Author Archive

Some hither, others yon.

Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Hank Blalock:

The best development of the first month of the Rangers season is not the streak of five-inning starts or Adrian Beltre’s health and production or the first-place perch or Nomar Mazara.  It’s Elvis Andrus playing as well in the field and at the plate as he’s ever played, whether you base it on the numbers or what the approach looks like.  Especially given how his 2015 season ended, it’s just huge.  He’s not only gotten past October 14 — it appears at age 27 he’s found a new level . . . . I’m not sure it’s the second-biggest story, given that it’s happening a couple hundred miles away, but the adjustments Joey Gallo’s made in his own approach and execution at the plate in Round Rock are up there . . . . one of the best writing tips I ever got was when T.R. Sullivan encouraged shorter paragraphs . . . . so, oops.

* * *

My surgeon and P/T and at least two readers have given me the following advice in the aftermath of my quad injury: Do no more than your doctor tells you.  And do no less . . . . I think that probably applies to what Elvis Andrus is doing right now, and it really fires me up . . . . The Rangers’ team ERA since the Robinson Chirinos injury: 3.22.  Slow clap, Bryan Holaday and Brett Nicholas.

* * *

What if even half of Ryan Rua and Ryan Cordell and Andy Ibanez and Travis Demeritte and Ronald Guzman and Pedro Payano and Yohander Mendez and Brett Martin and Connor Sadzeck and David Perez and Jairo Beras and Richelson Pena, each of whom is showing signs of taking that next step, have moved onto those lists other teams’ pro scouts are responsible for keeping?  None of them is going to carry a deal (and I don’t mean a Yovani Gallardo-type deal — I mean a Cole Hamels-level deal), but neither could Jerad Eickhoff or Alec Asher or Blake Beavan.  You have to have secondary pieces like that to close big trades, and a few weeks in, there just might be some Rangers prospects moving themselves into that range.  That’s good . . . . There’s a reason I don’t include Luke Jackson or Matt Bush in that list.  Their value, at least during this season, is probably greater here than as trade chips . . . . It’s early, obviously, but Houston is in a dead heat for the second pick in the June 2017 draft, though at the moment San Diego and Minnesota would draft ahead of the Astros because their 2015 win-loss records were worse.

* * *

Interesting usage pattern as far as Bush goes.  Used on back-to-back days to open Frisco’s season but, a week later, transitioned strictly to two-inning assignments, every four days . . . . Jackson, meanwhile, is getting one-inning assignments, but has yet to pitch on consecutive days (or even on just one day’s rest) . . . . the opening to the syndicated “Tarzan” show was, by far, the best part of the show.

* * *

If Chi Chi Gonzalez is settling into a groove anywhere close to what he’s shown in his last two AAA starts (13-5-2-2-5-10), then you’d feel better keeping A.J. Griffin in the big leagues once Yu Darvish returns, assuming the rest of the current rotation is all healthy at that point . . . . and assuming the club doesn’t experiment with a six-man rotation, an idea Jeff Banister apparently addressed in a radio interview this morning on 105.3 The Fan . . . . the lead competitor for Griffin’s rotation spot in camp, veteran Jeremy Guthrie, is 0-4, 11.50 (.342/.395/.539) in four starts so far this season — for San Diego’s AAA club . . . . Why don’t kids make salt maps in elementary school anymore? . . . . If I were a team in the AL East, AL Central, or National League, I’d rather play Texas in April, May, June, or July.  That has nothing to do with the weather.

* * *

Ian Desmond before his three-day break (one day out of the lineup, one team day off, one rainout): .109/.180/.109.  Desmond since: .379/.486/.759 . . . . Prince Fielder just got two days off (one day out of the lineup, one team day off), and there’s heavy rain in the forecast in the Metroplex tonight . . . . Every single Progressive Insurance commercial is wince-terrible, except the “Sprinkles are for winners” one, and this extension of it makes me happy . . . . I think I’ll be happy with a split of these first two at home with the Blues . . . . I say that now, of course.

* * *

Our neighbor Jones probably doesn’t miss Progresso pizza sauce, Thomas Harris novels, Halleck’s Chicken, those Dr. Haledjian two-minute mysteries, Jellyfish, Shasta soda, or Dan Wilson’s bat flip nearly as much as I do, but I’m only guessing . . . . I will never miss that heavy-plastic thingy I had to wear over my entire quad-mangled leg while showering, which I hate at a level that would prompt me to welcome Rich Harden back to the rotation as an alternative, with apologies to the rest of you . . . . ESPN’s Adam Schefter says Dallas offered its second- and third-round picks (number 34 and 67 overall) to Seattle, presumably to take quarterback Paxton Lynch, but were outbid by Denver’s offer of a late first (31) and a third (94).  That’s gonna be interesting to track, for Denver and Seattle and Dallas, for a long time, especially once we see who was taken (and who was available) in those second- and third-round slots tonight . . . . the Dallas offer appears to have greater value than the Denver offer, of course, but one difference between the picks at 31 and 34 is that teams are allowed to guarantee one extra year (five rather than four, I think) with a first-rounder . . . . in the 302 regular season games between now and the end of the 2017 season, who will start the most games in center field for Texas, and who the least, among Delino DeShields, Desmond, and Lewis Brinson?

* * *

Not unrelated and in a more immediate context: Interesting that the frequency of the versatile Jared Hoying’s center field assignments have increased lately at Round Rock . . . . if it’s all the same, I’d like to see Jurickson Profar leading off for the Express . . . . I’ve mentioned this before, I know: I always thought Deion Sanders leaned toward returning punts to his right rather than his left because of his baseball experience.  (I bet Apolo Ohno would take a punt return the same way.)  Try one day to run from home to second clockwise, that is, rounding third instead of first — see which gets you to second faster . . . . Did you see last night’s Ronald Guzman home run?  You should see last night’s Ronald Guzman home run.

