to be called into greater service at some point.  Contenders don’t go with Craig Worthington full-time when Dean Palmer gets hurt.

Soon enough the Rangers will probably back off of the eight-man bullpen and get another center fielder up here (Gentry or Chavez), and in the meantime Mitch Moreland is not only your starting first baseman but also your fourth outfielder.  On days he moves to an outfield corner, Young could take over at first, or Napoli or Davis could, and at some point Adrian Beltre is going to get a day off (defensively, at least) like everyone else has had, leaving either Young or Davis to step in at third base.  Texas will manage to put a big league lineup and big league defense out there every day, even in Hamilton’s absence.

(And for what it’s worth, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports tweets this morning that, according to Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News, Texas is “likely to sign Cuban outfielder Leonys Martin today.”  But there’s no chance Martin goes straight to the big leagues.)

Ron Washington once said: “My players did not show character.  They revealed it.”

I’m not really sure that’s how the expression goes, but we all know what Wash meant.  The Rangers are used to rising above all kinds of adversity, and here’s a little more to deal with.  It’s not as if Hamilton has carried this team to its blistering start – far from it – but his absence changes things, on offense and on defense and, all told, in the threat Texas poses to that day’s opponent.  Still, this club is pretty good at fighting out of a corner, if that’s what this is.  Maybe it won’t be.

There’s no point in dissecting the play in yesterday’s top of the first to dispense blame.  The decision was in line with how this team plays, a brand of baseball that marks this team and helps make it what it is.  I’m not going to sit here and blame the player or the third base coach for the Hamilton bone break any more than I’d blame the center field wall for bruising Hamilton’s ribs.  It’s his style, it’s this team’s style, and, as much as we hate it, we have to concede that it’s just another chapter in a book that’s never going to end, as long as Josh Hamilton is a baseball player.

Stuff.

“I felt like if they didn’t re-sign Cliff Lee that they were going to be an average team and I feel that’s probably what’s going to end up happening.  It’s all about your pitching.  I feel like last year was one of those special years where you kind of catch lightning in a bottle and they got hot and they had some guys that I felt like were pitching better than their talent level and consequently they had a great year.”

– January assessment of the Rangers offered by Lance Berkman, whose Cardinals defeated Arizona last night, lifting their record to 4-6, good for fifth place in the NL Central

Give old Big Puma a break.  Before busting out last night with a game like the ones he used to have when Alexi Ogando, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland were toddlers, he was hitting a robust .214/.290/.286 for the year, with no home runs and one RBI as the Cardinals’ everyday right fielder.

I don’t know if Berkman really was on the Rangers’ radar this winter, or if it was wishful imagination on his part, but compare what he’s doing to what Mike Napoli is giving Texas (.429/.579/1.071), and at least in an admittedly small sample, it’s looking good for the Rangers that it worked out this way, even if not for Berkman (who reportedly rejected a two-year deal with Oakland to take one year with St. Louis) himself.

On the subject of tradeoffs working out, the Angels traded Napoli ($5.8 million) and Frosty Rivera ($5.25 million) to the Blue Jays this winter for Vernon Wells ($23 million, though Toronto tacked on a $5 million cashback incentive).  Thus far, Napoli has three home runs and five RBI, five walks and no strikeouts.  Wells has zero home runs and two RBI, two walks and 12 strikeouts.

Napoli has produced that over 19 plate appearances.  Wells, over 47 plate appearances . . . .

. . . at a cash outlay of $20.25 million per year over the next four years . . . .

. . . while Adrian Beltre, who seemingly made all kinds of sense for the Angels, will earn $15.5 million per year over the next four (and $16 million per year over five or six seasons).

Yesterday I wrote: “Ogando, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland have made the five Rangers starts that rotation mainstays C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis have not made.  The results?  Five runs (1.41 ERA) on 21 hits and eight walks in 32 innings, and 26 strikeouts.  Five quality starts, five wins.”

