April 2012

No Yu for you.

We all remember the avalanche of stories and tweets on December 16 and 17 and 18 and 19, increasing in force as they increased in volume, delivering the message that when Nippon Ham got around to announcing the high bid for Yu Darvish, it was a virtual lock that MLB would then announce that the bid belonged to the Toronto Blue Jays.

I don’t know how Toronto fans are going to greet Darvish when he takes the mound tonight.  (I haven’t checked in with Nouveau-Bergeron).  This isn’t like Cliff Lee or Todd Stottlemyre or Kiki Vandeweghe, since Darvish had no say in where he’d play.  He’s no more guilty of not being a Blue Jay than Mike Napoli, whose tenure with that club lasted as long as that four-day Darvish-to-Toronto tweet-binge, as he was traded to the Jays by Los Angeles with Frosty Rivera for Vernon Wells on January 21, 2011, and flipped to Texas for Frankie Francisco four days later.

When the bottom of the first gets rolling tonight, Darvish will toe the rubber, maybe from the stretch, and maybe with Napoli a little more than 60 feet away, flashing signs as Yunel Escobar digs in at the plate.  Maybe the Darvish thing won’t register with the crowd any more than a Darvish start would in Chicago or Baltimore or Arizona.  Maybe Jays fans don’t spend any time wondering what 12-10 and two games back might have looked like if Darvish were in the Toronto rotation rather than the tandem of Drew Hutchison and Joel Carreno, or what the next however-many years might have looked like with Darvish joining Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow in the rotation along with Henderson Alvarez and Kyle Drabek (who is a what-might-have-been himself for Texas, though on a smaller scale).

I have no idea how bummed Jays fans are about how the winter played out, or if their crowds (under 25,000 so far this year) tend more toward the indifferent.  Indifference is bad.  Although it seems like a generation ago now, there was a time not too long ago when the Rangers crowd didn’t get as worked up, in either direction, as the storylines might have called for.

When the 2008 season started, Texas was fielding its first team in years without Mark Teixeira.  Ben Broussard was the Opening Day first baseman.  Relieving Kevin Millwood that afternoon in Seattle was the memorable tandem of Kazuo Fukumori and Franklyn German, the latter of whom, I promise, is not Fernando Rodney.  The Rangers had 13 home dates in April.  In eight of them they drew crowds in the teens of thousands.

Ron Washington was in his second year as Texas manager, having led the club to 75 wins and last place in the division (after three straight seasons of third-place finishes) in 2007.  There are stories that, as that April 2008 drew to an end, if it weren’t for the Rangers’ annual Triple Play charity event on the final Sunday of the month, a gathering that involved all Rangers players and coaches plus key members of management and ownership and thousands of fans, Washington might have been fired that weekend.  Texas had lost 12 of 14 coming into a three-game series against the Twins, and was on a seven-game losing streak that included five losses of at least five runs.

The stories go on to suggest that if Washington’s birthday weren’t on April 29, he might have been let go on the 28th, a club off-day that followed the Sunday night event.

But the Rangers then started winning baseball games.  Starting with that Minnesota series, they rattled off six of eight, which grew to 11 of 15, and 15 of 21.  Washington’s job was safe.

Texas would win 79 games that season, and finish second in the West.

The club would win 87 games the next year, and finish second again, though this time 11 games closer in the division and eight games closer in the Wild Card chase.

The Rangers would win 90 games the next year, winning the division and the American League pennant.

They would win 96 games the year after that, again winning the division and the pennant and coming a lot closer to a World Series title than they had in 2010.

Texas owns a share of baseball’s best record today, at 16-6.  Darvish will get the assignment to keep the train rolling.  He missed last night’s series finale with Tampa Bay, as the Rangers flew him (and tomorrow’s starter, Neftali Feliz) to Toronto ahead of the team to avoid a red-eye flight.

In the first base dugout tonight will be Washington, who missed the final two innings last night himself.  He turned 60 yesterday and now has an 0-5 record on his birthday.  His best birthday result came in 2009, when a home date with Oakland was rained out.

His career April 29 record didn’t get any better last night, but Washington’s managerial record gets better every year, and so lately have the numbers of fans flocking to Rangers Ballpark.  Attendance has gone up every year since 2008, and is on pace to clear 3.2 million fans in 2012, which would break last year’s franchise-record 2.947 million.