* * *

The Rangers’ farm clubs’ records: 11-8, 15-4, 17-4, and 14-7.  Meaningless to a very large extent — the Rangers’ Low A club at Gastonia went 58-82 in 1987 with Juan Gonzalez, Sammy Sosa, Dean Palmer, Wilson Alvarez, and Roger Pavlik — but it’s not like Texas sends 25-year-olds to leagues where the competition is three years younger.  While development is a thousand times more important in the minor leagues than win-loss records, winning at that silly a rate is a lot more encouraging than losing . . . . One person cannot make a “concerted” effort . . . . Hope Cody Buckel gets another chance somewhere, if he wants it.

* * *

Speaking of that 1987 Gastonia club, two of its competitors in that season’s South Atlantic League, the Macon Pirates and Charleston Rainbows, had a bench-clearing brawl that spring.  One of Charleston’s pitchers, a first-round pick playing his first full pro season, says of Macon’s catcher, a 25th-rounder playing his first full pro season: “I didn’t know him personally, but I knew what his fists felt like” . . . the Rainbow pitcher was Doug Brocail . . . the Pirate catcher was Jeff Banister . . . . journeyman catcher Jerry Goff played with Brocail on the Astros’ AAA club in 1995 and was a fellow catcher in the Pirates’ system with Banister in 1993 . . . Goff also played alongside Spike Owen and DeShields’s father in the big leagues in 1990 and 1992, and with Tony Beasley in 1993 (Pittsburgh/AAA).

Godspeed, Beas.

Goff caught Brian Shouse in 1993 and 1994 (Pittsburgh/AAA) and Keith Comstock in 1989 (Seattle/AAA) . . . he was teammates with Rangers wormhole Esteban Beltre in 1990 (Montreal/AAA) . . . Goff was chosen by the Mariners in the third round of the 1986 draft, 63rd overall, four spots after Texas selected Palmer (whose goings-on I know more about these days than Blalock’s), and 558 spots before Pittsburgh took Banister. 

Goff’s kid Jared was born in October of 1994, three years before Jerry retired from the game, and 22 years before Jared would be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft.

I know nothing about Carson Wentz’s dad.

* * *

Three with the Angels.  4, 2, even, or –2.

Let’s go.

* * *

There’s going to be a really cool game-watching party (Rangers/Blue Jays and Stars/Blues) next Thursday night at The Blind Butcher on Lower Greenville, hosted by Paranoid Fan.  Acclaimed baseball columnist Jonah Keri is the featured guest.  At least a couple personalities from The Ticket will be there, and I plan to be there, too.  You should go.  Details: here and here . . . . Max has started falling asleep on schoolnights with Eric and Matt’s radio call whispering from his nightstand, to which I suggest: My work here is done.

* * *

He used to finish his “Scattershooting” columns with a joke, so here’s one:

The Angels’ farm system.

* * *

RIP, Mr. Sherrod.

Bam! Pow! ZZZZONK!!

He’s 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA in four starts, logging 25 innings.

That’s Cole Hamels’s line.

It’s A.J. Griffin’s line, too.

Opponents are hitting .227/.340/.409 off Hamels, compared to .189/.263/.333 off Griffin, who made the club’s lengthiest start of the year in last night’s hammering of the Yanks, and now owns the big league’s third-longest active streak of starts lasting at least 5.0 innings (32).

Now, the point of the above is that I’ll take both of them, thanks.  

But what happens to Griffin when Yu Darvish returns in a few weeks?

Nomar Mazara: Another two hits last night, on his 21st birthday, ratcheting his line up to .365/.426/.519.  

What happens to Mazara when Shin-Soo Choo comes back, even setting aside Josh Hamilton’s own return?

Four of Brett Nicholas’s hits have gone for extra bases (including the only home run — and only earned run — Dellin Betances has surrendered all season), and he’s been really solid behind the plate.   

What happens to Nicholas when Chris Gimenez, who is now playing on a rehab assignment in Frisco, is ready to rejoin the big club?

Could Delino DeShields (2 for his last 27 — a bunt single and an infield single — and 8 for 41 with 12 strikeouts and two walks since his April 13 home run) and Jurickson Profar (.324/.387/.471 at Round Rock) be teammates for the first time very soon . . . and not in Arlington?

Joey Gallo: .270/.413/.683 at Round Rock, with 16 walks (second most in all of AAA), 19 strikeouts (23.8 percent frequency, compared to 39.4 percent in AAA last year), three multi-homer games already, and significantly longer at-bats.

When?

Where?

What got into Phil Klein (6.1-2-0-0-0-9)?

Have you taken a look at Tony Barnette’s numbers since his debut outing?

Is this the real Ian Desmond?

Is this the real Elvis Andrus?

This feels like the end of an after-school “Batman” episode.

They’re are real questions.  Nothing rhetorical about them.

I don’t know for sure who left the note on Mike’s windshield (I have a good idea), but I can’t wait to find out once “Better Call Saul” comes back around.

I have no clue what Radiohead’s new album in June will sound like, but I’m on the edge of my seat.

These things will all sort themselves out.  

Can’t wait.

A chance to help.

Eduard Pinto is a 21-year-old outfielder in the Rangers minor league system.  He signed a pro contract with the organization the same day that Nomar Mazara did.

No teenager had ever signed a contract out of Latin America for as much as Mazara got.  Most of them fortunate enough to sign get a fraction of that.  Pinto got a fraction.