Revised: “Ogando, Matt Harrison, and Derek Holland have made the six Rangers starts that rotation mainstays C.J. Wilson and Colby Lewis have not made.  The results?  Five runs (1.15 ERA) on 23 hits and nine walks in 39 innings, and 30 strikeouts.  Six quality starts, six wins.”

Ogando is the second starting pitcher in Rangers history to kick off a season with two scoreless starts.  The first, Jon Matlack, did it in 1980, three years before Ogando was born.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Ron Washington’s gut move to walk Miguel Cabrera in the ninth inning, bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate, was the first time in more than 37 years that a potential tying run had been intentionally walked in the ninth inning or later in a situation that did not create a left-on-left or right-on-right advantage for the pitcher.  The last time: Hall of Famer Walter Alston ordering Hall of Famer Don Sutton to walk Hall of Famer Johnny Bench.  The result: Hal King (who, the year before, had been an inaugural Ranger) hit a pinch-hit, three-run, walkoff homer.

Twitter follower Patrick Claggett points out that Texas has faced the opponents’ Opening Day starter in each of its four series this season (Jon Lester, Felix Hernandez, Jeremy Guthrie, Justin Verlander), and beaten him.

Verlander makes $12.75 million this year.  His salary jumps to $20 million in 2012 and stays at that level in 2013 and in 2014, when he’ll just be 31.  He’s been unbeatable in Rangers Ballpark (3-0, 1.29, 13 hits and 26k/4bb in 21 innings).  Martin Perez, Michael Kirkman, Neil Ramirez, Chris Davis, and Jurickson Profar?  Not advocating it, necessarily.  But would you think about it?

Profar hit four home runs in 2010 (63 games).  He went deep in the first inning in each of Hickory’s first two games this season.

Baseball America has Profar as the number nine shortstop prospect in the game, Perez the number four lefthander (ahead of Baltimore’s Zach Britton) and Robbie Erlin and Kirkman 17th and 22nd on the same list, Tanner Scheppers fourth among those who project as relief pitchers, Engel Beltre number 10 among outfielders, and Mike Olt 18th at third base.

Still, BA’s Jim Callis, when asked which of Beltre, Julio Borbon, and Leonys Martin was the Rangers’ center fielder of the future, answered: “Martin, assuming that deal gets done.”

Olt, challenged with a two-level jump to High A Myrtle Beach, has stepped to the plate 13 times in his first three games: a home run, two doubles, two singles, five walks, zero strikeouts.

Ian Kinsler: Six walks, four home runs, two singles.

Perez (age 20) is pitching in Frisco for the third straight season, but is still the Texas League’s youngest pitcher – by nine months.  Righthander Carlos Pimentel, Beltre, and righthander Wilfredo Boscan are the seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-youngest players in that league.

Myrtle Beach shortstop Leury Garcia (20) is the youngest position player in the Carolina League, just ahead of Pelicans teammate and double play partner Santiago Chirino.  Lefthanders Erlin and Joseph Ortiz are the league’s sixth- and seventh-youngest players.

Profar (18) is the South Atlantic League’s youngest player.  Catcher Kellin Deglan is 10th-youngest.

Big win for Tampa Bay in Boston last night, but the Rays have started this season with five straight losses at home, which followed three straight losses at home in the ALDS against Texas (and one more loss in their final regular season home game last year, against Baltimore).

Colorado released first baseman Jason Botts, infielder Tug Hulett, and catcher Ben Petralli at the end of camp.

Arizona signed lefthander Ron Mahay to a minor league deal.

Emerson Frostad signed with the Lancaster Barnstormers of the independent Atlantic League.  Outfielder Ramon Nivar signed with the Newark Bears of the independent Can-Am League.  Outfielder Wally Backman Jr. signed with the Sioux City Explorers of the independent American Association.  Celebrity Jose Canseco will play for and manage the Yuma Scorpions of the independent North American League.