Tonight will be unfamiliar territory for Texas, which has played all but one of its 22 games this year – home and road – in front of at least 30,000 fans (the exception being a 25,000-fan crowd on April 10 against Seattle).  Since the first week of the season, Toronto has had three weekday games, and drew under 20,000 fans each time.

I don’t know if the Darvish phenomenon will bring a bigger crowd out to Rogers Centre tonight, or whether Jays fans harbor any real feelings about the realities that Darvish never got to them and Napoli didn’t stay, but if some segment of that fan base is encouraged by the fact that the Rangers have finally lost a series in 2012, or that Josh Hamilton may be limited after back spasms chased him last night four innings before Dan Bellino ran Washington, they ought to re-rack things and understand that they missed out not only on Darvish but also on drawing Texas on Washington’s birthday, and that the Rangers have won a formidable two out of the last three April 30’s, and three out of four.

Stuff.

I’m stunned that the Cowboys were able to pull off last night’s Draft Day trade (paying the second to switch firsts was a lot, but Dallas fails in the second round just about every year anyway), and it made me want to mention this morning that I can’t wait until MLB comes around and allows teams to trade draft picks.  Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait.

Two weeks ago, on the day that Oakland designated Brandon Allen for assignment, I commented on Twitter with one word.

I might change my mind tonight or over the weekend, as the Rays come to town, but for now I’m very happy things worked out the way they did for the big first baseman, who played a very big part yesterday afternoon in making the Angels the team that now stands with the biggest division hill to climb in all of baseball (and the deepest Wild Card deficit outside of Minnesota, Kansas City, and San Diego).

But Peter Gammons does note that three teams have been nine games out before the 20th game of the season and still reached the playoffs.  This is not over.

And that’s why we still scoreboard-watch.  If you don’t respect the Angels and their ability to get back in this thing, tune them out.  I’d urge you not to.

Jesse Sanchez (MLB.com) reports that “[t]he investigation into the identity of prospect Jairo Beras is complete and a decision could be imminent, according to an industry source,” while Ben Badler (Baseball America) suggests that “[t]he more people you talk to, the more it becomes evident that the Jairo Beras case could shape MLB’s future in Latin America.”

The Rangers, who agreed to sign the Dominican outfielder for a reported $4.5 million in February, believe he is 17 years old and thus eligible to sign before this coming July 2.  More background on the Beras situation here.

Shields-Harrison, Niemann-Lewis, and Price-Holland the next three nights, all in front of packed houses at 1000 Ballpark Way.

Can’t wait, can’t wait, can’t wait.

Fact.

I got home from the Ballpark last night, and there was this tweet sequence from USA Today’s Bob Nightengale:

Just in case there was a tiny faction of doubt, the Texas Rangers are the greatest team in baseball.

There is no close second.  The Rangers are that good.

It’s basically a rewording of what just about every national baseball writer has thrown out there in the last week or so, but each added proclamation is as sweet as an extra game padded onto that specific Games Back number in the final column – and these days, the final row – of the AL West standings.

There were only two days in the entire 2011 season on which the Angels were as many as 8.5 games behind Texas in the division – the season’s final two days, obviously well after Los Angeles had been eliminated from playing for anything.

It’s April.

While the Rangers have won all six of their series to start the season (a franchise record), the Angels have lost five of their six.

I’m only pointing out the facts as far as the Angels are concerned, here and even when my seat is pulled up at the Twitter Sports Bar as the ballgames feeding those Games Back numbers are being played.  (When @MatthewLadd points out that Robbie Ross is only two wins shy of catching the Angels, sir, that’s merely passing along facts.)  I don’t have any interest in piling on, or in angering the baseball gods or the karma police.

But feel free to Google something like:

Torii “showing no signs” “going through the motions right now” “That’s everybody, not just players” “hitless streak” “elephant in the room”

You’ll find something interesting.

Some have suggested that time spent keeping tabs on the Angels dangerously ignores what’s going on with Oakland and Seattle.  OK.  I’ll believe in the 2012 A’s and 2012 Mariners in June.  Even the fascinating Baseball Prospectus Playoff Odds Report suggests the Angels are still a 69.2 percent bet to land a playoff berth in these days of dual Wild Cards, with Oakland checking in at 1.1 percent, and Seattle at 0.6 percent.

