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A closer look.

If you were hunting for the category under which to file November 20, 2013’s trade of Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder and $30 million, you could probably stick it in the “High Profile” stack.

Hours before Texas and Detroit pulled that deal off, the Rangers made player personnel news that instead probably belonged in the category “Etc.”  

November 20 is the date most years when clubs have to add draft-eligible minor league players to their 40-man rosters in order to make sure they’re not lost in December via Rule 5.  Earlier that day in 2013, before trading Kinsler for Fielder, the Rangers added Luis Sardinas, Lisalverto Bonilla, and Ben Rowen to the roster, and outrighted Edwar Cabrera to clear more space.

But they also added a player that the Dodgers had designated for assignment earlier that week, apparently to make room on their own roster for minor league pitchers Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, and Jarret Martin.  

Because of the way off-season claim priority works, the Astros had the first shot to claim 25-year-old righthander Shawn Tolleson when the Dodgers ran him onto the waiver wire.  But they didn’t.  

The Marlins could have claimed Tolleson, who’d logged 37.2 big league innings before missing most of the 2013 season due to back surgery.  But they didn’t.  

The White Sox could have claimed Tolleson, who still had two options, but didn’t.  

The Cubs and the Twins and the Mariners and the Phillies and the Rockies and the Blue Jays and the Brewers and the Mets and the Giants and the Padres and the Angels and the Diamondbacks and the Yankees and the Orioles and the Royals and the Nationals and the Reds could have put in a claim on Shawn Tolleson, but none of them did.

Texas, which won 91 games in 2012 and had to wait behind 20 teams in the waiver line, claimed the Allen High School and Baylor University product, whom the Dodgers had decided a few days earlier to try and sneak through waivers to make sure, for instance, that they could roster Martin — whom they’d designate for assignment one year later without so much as a big league appearance. 

We’ve passed the quarter mark of the 2015 season, and though Jeff Banister hasn’t named a closer since Neftali Feliz ceded the role, Tolleson has as many saves (two) as unintentional walks, and he’s punched out 26 hitters in 19.2 frames.

Tolleson has struck out 32.9 percent of the hitters he’s faced.  Feliz: 17.9 percent.  

Outs on the ground: 1.29 for every out in the air.  Feliz: 0.54.  

You can argue about which team Fielder (.340/.397/.488, five home runs, signed through 2020) and Kinsler (.309/.383/.400, zero home runs, signed through 2017) tilt the scales in favor of at this point, with Texas paying $19.7 million per year and Detroit $23 million per year for the duration of its new player’s deal, but it’s pretty clear that Fielder is one of the Rangers’ most important and most productive players right now.

As is Shawn Tolleson, who may not have made the Rangers’ biggest headline on November 20, 2013, but whose acquisition was clearly a pretty big deal.  

Homecomings.

So Josh and Wash are going back home, and Dave’s just going home.

We all saw that coming, right?  Along with a 2-1 win in Fenway authored on the mound by a 30th-round pick making his first big league start (and just his fifth as a pro) against a team he’d never faced; a 27th-round pick; a supplemental first-rounder who’s been in the big leagues the last four years and in AAA five of the last six; a minor league free agent; and a waiver claim who’d been another club’s 30th-round pick.

And starring a Rule 5 pick who did his thing offensively and defensively and whose OPS now lags only Prince Fielder’s and Mitch Moreland’s among Rangers regulars.

Hours earlier, Josh and Joey homered in the same game, for the first time and, this year, likely the last.

There will be more.

Phil Klein, the lead candidate to finish 2015 as the Rangers’ unlikeliest starting pitcher, threw nearly 70 percent of his 81 pitches for strikes — and was efficient enough that he pitched into the sixth, which Texas couldn’t have expected.  He started off 14 of the 23 Red Sox he faced with a strike, and induced more swinging strikes (8) than his Boston counterpart, fireballing righthander Joe Kelly, who missed only seven bats over his 108 pitches. 

Klein will probably get the ball again on Monday in Cleveland — going back home, incidentally — possibly backed by Josh Hamilton, and by then Matt Harrison could be on his way to Frisco, where he’ll assume Hamilton’s post–game spread duties.

