June 2012

Harry.

Matt Harrison pitched Sunday, and pitched well.  He blanked Colorado on five singles and two walks over five innings, going to a three-ball count just twice.  But he was chased with mild lower back stiffness, forcing Ron Washington to go to the bullpen early.  Robbie Ross gave him an inning of work, as did Tanner Scheppers and Mike Adams and Joe Nathan.

The workload since that night for the Rangers’ four key active relievers:

Nathan: 32 pitches on Sunday, Monday off, 13 pitches on Tuesday, 14 pitches on Wednesday, 21 pitches on Thursday (shaky command)

Adams: 18 pitches on Sunday, Monday off, 26 pitches on Tuesday, 12 pitches on Wednesday, 23 pitches on Thursday (shaky command)

Ross: 24 pitches on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday off, 17 pitches on Wednesday, 8 pitches on Thursday

Mark Lowe: 25 pitches on Saturday, 38 pitches on Monday

Tonight, Harrison faces Oakland rookie righthander A.J. Griffin, a finesse guy who was outstanding in his debut against San Francisco on Sunday.  But as we saw in Justin Grimm’s second effort on Monday, debuts aren’t necessarily predictive of the second time out.  The Rangers likely had an advance scout in the stands for Griffin’s first start, and now there’s a bit of a book.

An early jump on Griffin by the Rangers offense would be much appreciated tonight, as would an eighth straight sturdy effort by Harrison, one that lasts deep into the game this time.

Sincerely,

Joe, Mike, Robbie, Wash, Mike, and the rest of us

On the rails.

Four more strikeouts in four official at-bats for Josh Hamilton last night.  Since June 2, he’s hitting .188/.278/.388, an 90-plate-appearance stretch that includes 32 strikeouts (I won’t drill it down to what’s happened over the last six games, as I try to keep this stuff PG-13 at worst).

Compare the first 90 plate appearances that Albert Pujols had in his historically bad start this year – .226/.278/.310 with 12 strikeouts.

Michael Young’s numbers are way down across the board, as are Mike Napoli’s.

Like Young, Ian Kinsler is putting up a career-low OPS, and Kinsler has already matched his 2011 error output and his career high in failed stolen base attempts.

Nelson Cruz is having his least productive season since becoming a full-time player, and he’s regressed defensively.

Mitch Moreland, like Elvis Andrus and David Murphy and Craig Gentry, has taken a significant step forward offensively, but a hamstring strain planted him on the disabled list, where he hangs out with Rangers pitchers Derek Holland and Colby Lewis and Alexi Ogando and Neftali Feliz and Koji Uehara, all of whom were injured in the last five weeks.

A stretch during which the Angels have gone 24-8.

Texas is not a better team without Moreland and Holland and Lewis and Ogando and Feliz and Uehara – the kind of shrewd observation that you’re welcome to Favorite – but get this:

In the 35 games Feliz has missed, the Rangers (who have a .618 win percentage for the season) are playing .600 baseball.

In Holland’s 19 games on the disabled list: .684.

Ogando’s 14: .786.

Uehara’s 11: .818.

Moreland’s six (and, to round things out, Lewis’s three): .667.

A battered, decimated Rangers club, with three-fifths of its rotation shelved and several of its key hitters scuffling and the defense playing beneath its capability and five rookies on the current pitching staff, has won six straight series, matching the season-opening high.

Has won 10 of 12, 13 of 16, and 14 of 18.

Has three wins out of four starts from eighth and ninth starters, which is three wins more than Cliff Lee has in his 12 starts.

Has its best-ever record after 76 games.

Has the most wins in baseball.

And has allowed Los Angeles to creep only 3.5 games closer over that 24-8 run.

Over the next five weeks the Rangers will get a lot healthier (with some potentially positive residual effects of all the down time for its sidelined pitchers), and they’ll also get stronger another way, when Jon Daniels pulls the trigger on a key trade or two.

There’s a lot to be bitter about, if that’s your thing.  Pitching injuries and offensive regressions and botched rundowns and bat hurls can be irritating, but what club owners and general managers and the ticket-buying fan base pay for are wins, and if a night on which a newly acquired veteran starter gives up a career-high number of hits and the defense provides a few hi-def moments of ugly and certain cogs in the offense continue blazing a trail of abject hacktasticness still ends up with daps in the middle of the infield, you take that and look forward to the next game, the next opponent, the next opportunity to keep this thing on the rails, firing well on the cylinders that are still in service, every day drawing closer to the time when impact roster reinforcements should arrive, in more ways than one.