Texas: 93.2 percent.  The highest mark of any team in baseball, ahead of the 87.9 percent Yankees, who took Game One of their three-game set in Arlington this week and still lost the series, at the hands of Yu Darvish on Tuesday and then a rollout of relievers on Wednesday.

(ESPN’s Cool Standings simulation metrics are even more staggering: Texas at 97.0 percent and Los Angeles at 25.7 percent, with the next-best positions held by the Cardinals at 73.3 percent and Yankees at 68.8 percent.)

(And Clay Davenport’s Post-Season Odds: Texas at 98.9 percent and Los Angeles at 20.6 percent, with Detroit at 81.2 percent and Yankees at 76.7 percent.)

On Darvish: Much has been made of the plain trend in his four starts, that he’s getting better every time he takes the ball.  What makes that more interesting is the sequence of opponents: Seattle, Minnesota (away), Detroit (away), New York.

The level of competition sure isn’t a basis for Darvish trending up.

And on the subject of trending up, I saved this weekend tweet from Jason Parks, because it’s awesome:

Just received a text from a scout that said, “It’s scary to think that the Rangers are going to get even better.”

But this will do for now.

Do you realize how few signature moments there have been in 15-4?  This team is beating other teams systematically and soundly, without having to resort to the type of dramatics that end up leading off Quick Pitch or SportsCenter.

That will do, too.

The only thing disturbing what is, right now, the most rewarding stretch of early-season baseball I can ever remember experiencing is the damn blank spot on the schedule for April 26, leaving me to pass the time tonight with the start of the NFL Draft, when every team (even Dallas) will proclaim that they just got a whole lot better, as the Texas Rangers kick back themselves, awaiting the arrival of the Rays, who have already won their series with the Angels even though this afternoon’s series finale is yet to be played.

That’s a fact.

Tip of the cap.

(Associated Press.)

Eighty-two strikes.

One hundred nineteen pitches.

Eighty-two strikes.

One way to beat the Yankees, and especially the Yankees, is to make them swing the bat.

Of the 33 Yankees that Yu Darvish faced, only 12 managed to start off with ball one.  That’s how you execute a game plan.

Ten strikeouts and 12 groundouts among his 25 outs.  Only three were retired by outfielders (incidentally, Mark Teixeira to center field each time).

He got out of trouble.  We’ve seen him do that every time out this year.

But each time out, he’s gotten into less trouble.

He threw sliders and curves and cutters and splitters and two-seamers, and every one of them he threw for strikes at least 70 percent of the time.

The rate was a bit lower on the four-seamer (62 percent), one of which touched 97, and of New York’s 15 swings-and-misses, none came on one of Darvish’s 42 four-seam fastballs.

There’s your blemish.

Not really.

Remember Darvish’s first inning as a Ranger?

His ERA is now 2.42.

And that includes that first inning against Seattle, because they make you do that.

After Monday night’s game, in which the Yankees forced Derek Holland to throw strikes and he didn’t do it often enough, I tweeted: “I’m concerned about tomorrow night.  Yu command issues and NYY patience.  Very concerned.”

And Darvish goes out and throws all but one pitch in a 2-0 Rangers win, pitching better than he did the last time out, which was better than the time before, which was better than the time before.

He got out of trouble when trouble surfaced.  About which his manager would say, after the game: “That’s what good pitchers does.”

He was really, really, really good.

Tip of the cap.

(Getty Images.)

Reverse it.

 

 

Best moment of the night.

Because after Pudge threw to second base, Texas gave up more than five runs for the first time in 2012.  Dropped its first series opener of the season.  Suffered its first loss of more than one run.

Given what we’ve seen so far this year, New York 7, Texas 4 felt like a blowout loss, even though the game ended with the potential tying run on deck.

The good news is that Derek Holland fought through a bad outing, and saved the bullpen with Yu Darvish and Scott Feldman slated to go tonight and tomorrow, when pitch counts (especially against the Yankees and their gilded patience at the plate) are likely to be an issue.