The Venezuela native doesn’t hit for power and isn’t a burner on the bags.  If he makes it to the big leagues, it will be because he’s able to square up on the baseball.  He’s a career .305 hitter in five seasons on the farm, with more walks than strikeouts.  One of his heroes is Endy Chavez, and if Pinto makes it to the big leagues, that could be the kind of player he turns out to be.

Pinto has left his teammates in Hickory to be with his family in Venezuela.  Maria was expected to give birth to their first son in July.  Five days ago, Gael was born — three months premature.  He was born with respiratory complications that were too much to overcome.  Gael passed away yesterday.

Minor league baseball players make very, very little money.  Pinto is in his fifth year in the system, and his third in Hickory.  His road is long, and in the meantime he and his family are faced with sizable medical bills for Maria and Gael’s care and treatment.

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help raise funds to help Eduard and Maria out.  I’d encourage you to read this.  If you’re inclined to help out with a few dollars, every little bit would help.  

I hope you’ll give some thought to helping out a member of the Rangers family.

Thanks.

Tracy Proffitt

Tracy Proffitt

A moment that took me back 22 years.

Around here the 1994 season is remembered for a few things.  

A new Ballpark, and color scheme.  

Kenny’s perfect game.  

And a first-place finish in the West (never mind that Texas was 10 games under .500) that produced a footnote rather than a franchise-first playoff berth, as the season effectively ended on August 12, when the Players Association went out on strike.

This isn’t about any of those things, at least not squarely.  Ultimately, it’s about a baseball player whose mother, on August 12, 1994, probably didn’t yet know she was expecting. 

But more about him in a bit.

This isn’t about Gary Redus, either, but that’s where this story begins. 

After the Pirates declined a club option on Redus following the 1992 season, Texas signed the 36-year-old, who had been with Pittsburgh for five years, to a two-year, $1 million contract.  The plan was for the right-handed-hitting veteran to provide depth at all three outfield spots and first base, behind left fielder Juan Gonzalez (age 23), rookie center fielder (and left-handed-hitting) David Hulse, right fielder Jose Canseco (28), and first baseman Rafael Palmeiro (28).  

Redus was outstanding for the Rangers in 1993, hitting .288/.351/.459 (a career-high batting average) off the bench around injuries to each hamstring that resulted in two separate DL stints, the latter of which ended his season early and led to November surgery on the left one.    

He was healthy going into the 1994 season and his role was expected to be the same, if not expanded, as Canseco’s failed mound experiment the previous May would relegate him to 1994 DH duties, and Chris James started the season as the club’s right fielder.  (Will Clark had replaced Palmeiro at first base as well, not that that affected the plans for Redus.) 

Rusty Greer was the Rangers’ 10th-round pick in 1990, the highest pick ever to come out of the University of Montevallo in Alabama, which had never produced a big leaguer.  (And still hasn’t produced a second.)  

Texas convinced Greer, who had a senior year of eligibility remaining, to turn pro — for $15,000 cash, plus a $7,500 allowance to finish college, if and when. 

Greer was a solid minor league baseball player who did a little bit of everything, but not a lot of anything.  Aside from a monster draft summer at the plate with short-season Butte (.345/.444/.584), the average-sized Greer moved methodically up the Rangers’ chain, but never had a full minor league season when he hit .300, or hit more than 16 homers, or stole 15 bases.  He played more first base on the farm than outfield, and less center field than either of the two corner spots, and his bat profile didn’t exactly suggest big league first baseman or corner outfielder — but perhaps, like Redus, the idea was for Greer to eventually give Texas an affordable bat on the bench that could fill in at first and all over the outfield.

Greer was never on a season-ending Baseball America list of the top 10 prospects in the Rangers system, which was a middle-of-the-pack group as he progressed up the chain.

Never.

After a season spent exclusively at first base for AA Tulsa, Greer was promoted to AAA for the final week of the 1993 season, getting outfield assignments.  

Texas sent him to the Arizona Fall League right after that.  He hit .333.

The Rangers added him to the 40-man roster that November, along with more heralded hitters Desi Wilson and Terrell Lowery and pitchers Julio Santana, Duff Brumley, and James Hurst.  Greer’s resulting big league camp in 1994 was his first.  He’d never earned a non-roster invite.

When the 1994 season began, Greer was an outfielder for AAA Oklahoma City, on a club that fielded 37 players who would play in the big leagues, lots of whom (Benji Gil, Rick Helling, Darren Oliver, Donald Harris, Dan Peltier, Rob Maurer, Brian Bohanon, Hector Fajardo, Dan Smith, John Dettmer, Terry Burrows, Ritchie Moody) had come up with more prospect buzz than Greer ever had.

Redus appeared just 15 times in the Rangers’ first 34 games in 1994, making only three starts in that span.  

On May 15, in the third of those three starts, facing former hyped Rangers prospect Wilson Alvarez in what would be the lefthander’s lone All-Star season, Redus started in center field, batting second.  He grounded into a double play in the second inning (following a Jeff Frye single), and singled Frye to second in the third.  In the fourth, Roger Pavlik retired Darrin Jackson and Lance Johnson before Ron Karkovice singled to center.  Redus pulled his right hamstring (not the one that had been surgically repaired six months earlier) while making the play.  Hulse replaced him immediately.

The Rangers placed the 37-year-old Redus on the disabled list the next day.  

They didn’t call Harris or Peltier up from Oklahoma City, or veteran Rob Ducey, each of whom GM Tom Grieve had designated for assignment in the previous month and a half, or trusted journeyman Butch Davis.  

Texas recalled Rusty Greer.  He was hitting .315/.412/.523 as an 89er.