The super-possible imminence of Martin Perez.

Owners of the most wins in the Major Leagues, the best current run (8 of 10, and 11 of 14), the fattest run differential, and baseball’s biggest division lead, Texas is getting this done with a 12-man pitching staff that currently includes four rookies (Yu Darvish, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Justin Grimm) and another who missed rookie status by a mere seven days of service (Michael Kirkman).  And there’s evidently another one on the way.

A little before midnight last night, Martin Perez’s agent and then Perez himself and then at least one national writer and then multiple local reporters tweeted that the 21-year-old lefthander – who has seemingly been around forever but who is younger than seven of the eight players Texas took in rounds 3 through 10 of this month’s draft – is on his way to Texas.

There’s been no official confirmation of any pending move, and thus no suggestion at all whether the idea would be to plug Perez into Kirkman’s bullpen spot after the latter threw 82 very effective pitches last night (sure to make him unavailable for the rest of the series against Detroit and probably the start of the Oakland series), or to replace Grimm with Perez in the rotation while Derek Holland moves methodically toward reinstatement (though in that case you’d expect Yoshinori Tateyama to be recalled until that rotation slot came up again Saturday night, to give the bullpen another arm), or – I hate to even imagine it – to step in for Darvish tonight for some unknown reason.  (Perez would be pitching on regular rest.)

I’d bet on Perez being asked to step into Kirkman’s role, giving Texas a second stretched-out arm for the bullpen along with Scott Feldman (who could conceivably be kept out of action the rest of the week and plugged back into the Grimm spot in the rotation himself).

It’s been a very disappointing AAA season for Perez, a pitcher that the industry press has gilded over the past few years far more than Danks, Volquez, or Diamond ever were.  His last six weeks of work reveal a progression ranging from awful to sublime: In eight Round Rock starts, he has logged (in order) 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, 5.2, 6.0, 7.0, 7.0, and 9.0 innings.

The first of the two seven-inning efforts included 11 hits allowed and zero strikeouts.  The only other times in Perez’s 98 pro starts in which he fanned zero were a 1.1-inning Spokane start at age 17 in 2008 and a 0.1-inning Frisco start in 2010.

But in that start Perez threw 68 percent of his pitches for strikes, and 11 pitches per inning, remarkable numbers in a season in which he sits at 61 percent and 15 per inning overall.  He followed up with the second seven-inning start, limiting Oklahoma City to one hit (but five walks) while fanning five and keeping the RedHawks off the board.

And then, on Thursday, he fired the first nine-inning complete game of his professional life, which dates back to 2008.  You can circle the three hits and applaud the two walks and feel really good about 72 percent strikes and two runs allowed.  But no piece of data from that start pops like the 90 pitches thrown, a exceptional, super-crisp, and easily calculated 10 pitches per inning, which is evidence of a different pitcher from the Perez who had put together only one half-season the past four years befitting (at least from a results-oriented view) a prospect with his sort of consensus stature.

Those last two starts came after the announcement that Grimm would jump over Perez from Frisco to Arlington.  Whether that served as added motivation for the young lefthander is only for him to say, but for now he’s just saying that he’s going to be a big leaguer today.

Forget whether Perez is the next Johan Santana (height, build, heritage, handedness, Bugs Bunny change), or whether he’ll succeed (here) at a level that DVD never did.  The exciting thing is that, at least in the organization’s estimation, Perez may be Perez again, a pitcher passed over a week and a half ago when Grimm got the call but one who, since, has taken measurable steps forward to earn a trip to Arlington and to join a pitching staff that, in spite of doing battle without Holland and without Neftali Feliz and without Alexi Ogando and without Koji Uehara and with lots of very young pitchers, is once again being appreciated as the unquestionable key to baseball’s best team.

Go time?

So Friday’s report wasn’t enough?

Too much?

How about a franchise-altering trade (that will never happen) to think about?

Ben Rogers of ESPN Dallas suggested last night on Twitter that the player to go all in for should be Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez, who is locked up for this season and five more.

First things first: Colorado shouldn’t trade CarGo, and probably won’t.

