Have happened lately
When I take a good swing
And all my dreams
They pivot and slip
I drop my fists and they’re back
Howard, my intention’s become not to lose what I’ve won
Ambition has given way to desperation and I
Lost the fight from my eyes.
— Marwin Gonzalez, possibly
Your move, Yu.
It’s easy enough, after watching Martin Perez consistently battle his way out of potential trouble last night in Boston, to wonder how Opening Day might have gone if Perez had been the one to take the ball, but then again how would Game Two have gone in that case, when Perez matched zeroes with A.J. Burnett into the sixth before Adrian Beltre tied the game in the seventh and then delivered the walk-off blow in the ninth?
Experience dictates that we’d have been well advised to hold our breath after Jim Adduci made the walk from the dugout to the on-deck circle in place of Beltre in the top of the fifth inning last night, not long after which word filtered out that Beltre would fly back to Texas for tests on his left quadriceps, but then again he was lifted at a time when Texas was ahead, 9-1, in temperatures that had dropped into the 40’s. There was no need to push a barking leg muscle when Beltre was only DH’ing at the time anyway, and giving him the day off today (low 50’s) makes precautionary sense, meaning he will have had half of Tuesday off the leg, plus all of today and all of tomorrow’s off-day, and maybe he’ll be back on Friday at home against Houston.
Before we know more about Beltre and his chronically unreliable leg muscles, and whether a DL stint is a possibility (which would mean the arrival from Round Rock of veteran Kevin Kouzmanoff, who had an outstanding spring), it could probably be worse.
Tampa Bay lefthander Matt Moore’s has a scheduled trip to see Dr. James Andrews for a second opinion on an elbow injury that forced the 24-year-old out of Monday’s start and onto the disabled list.
Torii Hunter left Detroit’s game last night in the fifth inning, having crunched his left knee in a collision with the Dodger Stadium wall in foul ground down the right field line, in what would be a 10-inning, 3-2 Tigers loss. Detroit manager Brad Ausmus has already talked about sitting Hunter tonight, ahead of the club’s own off-day Thursday.
Josh Hamilton unapologetically slid into first base last night, pulling himself out of the game thereafter with a swollen and painful thumb, which meant his .444/.545/.741 slash would be replaced by journeyman Ian Stewart’s .143/.143/.429 in a critical spot in the ninth (two men on via Fernando Rodney walks, nobody out, Angels down 5-3), and since with Josh, it’s gonna be something weird, maybe he sits tonight as well before Los Angeles’s own Thursday off, and if you want to bet whether he or Beltre is back playing again first, be my guest.
Texas has a chance, behind Robbie Ross Jr., to win a series in Boston this afternoon, without the benefit of what ESPN’s Keith Law calls the best starting pitcher in the American League. Yu Darvish will start Friday against the Astros, followed by Colby Lewis, and right there you have two veteran pitchers who weren’t active the first time through the rotation. Whether the club brings Perez back on regular rest Sunday, which would mean skipping Tanner Scheppers, is something that has to be part of the conversation, you would think.
The Stars picked up a huge two points in an overtime win last night, with three regular-season games to go in their fight for a playoff berth. The Mavericks nailed down their own huge win with three to go and a playoff spot in the balance, a game in which a very cool list of 10 got modified so that it now reads Kareem, Karl, Michael, Kobe, Wilt, Shaquille, Moses, Elvin, Hakeem, and Dirk.
Meanwhile, the decimated Rangers improved to 4-4, behind another impressive effort from Perez, more Shin-Soo Choo greatness, a breakout game for Robinson Chirinos and maybe one for Prince Fielder as well. It was a night on which Adrian Beltre delivered a run-scoring single, a run-scoring double, and a tight quad, all of which have become part of what we expect from the 35-year-old, and I suppose there’s a chance today’s doctor visit could end up producing a “whew” result, making the added day-and-a-half off a good thing for the player, and the team.
At least as far as results are concerned, Tuesday was a really good sports day, locally.
And I’d really like to get through Wednesday and Thursday without seeing the name Kevin Kouzmanoff in a local headline.