None of it was predictable, other than Letterman’s retirement, which we knew about a year ago, when the American League’s current second-leading hitter was headed toward season-ending neck fusion surgery that had some people concerned about his career.

None of it was predictable, so it won’t surprise me at this point if Keith Law’s prediction last night that Florida high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers, thought by many to be the top candidate to go 1.1 in the draft 18 days from now, falls to Texas and is announced as the Rangers’ pick at 1.4.   

If Rodgers lands here, the speculation on where his path will lead will be fascinating, as he’ll get to the big leagues well before Elvis Andrus’s contract expires, and even if Josh Hamilton is gone by then, Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo won’t be, and neither will Harrison or Derek Holland or Martin Perez, at least contractually.  I still hold out hope that Yu Darvish’s next contract will be in Texas, too.

And hey there, Chi Chi and Jake and Luis.

When Rodgers gets to the big leagues, if it’s in Texas he’ll be teammates with Nomar Mazara and Gallo, who Baseball Prospectus’s Ryan Parker suggested yesterday are “the best 1-2 prospect punch of any system.”  

If Jorge Alfaro is hitting seventh, cool.

Rougned Odor: .318/.464/.818 with Round Rock since his demotion.  Maybe more startling: five walks and two strikeouts.  

See ya soon, Roogie.

Probably before Wash is back in Arlington on June 23.  

Hugging it out with Josh during BP at Globe Life Park.

Just like we all imagined.

letterman baseball

Infeliz.

Who are Tim Beckham, Jarrod Dyson, Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales, Cain again, Hosmer again, Morales again, Lonnie Chisenhall, Michael Bourn, Brett Hayes, Jose Ramirez, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana?

They are the last 16 hitters Neftali Feliz has faced.  

He didn’t strike any of them out.  

Maybe just as alarming: Feliz threw those 16 hitters 57 pitches.

And there were four swings and misses.

Four.

And that includes the first two pitches the .175/.229/.237-hitting Ramirez saw last night before he fouled off an 0-2 fastball and grounded another four-seamer to shortstop on the play that tied the game and brought Kipnis to the plate for the decisive, rug-pulling upper-tanker, again on a four-seam fastball, not long after which Adrian Beltre said to reporters what the rest of us were thinking: 

“The way the game went, we expected to win.  We kept fighting and had a lead in the ninth and somehow lost the game.”

For the first month of the season, the lead story as far as the Rangers’ slow start was concerned was the offense’s missing bats.  

Now the thing I can’t stop thinking about is how infrequently the closer is missing bats himself. 

1.4.

Since it wasn’t enough that 2014 hammered the Rangers with a record number of DL days and roster moves and Joe Saunders and all kinds of brutal baseball luck, what’s probably the silverest lining afforded the team by the sport has gotten battered as well.

Finishing with the game’s third-worst record (which was the first-worst with only eight games left on the schedule), Texas had its June 2015 draft position bumped down from 1.3 to 1.4 because Houston, having failed to sign its top pick a year ago, California high school lefthander Brady Aiken, was allowed to butt in line with what will be the second pick three weeks from now. 

OK.  Rules are rules.  Plus, with Aiken back in the draft, theoretically dropping one slot might have turned out to be a wash (and at less expense).

But as the season began, many industry evaluators were calling the 2015 draft class, at least at the top, unusually thin on impact talent. 

And then Aiken underwent Tommy John surgery late in March.  

A week later, so did Duke righthander Michael Matuella, who like Aiken was a candidate to go at or near the top of the draft.

And lefthander Kolby Allard, thought by many to be the top high school pitcher in the draft, missed most of the spring with a stress reaction in his back, while University of Virginia pitcher Nathan Kirby, perhaps the top draft-eligible collegiate lefty, strained a lat muscle three weeks ago and was shut down as well.

Whether the Rangers had targeted Aiken or Matuella or Allard or Kirby (not to mention Allen High School infielder Kyler Murray, who has pulled out of the draft to cement his commitment to play quarterback for Texas A&M) is only part of the point, as there’s a strong chance one or two or three of the pitchers would have gone in the three slots ahead of the Rangers pick, pushing other players to Texas that might now be taken off the board beforehand.