According to ESPN Stats Info, had Seattle not scored eight unanswered runs to beat Toronto last night, 8-7, Monday would have been the first day in 121 years that every road team won (with at least 10 games played).

C.J. Wilson tries this afternoon to help the Rangers win 10 of their first 11 games of the season.  Texas leads baseball with a 2.22 ERA and a .193 opponents’ average, by large margins.  (Oakland is second in ERA at 2.73, and Baltimore is second in OBA at .216.)

Lance Berkman would like a recount.

Relentlessness.

Somewhere just above the bottom line in this game is talent acquisition, and a lot goes into it.  Those who don’t scout well, spend well, and develop well – and I mean all three – will have their occasional hits when comes to finding winning pieces, but it’s the ones who fend well for themselves in all three phases that tend to put themselves most often in a position to win with a little staying power.

It wouldn’t be all that upsetting to the average fan if the Rangers, coming off a World Series and off to the league’s best start in 2011, was focused on leaving this group basically alone.  Maybe keeping tabs on Eric Hurley and Michael Kirkman at Round Rock and getting Tanner Scheppers and Tommy Hunter and Brandon Webb well.  Evaluating where Taylor Teagarden and Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry are while thoughts of increasing the bench by a third linger.  Getting ready for the June draft.  Figuring out what Chris Davis’s greatest value to the organization might be.  But basically not messing with a really good thing.

And yet, following an off-day during which stories were rampant that Texas was zeroing in on a deal with Cuban outfield prospect Leonys Martin, on Friday (hours before their big league players did this) the Rangers added two pitchers to the fold, claiming minor league reliever Ramon Aguero from Pittsburgh and signing injured reliever Manny Corpas to a minor league deal.

In acquiring Aguero, Texas placed a claim on a pitcher (with two options remaining) whom the lowly Pirates didn’t have room for – designating him for assignment to make season-opening room on the staff for 30-year-old journeyman reliever Jose Veras – and whom every one of the other 28 clubs declined this week to devote a 40-man roster spot to.  In signing the free agent Corpas, the Rangers add a 28-year-old onetime closer, even though he won’t pitch this season due to Tommy John surgery.

Texas is hoping Aguero can harness a mid-90s fastball-slider-change arsenal, work past elbow tendinitis and back issues that dogged him this spring, and develop into a relief option.  He’s never pitched above AA but will join AAA Round Rock immediately.  The club hopes Corpas, 28, still has something a year from now, when he won’t have enough service time to take free agency if on the 40-man roster.  There’s little downside with either move, but only one team could make them happen, and in each case it was Texas.

The relentless pursuit of baseball players is something you never have to worry about this front office prioritizing, whether they’re running a 2007 club looking to rebuild or the reigning American League champs.

Last year, without any financial independence, the Rangers acquired Matt Treanor and Andres Blanco in the spring, and Cliff Lee and Bengie Molina and Jorge Cantu and Jeff Francoeur and Mark Lowe in the summer.  They signed Jorge Alfaro out of Colombia, just as in recent years they’d signed Martin Perez out of Venezuela, Jurickson Profar out of Curacao, David Perez out of the Dominican Republic, Jose Felix out of Mexico, and dozens of other key international prospects, a crop that we could learn any day will include the Cuban defector Martin.

While trades around the league involving prospects tend to include players who have proven themselves at the AA level, the Rangers never shy away from targeting a prospect playing at an organization’s fourth minor league level (Roman Mendez), if not fifth (Neftali Feliz), if not sixth (Engel Beltre), if not seventh (Carlos Melo).

Texas went to Japan to bring Colby Lewis back.  Used the now-obsolete draft-and-follow process to add Derek Holland.  Used the Rule 5 Draft to acquire Mason Tobin.  Used the minor league Rule 5 draft to take an outfielder with massive immigration issues and turned him into righthander Alexi Ogando.