But if the Rockies were open to the idea of accelerating the process of getting deeper and maybe better, and if moving Gonzalez were a possibility, he makes a massive amount of sense in Texas.

He gives this offense a crazy boost in 2012 and replaces Josh Hamilton going forward.  He plays all three outfield spots.  His salaries escalate gradually during what would have been his arbitration years ($5 million this year, plus a $1 million bonus if traded, $7.5 million in 2013, $10.5 million in 2014) before bouncing to the higher levels that his service time would dictate if he weren’t already locked up ($16 million in 2015, $17 million in 2016, $20 million in 2017).

Conveniently, the Rangers’ 10-figure megadeal with Fox Sports Southwest kicks in after the 2014 season.

At age 26, Gonzalez is to Hamilton what Yu Darvish was to C.J. Wilson this past winter.  Only he’s more of a proven commodity than Darvish was.

Look at it this way: Over the 2013-2017 seasons, Gonzalez will make $71 million.  Over those same five seasons, what will Hamilton command?  $30 million more than that?  $50 million more?

Which is why the Rockies won’t trade the guy.  They just won’t.

But if they would?

The interesting part of this is that the two prospects Texas is likely most resistant to trading (Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt) play positions where the Rockies are most set, with shortstop Troy Tulowitzki in his prime and third base prospect Nolan Arenado fine-tuning in Class AA.

Of course, Profar or Olt (or Arenado) could move to the right side of the diamond if necessary, and maybe the Rockies believe Olt could play an outfield corner as well.

And there’s always the possibility of getting a third team involved, a club that Colorado could flip Profar or Olt or Arenado to for something else.

Still, there’s that part about the Rockies not moving Gonzalez.

But just for Kevin Goldstein, what if?

(Oh yeah, first, a comp: Christian Villanueva and Edgardo Alfonzo.)

OK, the trade hypothetical.

In late July: Neftali Feliz (assumes active again), Martin Perez or Cody Buckel (Rockies’ choice), Craig Gentry, Wilmer Font, and Hanser Alberto for Carlos Gonzalez, Charlie Blackmon, and Will Swanner.

If Colorado takes David Murphy instead of Gentry, Texas ends up with Eric Young Jr. rather than Blackmon.

And Texas makes Hamilton a one-year qualifying offer in November, and takes the draft picks when Hamilton turns it down and leaves.

Mull it over.

But not too much, since it’s not happening.

Froyo.

He started 19 of 29 Rockies off with a strike, a solid number.

But he started 17 of those 29 off (including the final five) by throwing the first two pitches for strikes, and that’s an awesome number.

He frequently worked backwards, punishing Colorado with the heyday curve all night and spotting a good change, making his riding fastball all the more effective, even when he got it up.  He located everything, throwing a stunning 74 percent of his pitches for strikes.

He didn’t allow a run until his 110th and final pitch.

I could have saved myself the trouble of spilling out those 93 words on Roy Oswalt by just going with the five that Ron Washington used after the game:

He pitched like Roy Oswalt.”

That’s a good, good win, and at least for one night – with plenty of reason to believe it could be much more than that – a very good add.

A gift for @Kevin_Goldstein.

The lineup for this Sunday’s Baseball Prospectus event at Rangers Ballpark got a little more awesome yesterday, when Rangers Senior Special Assistant Don Welke said he wanted in on the action, joining Jon Daniels and BP’s Kevin Goldstein, Jason Parks, and Joe Hamrahi for the Q&A portion.

I thought I’d give Kevin a gift to welcome him back to Texas.  (Jason’s a native Texan and Joe’s a Cowboys season ticket holder, so touching down for the weekend is gift enough for them.)  But what do you get for the guy who has it all?

Kevin’s a foodie but a man’s gotta choose his own BBQ sauce.  Cookie bouquets are out, I don’t know if you can buy the whole U2 catalog on iTunes and don’t feel like trying to find out, and I thought about getting him a scoreboard he could watch every April, but the cool models don’t travel well.

So I decided on the ultimate give-up.  And hey, it’s not like I could jump on Twitter and solicit ideas since Kevin reads every tweet by everybody, and as for the thought that I’d get in the car without a specific plan and go hunt for the perfect gift, well, frankly, I don’t have that kind of time.  It would be sort of cliché and unimaginative – maybe even gauche – to give Bill Cosby a college sweatshirt or Jay Leno a car, but Kevin’s getting the obvious, a stack of the things he loves best:

Player comps and trade ideas!