Baseball Prospectus’s Christopher Crawford wrote, after Matuella went down on April 1: “Long story short, this was a less-than-ideal situation for teams with high draft picks before the Matuella injury, and while there’s still talent in this class, today’s news makes this the weakest top of the class I’ve ever covered.”  

Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs, that same day: “Just heard about Matuella’s UCL tear.  So, yeah, that sucks and the 2015 draft is looking like a horror movie at this point.”  

It would have been a nice year to be able to trade down, since the prescribed slot doesn’t devalue just because the talent level might.  But rules are rules.

The Rangers, who haven’t drafted this high since 1985 (Bobby Witt, 1.3) and 1986 (Kevin Brown, 1.4), will draft a player they love on June 8, even if it’s not necessarily the player they’d have chosen if everyone were healthy, but as for who that will be, there’s very little consensus as to whose name the club will call — because there’s plenty of uncertainty at this point over who will go to Arizona at 1.1, much less who fits at 1.2 (Houston) or 1.3 (Colorado).

In Baseball America’s initial mock draft, published May 8, that publication predicted Missouri State righthander Jon Harris would be the Texas pick.  

BA rolled out a new mock yesterday, this time pegging UC Santa Barbara righthander Dillon Tate, rumored by other publications (and BA in its first mock) to be a strong candidate to go 1.1 to the Diamondbacks.    

Crawford has Tate going to Texas as well, while McDaniel projects Louisville righthander Kyle Funkhouser.

Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo (MLB.com) predict Georgia high school outfielder Daz Cameron, son of Mike, will be the Rangers’ choice at 1.4 (though Callis has also suggested Funkhouser could be the pick).  

Dave Rawnsley of Perfect Game USA: LSU shortstop Alex Bregman.  

Matt Garrioch of MinorLeagueBall.com: Harris.

ESPN’s Keith Law hasn’t rolled out a mock yet, but said in a chat recently that he believes Vanderbilt righthander Walker Buehler is at the top of the Rangers’ list, though he could also see Florida high school shortstop Brendan Rodgers slipping to 1.4.

Incredibly, it seems there was more consensus on the Rangers’ direction when they were regularly drafting in the 1.20’s.  

I miss the days of drafting in the 1.20’s.

Some are going to suggest, hyperbolically, that drafting fourth overall in 2015 is no different — aside from the price tag — from drafting some years in the 1.20’s, but it is what it is, and the Rangers are going to add a very good baseball player with a very high ceiling when they make the fourth selection in 23 days.  

And maybe, as that pick comes a mere weeks (we hope) before Derek Holland and Martin Perez and maybe even Matt Harrison return to action, we can get closer to slamming the book shut on the black cloud that lowered and dumped on this team in 2014, and hasn’t quite fully cleared away.

I don’t ever want to title a report “1.4” again.

Shorted.

You could stretch to sugarcoat things and point out that Ross Detwiler allowed only three Royals runs in Thursday’s start, in which he delivered a career-high 108 pitches, but that would be a remarkable effort at spin.

It took Detwiler those 108 pitches to record a mere 15 outs, and it continued a disturbing trend.

In the 29-year-old’s first Rangers start, he was relieved by Logan Verrett.

In his next start, he handed the ball off to Stolmy Pimentel.

Next start: Anthony Bass (in the third inning, which Detwiler kicked off having been given a 7-2 lead). 

Next: Bass again.

In Detwiler’s next start, his 7-4-1-1-2-7 gem against Houston, Keone Kela took over for the eighth.

Detwiler’s start after that: Bass.

Yesterday: Bass.

Detwiler (0-5, 6.95) still doesn’t have a win as a Ranger, and part of the reason for that even when he’s pitching reasonably well he isn’t getting deep into games.  And when you’re not getting deep into games, you force the manager to dip into the bottom of the bullpen, because he has the rest of the day, and the next few after that, to map out.  And when you’re relying on the bottom of the bullpen that often, it shouldn’t be surprising when games tend to get out of hand. 

And the bottom of this bullpen, out of medical necessity, has featured a number of pitchers who wouldn’t be here at all if the pitching staff were healthy to start the season, and in Verrett and Pimentel’s case, aren’t here any more.  Whether Bass, whose effectiveness has waned lately, survives as the bullpen continues to regain health is less than certain.

