April 2014

Ben & Jerry.

Howard, the strangest things

Have happened lately

When I take a good swing

And all my dreams

They pivot and slip

I drop my fists and they’re back

Laughing 

Howard, my intention’s become not to lose what I’ve won

Ambition has given way to desperation and I

Lost the fight from my eyes.

— Marwin Gonzalez, possibly

Your move, Yu.

Be great.

Jerry-Seinfeld-Newman

An Adrian Beltre story I don’t want to headline.

It’s easy enough, after watching Martin Perez consistently battle his way out of potential trouble last night in Boston, to wonder how Opening Day might have gone if Perez had been the one to take the ball, but then again how would Game Two have gone in that case, when Perez matched zeroes with A.J. Burnett into the sixth before Adrian Beltre tied the game in the seventh and then delivered the walk-off blow in the ninth?

Experience dictates that we’d have been well advised to hold our breath after Jim Adduci made the walk from the dugout to the on-deck circle in place of Beltre in the top of the fifth inning last night, not long after which word filtered out that Beltre would fly back to Texas for tests on his left quadriceps, but then again he was lifted at a time when Texas was ahead, 9-1, in temperatures that had dropped into the 40’s.  There was no need to push a barking leg muscle when Beltre was only DH’ing at the time anyway, and giving him the day off today (low 50’s) makes precautionary sense, meaning he will have had half of Tuesday off the leg, plus all of today and all of tomorrow’s off-day, and maybe he’ll be back on Friday at home against Houston.

Maybe.

Before we know more about Beltre and his chronically unreliable leg muscles, and whether a DL stint is a possibility (which would mean the arrival from Round Rock of veteran Kevin Kouzmanoff, who had an outstanding spring), it could probably be worse.

Tampa Bay lefthander Matt Moore’s has a scheduled trip to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion on an elbow injury that forced the 24-year-old out of Monday’s start and onto the disabled list.

Torii Hunter left Detroit’s game last night in the fifth inning, having crunched his left knee in a collision with the Dodger Stadium wall in foul ground down the right field line, in what would be a 10-inning, 3-2 Tigers loss.  Detroit manager Brad Ausmus has already talked about sitting Hunter tonight, ahead of the club’s own off-day Thursday.

Josh Hamilton unapologetically slid into first base last night, pulling himself out of the game thereafter with a swollen and painful thumb, which meant his .444/.545/.741 slash would be replaced by journeyman Ian Stewart’s .143/.143/.429 in a critical spot in the ninth (two men on via Fernando Rodney walks, nobody out, Angels down 5-3), and since with Josh, it’s gonna be something weird, maybe he sits tonight as well before Los Angeles’s own Thursday off, and if you want to bet whether he or Beltre is back playing again first, be my guest.

Texas has a chance, behind Robbie Ross Jr., to win a series in Boston this afternoon, without the benefit of what ESPN’s Keith Law calls the best starting pitcher in the American League.  Yu Darvish will start Friday against the Astros, followed by Colby Lewis, and right there you have two veteran pitchers who weren’t active the first time through the rotation.  Whether the club brings Perez back on regular rest Sunday, which would mean skipping Tanner Scheppers, is something that has to be part of the conversation, you would think.

The Stars picked up a huge two points in an overtime win last night, with three regular-season games to go in their fight for a playoff berth.  The Mavericks nailed down their own huge win with three to go and a playoff spot in the balance, a game in which a very cool list of 10 got modified so that it now reads Kareem, Karl, Michael, Kobe, Wilt, Shaquille, Moses, Elvin, Hakeem, and Dirk.

Meanwhile, the decimated Rangers improved to 4-4, behind another impressive effort from Perez, more Shin-Soo Choo greatness, a breakout game for Robinson Chirinos and maybe one for Prince Fielder as well.  It was a night on which Adrian Beltre delivered a run-scoring single, a run-scoring double, and a tight quad, all of which have become part of what we expect from the 35-year-old, and I suppose there’s a chance today’s doctor visit could end up producing a “whew” result, making the added day-and-a-half off a good thing for the player, and the team.

At least as far as results are concerned, Tuesday was a really good sports day, locally.

And I’d really like to get through Wednesday and Thursday without seeing the name Kevin Kouzmanoff in a local headline.

500.

Two series in, with Texas rolling out a rotation featuring just one pitcher (a 22-year-old) who was supposed to be there, and the club has won three, and lost three.

Three of those six games were started by a legitimate ace (Cliff Lee, David Price, Yu Darvish), and in all three cases his team won.

Even though in the two matchups the Rangers had against one of those beasts, they certainly could have won, putting eight runs on Lee’s ledger on Opening Day and then going to the bullpens Saturday with Nick Martinez matching Price’s six frames and Texas ahead, 4-3.

But sometimes things just fit, like teams winning when their aces take the ball, Adrian Beltre coming up big late, and Lance Berkman telling Houston reporters on Friday: “I probably shouldn’t have played last year.”