Two series in, with Texas rolling out a rotation featuring just one pitcher (a 22-year-old) who was supposed to be there, and the club has won three, and lost three.
Three of those six games were started by a legitimate ace (Cliff Lee, David Price, Yu Darvish), and in all three cases his team won.
Even though in the two matchups the Rangers had against one of those beasts, they certainly could have won, putting eight runs on Lee’s ledger on Opening Day and then going to the bullpens Saturday with Nick Martinez matching Price’s six frames and Texas ahead, 4-3.
But sometimes things just fit, like teams winning when their aces take the ball, Adrian Beltre coming up big late, and Lance Berkman telling Houston reporters on Friday: “I probably shouldn’t have played last year.”
While other times they further populate the “You Can’t Predict Ball” column, like Neal Cotts getting beat, Elvis’s small sample outslugging Prince’s and Choo’s combined, and Russell Wilson locating his first pitch on Wednesday better than Jonathan Papelbon located his final pitch.
I’m not sure which category Yu Darvish’s MLB-record quickness to 500 strikeouts (401.2 innings, eclipsing Kerry Wood’s 404.2) belongs in, but I do know that if he had been the one to face off with Lee a week ago . . . .
Never mind. You never know.
Three wins and three losses, with a decimated rotation and, as a result, a bullpen missing two of its four most important pieces. And with the starting catcher and starting second baseman out for half the year.
Darvish is back, Colby Lewis’s next start may be in Arlington, and Matt Harrison isn’t far behind. The idea was for Texas to hold its ground until the cavalry starting rolling back in, and while .500 through two series could have been better, it sure could have been worse.
I wish this team were at full health, I wish Scott Baker had thrown the same day for Round Rock as Joe Saunders did for Texas — though Nick Tepesch lines up with Saunders and he was outstanding himself — and I wish I could stop thinking about how the Rangers could not touch Saunders on October 5, 2012, because that still makes zero sense, but it is what it is (“they are what they are” feels as flat as a run-scoring Josh Hamilton double play grounder off Saunders) and, again, given everything this team is having to fight through, .500 through six seems OK.
And one way or another, it seems unlikely that Saunders will end up making any more starts as a Ranger than Wilson Alvarez or Sam Narron or Mitch Williams did, whether it’s because of what Evan Longoria did to his push ankle or, more likely, a determination that Lewis is ready for this Friday’s assignment against Scott Feldman and the Astros.
And now I’m wondering what would have happened if Colby Lewis had gotten the ball against David Price this weekend, which has me thinking about what happened the last time those two teed it up, but then again Martinez absolutely did his job on Saturday.
Every time I write the words “David Price,” I think about all those trade rumors over the years that once involved Andrus and then Martin Perez and then Jurickson Profar, and about the fact that as the Rays haven’t yet had that season that would prompt them to shop their temporarily owned lefthander in July, the waves in the Texas system keep coming, and maybe this summer, if somehow Tampa Bay fails to hang in there, or perhaps next winter, when Price is a year from free agency, the names Rougned Odor and Luis Sardinas and Nick Williams and Luke Jackson and Alec Asher — and Nick Martinez — could start showing up in national columnists’ paragraphs that include the words “David Price.”
Or maybe Odor has the kind of 2014 that puts one of those older infielders back in the discussion. Don’t rule it out.
I’m not going to leave room for the possibility that Jorge Alfaro is relevant to the subject, because I’m just not.
So long, Jordan Akins. Hope football works out the way a lot of us hoped baseball would.
So long, Armando Galarraga. Hope the umpires are kinder to you in Taiwan.
Baseball takes unexpected turns, even over a season’s first six games, and while the number 500 is a lot more electrifying in the context of Yu Darvish’s prowess than a team’s win-loss record, this is a period of survival for the beaten-up Rangers, and when half of those first six had Texas giving pitchers their first-ever Major League starts, taking a 3-3 record to Boston doesn’t bother me one bit.
The narrative in Philadelphia, following a brilliant effort by Kyle Kendrick and solid bounceback from rookie reliever Mario Hollands and continued production from an aging middle-of-the-lineup, is obvious.