Detwiler’s own hold on a job — at least the one he’s been entrusted with so far — would seem to be tenuous, but the reason he’s been given the ball as often as he has is that Martin Perez, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison aren’t ready to return, Anthony Ranaudo (3-0, 2.87 in six AAA starts but with 18 walks in 31.1 innings) hasn’t earned his way back to Texas, and Chi Chi Gonzalez (2-4, 4.50 in six AAA starts) hasn’t been consistent and isn’t considered quite ready.  Unless you want to roll the dice by going to Jerad Eickhoff or the Phil Klein experiment or Ross Wolf, you’re stuck with Detwiler for the time being, and now’s probably a decent time to thank goodness for Wandy Rodriguez.

The part about Detwiler that frustrates me more than any other it’s not an issue of inferior stuff.  He has innings (and has had one game) when he looked like a guy you could get behind taking a chance on, as the Rangers did this winter.  (The players Texas gave up for him, incidentally: Second baseman Chris Bostick, repeating Low A, is hitting .224/.285/.288, and righthander Abel De Los Santos, in his first run at AA hitters, has a 6.39 ERA and .288/.345/.500 opponents’ slash.)  I actually look forward to the time when Detwiler is repurposed as a reliever, when I think his stuff could play up and the pitch count issue won’t be as magnified and won’t handicap the rest of the team so much.

That transition just doesn’t seem to be imminent, and that’s not because of his arsenal or the upside that scouts saw.  It’s because there just really aren’t tempting alternatives to Ross Detwiler right now.

A career-high 108 pitches in five innings just isn’t very encouraging, especially when a lot of them miss the target by a foot (usually up), and when, as has been the case in almost every Detwiler start this season, they cause the day on which you send your least effective starter to the mound to also be a day on which you end up having to use your least effective relievers.  Hard not to expect different results. 

The unpredictability of what comes next.

I was about five years into my law practice and a year into writing regularly about baseball when I decided, late in 1999, married but not yet a dad, that the natural thing for me to try doing was to represent baseball players.  I’d gotten to know a bunch of minor leaguers, and their parents.  A partner at my firm had represented a handful of Dallas Cowboys.  And there were things about my skill set that made me think, perhaps myopically, that it would be a pretty good fit.

The first opportunity came after a handful of emails and a phone call with Jamie Hill, a 22-year-old lefthander from the University of Alabama-Huntsville (and, before that, Middle Tennessee State) who wasn’t among the 1,474 players drafted that June, but who signed a free agent deal with the Rangers for $1,000 and was assigned that summer to the rookie-level Gulf Coast League club.  On a club and in a league where the average age was 19, Hill was really good, holding opponents to a homerless .203 average in 46 innings of relief (with one start mixed in) on a staff featuring Jovanny Cedeno and a team led by Hank Blalock.

I’m sure Hill was just flattered that someone asked if he needed an agent, and too nice a guy to turn it down.  

I met him in Port Charlotte in March 2000, and we talked about expectations.  I certainly couldn’t charge him anything — there’s nothing I could have done at that stage of his career to increase his paltry, standardized, lockstep salary, and I wasn’t about to cut into it — but we talked about me helping him out during the 2000 season with an extra pair of cleats, maybe a new glove, things like that.

We went to grab dinner at a nearby Chili’s after one day’s spring training workout, and while we were waiting for a table Hill introduced me to 20-year-old righty Colby Lewis, whom the Rangers had given $862,500 to sign as a first-round pick in that same June draft nine months earlier when nobody bothered to call Hill’s name at all.  Lewis, a junior college product, was two-and-a-half years younger than Hill but assigned by Texas that summer to Pulaski of the more advanced Appalachian League, where the competition was closer to Hill’s age — and Lewis posted a 1.95 ERA, punching out 84 mostly older hitters in 64.2 innings.  

At least that late afternoon at Chili’s you’d have never guessed that Lewis was any more pedestaled than Hill, despite their vastly different paths to Port Charlotte and their even more monumentally different expectations.  There were plenty of kids in the system quick to bigtime anyone who would listen long enough, but neither Lewis nor Hill seemed to be among them.

Hey, one day, maybe, I’ll be representing kids like Colby Lewis.  

Patience.