Grabbed Mets Rule 5 pick Darren O’Day off waivers.  Stole Pedro Strop when the Rockies tried to take him off the roster and quickly and quietly re-sign him to a minor league contract.

Took a flier on a 4-A player the Brewers lacked faith in, and were patient enough to wait until he became Nelson Cruz.

It would have been easy for what was then a pitching-starved organization to hold onto a rebuilt Edinson Volquez rather than take a chance on outfielder Josh Hamilton and all his issues.  Or to buy into the consensus that Scheppers’s shoulder was too risky to take a Draft Day chance on.  Or to take a look out the fourth-floor window at the club’s 20-year starting shortstop and decide to recruit Profar instead as a pitcher (as most teams wanted to do), if at all.  Or to draft high school righthander Ethan Martin rather than Justin Smoak, given the 2008 summer Davis had just had in Arlington.  Or to pay too much in prospects for Matt Garza, rather than improving the club’s pitching by signing Adrian Beltre.

But part of the equation, in order to give yourself the best chance to get ahead in this game, is to take risks, particularly if you’re good at rooting out or cooking up the good ones to take.

Just because you have Chris Davis, you don’t pass on Smoak.  Justin Same with Elvis Andrus, and Jurickson Profar and Luis Sardinas.  Same with Julio Borbon and Engel Beltre, and Leonys Martin.

Is there luck involved, good fortune?  Of course.  Cruz could have been lost on waivers.  Mitch Moreland could have taken the organization up on its offer a couple years ago to let him convert to the mound full-time.  David Murphy might have never put it together, a fate he appeared to be headed for when Boston put him in the Eric Gagné deal.  Ogando might have never been allowed back into the United States.

But good fortune isn’t always accidental, and in this case I’d suggest we shouldn’t overlook our good fortune as Rangers fans when it comes to the relentless baseball operations crew this organization is led by, a group that never relaxes in its obsession with evaluating and acting on every possible opportunity to add that one extra piece that could help this club win another game or two several years down the road.

Laid back.

Snoop Ogando has now won every game he’s started since signing @ Argenis Benitez in ’02.  Baseball loves Snoop Dog lookalikes.

– tweeted by Peter Gammons (@pgammo), a couple hours ago

Peter’s note is worth celebrating, because Alexi Ogando is making national (instead of international) news this morning, though it’s not entirely true.  Last year at this time, he was pitching in the United States for the first time in six years, and in his first three appearances for Frisco, all in April, he was asked to start.

He didn’t earn a victory in any of those three starts, because he never went the requisite five innings.  But it wasn’t because he was ineffective.  With a carefully monitored pitch count, facing 24-year-old hitters after years of being sentenced to competition against teenagers in the Dominican Republic, Ogando went 2.2 innings his first time out, then three innings, then four.  How’d that three-game stretch go?

In those 9.2 RoughRider innings, Ogando allowed two hits (.065 opponents’ average), walked two batters, and struck out 14 of the 33 Cardinals, Travelers, and Hooks he faced.  One run scored.

Just under 12 months later, one of the absolutely great scouting stories of the last decade made his first big league start, again scattering two hits (.100 opponents’ average) and walking two, and fanning four of the 22 Mariners who stepped in against him over six innings.  None scored.  Fastballs up, sliders down, an icy confidence that we’ve grown used to and probably should have expected, despite everything.

I hope Thad Levine, A.J. Preller, Mike Daly, and Charisse Espinosa took a moment to Skype up last night for a leaping hip bump.

Among the four dozen or so in-game tweets I posted (@NewbergReport) during Texas 3, Seattle 2:

  • (regarding M’s starter Michael Pineda) That 0-2 pitch to Hamilton was stupid filthy.  I like this kid.  In a couple years I’m going to really hate him.
  • Wow.  This COULD end up being a 9-7 game, but at the moment not hard to imagine a very big Sept 20, 2012 game pitting these 2 vs each other.
  • Love games where I can’t wait for the bottom of each inning…and the top.  This is fun.
  • I would very much like to see our beat guys write about the work our new C’s have done with the young starters.  #shouldn’tgounnoticed
  • Mitch, you made the right decision.  #wannahitorpitch?  #uptoyou
  • Just freaked out someone in the office cleaning crew with my standing ovation.  I have so loved this pitching performance.
  • See you tomorrow, Ichiro.  Just keep those batting gloves on.