Closer Jonathan Papelbon, whom the Phillies are into for $13 million this year, and $13 million more next year, and another $13 million in 2016 if he finishes a certain number of games in 2014-15 (he won’t), allowed as many hits plus walks in his third of an inning as Kendrick and Hollands allowed in their eight frames combined.
That’s what they’ll be talking about in Philly today (now that the basketball team’s losing streak is an uninteresting two).
Here’s a stack that they ought to be talking about today in Rangers Nation:
Nov. 20, 2013: Texas acquires righthander Shawn Tolleson off waivers
Jan. 29, 2014: Texas acquires lefthander Pedro Figueroa off waivers
Mar. 26, 2014: Texas acquires righthander Seth Rosin off waivers
Might as well add this one:
Nov. 12, 2012: Texas signs 27-year-old minor league free agent outfielder Jim Adduci to a minor league contract
Yes, Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin and Mitch Moreland — and unquestionably Robbie Ross Jr. — headline Texas 4, Philadelphia 3, but it can’t be overlooked that Tolleson, Figueroa, and Rosin, three waiver claims who probably wouldn’t be in Arlington if the pitching staff weren’t so banged up, fired four innings of scoreless relief (one walk, one strikeout, six groundouts, four flyouts) against a Phillies club hitting .327 with 19 runs over 23 innings at that point to hold the game in check and give the offense an opportunity to wake up in the ninth and bring home a win.
And the pinch-hitter Adduci — a 10-year minor leaguer with zero time in the big leagues whom I spent 929 words on last August suggesting he might be a suitable replacement for David Murphy — Acsche’d a nubber down the third base line and beat Asche’s throw to first by a thousand strides, obviously a massive play in the midst of an improbable comeback.
Texas plays 27 season-opening innings against Philadelphia at home, and leads at the end of only three of them.
Think about that.
And yet when two of those three frames are the ninth on Tuesday, and the ninth on Wednesday, you walk away from that set with a 2-1 record, admittedly no more meaningful half a week into the season than the Athletics’ 1-2 or the Angels’ 0-3 (or the Mariners’ and Astros’ lossless starts), but it sure is a lot more fun to spend the first off-day talking about winning the opening series, and about the impact not only of nine-figure contracts but also the importance of building the 30th and 35th spots on the roster with effective scrap heap scouting, and about the awesome unveiling of this, while we await Matt Harrison’s start tonight for Frisco, Yu Darvish’s start Sunday against Tampa Bay, and Colby Lewis’s next start, whether it’s Monday in Boston or a final tuneup on the farm.
Tolleson and Figueroa and Rosin won’t all keep their big league lockers when the April reinforcements all return, but for one night, they did what the other team’s four-year, $50 million man couldn’t do — keep a big league lineup off the scoreboard long enough to make the midfield celebration possible.
The A’s are 0-1.
The Angels are 0-2, and getting booed.
Ian Kinsler went 0-4 on Monday, and then went 0-1 last night.
Even though the Tigers didn’t play.
Texas spoiled Kinsler’s 0-162 wishes last night, thanks in large part to Shin-Soo Choo, who was in Cincinnati this time last year, and Tim Bogar, who was in Little Rock this time last year, and Martin Perez, who was on the disabled list this time last year.
I don’t know where Pudge Rodriguez was this time last year, but it wasn’t standing in the batter’s box during a Yu Darvish bullpen session, or throwing BP to Rangers hitters, or watching from a seat next to the dugout he used to live in as Adrian Beltre did Adrian Beltre things, or joining the FOX Sports Southwest postgame set, which was exponentially more awesome than I thought it would be, and those are all things Pudge did on Tuesday, before and during and after Texas 3, Philadelphia 2.
Hats off the folks at FOX.
Hats off all around.
Texas hammered Cliff Lee for eight runs, all earned, over five innings, and it wasn’t enough. Not close.
Tanner Scheppers struck out twice as many as Lee did on the day, but then again those numbers were merely two and one, and in fact of the 93 pitches Scheppers threw, only two were swung at and missed. Scheppers — too amped up, maybe? — was up in the zone all day, and the Phillies took lots of pitches, spoiled a bunch of two-strike offerings, and squared up over and over, when they weren’t pool-cueing balls down the third base line.