Even with the loss, the Rangers sit at 13-4, matching the franchise’s best record through 17 games, also achieved in 1989 and 1996.

The first of those years was Jim Sundberg’s final season as a player, a year in which he teamed with rookie Chad Kreuter behind the plate for Texas while a chunky 17-year-old played his first professional season, catching for the Low A Gastonia Rangers, who dominated the South Atlantic League with a 92-48 record.

The second of those was the Rangers’ first playoff team, a 90-win bunch with a 24-year-old at catcher, a kid who was already in his sixth big league season, earning his fifth All-Star selection, his fifth Gold Glove, his third Silver Slugger award, and his first top 10 MVP finish.

That 1996 season ended with Pudge Rodriguez and Texas winning the first game of the ALDS in Yankee Stadium, before New York won the next three and moved on.

The Rangers won the first, lost the rest.

Maybe Texas can reverse that these next two nights.

Beauty and the beast.

As far as this space goes, I gave myself the weekend off (though, as many of you know, I couldn’t lay off of Twitter), but ESPN’s David Schoenfield didn’t, and he put a good amount of time into writing a lengthy piece with a hearty headline (“Rangers have the sweet look of greatness”) and a brawny 1,400 words, the final couple dozen of which were:

“Perfection rarely happens and I’m certainly not saying this team will win 110 games, but this is one beautiful team to watch play baseball.”

Yep.

This afternoon is going to be about Ivan Rodriguez, and absolutely deservedly so.  But this is a club that no longer needs to define itself, as it had to in Pudge’s playing days, by the transcendent abilities of individual players.  I’m fired up about tonight’s pregame ceremony (and would love to see Pudge deliver the first pitch not from the mound to the plate, but from home to second base, as gauche as that might be), but not as much as I am to see what follows.

The days of “The Yankees are coming to town” have now given way to “Who’s next?”  The Rangers have now won five series out of five, including a just-completed series of two and series of four, which are mathematically more difficult to win, even when they’re not on the road, and even when they’re not on the road in Boston and Detroit.

No question, yesterday’s decisive run shouldn’t have counted, but if you think that Detroit gets out of the 11th inning unscathed if Alberto Gonzalez’s suicide squeeze had properly been called a foul ball, when all that would have done was recalibrate the situation to bases loaded, nobody out, and an 0-1 count, well, be my guest.

My focus will be more on the Yankees and then the Rays, two very good clubs that have big series in Texas on their schedules this week, two clubs built for October that will need to bring it three times each in Arlington, where one beautiful team to watch play baseball is pitching and hitting and running and defending like at no time in the Pudge Rodriguez era, and maybe at no time in even the most recent history of the franchise.

Looking back.

I’m not much for looking back, especially when there’s lots to look forward to.  I don’t really care what C.J. Wilson is saying these days, I have no urge to ask whether Cliff Lee feels good about his decision, I don’t lose sleep any more over Danks and Masset for McCarthy.

But there are three things I want to look back on real quick this morning.

First, this tweet from the sixth inning one week ago today, after Mike Napoli lined out to shortstop off Mariners lefthander Jason Vargas:

There was a Nellie Cruz playoff liner to SS in TB that (accurately) signaled an imminent slump-busting.  That Nap square-up looked real good.

With that lineout, Napoli was hitting .077.  He’d singled once in 13 at-bats for the season.

Since then, he’s 8 for 20 with four home runs and 10 RBI in five games plus one added plate appearance.  Good for a .400/.435/1.050 slash.

Second, this was fun: Buster Olney’s February 28 ESPN column titled “Ranking early-season AL schedules,” in which he suggested the Angels (who nearly half of his ESPN colleagues picked to reach the World Series) had the second-cushiest schedule out of the gate, with only six of their first 32 games against teams that posted winning records in 2011.

The Angels, having played three of 12 games so far against teams with winning 2011 records, have yet to win any of their first four series.

Texas has won each of its four series.

This was supposed to be the week when Los Angeles would start chipping away at the Rangers’ early division lead.  The Angels had Oakland at home, while the Rangers were traveling to Boston.

Instead, the Angels have dropped two of three to the A’s so far, while Texas swept the Red Sox.

Finally, we’ll all get a chance to look back Monday night, when Ivan Rodriguez, who will retire this week, will reportedly be honored in a pre-game ceremony at Rangers Ballpark.