I never really represented Hill, as it turns out.  He was released a couple weeks before spring training ended.  About four months after that the Yankees gave him a chance to pitch in that same Gulf Coast League against kids who were then four years younger rather than three, but after two appearances that was cut short, too.  He didn’t pitch professionally after that.

And despite a couple later opportunities that didn’t quite materialize, I never did add “player agent” to my bio.

Hill is now an elementary school principal in Madison, Alabama, after a stint as his district’s special education coordinator, and when he’s not running his school or coaching one of his sons on his 13U baseball team (one of only four Majors-classified teams in the state), he’s busy working toward his doctorate in education at the University of Alabama.  

It’s all worked out.

I thought about Hill the other day, when Kevin Matthews was released by the Rangers.  

I thought about Hill because Matthews too is a slightly undersized left-handed pitcher, from the same general area of the country.  And because he’d been released.

Only Matthews was released Thursday because, the day before, he’d been charged with driving under the influence in Hickory, North Carolina, where he’d been pitching in middle relief for the Crawdads in Low Class A, the highest level he’d reached in five years as a pro.  

Since missing the 2013 season due to injury, Matthews had pitched a total of 29.2 innings, with as many walks (28) as strikeouts and an unsightly 7.28 ERA.  His stock as a prospect had waned long before; his hold on a job had probably become tenuous this spring, even without the legal issues factored in.  The concept of expectations in the game for the former first-rounder had given way to a question of survival.

Matthews was charged with the misdemeanor count hours before Lewis threw an 8-6-1-1-1-6 gem against Houston to complete a Rangers sweep.

Matthews was drafted 33rd overall in 2011, part of the Rangers’ compensation for the loss of Cliff Lee.

Lewis had been drafted 38th overall in 1999, part of the club’s compensation for the loss of Todd Stottlemyre.

Matthews really never got his career rolling, after his first full pro season in 2012 was followed by 2013 shoulder surgery.

Then again, Lewis had overcome Tommy John surgery in high school, and after that his path took him from Bakersfield Junior College to Pulaski to Port Charlotte to Tulsa to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to Oklahoma City to Texas to a torn rotator cuff (and 2004 shoulder surgery) to Toledo to Detroit to Toledo to Detroit to Toledo to Washington to Sacramento to Oakland to Sacramento to Oakland to Kansas City to Hiroshima to temporary paralysis of the facial nerves to Texas to a torn flexor tendon (and 2012 elbow surgery) to Round Rock to Frisco to Round Rock to Frisco to bone spurs in his hip (and a 2013 resurfacing procedure) to Round Rock to Texas, and he goes into tonight’s start against Kansas City in the American League top 10 in ERA (9th, at 2.61) and WHIP (10th, at 1.079) and WAR (5th, at 1.5). 

According to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s Jeff Wilson, it’s been suggested that nobody has ever pitched after Tommy John elbow reconstruction as long as Lewis has, about 19 years to be exact.  That includes all TJ graduates who haven’t had any more appointments on the operating table.

And no pitcher had ever returned from hip resurfacing surgery before Lewis, evidently.

Lewis is 35 and he’s returned from elbow surgery and shoulder surgery and another elbow surgery and hip surgery — and Japan — and there’s never been anybody in the big leagues like him.  Which is to say nothing of the fact that he’s dealing right now.  

It struck me about a week ago that there’s not a really good reason that Colby Lewis isn’t higher up on my list of favorite Rangers players ever.  He should be.

Thirty-seven players were drafted before Lewis in 1999.  The first two were high schoolers Josh Hamilton and Josh Beckett, one fighting now for a last chance and the other retired.  

Of the 35 players drafted after Hamilton and Beckett but before Lewis on June 2, 1999, five have had more productive big league careers than Lewis.

Only 14 of those 35 have had big league careers at all.

He’s had more comebacks — and not the Josh Hamilton or Steve Howe kind — than just about anyone you can think of in the game.  He’s a warrior-beast with a lifetime post-season ERA of 2.34 in eight Rangers starts, including wins in his first four post-season decisions, which doesn’t count the five shutout innings he threw in a 2010 ALDS loss to the Rays, and he’s a tremendous example of all kinds of things for young pitchers wearing a Rangers uniform, or one that says Round Rock or Frisco or High Desert or Hickory or Spokane across the front.  