Once Redus was ready to go again, the plan was to return Greer to AAA, where he could once again get regular at-bats.

But when the Rangers drew righthander Bob Welch in Oakland that night, Kevin Kennedy gave Greer the start over the right-handed-hitting James, who was hitting just .203 at the time.

Greer, batting second, flew out in his first at-bat, but Texas knocked Welch out before the inning was over.

Carlos Reyes relieved Welch.  The second batter Reyes faced was Greer.  Greer homered.

He lined out to left center his next time up.  Then he singled up the middle in the seventh.

After flying out to center in the ninth, Greer stood in the on-deck circle in the 10th inning of a 7-7 game.

Hulse singled Frye in.

Greer singled Pudge Rodriguez and Manny Lee in.

Another run would score, and the Rangers won, 11-7, pushing their division lead to 1.5 games.  

Greer started again the next night, and singled and doubled in five trips.  He scored the tying run in ninth inning, and Texas won in 10.

The next afternoon, Greer was back in the lineup, and his single off Bobby Witt in the third with a man on was part of a 10-batter inning in which the Rangers scored five.  They’d win, 6-2, completing a sweep of the A’s in Oakland.

Rusty Greer never went back to the minor leagues.

Ever.  

(Well, aside from a handful of rehab games in his 30’s.)  

Hamstring mended, Redus did return to action, but when he did so in mid-July, it was James (bruised hand) whose roster spot he took.  

Redus would appear three more times — all in games Greer started elsewhere in the lineup — before his season, and his career, came to an end with an elbow injury.   

As for Greer, in his final plate appearance that year, the rookie who was meant to hold a roster spot down while Redus was sidelined was intentionally walked, so that Seattle could instead face Dean Palmer in the eighth inning of a tie game.

That was on August 10, 1994.

Texas was off on the 11th.

The Players Association effectively ended the season, with the Rangers atop the AL West, on the 12th. 

In that final trip to the plate, only the second of Greer’s three slash numbers was affected.  He would finish the year hitting .314/.410/.487, finishing third in the AL Rookie of the Year vote (behind runaway winner Bob Hamelin and Manny Ramirez, though Greer got the three first-place votes that Hamelin didn’t), despite the fact that he spent the first month and a half in AAA.

Again, Greer had never had a full minor league season with numbers that good.  

Never a batting average that high.  Never an on-base percentage that high.  Never a slugging percentage that high.

He was a .295/.393/.455 lifetime hitter on the farm.

He was a .305/.387/.478 lifetime hitter in the big leagues.

All with Texas, in what was a career unfortunately abbreviated by injuries.  He was four years younger when his playing days effectively ended than career role player Redus was when his did, and that makes me sad to type.   

In February 2005, almost three years after he’d played his final game, Greer called off the battle to get back, and officially retired.  Since 2000 alone, he’d had surgeries on his right ankle, his right hip, his right knee, his left elbow, his neck, his left shoulder, his throwing elbow again, and his throwing elbow again, and now I’m regretting going over the sad part of Rusty Greer’s story, because it’s a great, great story.

I thought about Greer yesterday when Nomar Mazara made his game-preserving catch over the right field fence in the bottom of the ninth of what was then a tie game in Chicago.  

I thought about the catch that the rookie Greer made in the perfect game (chills, man), and the other catch the rookie Greer made in the perfect game.

Such a different order of magnitude, of course, not just because of the result and significance of the game but also because of the situation for the player.  Shin-Soo Choo is not Gary Redus.

It’s very premature to suggest Mazara is on his way to never seeing the minor leagues again.  He’s hitting .357/.396/.476 — but he’s played in only 11 big league games (48 plate appearances).  

(Numbers, incidentally, preceding the first-inning bomb Mazara blasted just now in this afternoon’s game.)

After Joey Gallo’s 11th big league game (46 plate appearances), he was hitting .300/.391/.625.

So we need to slow down.  

Greer: three hits, including a home run, in his debut.

Gallo: three hits, including a home run, in his debut.

Mazara: three hits, including a home run, in his debut.

When Choo is ready to return, he’s going to play — much as the spot was safe for Adrian Beltre (who, incidentally, signed with the Dodgers, it turns out at age 15, seven weeks after Greer’s big league debut) once he was healthy, no matter how much Gallo was hitting at that point.

Much different from Gary Redus and Chris James looming as Greer made his debut run.

Now, there’s a conceivable middle ground, as there are easier ways to envision Mazara and Choo coexisting than there were when Gallo was given some burn in left field, and even center, last summer.  

But it’s premature to look at that, too.  We don’t know who will be in center field at that point.  We don’t know who of Ian Desmond and Delino DeShields and Josh Hamilton and Ryan Rua will be healthy then.  

We also don’t know if Mazara, starting with his 12th game, will hit .147/.247/.294 with strikeouts in more than half his plate appearances, as Gallo (now hitting a robust .283/.400/.660 in AAA, with only 15 strikeouts in 65 trips) did last year once the league out-adjusted him.

I’m not betting on it.  And not just because Mazara ranks higher on most league-wide Top Prospect lists than Greer ever did on Rangers-only rankings.

I’m also not betting that Mazara’s minor league career is over, just as Rangers Hall of Famer Rusty Greer ensured his would be when he got that first chance after someone else’s injury accelerated it.

But I’ve been thinking about that this morning, and really ever since the moment that Mazara soared to intercept that would-be walkoff home run yesterday and, momentarily, give added life to one baseball game and, just maybe, the idea that the kid is in the big leagues for good, like an all-time franchise great who threw and hit from the same side but whose path and arrival, in so many ways, could not have been different.   

Like it’s 1999.

Dig if U will the picture.

Think back 17 years, if your baseball experience allows it.  