While other times they further populate the “You Can’t Predict Ball” column, like Neal Cotts getting beat, Elvis’s small sample outslugging Prince’s and Choo’s combined, and Russell Wilson locating his first pitch on Wednesday better than Jonathan Papelbon located his final pitch.

I’m not sure which category Yu Darvish’s MLB-record quickness to 500 strikeouts (401.2 innings, eclipsing Kerry Wood’s 404.2) belongs in, but I do know that if he had been the one to face off with Lee a week ago . . . .

Never mind.  You never know.

Three wins and three losses, with a decimated rotation and, as a result, a bullpen missing two of its four most important pieces.  And with the starting catcher and starting second baseman out for half the year.

Darvish is back, Colby Lewis’s next start may be in Arlington, and Matt Harrison isn’t far behind.  The idea was for Texas to hold its ground until the cavalry starting rolling back in, and while .500 through two series could have been better, it sure could have been worse.

I wish this team were at full health, I wish Scott Baker had thrown the same day for Round Rock as Joe Saunders did for Texas — though Nick Tepesch lines up with Saunders and he was outstanding himself — and I wish I could stop thinking about how the Rangers could not touch Saunders on October 5, 2012, because that still makes zero sense, but it is what it is (“they are what they are” feels as flat as a run-scoring Josh Hamilton double play grounder off Saunders) and, again, given everything this team is having to fight through, .500 through six seems OK.

And one way or another, it seems unlikely that Saunders will end up making any more starts as a Ranger than Wilson Alvarez or Sam Narron or Mitch Williams did, whether it’s because of what Evan Longoria did to his push ankle or, more likely, a determination that Lewis is ready for this Friday’s assignment against Scott Feldman and the Astros.

And now I’m wondering what would have happened if Colby Lewis had gotten the ball against David Price this weekend, which has me thinking about what happened the last time those two teed it up, but then again Martinez absolutely did his job on Saturday.

Every time I write the words “David Price,” I think about all those trade rumors over the years that once involved Andrus and then Martin Perez and then Jurickson Profar, and about the fact that as the Rays haven’t yet had that season that would prompt them to shop their temporarily owned lefthander in July, the waves in the Texas system keep coming, and maybe this summer, if somehow Tampa Bay fails to hang in there, or perhaps next winter, when Price is a year from free agency, the names Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas and Nick Williams and Luke Jackson and Alec Asher — and Nick Martinez — could start showing up in national columnists’ paragraphs that include the words “David Price.”

Or maybe Odor has the kind of 2014 that puts one of those older infielders back in the discussion.  Don’t rule it out.

I’m not going to leave room for the possibility that Jorge Alfaro is relevant to the subject, because I’m just not.

So long, Jordan Akins.  Hope football works out the way a lot of us hoped baseball would.

So long, Armando Galarraga.  Hope the umpires are kinder to you in Taiwan.

Baseball takes unexpected turns, even over a season’s first six games, and while the number 500 is a lot more electrifying in the context of Yu Darvish’s prowess than a team’s win-loss record, this is a period of survival for the beaten-up Rangers, and when half of those first six had Texas giving pitchers their first-ever Major League starts, taking a 3-3 record to Boston doesn’t bother me one bit.

Walk(off).

The narrative in Philadelphia, following a brilliant effort by Kyle Kendrick and solid bounceback from rookie reliever Mario Hollands and continued production from an aging middle-of-the-lineup, is obvious.

Closer Jonathan Papelbon, whom the Phillies are into for $13 million this year, and $13 million more next year, and another $13 million in 2016 if he finishes a certain number of games in 2014-15 (he won’t), allowed as many hits plus walks in his third of an inning as Kendrick and Hollands allowed in their eight frames combined.

Single.

Strikeout.

Double.

Single.

Single.  

Walk.

Walk.

Ballgame.

Series.

That’s what they’ll be talking about in Philly today (now that the basketball team’s losing streak is an uninteresting two).

Here’s a stack that they ought to be talking about today in Rangers Nation:

Nov. 20, 2013: Texas acquires righthander Shawn Tolleson off waivers

Jan. 29, 2014: Texas acquires lefthander Pedro Figueroa off waivers

Mar. 26, 2014: Texas acquires righthander Seth Rosin off waivers

Might as well add this one:

Nov. 12, 2012: Texas signs 27-year-old minor league free agent outfielder Jim Adduci to a minor league contract

Yes, Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin and Mitch Moreland — and unquestionably Robbie Ross Jr. — headline Texas 4, Philadelphia 3, but it can’t be overlooked that Tolleson, Figueroa, and Rosin, three waiver claims who probably wouldn’t be in Arlington if the pitching staff weren’t so banged up, fired four innings of scoreless relief (one walk, one strikeout, six groundouts, four flyouts) against a Phillies club hitting .327 with 19 runs over 23 innings at that point to hold the game in check and give the offense an opportunity to wake up in the ninth and bring home a win.