In the visitors’ dugout will be the New York Yankees, the club that Pudge was apparently minutes away from being traded to on July 31, 1997 (for Jorge Posada and Tony Armas Jr. and maybe Eric Milton), had he not marched alone into Tom Schieffer’s office and worked out a contract extension.  The club that had knocked Texas out of its first-ever playoff appearance the year before, and that would do the same thing again in 1998 and 1999.  The club that Pudge joined for the final two months of the 2008 season (the only season in which the Yankees missed the post-season over a 17-year stretch).

The Yankees were the fourth of six teams Pudge would play for.  Over the first 12 years of his career, all of which were spent in Texas, the thought that he’d go on to play for five other teams would have been just about impossible to believe.

He and Nolan Ryan were teammates for three seasons, the final three of Ryan’s 27 and the first three of Pudge’s 21.  Pudge didn’t catch Nolan’s two Texas no-hitters, or his 300th win, or his 5,000th strikeout.

But they may have been the two most transcendent talents to play for this franchise – at least in the past – and whether or not Pudge goes on to have a presence in the organization, something that’s been rumored, it’s going to be a good thing Monday when the two of them are standing side by side on the field.

For that moment, we’ll have a chance to look back on good memories from this club’s past before reorienting ourselves to what are the true good old days for the Texas Rangers, as Derek Holland gets set that night to face New York’s Hiroki Kuroda while the Angels sit the day out, traveling to Tampa in advance of 0-3, 6.75 Ervin Santana’s Tuesday night start against David Price, one of the tougher assignments in the Angels’ remarkably easy April 2012 schedule.

Different ways.

They’ve won with sturdy work from the starter and lockdown relief and timely hits.

They’ve won with dominating starting pitching and the home run bats.

They’ve won in impossible fashion, overcoming a nightmare out of the gate with an offense that’s never out of it behind a starter who didn’t get rattled and didn’t get chased.

They’ve won, 1-0.

Behind their fifth starter.

They’ve won methodically, outpitching and outhitting and outfielding and outbaserunning the opponent.

They’ve won by supporting another dominating start with elite defense and station-to-station offense.

They’ve won with big contributions from the next-to-last man on the bench and the last man in the bullpen, and by jumping all over the opponent’s bullpen.

They’ve won with late-inning heroics that, the way this team is playing baseball, almost felt like business as usual.

The old adage – “they can beat you in all sorts of ways” – is playing out a week and half into the 2012 season.

It all adds up to 8-2 as Texas kicks back for its first off-day of the season.  The Rangers have the best record in the American League, sport the best team ERA in the league (2.30) by more than half a run, and have put 4.5 games of separation between themselves and the club that “may be the first team ever to have too many good players.”

The only team in baseball further out in its division than the Angels is San Diego.

The Texas rotation is 6-0, 2.42 while the vaunted Los Angeles rotation sits at 3-4, 5.23, but that may be no more surprising than the fact that the Angels are hitting .263/.315/.409 . . . while the Rangers are hitting .267/.309/.469.

Yes, the Angels lineup will heat up at some point.

But the Texas bats haven’t really gotten going, either.

The standings could begin to look a lot different as soon as this week, as the Angels host the A’s and Orioles while Texas visits Boston and Detroit.  Texas then comes home to the Yankees and Rays, as Los Angeles travels to Tampa and Cleveland.

After that, Texas spends a week and a half on the road while the Angels play seven of 10 at home, leading up to a huge May 11-13 showdown between the two clubs in Arlington.

It’s very, very early, and story lines will change dramatically, in ways we can’t yet visualize.  There’s 94 percent of the season left to be played.  Los Angeles could still win the West by five games.

But it’s harder to do that when you have to make up an extra 4.5 games just to even things back up.

And that’s exactly the challenge the Angels are faced with, due to a combination of sputtering work on the mound, from both the rotation and the pen, and due also to a decisively strong and balanced charge out of the gate from the Rangers, who have yet to be beaten soundly, who have more hitters who can and should get better than those playing out of their minds, who are finding different ways to win all the time, and who have me a little cheesed off this morning at the fact that there’s not another game to be played tonight.

Self-preservation.