It was 1999, and the Texas Rangers, in what was then the most optimistic stretch in franchise history, were once again sent into a circle around the drain by the frustratingly insurmountable New York Yankees. 

Back in 1996, Texas had beaten the Yankees, in New York, in its first-ever playoff game, pretty comfortably.  The Rangers offense scored six times off David Cone in his six innings of work, and John Burkett went the distance in the 6-2 Texas win.

The Rangers should have won Game Two, but squandered an early 4-1 lead and lost in 12 innings. 

They should have won Game Three, the Darren Oliver gem that I could write a book about (if masochistic enough).  

They should have won Game Four, but Bobby Witt and seven relievers (including starter Roger Pavlik) couldn’t preserve an early 4-0 Texas lead.

Series over.

But it felt like a battle, like the Rangers’ 2009, like the Cowboys’ 1991, like the precursor to even better things.  

Texas, a club that hadn’t reached the playoffs in its first 24 seasons, was back for a second time in three years in 1998.

But the Rangers spit that one up, again at the hands of the Yankees, scoring a total of one run in a three-game sweep.

Then, 1999.  The Rangers were a post-season team for the third time in four years.

And the Rangers spit that one up, again at the hands of the Yankees, again scoring a total of one run in a three-game sweep.

It’s a different scale, of course, but I can imagine right now that the Rangers, right now, are to the Astros, a very good baseball team that will make noise this year and for years to come, what the late-’90s Yankees were to the Rangers.

The Astros have dropped 19 games out of their last 25 against Texas.  

Ten straight in Arlington.  

Eleven of 13 overall.

Last night, Houston sent its ace, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, up against a non-roster invite (coming off two years of relative inactivity) who won the competition in Rangers camp to hold down the number five starter spot for six weeks.

The one who threw the quality start, scattering two runs over six innings, was Arthur Joseph Griffin.

The one who surrendered a career-high-tying 13 base hits (six for extra bases) in 28 at-bats (.464) was Dallas Keuchel.

In what the lefthander said “was probably the best I’ve felt out of my four starts.”  

On a night when his counterpart Cy Young Award winner was busy throwing a no-hitter in the other league.

Texas 7, Houston 4 completed yet another Rangers sweep over the Astros, who now share the AL’s worst record with Minnesota, not quite alone in a world that’s so cold.  

Look at how Griffin and Keuchel came out of the gate.

Top of the first:  Jose Altuve doubles to left.  George Springer doubles to left.

Bottom of the first:  Delino DeShields dribbles out to Keuchel.  Nomar Mazara dribbles out to Keuchel.

Yet, when the frame ended, the Rangers’ temporary fifth starter held a 3-1 lead over the Cy Young winner, courtesy of a single-single-home run sequence that was completed when Ian Desmond hit his first homer as a Ranger — and the only homer Keuchel has surrendered this season.  

And it never got closer than that.

Astros manager A.J. Hinch tipped his cap after the game, noting that Texas “did a good job of attacking Dallas [which is not to be confused with what the Houston media has tried doing this week], getting pitches up in the zone to hit.”  Said Keuchel: “They’re very smart.  They’re smart hitters.”  

The Rangers laid off pitches out of the zone, which is Keuchel’s weapon, forced him to come back in the zone, and used the opposite field a lot.  It was a great approach, and I’m really digging Anthony Iapoce in a Rangers uniform. 

Keuchel gave up six runs in six innings.  In his other three 2016 starts, he allowed five runs — combined.  

I’m not sure whether Astros players or Astros officials or Astros fans feel snakebit, but if that’s not the right word, whatever all of us felt like at the end of 1996-1998-1999 is probably not a whole lot different.

The Astros are 5-11, with a negative-19 run differential.  

There’s something to be learned there, though it’s not conclusive: Last year Houston finished the regular season with a run differential of plus-111, while Texas was at a mere plus-18.  And yet the Rangers finished two games ahead.

Sometimes it snows in April, and it probably wasn’t a very happy flight home for Houston last night.  The Astros are back home while the Rangers travel to Chicago for the weekend, before returning to Arlington to host the Yankees, who are no longer the kryptonite they were back in that four-year stretch ending in 1999.

Houston will need to figure out a way to turn the Rangers into something different from what they are to them right now, and while it’ll be fine with me if that takes years, you obviously can’t count on that.  

From the Texas perspective, the Rangers simply handed the ball to the ref, converted the point after, and now line up for the next kickoff.

The Astros, instead, are likely happy to get away from the thieves in the Temple, and regroup, hopeful that the next time the teams meet — when Yu Darvish could be back — they might be able to put up some resistance to the avalanche that’s just not losing any strength right now.

Fun baseball is fun.

Bookends and other things that look alike.

Last year, on this date, the Houston Astros were in the thick of a majestic run of baseball, one that saw them win 14 of 15, the lone setback a one-run loss to Seattle.  

When that 15-game domination ended on May 3, they were 18-7 overall.  

It was the best record in the American League, second best in baseball.

On this date a year ago, the Rangers beat Arizona with six late-inning runs, 7-1, but they were in the midst of a stretch in which they lost 10 of 13.  

At the end of that skid, on May 3, their record was 8-16.  

It was the worst record in the American League, second worst in baseball.

The next day, Texas visited Houston for the first of three.  Dallas Keuchel and Scott Feldman started the first two games.  They were opposed by Ross Detwiler and Wandy Rodriguez.

The scuffling Rangers came into Minute Maid Park and swept the juggernaut Astros.  

Since the start of that series pitting the team with baseball’s second-worst record at the time against the team with baseball’s second-best record, in their house, the span of baseball bookended by those three May 2015 games between the two clubs in Houston and the first two of three between them this week in Arlington — all five of which the Rangers have won — Texas is 89-64.

