Pained relievers.

The Rangers have that really shiny stat, the one about the starting pitchers logging at least five innings in every one of the club’s 27 games, the longest season-opening streak in franchise history.  

That’s really impressive and very good.

Texas has 20 Quality Starts in those 27 games.  Last year, the club’s 20th Quality Start came in Game 44.

Outstanding.

The Rangers rotation sports an ERA of 3.06.  Only the White Sox have a stingier mark in the American League.

Awesome.

All this, without Yu Darvish.

Exceptional.

No rotation in baseball has generated more double play groundouts.  They’ve held baserunners well — they’ve allowed only four stolen bases, with five other attempts thwarted.  They’ve been healthy, needing only one start from someone other than the regular five.  

Excellent.

Here’s the problem.

In those 27 starts, each of which has lasted at least five frames, only three times has a Rangers starter completed the seventh inning.  

Cole Hamels went seven on Opening Day.

A.J. Griffin went eight a week ago.

Colby Lewis went seven two days after that.

Seven times those standard 5.0+-inning efforts failed to complete six.

In 27 games, Texas starters have logged 162 innings.

That’s a clean six frames per start.

Easy math.

Uneasy otherwise.

There’s residual damage, unsurprisingly.

The Rangers bullpen, believed to be a strength coming into the season — and objectively speaking, there was and is no reason to think of it otherwise — has the American League’s worst relief ERA (4.95) and worst opponents’ batting average (.278) and worst WHIP (1.44 baserunners per inning) and worst OPS (.846). 

Texas is right in the middle of the AL pack as far as straight reliever workload is concerned, but a rotation ballyhooed thus far for not yet putting up a clunker hasn’t really saved the pen like you might think.  

Pick a Rangers reliever, any one of them, and you can point to a drop in velocity or a dip in command in the last handful of games, if not both.  Losing Keone Kela to injury hurts, without a doubt, but really, outside of Tony Barnette and Phil Klein (last night’s 10th notwithstanding), the men in the Texas bullpen haven’t been as sharp lately as we’re accustomed to seeing.

Sometimes it’s been difficulty throwing strikes.  Other times an inability to put hitters away, resulting in long at-bats and high pitch counts.  

Last night, six Rangers relievers went a combined 4.1 innings.  Before Klein’s final pitch, the pen line was 4.1-4-1-1-3-7.  Too many baserunners but ultimately effective in run prevention (though, of course, the one run, off Shawn Tolleson, extended the game) — still, in getting those 13 outs the pen needed 99 pitches, only 57 of which were strikes.

That’s far too many pitches (nearly 23 per frame), and not enough strikes (an uncharacteristic 58 percent).

They’re better than this.  But they’re getting worked hard, and when they’re needed for a third of the game nearly every night, it adds up.

There are reinforcements who should be called on for help at some point, but none is banging the door down at the moment.  

Luke Jackson is missing bats (14 strikeouts in 8.1 AAA innings) but he’s issued seven walks and still hasn’t been asked to work back-to-back nights, likely because his spring training was abbreviated due to a lower back issue.  

Andrew Faulkner is getting straightened out (3.1-1-0-0-0-4 in his last four outings) but has had at least two days down between Round Rock assignments.  

Matt Bush hasn’t worked consecutive days since his first two Frisco appearances, and while he’s been outstanding overall (.163/.245/.326, with 14 strikeouts and four walks in 13 innings), his readiness for the big leagues is being evaluated not only between the lines.  

Plus he’s not on the 40-man roster, an issue that’s going to get stickier once Darvish comes off the 60-day DL.

Same goes for non-roster candidates like Michael Roth, Francisco Mendoza, Jefri Hernandez, and Carlos Fisher, each of whom has had an interesting start to the season out of the Round Rock bullpen. 

Jose Leclerc, shifted to the Frisco bullpen a week and a half ago, has been more effective in that role, but he’s getting three days of rest between outings as the transition takes hold.  He’s on the 40-man roster but not ready to help.  The big league bullpen, under the circumstances, can’t afford middle men who can’t yet work more than once every three days (let alone two).

Connor Sadzeck, also on the roster, made a Sunday relief appearance for the RoughRiders after four starts — but that was only because he took the ball after Darvish’s two innings were done.  Some think Sadzeck’s future is in relief, but he’s being groomed as a starter for now.

Tanner Scheppers will eventually be an option, presumably, but he’ll need a rehab assignment before returning to Arlington, and there’s been no signal that that’s imminent.

The Rangers rotation is on a healthy streak of not getting chased early, and that’s cool and that’s good.  But every once in a while, a 7.1 or 8.0 would be really helpful, because the bullpen is on a workload streak of its own, and while consistently chewing innings up is what you want from your starters, it’s the last thing you want from your relievers, especially as a unit.

Present, tense.

The Rangers rolled into Rogers Centre and took Game One of the series in what was, to date, the game of the year.

True on October 8.

True again, 207 days later. 

Texas 2, Toronto 1, two days into May, had moments of mid-October intensity, palpably ratcheted up because of what happened the last time the teams took the field together.

At that time, Nomar Mazara hadn’t played a baseball game in nearly a month, and was a month and a half away from getting a text letting him know he would be going to his first big league camp the next spring.