If you’re among the 200-plus who will be at the event on Sunday, corner Kevin with your own – and lots of them!  I mean, when it comes down to it, would Imelda Marcos really cringe at another pair of those cool new barefoot gloves?

Actually, I’m sort of tired of this already and so I’m only going to drop a few comps and a few trade hypotheticals, so now it’s even more important that you back my halfhearted effort with an impressive collective showing of your own.  There’s almost nothing riding on this, but never mind that.

PLAYER COMPS (ceilings, typically; not present):

  • Mike Olt/Adrian Beltre (offensively and defensively, other than Olt has more miss in his bat; also, Dontrelle Willis didn’t have to be Vida Blue, and Martin Perez isn’t necessarily going to be Johan Santana)
  • Mike Trout/Rickey Henderson
  • Howie Kendrick/Michael Young (perhaps more apt, ultimately, than Young/Paul Molitor?)
  • Chad Bell/B.J. Ryan (upper half, at least)
  • Ronald Guzman/Eric Hosmer (hat tip: Jason Parks)
  • Cody Buckel/Robbie Erlin (in reverse)
  • Buckel/Roy Oswalt (one promoted yesterday, the other today; some physical/mechanical similarities)
  • Mike Adams from the stretch/Nelson Cruz waiting on a pitch (someone else said it before me; can’t remember who)
  • Drew Robinson/Ben Zobrist (wishful)
  • Every lefthander ever/the next Tom Glavine (wait, dump that)
  • Joe Nathan/John C. McGinley

TRADE IDEAS (remember, in most of these hypotheticals, one team says no; in the rest, both teams say no – just a bunch of silly ideas to kick around):

  • LHP Martin Perez, RHP Justin Grimm, and CF Julio Borbon to Milwaukee for RHP Zack Greinke (Brewers must get more value than the two compensatory draft picks; other team will get no picks if Greinke leaves this winter; result – finding common ground for an impact starter will be tougher than ever; this one feels like a “both say no” scenario)
  • RHP Neftali Feliz and Borbon to Toronto for C Travis d’Arnaud, OF Travis Snider, and RHP Danny Barnes (not until in the winter, once Feliz proves his health; Borbon and Snider will be out of options) 
  • RHP Barret Loux and SS Luis Sardinas to San Diego for OF Carlos Quentin (unlikely San Diego makes the necessary qualifying offer in order to get the draft picks for losing Quentin, right?) 
  • RHP Roman Mendez to San Diego for C Nick Hundley (winter) 
  • OF David Murphy, RHP Wilmer Font, and SS Hanser Alberto to Minnesota for OF Josh Willingham and RHP Jared Burton (Willingham’s $7 million in 2013 and $7 million in 2014 are hefty, but Murphy will likely make more than $5 million next year himself through arbitration) 
  • RHP Nick Tepesch, 3B Christian Villanueva, and Borbon to Philadelphia for CF Shane Victorino (the emergence of Craig Gentry probably makes the thought of giving up legitimate prospects for a Victorino rental less appealing) 
  • Borbon and LHP Chad Bell to Philadelphia for OF Domonic Brown (Brown will have one option left in 2013)

Again, none of these are going to happen.  Some are really not going to happen.

But you’re welcome, Kevin.  A couple hundred of us are looking super-forward to seeing you this weekend, hopefully most with enough decency to gift you up thoughtfully.  Just trying to set the bar.

Firsts.

The Arizona League Rangers squad took the field last night for the first time, featuring a lineup including center fielder Lewis Brinson (age 18), third baseman Joey Gallo (18), right fielder Nomar Mazara (17), shortstop Luis Marte (18), DH Jamie Jarmon (18 today), left fielder Nick Williams (18), and righthander C.J. Edwards (20), a group with a sixth-level crystal ball buzz (especially once first baseman Ronald Guzman [17] returns from a minor ankle ding and super-especially if and when Texas is awarded outfielder Jairo Beras [17]) that’s unmatched since Rudy Jaramillo’s 1986 Gulf Coast League group that boasted Juan Gonzalez (16), Sammy Sosa (17), Dean Palmer (17), Rey Sanchez (18), and righthander Kevin Brown (21).