Houston is 73-79.

Last night’s intense 2-1 Rangers win over the Astros featured a couple bookends of its own, each featuring Jose Altuve.

Cole Hamels’s night started with an Altuve hit-by-pitch.  It ended that way, too.

The game itself kicked off with Altuve, and ended that way, too, as he lined out to right field with a man on.

Texas has now defeated Houston nine straight times at home, and is 15-6 against the Astros the last two seasons, starting with that three-game series last May, 250 miles south.  

The Rangers, at 9-6, lead the West.  Houston, at 5-10, is in last.

We know from a year ago that that’s close to meaningless.  Every one of those 15 games matters for Texas and matters for Houston, to be sure, but what they do over their remaining 147 will be what dictates whether one (or both) get to play 162+.  

This is about Texas and Houston, and so today I’m not going to open the door behind which the 6-9 Angels are putting up a league-low OPS of .590 and league-low slug of .302 and have been held scoreless in 49 of their last 57 innings, a streak of six games during which five babies were not lit up. 

Maybe another time.

Hamels — who is now 7-0 in Arlington and has recorded a career-best 10 straight victories (and 14 straight Rangers starts that the club won, best for a Texas pitcher in 26 years) — pitched himself out of trouble several times Wednesday night, which is what aces do.  (Opponents are hitting .143 off Hamels with runners in scoring position this year.)  With the bases loaded and nobody out in the top of the second, for instance, he got Marwin Gonzalez to fly to Nomar Mazara in shallow right on a 3-1 pitch, and Carlos Gomez’s overexuberance breaking off of first base led to a 9-2-4-2 double play.

After the game, Jeff Banister told the press, about that huge double play: “More than anything else, our guys showed the presence of mind to stay in control, calm.”  

Bryan Holaday and Rougned Odor in particular.

Unlike Gomez on that play, or Root Sports Southwest at whatever point in the game the Astros network thought this was a good idea.

Revealing.

The one time in the game that Hamels was seemingly not in control (aside from his spiked throw past first on Gonzalez’s cue shot down the line in the fifth) was at the outset, when he hit both Altuve and George Springer to start the game.

The last time a pitcher drilled the first two batters of a start was when Phillies righthander Jerome Williams — a month after his brief run as a Ranger — plunked Pittsburgh’s Josh Harrison and Starling Marte.

Hamels was in one dugout that night.  Banister was in the other.

That game was played on September 10, 2014.

How long ago was September 10, 2014?

The Rangers, historically decimated by injury, were 36 games out of first in the division.

The Astros were 25.5 games out.

Today, Texas and Houston are among baseball’s best teams, in spite of the win-loss record that one of them sports this morning.

Between September 10, 2014 and today, Texas and Houston have faced off 24 times.

The Rangers have won 18 of those games.

(And won Hamels, who said no to Houston before coming to Texas.)

Tonight the Rangers go for 19 out of 25.  Or, since last May 4, 16 out of 22.  Or, as far as this series is concerned, three out of three.

Most importantly, the Rangers seek tonight to go one out of one.

Against Keuchel, who in tonight’s series finale bookends a year of baseball between these two teams.  On May 4, 2015, Keone Kela recorded his first career win in relief of Detwiler (7-4-1-1-2-7, the lefty’s best effort as a Ranger), saddling Keuchel (who exited with a 1-1 score) with a no-decision as Chad Qualls took the late-inning loss.  The Texas runs were driven in by Jake Smolinski and Robinson Chirinos.  Neftali Feliz recorded the save.

Today, Smolinski is in Nashville and Chirinos is on the 60-day shelf.  Detwiler’s in Cleveland and Qualls is in Colorado and Feliz is in Pittsburgh, a starter and set-up reliever and closer from last year who now all work in middle relief, for new teams.

Lots has changed.  

Lots has not.

I couldn’t find a synonym for inferiority complex.

Tonight: The first of 19 this year against the Astros.

Some feel that total won’t stop at 19.

It’s April 19, and the defending AL West champs (who, though decimated, charged into that perch while the other guys were busy bat-flipping and backing out) have a meaningless two-game edge on tonight’s opponent.  

One team is leading the division right now, the other manning the basement, and that doesn’t matter at all.  The season is 8 percent complete.

Texas may not go 13-6 against Houston this season, like last, but the effort to make the head-to-heads decisive again begins tonight.

Not much else to say.  

But if you’re looking for something else to read, give this column a couple minutes. 

It’s comical, and it’s typical.

It’s so Houston.

There’s something to putting your head down and running even when you know the ball is leaving the yard (or when it’s not), to handing the ball to the ref after a touchdown, to acting like you’ve been there before.

Easier said than done, I guess, when you haven’t.

Here we go.

A glimpse of invincible.

Really excellent win last night, with the Rangers offense piling six of their 10 hits up in one inning, picking up their ace after he’d done so for them so many times, Rougie Odor having a day at the plate and in the field, all kinds of outstanding infield defense, and four right-handed relievers shutting down the American League’s presently preeminent offense.

But something else drew me to the keyboard this morning, and it wasn’t Dallas 4, Minnesota 0.

Vincent Velasquez is 23.  He’s a kid from Southern California whom the Astros drafted in the second round in 2010, after they’d taken Delino DeShields, Mike Foltynewicz, and Mike Kvasnicka in the first.  

Velasquez threw a big league complete game yesterday, his first.

In it he allowed just three hits, all singles.

He walked nobody.

No Padres scored.

Sixteen of them struck out.  

No Padre, including their one pinch-hitter, didn’t strike out.