Or one of those scarlet red workout shirts on the back fields in Surprise.

It’s too soon to talk about the success that the 32 players drafted in 2011 ahead of Kevin Matthews have had, though half have made it to the big leagues while Matthews was unable to get past Low A.  Too soon to judge Boston’s pick three slots after Matthews of fellow high school lefty Henry Owens, and to be fair, if you’re going to focus on the fact that Texas used the Cliff Lee compensation picks to take Matthews and High A outfielder Zach Cone, you should probably also recognize that the Rangers used the money not taken by Lee to instead sign Adrian Beltre and take on the extra couple million that trading Frankie Francisco for Mike Napoli required.

But yeah, though hindsight is easy, Owens rather than Matthews would have worked out better, and college outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (40th overall) rather than the college outfielder Cone (37th) looks at this point like it would have been the better choice, too.  

Cone, facing High A pitching for a third season, may be showing signs of figuring things out (though pinball numbers in High Desert carry potential asterisks), while Matthews is now facing a different crossroads altogether.  He jumped at the chance to play professional baseball four years ago, for a reported $936,000 signing bonus, which was $935,000 more than Jamie Hill got a dozen years earlier, but Matthews has now been released at age 22, about seven months younger than Hill was when the Rangers let him go.

Hill got a second chance, brief as it was, and Lewis got a whole bunch of them, and though they’re doing very different things with their lives today it’s plain that they’ve both succeeded in big ways.

I hope there are good things ahead for Matthews, whether it’s in baseball or something else.

The day I met Lewis at a Chili’s in Port Charlotte, Florida, my wife was expecting our first child.  Our daughter is now in high school, only a few years younger than Lewis was then, and now he’s got an eight-year-old and four-year-old of his and Jenny’s own.  

Jamie Hill has two sons, one in high school and another headed that way a little over a year from now.  Maybe one of his kids will need an agent soon.

It won’t be me, and that’s OK.  I learned some things back then that steered me away from the agency game, which I realized others are better equipped to handle.  In 1999, the things I envisioned for my law practice were nothing like what actually came to be, and that’s all good, too, and I obviously had no idea that my little writing diversion was headed in this direction, either.

I’m happy I got the chance to meet Hill and have a ton of respect for what he’s done with his life.  Maybe he knew in the summer of 1999 that he’d pitch in a pro uniform for a year, possibly two, and then transition into educating kids, and coaching them in his free time.  But whether he knew then where his path would take him, the 38-year-old kid has done more than all right, as has 35-year-old Colby Lewis, who was probably less likely than Hill back then to have predicted the incredible path that took him from there to here. 

I’m sure that Matthews’s vision four years ago, when he decided to forgo an opportunity to attend the University of Virginia and instead take a lifetime of baseball preparation to the pro level, didn’t include any of the things that happened this last week.  Where things go for him from here may or may not involve professional ball, but that doesn’t mean the next phase can’t be better than the last.  Matthews may not have any feel today for the direction he expects the next part of the path to lead, but at this point the burden of expectations is probably his own.

. . . that I sent out this report:

                 

AP

AP

Fore.

 

Ancient history, sure.

But man.

Hamilton vs. Barry Zito in Nashville tomorrow.  The two have faced off just once, a 5-0 Rangers win over the Giants in June 2012 in which Hamilton went 1 for 4, with the one hit a majestic home run to center field.  It was one month to the day after his four-bomb barrage in Baltimore, and came in the midst of a stretch of 84 plate appearances in which he hit .211 and went deep just once. 

Neither Hamilton nor Zito has been the same since, and both will play in front of a AAA crowd tomorrow, toeing in against each other as they try and earn their way back, looking in Hamilton’s case not to resurrect that historic night three years ago but merely to get back to being a productive, contributing member of a big league baseball team.

Still, I couldn’t resist reaching back a little for that one. 

Throw out the numbers.

The Texas Rangers have the lengthiest win streak in baseball, at four.  But that’s a number that doesn’t really matter.

They’re now a half-game out of second place in the division, and on May 8th that doesn’t really make a difference, either.

Winning five straight on the road?  A good number, but the sample size is meaningless and the point is simply that Texas managed to come back in Anaheim to avoid a sweep in that series, hammered the Astros in Houston a week later, and got things done last night in St. Petersburg.  Not really mathematically significant.