If I ever give up on the NFL or NBA, it will be brutal officiating that pushes me away. In baseball, it would be missing the strike zone — leading not only to walks but also to lots of hitters’ counts — and Scheppers’s ugly 55 percent strike rate on Monday was only marginally worse than the first three Texas relievers tasked with keeping the club in the game, after the offense created the opportunity.
Philadelphia’s first seven runs (and 11 of 14 overall) came with two outs. Frustrating.
But look: Texas is not going to lose more games than it wins in 2014, and it’s not going to win twice as many as it loses.
Somewhere comfortably between 54 and 81 losses is the number of times this year the other team will end the game fist-bumping in the middle of the diamond. Yesterday was just one of those.
Slam dunk: Two points.
Phillies 14, Rangers 10 doesn’t change this team’s forecast by 20 games, or 10. It probably doesn’t really change it by one, and I’d be surprised if USA Today’s Bob Nightengale recants yesterday’s tweet and picks a new AL pennant winner based on the first one of 162.
When the Angels have a sixth-inning, 3-1 lead in Jered Weaver’s hands and lose their opener by seven runs, and when Oakland’s new closer — its highest-paid pitcher, in fact — makes his A’s debut by going five-pitch walk/single/hit batsman/Nyjer Morgan sac fly/run-scoring single in the ninth to take the loss, you’ve probably got a bunch of LAA and OAK fans this morning trying to pull their friends off a cliff from which the three teams picked by everyone to win the West now look up at the division-leading Mariners and idle Astros, offering up flimsy April Fools’ references to help ease the completely unnecessary pain.
(Speaking of which: Yes, Angels hitting coach Don Baylor broke his leg catching Vladimir Guerrero’s ceremonial first pitch yesterday. It happened.)
You can use up some energy this morning harping on Michael Choice’s game-opening assignment on Monday, or Martin Perez’s, or your level of trust in Alexi Ogando, or you can shift your focus to Perez and A.J. Burnett tonight, which is what I feel like doing, because this is baseball, and by the time we close the books on Tuesday, Texas could be tied for first in the division, while you and I and Yu and Matty and Jurickson and Derek and Colby and Geovany look on, watching this team fight to hold its ground until the reinforcements start arriving.
It’s big news, granted, that the Angels and Mike Trout agreed Friday on a six-year extension that will pay him $144.5 million from 2015 through 2020, when he’ll turn 29, but I just can’t get that worked up about it. I could come up with a couple reasons, as a Rangers fan, to wish it didn’t happen and a couple others to feel good about it, but whatever.
Just like Josh Hamilton’s recent decision to live in baseball without an “accountability partner” for the first time since Texas acquired him from the Reds. OK. Play ball.
I’m more interested in what plays out this afternoon in San Antonio as the Rangers nail down the final couple spots in the bullpen, the last of which will be occupied for just four games that count before the eighth reliever is shipped out to make room for the April 5 purchase of righthander Nick Martinez, whose final spring training tune-up (5-2-1-1-2-5 last night, with six groundouts [including two double plays] and two flyouts) went just fine.
It’s premature to decide that next Saturday in Tampa Bay will be a one-and-done effort for Martinez and that Colby Lewis will step in against Houston on April 11, but if Lewis really does have an April 10 out in his non-roster deal, you can bet he’ll be purchased by that date, perhaps leading to the re-option of reliever number eight, who just might come up for Martinez the day after he faces the Rays, and perhaps the fact that Texas was willing to let the Astros see Martinez as much as they did last night supports the theory.
I don’t have a flak jacket handy so I’m not going to spend too much time on the fact that David Murphy is hitting .212/.276/.327 in Indians camp, which is insignificant, as is his spring OPS trend the last four seasons that has seen his number drop from .911 to .876 to .801 to this month’s .603, as is the fact that the unrelated Donnie Murphy doubled, homered, hit a sac fly, and doubled in his first four Rangers plate appearances, but you can bet that the latter will be the second baseman in Monday’s starting lineup, even if he’s just 2 for 18 off Cliff Lee, who incidentally is the pitcher he’s faced more times than anyone else in his eight seasons in the big leagues.