But what the pitcher formerly known as quarantined, .259-hitting, rifle-armed A’s right field prospect Argenis Benitez did last night prompted a Snoop Dogg reference out of the great Peter Gammons this morning, and how much more needs to be said?

We’re hours from King Felix vs. C.J. Wilson, number one against number one, a matchup that’s going to have to give us something pretty special to deliver what Ogando-Pineda gave us last night.

One of the coolest things about Texas starting this season off 5-0, backed by an offensive barrage that every national writer has devoted space to, is that we’ve now gone a full turn through the starting rotation, one that features two guys at the top that were unknown quantities a year ago and three more who are basically question marks right now, but all of whom have done what was asked of them, and in a couple cases a good bit more.

The “worst starting rotation in the American League West” has this team three games up on the division, a meaningless number five games into the season (fo shizzle), but a whole lot better than sitting two games back, wondering how quickly the club can get its number six, seven, and eight starters ramped up on the farm while second-guessing the camp-ending decisions on who to give the ball to every fifth day.

Tweet, tweet.

The Ticket’s Dan McDowell chewed me out during yesterday’s Bob and Dan Show for compromising these email reports by wasting some of my material on Twitter.  Two solutions:

  1. You can follow me on Twitter (@NewbergReport) – like about 200 new people decided to yesterday (no exaggeration; getting a Ticket endorsement of any kind is apparently like getting an Oprah Book Club sticker put on your novel; my follower number [8,300+] is gaining on Scott’s and my email subscriber total [11,400+]).  For what it’s worth, I tend to post in-game tweets on most days that I’m not at the Ballpark.
  2. I can start to carry some of my Twitter observations over to these reports.

So, Dan, and all those to whom you are Leader, here you go – a small sample of my in-game Twitterwork from the past three games (I’m not posting all of them, which are piled up at http://twitter.com/#!/NewbergReport):

Saturday:

  • Kins demonstratively unimpressed with Salty’s early-game Tony Pena tributes.
  • Quick: What did that Andrus triple remind you of?
  • (answer for me re: the Andrus triple = reminded me 100% of his first big league hit)
  • On the Kal Daniels/Flip Boone scale of opposing players I love/hate, Adrian Gonzalez and John Lackey may own the two pole positions.
  • Lackey heading to clubhouse to call an Angels outfielder so he can yell at someone.
  • Tobin & Strop (not to be confused with former HP/Stanford/Rangers farmhand Tobin Swope): Stuff, untamed. Big stuff.  #moreplease

Sunday:

  • OK, OK. I’ve had to explain enuf times now that I realize today’s double-bike graphic was confusing. Lackey allowed 2 cycles worth of hits.
  • Easy to forget that Harrison is younger than Ogando…Strop…Moreland…Chad Tracy…three weeks older than Cody Eppley.
  • Clay Buchholz is not left-handed.  #napoli #softball
  • That Matt Harrison talking to Runge as he walks off the field is a different Matt Harrison. And not just because he pitched well today.

Monday:

  • Smoak riding 13-gm hit streak (.419/.537/.744) dating back to 2010. In Texas tonite, where he HR’d in 3 straight in Sept.
  • I’ve heard some folks bristle at idea that Rangers rotation could be 80 or 100% LH’d in a couple years. Is that supposed to be a bad thing?
  • My favorite thing about the Borbon triple was not the three bags. It was that he hit the ball on a freakin’ line. No–it was the three bags.
  • Bradley swings at ball four twice. Says something about Holland’s stuff/movement. For all his flaws, Bradley has exquisite plate discipline.
  • My 1st thought was “Good thing Napoli was at first. Has the arm to make that play.” Then realized all 3 1B on this roster throw very well.
  • I have an unhealthy, perhaps irrational penchant for Adam Kennedy Fail.