Vincent Velasquez is on the Phillies now.

I bring that up because, otherwise, telling you that the only other pitchers in the last 50 years of his franchise’s history to strike out 16 were Steve Carlton, Curt Schilling, and, five years ago, Cliff Lee might have been unfairly misleading.  

The Astros did once have Schilling themselves but they traded him very badly, also to Philadelphia, sending him in 1992 at age 25 to the Phillies for Jason Grimsley.   

Grimsley pitched one AAA season for Houston before he was released.

Schilling went on to record 212 of his 216 big league victories after the Astros moved him.  Not counting the 11 he won in the post-season.  

Back to Velasquez.  And yes, there is a Rangers point to all of this.

(It’s not about Dillon Tate, who went 6-4-0-0-0-10 for Hickory last night, in what was his lengthiest outing as a pro.)

The only pitchers younger than Velasquez to ever strike out 14 or more and walk none in a scoreless start: Vida Blue, Dwight Gooden, Kerry Wood, and Jose Fernandez.

The only other active pitcher who’s ever thrown a complete-game shutout with 16 strikeouts and no walks is Max Scherzer (when he no-hit the Mets late last season).  

The retired pitchers who did it in the last 100 years: Gooden, Wood, Roger Clemens (two times), and Randy Johnson.

In the last 10 seasons, only four pitchers have gotten an opponent to swing and miss at 20 fastballs in one start: David Price (7/7/10), Matt Harvey (4/3/13), Scherzer (10/3/15), and Velasquez (yesterday).

The righthander threw strike one to 25 of 30 Padres, which helped him complete the game in just 113 pitches, an absurdly economical number given all those punchouts.

The Phillies got Velasquez from the Astros 125 days ago.

Along with four other pitchers: former number one overall pick Mark Appel, big league lefty Brett Oberholtzer, and Class A righthanders Thomas Eshelman and Harold Arauz.

For relief pitcher Ken Giles (and 17-year-old shortstop Jonathan Arauz).

There was a snarkfest on Twitter after Velasquez’s gem on Thursday, with Joe Sheehan of the Sheehan Newsletter noting that Velasquez has more scoreless appearances in 2016 (two) than Giles (one), Baseball America Managing Editor J.J. Cooper insinuating Philadelphia wouldn’t trade Velasquez alone for Giles today, and Phillies beat writer Todd Zolecki offering this: 

“Things I never expected: Vince Velasquez would record more outs in the ninth inning through 10 games (three) than Ken Giles (zero).” 

You see, Giles has yet to pitch in the ninth inning.  Houston has made him Luke Gregerson’s set-up man, for now. 

But that’s not the whole story.

In his first Astros appearance, Giles allowed an eighth-inning home run to Didi Gregorius.

Two days later, Giles entered a tie game in the seventh and gave up a three-run homer to Mark Teixeira.

Two days after that, Giles had a clean eighth in Milwaukee.

But four days after that, on Wednesday, Giles entered a 2-2 game against the Royals, issued a two-out walk to Alex Gordon, and then served up a two-run Salvador Perez bomb, taking the loss.

The three homers Giles has allowed in a week and a half with Houston equal the total he surrendered in 113 career appearances for Philadelphia.

Now, make no mistake, Giles is a really good relief pitcher.  He’ll be the Astros’ closer soon enough, and a very good one.

But Carson Smith is really good out of the bullpen, too, and five days before Houston gave up Velasquez and four others for Giles, Boston got Smith — and Roenas Elias, a decent enough pre-arbitration pitcher — for mediocre lefthander Wade Miley and a piece.

A few weeks after the Phillies got the Velasquez-led haul for Giles, the Reds accepted Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, Caleb Cotham, and Rookie Davis for Aroldis Chapman (who, yes, has some baggage).  

Davis might be pretty good.  He’s in AA right now.  He’s 10 months younger than Velasquez.

And because I haven’t referenced it in a few weeks, now’s probably a decent enough time to toss in that, five months before Houston loaded up for Giles, Texas traded Tomas Telis and Cody Ege for Sam Dyson — whose devastating sinking fastball is paired with what sure appears to be an even better changeup than he wielded last summer.

Even if Giles turns out to be a lockdown closer, it’s just a huge amount to give up for 60 or 70 innings a year.  Same with Boston sending Manuel Margot, Javier Guerra, Carlos Asuaje, and Logan Allen to San Diego for Craig Kimbrel.  Borderline insane. 

But I’d rather focus on the Astros making a trade that could haunt them, like releasing J.D. Martinez in 2014, and like sending Josh Hader and Brett Phillips to the Brewers as part of a package for Mike Fiers and Carlos Gomez, after those two were reportedly earmarked for the Astros’ Hamels trade before Hamels said: “Umm, no.” 

In February, Texas gave up $8 million and a first-round pick to make Ian Desmond an outfielder for one season.

The defense, while not without a couple whoops moments, has also provided instances when he’s looked like this team’s best outfielder. 

The bat?  Whether you lean scouting (approach at the plate) or stats (.116/.174/.116), it’s been disturbingly ugly.

The $8 million, even if Desmond were this player all season (he won’t be), isn’t meaningless, but it’s not Lance Berkman money and it’s definitely not six years of surrendered control over, potentially, a budding frontline starting pitcher.

And the Rangers can take the money that would have been slotted for the 19th pick and put it towards a Latin American player instead. 

Ask Phillies officials (or really smart fans) whether they’d choose Velasquez, Appel, Oberholtzer, Eshelman, and Arauz today over Jerad Eickhoff (who’s also gotten off to a very good start), Jake Thompson, Jorge Alfaro, Nick Williams, Alec Asher, and Matt Harrison’s contract, if they had to take just one, and the answer might take some time.