Brett Nicholas, who finished his Round Rock season with Mazara a few weeks before the Rangers-Jays ALDS, was days away from reporting to Estrellas de Oriente for what would be his first taste of the Dominican Winter League, as he was doing everything in his power to make his case for a big league chance.

No telling what A.J. Griffin, who hadn’t thrown a professional pitch in four months (and even then, hadn’t thrown many since 2013), was doing.

None of them were in Toronto for Game One, or Two, or Five.

Nobody was bigger last night than those three.  If this were the Stanley Cup playoffs, no question who the Three Stars would have been as the Rangers took the opener of this four-game set.

There was Griffin on the mound, scattering five baserunners in six innings while punching out a career-high-matching nine (over 52 starts).  Were it not for a brutal baserunning decision by a player whose greatest weapon is supposed to be his baserunning — all things considered, I’d be all for an assignment to Round Rock for Mr. DeShields, in hopes that he’d respond to it the way that Rougned Odor did when he was optioned last May 11, with Ian Desmond sliding over to center field and either Jared Hoying or James Jones coming up to give the team a fourth outfielder capable of playing center — Griffin might have earned another victory.

Those are just numbers, though, and instead the win went to Tony Barnette, his first in the big leagues, while Griffin’s win-loss held at 3-0 and his ERA ticked down to 2.32.  

Barnette, in mid-October, was getting ready for the Yakult Swallows’ Japan Central League playoff series against the hated Yomiuri Giants.

There was Nicholas at the plate and behind it, giving Texas a one-run lead with a second-inning home run, helping preserve a one-run lead with a sensational play on the back end of a crazy-great 9-2 double play in the eighth, and catching Griffin, Barnette, Sam Dyson, and Shawn Tolleson as they combined to hold Toronto’s formidable offense in check.

And there was Mazara at the plate and in the field, owning the eighth inning as he took Gavin Floyd deep to lead off the frame and gunned Michael Saunders down at home to end it.  

Slow heartbeat.

Mazara’s, that is.

Not mine.

I mentioned on Twitter last night that there are times I hate sports for making me love it so much — and that, at least as Texas took its 2-1 lead to the ninth — that wasn’t one of them.  

That was sports at its near-best.  

The American League’s Rookie of the Month for April — slightly unforeseeable as he was busy singling twice and homering in a 9-3 Express win over the Iowa Cubs on April 9 — may have just played his best baseball game yet.  In May.

Three days after the Rangers signed Mazara for a controversial $4.95 million as a 16-year-old Dominican, he was in Arlington taking batting practice with Josh Hamilton.  I was there, and I wrote this about it.

Two weeks after that, I wrote this feature on Mazara for MLB.com

I’m prone, you might agree, to getting overly excited about prospects.

I wasn’t excited enough about Nomar Mazara.  

Which is not the same as being unexcitable, a really cool aspect of the Rangers’ right fielder and number two hitter’s game.

Not yet part of mine, not when the game is at its tense, intense, electrifying best, which doesn’t always line up with the relative significance of its position on the calendar.  

Prologue?

Since the last time Texas and Toronto met, a full 40 percent of the Rangers’ 25-man roster has changed.

Since that ineradicably memorable meeting, a full 40 percent of the Blue Jays’ 25-man roster has changed, too.

David Price has moved on, as has Yovani Gallardo, and if you think those two don’t belong in the same sentence, think back to which pitcher had the other team’s number last season.

J.A. Happ and A.J. Griffin are in, and while their handedness and their groundball tendencies and their initials are opposites, their records (3-0, 2.76 and 3-0, 2.52) and their place among the league’s early surprises line up nicely, though it’s not as if they hadn’t done it in the past.

The Jays have replaced Mark Lowe with Drew Storen in set-up relief, and so far that hasn’t gone as well as the shift of Aaron Sanchez from the pen to the rotation, while Texas has been forced to elevate Tony Barnette on the heels of the injury to Keone Kela, whose absence in this series eliminates at least one interesting storyline.

No Chris Colabello (the most productive hitter in the teams’ October series) or Ben Revere, but Michael Saunders and Darwin Barney have given the Jays an early boost.

Shin-Soo Choo and Josh Hamilton out.  Ian Desmond and Nomar Mazara in.

Until yesterday, the only time the Rangers had lost a Cole Hamels start in his last 16 times to take the ball was Game Five in Toronto on October 14, which ended one team’s season.

Nobody’s season is ending this week.

Marcus Stroman pitched yesterday, too, and so the Game Two and Game Five matchup doesn’t get restaged this week, and in fact Hamels and Stroman will be the only starters to miss the four-game Rangers-Jays set that kicks off tonight at Rogers Centre, which now has a real dirt infield cut into the artificial turf, and if that were the case in October, specifically on the 14th, particularly in the seventh inning, especially in the bottom of the frame . . . . 

Never mind. 

Speaking briefly of which, new year, new rosters, new meaning to this matchup: Is the response to what happened in that ineradicably memorable B7 a simple “Never mind”?  

Regarding the flip: What’s past is prologue?  Or is the focus these next four nights squarely and solely on playing good enough baseball to win an early May series against a solid team on the road, or at least come away with a split?

Flip the calendar?

Is all now forgotten, at least in a plausible deniability kind of way?

We will see.

Along with Cole and Marcus, and Kela and Colabello, we will watch.

And we will see.

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.

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