Sticking with the scattershot theme, some more random observations on this 4-0 team:

Prototypically, you expect a team’s 3-4-5 hitters to provide the most slug, fair to say?

Right now, the Rangers’ number three hitter (Josh Hamilton) is slugging an underwhelming .400.

Their number four hitter (Adrian Beltre) has a .294 slug.

Number five (Michael Young three times, Nelson Cruz once) is slugging .444.

But guess what: Every other spot in the lineup is outslugging those three spots.

The number one hitter: 1.077.

Number two: .882.

Number six: 1.357.

Number seven: .917.

Number eight: .467.

Number nine: .917.

Even with the modest number in the eighth spot (Yorvit Torrealba three starts, Mitch Moreland one), the Rangers’ 7-8-9 hitters are slugging a collective .744 – a figure that’s over 100 points better than any other team this season.  Not 100 points better than anyone else’s 7-8-9 hitters.  That’s 100 points better than anyone else’s entire lineup.

The Rangers’ total of 13 home runs through four games is tied with the 1998 Mariners for second-highest in baseball history, behind the 2006 Tigers (16).  The Rangers’ 26 extra-base hits through four games trail only the Yankees’ 30 in 2003.

Dave Cameron of FanGraphs points out that the Rangers’ team wOBA (weighted on-base average, a statistic built to provide a more accurate evaluation of offense than OPS), which is now .479, is higher than the .462 that Albert Pujols put together in his best season.

Cruz may have had an anemic spring training (.226/.300/.371, one home run in 70 plate appearances), but as reader Matt Swaim points out, he’s actually homered in five straight games that count.  In addition to going deep in each of the Rangers’ first four games this season, he accounted for the club’s lone run in Game Five of the World Series when he went yard off Tim Lincecum in the seventh inning.

(For what it’s worth, neither Willie Mays nor Mark McGwire, the only other two players to open a season with homers in four straight games, appeared in the playoffs the previous season.  But McGwire did go deep in the Cardinals’ final two regular-season games in 1997, before starting the 1998 season with his four-game tater tear.)

It’s been said that Derek Holland was moved up to Monday night in place of Alexi Ogando because Holland is more experienced, but I think to take that point further, it gave Ogando the chance to watch the Seattle lineup for a night and pay attention to Holland’s game plan and inning-to-inning adjustments against that club.

Holland wasn’t quite as sharp as Matt Harrison was the day before, but he was pretty solid.  All in all, though the offense has been the story through these first four, the rotation has done its job, falling one C.J. Wilson out short of four straight quality starts.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia went 0 for 3 with a strikeout against Harrison on Sunday.  It was the first time they’d faced off as pros.

But Saltalamacchia caught Harrison five times with the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League Braves in 2003, after the duo signed as Atlanta’s first- and third-round picks that summer.  Six times with the AA Mississippi Braves in 2006, and five times with the same club in 2007 before both were traded to Texas in the Mark Teixeira deal.   Five times with Texas in 2008, and five more in 2009.

Clay Buchholz gave up nine home runs in 28 starts last year.

He served up three to Texas before getting the second out of the fifth inning on Sunday.

One of the three to take Buchholz deep was Ian Kinsler, whom Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon drilled between the shoulder blades in the eighth inning.  Texas took no revenge on the Red Sox.  If there’s any payback to be had for how the weekend series went, it’s the Sox who have a score to settle, but they’ll have to wait more than four months, as the two clubs don’t meet again until August 22.

Texas will have made at least one impact trade before then.