Baseball math says Nick Martinez didn’t earn a win last night, but a foursome out of his pen went 4.1-1-1-1-0-7 and preserved the lead Martinez handed off, and that’s good baseball.

The three earned runs Martinez allowed breaks his personal streak of 11 straight starts of two earned runs or fewer (second longest such streak in franchise history).  Disappointing mathematically, maybe, but that’s it.

Rays righthander Chris Archer came into last night’s series opener with a 1.64 ERA, fifth best in baseball and third in the AL.  

The only two American Leaguers ahead of him were Houston’s Dallas Keuchel, whom the Rangers handed a no-decision to on Monday, and Martinez.  

Martinez saw his ERA jump last night from 0.84 to 1.47.

But Archer’s soared from 1.64 to 2.59.  

In his first five starts, Archer had issued six walks in 32.1 innings.

In last night’s, his seventh of the season, Texas worked four free passes in 3.1 Archer frames, two of which came in the second, both with the bases loaded.  The Rangers forced Archer to throw 44 pitches in that four-run second inning, and seven of them came on full counts, and that may be too much math but it’s awesome.

A picture is worth a thousand math equations, and I hope you saw Neftali Feliz’s ninth.  Seven sliders among his 12 pitches, and of those seven, five were strikes, three swinging.  But forget the numbers: That’s the filthiest breaking ball I’ve ever seen Feliz sustain.

Texas extended one streak but broke another last night, as Texas 5, Tampa Bay 4 was the first game all year in which Martinez took the ball coming off a Rangers win.

The club is 5-0 when Martinez starts following a team loss.

And 1-0 when Martinez starts after a Rangers win.

But numbers aside, when Nick Martinez starts, Texas wins, and that’s a pretty great thing, especially when you’re talking about what amounts to the team’s eighth starter.

As for the math, the one number that has some big-picture significance this morning is 134.

That’s the number of Rangers baseball games remaining in the scheduled 162.  

It doesn’t matter a whole lot that, today, there are as many teams behind Texas in the division as there are ahead (including one that’s inevitably going to start coming back to the pack), but it does make a difference that Derek and Martin and Mitch and Tanner and Ryan and Josh and Kyuji and maybe even Matt are going to be around for a bigger chunk of those 134 than they have been for the first 28.

Things are looking much better now than they did a week ago — small sample beware — but the better part of all this might be that the Rangers have avoided burying themselves at their most decimated, and if they can keep playing solid baseball as the roster starts to get reinforced, little by little, well, you don’t need to do the math to recognize that, just over a sixth into the season, it’s suddenly gotten a lot more interesting.

Getting back.

The back of the rotation (Ross Detwiler, Wandy Rodriguez, Colby Lewis) came up big in Houston.

The back of the roster (Kyle Blanks, Carlos Peguero) did, too.  

And now the back of the AL West looks different, as the Rangers have left the Mariners in the cellar, and are percentage points short of Oakland in third, and a game and a half behind the second-place Angels.

It was a strange series, as the Rangers scored big and caught the ball and claimed a win streak, not to mention a sweep.  A couple catchers found themselves in unfamiliar situations: Frisco’s Pat Cantwell spent a night bullpen-catching for Texas and Hank Conger played two innings in left field for Houston last night (his first pro appearance anywhere other than catcher in 10 years of minor and major league ball), and while Conger’s run a couple hundred feet southwest of that stupid hill in center field had as much consequence as the lions, tigers, bears, leopards, jackals, bobcats, lynx, kangaroo, and snakes that might have gotten loose last night in Tuttle, Oklahoma (thankfully), Cantwell helped get Keone Kela and Neftali Feliz loose and ready for perfect innings on Monday night to preserve a 1-1 tie and then a 2-1 lead, and that’s pretty cool.

The Rangers head 1100 miles east today for four with the Rays, while 1100 miles west Josh Hamilton will take BP against Matt Harrison, which not long ago would have been as weird a thing to imagine typing as a sentence including Kyle Blanks and Carlos Peguero and Kevin Kouzmanoff, or one including lynx, uncapitalized, or one in which I wonder, in all seriousness, why I haven’t had Colby Lewis higher on my list of favorite Rangers players ever, because that dude is a warrior-beast of the highest order.