But it was instead 350 miles west where the game got off to a Rookie League type of start.

After a quiet top of the first in San Diego, Yu Darvish took the mound in the bottom of the frame and made quick work of the much-anticipated Will Venable rematch before throwing three straight balls out of the zone to number two hitter Cameron Maybin, ultimately walking him, and going to 2-2 on Mark Kotsay when he then missed the zone and Yorvit Torrealba missed everything on an ill-advised throw to second as Maybin had started to run and was scrambling back to first.  Kotsay then walked, bringing the Padres’ most legitimate threat, Chase Headley, to the plate with two on and nobody out.  Headley lined into a double play, second to short, and Darvish was out of trouble.

San Diego starter Anthony Bass breezed through the second, too, coaxing an Adrian Beltre flyout and sandwiching Nelson Cruz and Torrealba strikeouts around a David Murphy single fielded by the catcher.

In his half of the second, Darvish struck Yonder Alonso out on a full count and Everth Cabrera singled to right, but with the punchless John Baker, the anemic Alexi Amarista, and the pitcher Bass due up, things didn’t look too dire, especially once Baker grounded into a 6-4 fielder’s choice.

But then an Amarista ground-rule double on a 1-2 count put runners on second and third.  And Bass, after looking at two strikes, singled to right, bringing both Baker and Amarista in to score.  Darvish’s mound opponent then added to the circus by stealing second – his first stolen base since high school – but was stranded there when Venable squared up a lineout to first.

Darvish needed 41 pitches to get through two frames.  Two frames that featured walks and mental/physical errors and ground rule doubles from hitters slugging under .300 for their career and pitchers driving in runs and pitchers stealing bases.  Stuff you might expect to see in Surprise.

But then Darvish got right.  Over the next six innings, he allowed one more hit than he collected himself.  He faced two over the minimum in innings three through eight, yielding two singles and a walk, and coaxed both a caught stealing and a 6-3 double play while fanning seven in that six-inning stretch.  After those 41 pitches through two, he needed only 81 over the next six.

He got stronger, the offense woke up against the San Diego bullpen, and Texas suddenly has baseball’s best record again.  As reader Alex Rosenfield points out, in the last 10 games the Rangers have scored 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and (twice) 9 runs, which is freakish enough before you consider that even with the lower scores, the club has lost just one of those games.

Darvish has pitched twice in that stretch, following three extra days of rest, and in each of those two starts he’s allowed two runs over eight innings, striking out a total of 19 batters while walking five.  Bigger tests than Houston and San Diego await, as Darvish next faces Detroit and Minnesota, teams who have seen him before.  He’s 8-1, 2.51 against teams who haven’t faced him, and 1-3, 6.53 when seeing a club the second time.  Darvish has faced the Tigers (6.1 innings, one earned run) and Twins (5.2 innings, one earned run).

Maybe the AZL Royals will have an easier time with Edwards (5-5-0-0-0-4 in his pro debut) the next time he faces the Rangers’ complex-mates.  Brinson probably won’t lead off every game of his pro career with a triple.  Soon enough Gallo will chip in with the third of the three true outcomes, and Guzman will get on the field, but for now both probably had to buy Chipotle for Mazara (two singles, two RBI) and Jarmon (two-run triple, single, hit-by-pitch, two runs).

And maybe Beras will eventually be allowed to join the AZL club, further crowding what had been a relatively thin outfield crop in the system, one that may be about to get a very interesting boost at Frisco as well if the latest rumblings are true.

And maybe the Rangers will start to put together some more consistent offense, the rotation will get healthier, and Darvish will begin treating repeat opponents badly.  It’s sort of strange picking on this team’s problems when it’s dropped only one game in the last 10, but the reality is that Texas can play better baseball than it’s playing right now.

In the meantime?  It’s a lot more fun when your team finds ways to win than when it’s stuck doing the opposite.

Baseball.

Offensively, the Rangers managed three hits and one walk while fanning 10 times over the final eight innings, all scoreless and all against the second-worst team in baseball, which started a veteran pitcher who’d been released three weeks ago by the American League’s worst team.

And they won.

The Angels had more hits and more walks and more runs and fewer strikeouts against Matt Cain plus four Giants relievers than the Rangers had against Jason Marquis and a couple Padres relievers.