Speaking of which, Milwaukee has baseball’s worst record, winless through four.  I will say it again: It won’t surprise me at all if the Brewers shop Zack Greinke in July.  That club will lose Prince Fielder this winter, and owes Greinke $13.5 million this year and the same amount in 2012, before he’s likely to go elsewhere.  They’ll be able to get more in July than they gave Kansas City in December, especially if they trade two pennant races worth of Greinke rather than just one, and it would stand to reason that Texas will once again be right there in the mix to get him.

I wouldn’t rule Seattle lefthander Erik Bedard out, either.  Watch how he progresses now that he’s back after what’s been nearly a two-year absence.

Justin Smoak looked really, really good last night.

Buster Olney of ESPN points out that nobody in baseball saw more pitches per plate appearance on Monday than Julio Borbon (18 pitches in three trips).

Jon Daniels told MLB Network Radio yesterday that he’s not having any dialogue with other teams about Michael Young, or anyone else.

Cleveland released righthander Doug Mathis, at his request once he failed to win a big league job.  Outfielder Brandon Boggs cleared waivers and was outrighted by the Brewers, accepting his assignment to AAA Nashville.  Catcher Max Ramirez cleared waivers and was outrighted by the Cubs to AAA Iowa – as it was his first outright, he didn’t have the right to decline the assignment.

Ramirez will be in Round Rock on Thursday night, for Iowa’s season opener against the Express, who will likely send Michael Kirkman to the mound.

Marcus Lemon will be just outside Jackson, Mississippi, suited up for the home team Mississippi Braves as the Jackson (Tennessee) Generals travel for the clubs’ Southern League opener.  Texas traded Lemon to Atlanta for cash considerations on Friday, and he’ll play Class AA baseball for the third straight year.

Kansas City has assigned corner infielder Johnny Whittleman to its High A affiliate in Wilmington, after he’d spent at least parts of the last three seasons with AA Frisco.  He’ll travel with the Blue Rocks to Myrtle Beach, where the Pelicans open their first season as a Rangers affiliate at home.  Not sure who gets the Opening Day start for Myrtle Beach, but with a rotation that includes Neil Ramirez, Robbie Ross, Robbie Erlin (pitching in tandem with Kasey Kiker), Joe Wieland, and Barret Loux, the BB&T Coastal Field crowd is going to see a prospect take the mound just about every night as the season gets rolling.

Mike Nickeas made the Mets’ roster (as Ronny Paulino serves out the final eight games of his 50-game PED suspension) and caught the final two innings on Opening Day.  Righthander Josh Rupe made the Orioles’ staff, but lefthander Clay Rapada and righthander Ryan Drese didn’t.

The Kansas City T-Bones of the independent American Association released lefthanders Matt Perisho and Ryan Knippschild, and the Lincoln Saltdogs of the same league signed first baseman Phil Hawke.

Brandon McCarthy faces Toronto tonight.  Interested.

The Rangers may have ditched the claw and antlers for the most part, but their World Series foes have adopted the claw.  Sort of.  Miguel Tejada, now with San Francisco, is generally credited with intellectual property rights in the claw, dating as far back as 2004, only he apparently calls it the “shining spotlight.”  So the Giants are flashing whatever-it-is right now, which is not quite as weird as Cody Ross hanging around the batting cage, wearing his Giants uniform, in that Majestic Athletic commercial starring Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler, and C.J. Wilson at Rangers Ballpark.

Peter Gammons is doing a weekly segment with Dunham and Miller each Thursday morning at 6:55 on the Ticket, and that’s awesome.

Righthander Brandon Webb hit three batters yesterday in what was his first live batting practice session in two weeks.  He threw about 70 pitches but admitted that he “pretty much had no location.”  Meanwhile, righthander Scott Feldman threw 41 pitches in a bullpen session yesterday and said his knee felt good.  He hopes to be pitching in minor league games in May.

Tonight’s fascinating matchup features Ogando, making his first big league (and just his fourth pro) start, and Seattle’s Michael Pineda, a blue-chip prospect making his big league debut.  Tweet you then.

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