But consider that the other part of those two deals was Giles vs. Jake Diekman — and while Giles has more value, it may not be that big a gap — and a 17-year-old infielder who has yet to play in a full-season minor league vs. Cole Hamels.

Is the package Houston gave up for Giles a bigger gut punch than what it cost Texas to sign Desmond?

I sure think so.

Giles will be fine, and I think Desmond will be, too.

But until then, and even afterwards, I’m super-happy Houston traded Velasquez and a bunch more for a relief pitcher, and that Velasquez is out of the West, and I hope to have a really happy report to write about a Giles-Desmond matchup next week when the Astros come in for three.

Maybe even in Tuesday’s series opener, when the super-impressive Vincent Velasquez makes his next start for a team that’s not the Houston Astros.

Artist.

It was Sunday, November 18, 2012, and to distract myself from the signing of non-roster lefthander Scott Olsen and the imminent addition of Leury Garcia and Joe Ortiz to the 40-man roster, I started to work on something for my son’s room.

beltre painting 1

Adrian Beltre had been a Texas Ranger, at that point, for a year and 10 months.

He’d been my #favorite Texas Ranger, ever, for about a year and five months.

beltre painting 2

The defense.  The toughness.  The big bat.  The season he’d just had that was good for third (behind Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout) in the AL MVP vote.  

The defense.

beltre painting 3

He was 33 when I started the painting, and playing like he was 25 (when he was runner-up for NL MVP, to Barry Bonds).

Now he’s 37, and playing like he’s 26.

beltre painting 4

He was 33, two years into a Rangers contract that was reportedly offered after Cliff Lee told Texas no, the Angels told Beltre no, and Beltre told the A’s no.

Lee is evidently done.  

He was basically done nearly two years ago.

Lee is done, the painting is done (big props to Nick Pants and the good folks at Idea Planet for the work on the crowd), but Adrian Beltre, emphatically, is not.

He was huge again last night, homering and doubling and driving in five and making plays that few other third basemen make (and that Beltre himself wasn’t making as cleanly last summer) and raising his early slash line to .314/.368/.629, with more walks (three) than strikeouts (two) in 38 plate appearances.

Whether it’s true or not, it feels like his defense has already saved as many 2016 runs as he’s driven in (eight). 

He’s in a contract year, as a camp happily slow on controversy reminded us for much of March.  There used to be a narrative, before Beltre arrived in Texas, that he saved his best for contract years, but that’s not really true

He doesn’t want to leave.

Texas doesn’t want him to leave.

But a meeting of the minds on the appropriate contract to replace this one is apparently a little sticky, because there’s not really a great contractual comp for a 37-year-old this productive.  

David Ortiz signed a two-year, $26 million deal at the same age.  David Ortiz doesn’t play defense.  

Adrian Beltre doesn’t just play defense.  He’s a wizard.  He’s an artist.  

He’s a damn treasure (hat tip, Tepid).

Nomar Mazara is the youngest player in the big leagues today.  He was the youngest player on the AAA Round Rock roster (and the second-youngest player in all of Class AAA).  He’d be the youngest player for AA Frisco.

Beltre was 21 months younger than Mazara when he made it to the big leagues.

He’s nearly old enough now to be Mazara’s father, and the two of them are wielding big bats and flashing big leather together for a team that’s bounced back from a clunky start.

Though their careers overlapped for 12 years, Beltre never played with Nomar Garciaparra (both played for the Dodgers and Red Sox but never together).  He’s playing with Nomar Mazara — who, similar to Pudge, may end up being the better Nomar when it’s all said and done — and though their careers won’t coincide for a dozen years, they will both play for several seasons.

And that needs to be in the same uniform.

Scott Boras likes when there are not any good comps.  That’s a center-cut fastball, a 3-1 cookie right in his wheelhouse.

But there’s got to be a number that makes reasonable sense.

And a duration. 

A level of shared risk that can vest in the player’s favor.

Adrian Beltre may be the best bet in baseball, given any set of physical challenges, to make a contract option vest.

He can’t go anywhere.

And, unlike a painting that took more than three years and 464 Adrian Beltre games as a Texas Ranger to finish, he absolutely isn’t done.

beltre painting 5

Liftoff.

This all happened in the space of about 23 hours, beginning late Saturday afternoon in Des Moines, Iowa.

Round Rock right fielder Nomar Mazara singled to center in the top of the first inning.

Mazara singled to right in the top of the third inning.

Mazara homered in the top of the fifth inning.

He didn’t appear in the ninth.

Mazara presumably went to sleep (though it would be understandable if he didn’t).

He then boarded a plane in Des Moines on Sunday morning with his buddy Brett, because Rangers Director of Travel Josh Shelton told them where to be, and when.   

They flew west, about 1,425 miles.

They got off the plane and into a car and found their way to a ballpark that holds about four times as many people as Principal Park, home of the Iowa Cubs.

And then?

Rangers right fielder Nomar Mazara singled to center in the top of the first inning.

Mazara singled to right in the top of the third inning.

Mazara homered in the top of the fifth inning.

He didn’t appear in the ninth.

All I changed in the last four sentences was replacing “Round Rock” with “Rangers.”  That simple.

Which is basically what Mazara’s big league debut felt like: A change in the name on the front of the jersey, but otherwise pretty much no difference.  

It’s just baseball.  

Nomar Mazara is pretty good at baseball.

I’m looking forward to tonight’s game in Seattle.  

But not as much I am to the career that launched yesterday, starting with a 1,425-mile trip and peaking at 443.5 feet to right center, at 105.4 miles per hour.

Photo: Emily Jones

                                   Photo: Emily Jones

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