It was really a fairly ordinary 5-3 win, about the average number of runs scored, an unremarkable nine hits for one team and seven for the other, on a mild 77-degree afternoon as light on dramatic plays as big league games get.

Derek Holland was methodical, taking a shutout into the sixth before allowing single runs in that inning and the next one, fanning eight Mariners in 7.1 frames, throwing strike one to 18 of 28 batters faced, and never getting to ball four.  He improved to 1-0, 3.38 after two starts.

Ian Kinsler was methodical in his own way, with a single, stolen base, and run scored, later another single and another run scored, and after that a double that scored someone else before he came around to score himself.  He saw a team-high 17 pitches and sits at .370/.452/.889, with more walks (four) than strikeouts (two).

Kinsler and Holland filled the box score on Thursday, something we’ve basically come to expect from two guys who have gotten off to solid starts after great second halves in 2011 and tremendous post-seasons and strong springs but whose biggest headlines in the young season have emerged from the bargaining table.

Is it a coincidence that Kinsler and Holland, the franchise’s two biggest stars from a scouting and player development standpoint, are the two players that the organization stepped out on and locked up for a long term in the last few weeks?

Yeah, probably.

Still, it’s meaningful.

They’re homegrown.  They were scouted well, and developed extremely well.  A 17th-round pick and a 25th-round pick, they each rocketed through the system and were judged to be among the top 100 prospects in baseball before they reached Arlington.

Neither needed to be signed yet.  Other key players are in contract years; Kinsler and Holland were not.  But the organization nonetheless singled them out to give the core of this winning club some added certainty, some added stability.

Again, I’m not suggesting that Kinsler or Holland got deals because they were products of the system.  Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli and Mike Adams and Colby Lewis and others are in line to be free agents this winter, and Texas is reportedly talking to Hamilton’s representatives (at least) to drill down further on the possibility of an extension.  The Rangers traded for three of them and signed the fourth from another part of the world.  To one degree or another, they’re potential parts of the core, too.

But there’s a residual benefit to the Kinsler and Holland deals, as you can bet they send a message to Matt Harrison and Jurickson Profar and Cody Buckel and Jorge Alfaro and Justin Grimm, a message that, unlike some franchises who contend most years, Texas is positioned to keep a winning club intact and take care of key guys when it’s time for them to get paid.

The players see that.  This is an organization that is known not only for developing prospects into ballplayers and providing young players opportunities to contribute but also, now, for giving them regular chances at a ring and, in certain targeted cases, very big paydays.

Not to mention the chance to be teammates with Ian Kinsler and Derek Holland, both of whom stand to still be Texas Rangers when any prospect you want to talk about is projected to arrive.

And for the duration of any contract Hamilton and Napoli and Adams and Lewis might be asked to consider, another bullet point for those players to put in the “yes” column as they think about whether they want to be part of this thing well past 2012.

Change is good.

If you’d given me four guesses on which of the Rangers’ five starters would lead Texas to a 1-0 win the first time through the rotation, I’d have blown it.

Remember Monday night, when Texas managed to scratch out two runs in the bottom of the first, halving Seattle’s lead over Yu Darvish, only to have Darvish yield doubles to Ichiro Suzuki and Kyle Seager to deep right in the second inning to push the Mariners’ lead to 5-2?  Remember that?

Since then:

PITCHER       IP        H         R         ER       BB       K

DARVISH      3.0       2          0          0          1          3

OGANDO      1.1       1          0          0          0          1

ADAMS         2.0       1          0          0          0          1

FELDMAN    1.0       1          0          0          0          0

FELIZ             7.0       4          0          0          2          4

NATHAN       1.0       0          0          0          0          1

TOTALS         15.1     9          0          0          3          10

Give Mike Napoli lots of credit for his work behind the plate with Darvish and Feliz.  You could write a book on the importance of the guy behind the plate, sequencing and shepherding and blocking and framing and throwing, but since I’m not the guy to write that book and am just in a mood just to do a little riffing this morning, suffice it to say that of all the players whose contract situations are more pressing from a timing standpoint than Ian Kinsler’s was, Napoli is the guy I try hardest to lock up now if he’s open to talking during the season.