But the Angels lost.

That’s baseball.

So is this:

 

 

Ninety-four games left, eight out of 10 and a season-high 14 games over .500, a June-high five-game division lead.

Zero games left, and a win in the final one.

It’s all good.

The meaninglessness of subtext.

The Houston Astros, owners of the second-worst road record in baseball, came in for three games, sending out three first- or second-year starting pitchers while their two experienced starters, Wandy Rodriguez and J.A. Happ, sat the series out, having just thrown in San Francisco.

Jordan Lyles, Lucas Harrell, and Dallas Keuchel proceeded to hold the Rangers scoreless for four innings, five innings, and five innings.  That was fun.

But then Texas put up a five-run fifth on Friday, a five-run sixth on Saturday, and a seven-run sixth on Sunday, in each case enough scoring in a one-inning burst to win the game.  That was more fun.

And just like that, a sweep of the Astros in front of three straight sellout crowds, six wins in seven, seven wins in nine, a 40-27 record – which matches a season-high mark of 13 games over .500 – and a chance in San Diego over the next three days to continue moving the needle in the right direction.

Before Texas returns for a 10-game homestand that kicks off Friday night with either Justin Grimm or Roy Oswalt taking the ball.

On Tuesday night, late, the subtexts will include Josh Hamilton and Edinson Volquez facing off in San Diego and C.J. Wilson and his muse Barry Zito teeing it up in Anaheim, but before that we get Matt Harrison-Jason Marquis and Matt Cain-Jerome Williams tonight, with the Angels-Giants story lines full of substance.  Cain takes the mound for the first time since Wednesday’s perfect game (against Houston) – and the track record of pitchers in the start after a perfect game is more scattered than you might think – while Williams, a can’t-miss prospect with the Giants a decade ago who didn’t really pan out and whose path went through the independent leagues before the Angels gave him a chance last year, faces his old team for the second time ever (and first since 2005, when San Francisco traded him to the Cubs).  Which is once more than Volquez has faced Texas.

But you can always find subtext, and the story ends up being different.

Like an Astros team absolutely shutting the Rangers offense down early with mediocre pitching, in Arlington, every time.

Or the Rangers offense exploding the third time through the lineup, every time.

Or Grimm with one more big league victory in 2012 than Cliff Lee.

Or Craig Gentry.

With 95 games left, the All-Star Break nearing, and the draft complete, trade discussions now begin to pick up.  There will be lots of speculation about what those discussions entail, but the subtext in that regard as far as Texas is concerned is that if there’s any semi-reliable hint of what Jon Daniels is looking to do, it’s because another team or someone’s agent is talking to the press.

But we’ll guess.  A lot.

I’m sure Daniels spent late June and all of July doing that as a young Mets fan, so he’ll understand.

In the meantime, the Rangers and Angels march toward two likely playoff berths, something we could see a lot of over the next however-many years with the two-Wild Card format, and the fact that next season Texas will start to get the Astros 18 times a year rather than six is a balloon with a little less air when you realize that the Angels will get them 18 times rather than zero.

But the rosters won’t look the same in 2013.  By this August, the Rangers and Angels will have fewer young players and the Astros fewer veterans, and if you asked me whether I hope the Astros trade Rodriguez or the Angels trade Peter Bourjos or the Rangers trade Tanner Scheppers, I’m conflicted in all three cases and don’t know what I hope to see happen.

And that’s a reminder that I need every once in a while to try and shut down the speculation and put away the telescope and to just concentrate on the next game or, as was the case all weekend for the Rangers, to fight through the first four or five innings and wait for the chance to put a much more satisfying picture in the frame.

Justin Grimm, Major Leaguer.

If Yu Darvish brought his good swing-and-miss stuff to the mound, particularly a wipeout breaking ball that hitters couldn’t lay off and couldn’t touch, and issued zero walks, it would be part of the story lead.

If Colby Lewis was able to keep the ball away from middle-middle, gave up the requisite one long ball per game, and saved the bullpen with another quality start, we’d be talking about a day on which we got Good Colby.

If Derek Holland pulled things together after a home run and punched out the next five hitters in succession, and flipped on the battle switch once he found his team behind by three runs, we’d call it a positive step.