And the pinch-hitter Adduci — a 10-year minor leaguer with zero time in the big leagues whom I spent 929 words on last August suggesting he might be a suitable replacement for David Murphy — Acsche’d a nubber down the third base line and beat Asche’s throw to first by a thousand strides, obviously a massive play in the midst of an improbable comeback.

Texas plays 27 season-opening innings against Philadelphia at home, and leads at the end of only three of them.

Think about that.

And yet when two of those three frames are the ninth on Tuesday, and the ninth on Wednesday, you walk away from that set with a 2-1 record, admittedly no more meaningful half a week into the season than the Athletics’ 1-2 or the Angels’ 0-3 (or the Mariners’ and Astros’ lossless starts), but it sure is a lot more fun to spend the first off-day talking about winning the opening series, and about the impact not only of nine-figure contracts but also the importance of building the 30th and 35th spots on the roster with effective scrap heap scouting, and about the awesome unveiling of this, while we await Matt Harrison’s start tonight for Frisco, Yu Darvish’s start Sunday against Tampa Bay, and Colby Lewis’s next start, whether it’s Monday in Boston or a final tuneup on the farm.

Tolleson and Figueroa and Rosin won’t all keep their big league lockers when the April reinforcements all return, but for one night, they did what the other team’s four-year, $50 million man couldn’t do — keep a big league lineup off the scoreboard long enough to make the midfield celebration possible.

April fuel.

The A’s are 0-1.

The Angels are 0-2, and getting booed.

Ian Kinsler went 0-4 on Monday, and then went 0-1 last night.

Even though the Tigers didn’t play.

Texas spoiled Kinsler’s 0-162 wishes last night, thanks in large part to Shin-Soo Choo, who was in Cincinnati this time last year, and Tim Bogar, who was in Little Rock this time last year, and Martin Perez, who was on the disabled list this time last year.

I don’t know where Pudge Rodriguez was this time last year, but it wasn’t standing in the batter’s box during a Yu Darvish bullpen session, or throwing BP to Rangers hitters, or watching from a seat next to the dugout he used to live in as Adrian Beltre did Adrian Beltre things, or joining the FOX Sports Southwest postgame set, which was exponentially more awesome than I thought it would be, and those are all things Pudge did on Tuesday, before and during and after Texas 3, Philadelphia 2.

Hats off the folks at FOX.

Hats off all around.

beltre walkoff 040114 v2

Cliffs.

Texas hammered Cliff Lee for eight runs, all earned, over five innings, and it wasn’t enough.  Not close.

Tanner Scheppers struck out twice as many as Lee did on the day, but then again those numbers were merely two and one, and in fact of the 93 pitches Scheppers threw, only two were swung at and missed.  Scheppers — too amped up, maybe? — was up in the zone all day, and the Phillies took lots of pitches, spoiled a bunch of two-strike offerings, and squared up over and over, when they weren’t pool-cueing balls down the third base line.

If I ever give up on the NFL or NBA, it will be brutal officiating that pushes me away.  In baseball, it would be missing the strike zone — leading not only to walks but also to lots of hitters’ counts — and Scheppers’s ugly 55 percent strike rate on Monday was only marginally worse than the first three Texas relievers tasked with keeping the club in the game, after the offense created the opportunity.

Philadelphia’s first seven runs (and 11 of 14 overall) came with two outs.  Frustrating.

But look: Texas is not going to lose more games than it wins in 2014, and it’s not going to win twice as many as it loses.

Somewhere comfortably between 54 and 81 losses is the number of times this year the other team will end the game fist-bumping in the middle of the diamond.  Yesterday was just one of those.

Slam dunk: Two points.

Phillies 14, Rangers 10 doesn’t change this team’s forecast by 20 games, or 10.  It probably doesn’t really change it by one, and I’d be surprised if USA Today’s Bob Nightengale recants yesterday’s tweet and picks a new AL pennant winner based on the first one of 162.

When the Angels have a sixth-inning, 3-1 lead in Jered Weaver’s hands and lose their opener by seven runs, and when Oakland’s new closer — its highest-paid pitcher, in fact — makes his A’s debut by going five-pitch walk/single/hit batsman/Nyjer Morgan sac fly/run-scoring single in the ninth to take the loss, you’ve probably got a bunch of LAA and OAK fans this morning trying to pull their friends off a cliff from which the three teams picked by everyone to win the West now look up at the division-leading Mariners and idle Astros, offering up flimsy April Fools’ references to help ease the completely unnecessary pain.

(Speaking of which: Yes, Angels hitting coach Don Baylor broke his leg catching Vladimir Guerrero’s ceremonial first pitch yesterday.  It happened.)

You can use up some energy this morning harping on Michael Choice’s game-opening assignment on Monday, or Martin Perez’s, or your level of trust in Alexi Ogando, or you can shift your focus to Perez and A.J. Burnett tonight, which is what I feel like doing, because this is baseball, and by the time we close the books on Tuesday, Texas could be tied for first in the division, while you and I and Yu and Matty and Jurickson and Derek and Colby and Geovany look on, watching this team fight to hold its ground until the reinforcements start arriving.

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