You can’t erase the first 1.2 innings of Darvish’s start, but if you ignore them for a second, Darvish and the rest of the Rangers staff have an ERA of 1.25 this season (six earned runs over 43.1 innings).

Feliz coaxed seven flyouts and six groundouts last night, but those numbers without more definition are deceiving.  Almost all of the flyouts were weak sauce.

As the Feliz start got underway, I tweeted: “Blind faith.”  My confidence going into that game that he could get the job done as a starter, not so much against Seattle as in the bigger picture, is girded mostly by my confidence in the Rangers’ evaluators and their track record.  But he showed me a lot.  He offered as many secondaries as fastballs, going heavier on the change and slider the second and third time through the Seattle lineup and keeping the Mariners off balance in a way I feared he wouldn’t be able to.

Credit the braintrust.  Credit Napoli.  Credit Nef.

Even if it did come against Seattle, a franchise that is now 4 for 72 (.056, all singles) with six walks and 25 strikeouts in what is now 23 scoreless innings against Feliz (thanks to his final act of the night, a bang-bang assist to get an inexplicably sliding Miguel Olivo at first base), which is just slightly less silly than the fact that the club was 0 for its first 58 before Justin Smoak singled in the fourth inning.

When I wrote up the Mike Adams trade in July, I said this about Robbie Erlin and Joe Wieland (the latter of whom will start for San Diego on Saturday, making his big league debut against the Dodgers):

“And setting aside a personal wish that those guys pitch in the big leagues for a long time, from a pure baseball standpoint we want them to succeed.  The last thing you want is for your team to start to get a reputation for moving overhyped prospects with inflated statistics who don’t pan out.  Better to be known as an organization that knows how to scout — and develop — so that other clubs continue to want your players.  That’s a good thing.”

I thought about that last night watching Blake Beavan.  He was really, really, really good.  That kid is going to be around a long time, a key piece of the rotation when that club is strong again in a couple years.  The Rangers did an extraordinary job refining the brash, young fireballer into a pitcher, and he’s going to help Seattle for years.

But flags fly forever.

I very much enjoy the story coming out of Milwaukee that the Brewers and Zack Greinke have cut off contract talks.  That’s going to have to be the subject of a full-blown report in the near future, no?

A note not unrelated to the points raised in the last five paragraphs: It’s an exceedingly good  thing that Frisco center fielder Engel Beltre (.292/.346/.750) is starting to show signs of a little actualized offense.  The toolsy 22-year-old, on his second of three options this year, went deep twice last night, giving him three homers in the six-game season and three times as many bombs as he had in 2011.

I was critical of two poor defensive plays David Murphy made over the weekend, and of course some Twitter followers have extrapolated from that a bizarre conclusion that I don’t like David Murphy and that every time he delivers a big hit it’s naturally in-my-face.

So weird.

As huge as Napoli was last night, he’s still really out of rhythm at the plate, something we haven’t seen in 10 months.

The landmark Ian Kinsler extension will apparently be announced officially today, which makes it a great day for the franchise even before Colby Lewis-Kevin Millwood gets rolling.

The great Bryan Curtis was in town for Darvish’s debut, and pumped out this write-up for Grantland.

Two final thoughts, and I’ll leave you to get on with your day:

1. We’re toying with the idea of doing fan events in Frisco (perhaps this month) and Round Rock (sometime this summer) in addition to our standard Newberg Report Night at Rangers Ballpark, which is typically around the trade deadline, not to mention a Baseball Prospectus event at the Ballpark tentatively scheduled for June 24.

Stay tuned for all that.

2. Neftali Feliz threw 76 percent of his 25 changeups for strikes last night – and a few of those that missed were still good-looking enough to make advance scouts take note.  It was a shockingly beautiful go-to pitch from a guy whose ability to rely on it I doubted.  Feliz finished eight Mariners hitters off with the change, and only one of them put it in play safely.

Mix in a show-me slider that went for strikes nearly half the time (43 percent), and friends, we might just have ourselves a legitimate weapon not only able to go deep into games every fifth day, but more importantly capable of maintaining effectiveness multiple times through a lineup and of working his way out of trouble as it inevitably arises.

Which, given the kid’s unique talent, would make him far more than a number five starter, even in a rotation as rock-solid as this one.

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