If Matt Harrison, the Rangers’ hottest starting pitcher at the moment, went out and fanned more than a batter per inning, something he hasn’t done all season, we’d be advancing the conversation about whether he deserves a long-term extension like Holland got.

But it was Justin Grimm who did all those things on Saturday, in front of 48,000-plus that included his parents Mark and Tamara and his sister Ashley, six days after he’d faced the Class AA Midland RockHounds in front of a crowd one-seventh that size, when he put up a 7-5-3-3-1-8 (one home run) line that statistically looked remarkably like yesterday’s 6-6-3-3-0-7 (one home run) effort against Houston.  It was Grimm, the Rangers’ eighth starting pitcher of the season (one more than they needed in all of 2011), helping a couple dozen brand new teammates maintain a division lead that they’d earned over the 10 weeks that he’d spent doing his job 40 miles northeast in Frisco.

There are plenty of cool historical notes to flag.  No Rangers pitcher had ever fanned five straight in his debut.  Only 10 other pitchers in recorded baseball history had fanned at least seven and walked none in a big league debut; since 2000, Stephen Strasburg and Johnny Cueto are the two who had done it.

No American League pitcher had done it since 1965.

The last time two Rangers starters won their big league debuts in the same season (before Darvish and Grimm) was in 1986, when Kevin Brown and Mike Loynd did it – wearing the same home whites that Texas wore in yesterday’s turn-back-the-clock contest.

The last Rangers pitcher before Georgia’s Grimm to debut with at least five innings of work and zero walks was Georgia Tech’s Brown.

Brown’s third baseman that September 1986 day was Steve Buechele, who, as Grimm’s manager, was the man charged Thursday with the task of breaking the news to the 23-year-old that he was headed to the big leagues, a mere two years into a professional career.

You can bet Martin Perez and Barret Loux and Cody Buckel and Nick Tepesch were paying attention, and that Ryan Coe was on the edge of his Rangers Ballpark seat for every bit of Grimm’s start.  This organization’s idea of meritocracy isn’t founded on tenure, whether you’re a pitching prospect or an area scout.

The Rangers repeatedly relied on Coe, who was a college baseball coach until the Rangers hired him to find college and high school players in 2010, in that year’s draft.  Coe had never scouted before, and yet Texas went with his recommendations in the first round (high school outfielder Jake Skole), third round (high school outfielder Jordan Akins), and fifth round (Grimm, who went 3-7, 5.49 that spring with the University of Georgia but had a set of tools that Coe recognized and convinced the club to take a chance on and spend over slot for).

It’s a remarkable thing to look back on, considering not only that Coe is one of 18 area scouts and covers only one state and part of another, but also that he was a first-time scout with no track record.

His 2010 effort was the scouting equivalent to Grimm’s Saturday performance, in a way, and it’s a cool thing that Coe (who was also responsible for the club’s top two picks in 2011, lefthander Kevin Matthews and outfielder Zach Cone) was there to see it.

I don’t think minor league pitching coordinator Danny Clark, Frisco pitching coach Jeff Andrews, or Myrtle Beach pitching coach Brad Holman were in Arlington yesterday, but they can take every bit as much satisfaction in Justin’s day as Mark and Tamara and Coe and Jon Daniels and Kip Fagg and Phil Geisler and Tim Purpura and Nolan Ryan do, and there’s surely a part of Scott Servais that’s happy for Grimm as well, even if there’s that other part, too.

The composure that Grimm showed on the mound yesterday was just about as impressive as the breaking ball or the pitching line, as he battled against Ryan’s and Coe’s and Purpura’s and Servais’s former organization and earned a big league win in a big league start in those 1986 uniforms.

For Mark and Tamara, who became parents in 1986 when Justin’s brother Matt was born, it’s hard to imagine there have been too many Father’s Days that rank up there with this one.

And if Justin does get optioned out soon as Roy Oswalt and Holland near readiness (less of a problem than you might think since Grimm will have four options rather than three), the chances are very good that he’ll be back in the big leagues before long, one way or another – other teams will be interested in giving him that shot if Texas is open to the idea – without the jitters that he shook yesterday after a first-inning home run, keeping his team in the game long enough to let the offense do its job, to validate the work Coe and Clark and Holman and Andrews and Grimm himself put in, and to earn a big league victory and the opportunity for plenty more.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 65 other followers