By time we get to the Tal’s Hill of the baseball schedule, we could be asking what the returns of Derek Holland and Martin Perez and Mitch Moreland and Ryan Rua and Josh Hamilton and Tanner Scheppers and Kyuji Fujikawa and Nick Tepesch and maybe Matt Harrison will do to the back of the roster and the back of the staff, and there’s nothing bad about that.  

By then Houston won’t have the league’s best record and maybe not the division’s (though Carlos Correa will arrive before most of the Rangers listed in the previous sentence), and as for the rest of the West, that’s four teams separated by just two games.

And one of them sitting in the middle is doing it with Wandy Rodriguez and his band of journeymen providing part of the impact.

Wild pitching.

Martin Perez’s last three full months on a big league mound: 11-4, 3.23 over 17 starts.

Derek Holland’s six starts to finish 2014: 1.46 ERA, five walks in 37 innings.

Matt Harrison’s last healthy season (2012): 18-11, 3.29, number eight in AL Cy Young vote. 

Yu Darvish, every year.

None of them are around, but all of them should be back, sometime this year or early next, with the possible exception of Harrison if you’re not buying into all the really positive updates coming out of Surprise. 

None of them have contributed to the current 13-game run in which Rangers starters have posted the third-best ERA in baseball (2.71), as noted by Jared Sandler (Rangers Radio Network/105.3 The Fan).  Only once in that stretch has a Rangers starter permitted more than three earned runs: a four-run permission by Wandy Rodriguez a week ago today.  All of that without Yu or Derek or Martin or Matty.

Never mind that over those 13 games, Rangers starters have combined to win just one game (last night’s Wandy gem). We’re talking about the team with the longest current win streak in the American League.

(Two.)

Elvis Andrus (.333/.455/.389 over his last 10 games, with eight walks and five strikeouts) is coming alive, and so is the pop in Shin-Soo Choo’s bat (.286/.304/.667 since coming back from a few days off).  Adrian Beltre (.291/.350/.400 over his last 60 trips, hits in 12 of 14 games) is waking up, Prince Fielder (.350/.407/.485) has been a blast to watch all year, and Kyle Blanks (.391/.440/.826) is here. 

But that pitching.  Think about the idea of Yu and Derek and Martin and Matty returning, and being able to run Nick Martinez out there as your fifth, which assumes that Yovani Gallardo is just a one-year proposition (not necessarily a lock).  Ross Detwiler in the pen, if he’s back.  Colby Lewis in some role, perhaps.  

Which is to say nothing of Chi Chi Gonzalez or Jake Thompson, and if you didn’t see Scott’s farm report yesterday, take a look.  The Thompson bullet train is on track.

Or Luke Jackson or Alec Asher or Jerad Eickhoff or Andrew Faulkner or Chad Bell, and don’t write Anthony Ranaudo off yet.  

Knock yourself out if you want to write Wandy off, and I’ll be the first to admit I’d like to see another few weeks before wondering whether the Scott Kazmir/Aaron Harang category might have a new candidate.

But he was dominant over eight last night, retiring the final 19 he faced against the best team in the American League, and that was fun.

Wandy’s last big league win was late in May 2013, at a point on the schedule when Darvish already had seven wins and was headed toward runner-up recognition in the Cy Young vote, when Holland was 5-2 with a 2.81 ERA, and when Perez was back from the minor leagues for a second look and about to establish in a big way that he belonged.  

All of that seems so long ago, even if Harrison recuperating from back surgery doesn’t.

Imagine if those guys come back this year or next to join a pitching staff that, even in its decimated state, has been really pretty good, especially over the last couple weeks.

But that’s down the road a good ways.  For now, I’m content to settle in tonight for Colby Lewis-Samuel Deduno, as the club with the longest win streak in the AL seeks to extend it, having won its first series of 2015 and looking for its first series sweep since taking care of the Astros late in September, when Darvish and Harrison and Perez and Scheppers and Ogando and Fielder and Choo and Moreland and Profar and a few others were on the Rangers’ 60-day disabled list, Blanks was on Oakland’s 60, and Wandy Rodriguez, a little more than seven months before last night’s absolute clinic on the mound, was unemployed.

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