It’s all just exhibition noise right now.
A year ago, the Rangers’ off-season catcher carousel looked like this, as far as the 40-man roster was concerned:
October 6: Mike Napoli, Geovany Soto, Luis Martinez
November 1: Napoli, Soto, Martinez, Konrad Schmidt
November 3: Soto, Martinez, Schmidt
November 30: Martinez, Schmidt
December 3: Soto, Martinez, Schmidt
December 12: Soto, Martinez, Schmidt, Eli Whiteside
December 14: Soto, Martinez, Whiteside
December 20: A.J. Pierzynski, Soto, Martinez, Whiteside
December 26: Pierzynski, Soto, Whiteside
January 3: Pierzynski, Soto
April 7: Pierzynski, Soto, Robinson Chirinos
This winter, the catching crew has remained fairly well settled from where it was a year ago — AJP out, JPA in — while keeping track of the state of the pitching rotation has been a kaleidoscopic challenge.
The Rangers’ starting five — ranked in January as the seventh strongest in baseball by ESPN’s Buster Olney — was slated to be Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez, and Alexi Ogando.
Instead, when Texas and Philadelphia trot out to the baselines Monday afternoon, the Rangers’ starting five will feature Tanner Scheppers, Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders, and Nick Martinez.
Since 1945, the only pitcher whose first big league start came on Opening Day was the Dodgers’ Fernando Valenzuela (1981). Scheppers, who was born six years after Valenzuela blanked the Astros, 2-0, will be the second.
There’s no Elias note to pin on the addition of Martinez, who spent all month in minor league camp, at least officially. You could have named a dozen other candidates to break camp in the Texas rotation ahead of Martinez, the Rangers’ 18th-round pick in 2011, including Nick Tepesch, who was the breakthrough starter a year ago, but Tepesch got rocked this spring, and since Tommy Hanson wasn’t sharp and Colby Lewis wasn’t deemed quote ready, Martinez is getting the call.
The 23-year-old from Florida made two appearances for the big club this spring, relieving Scheppers to get the final out of the third inning on March 8 (he struck Andre Ethier out looking on a 93-mph fastball) and then, on Tuesday, closing out a 5-0 Rangers win over Cleveland with two clean frames in relief of Ross, racking up four strikeouts and two groundouts (around a double and two singles).
That first effort was a classic “Just In Case” appearance, a minor league pitcher completing an inning for a big leaguer who had hit his pitch limit so the rest of the game’s pitching plans could be kept in place. The second one might have looked like incidental work as well, with the club six days from Opening Day and having specific amounts of work in mind for everyone headed for the active roster. But clearly, the Rangers put Martinez on the mound for two innings Tuesday because of plans they had for the young righthander himself.
Martinez split the 2011 season between Surprise and Spokane, spent 2012 with Low A Hickory, and worked as a starter for High A Myrtle Beach for all of 2013 until a mid-August promotion to AA Frisco, where he made four starts and one very memorable relief appearance.
After three extremely effective RoughRider starts (three earned runs on eight hits and six walks over 19 innings, with 14 strikeouts and a .129/.206/.129 opponents’ slash), in one of which he was perfect through 4.1, on August 27 he was tasked with relieving Tepesch, who was prescribed a specific number of pitches against Corpus Christi as part of his rehabilitation from an elbow injury.
Tepesch hit 41 pitches after issuing a walk and yielding an infield single to start the third, and on came Martinez.
The first Hooks hitter flew out to right. The next one worked a free pass. But Martinez promptly erased him with a 5-4-3 double play grounder.
And then Martinez retired the next 18, in order.
Seven no-hit innings, with one walk and six strikeouts.
Another brilliant start followed (6-3-1-1-0-3 in Midland), and Martinez’s season was over. He’d obviously made an impression.
He’s a back-of-the-rotation type if everything comes together, less heralded than the Chi Chi Gonzalez or Luke Jackson or Alec Asher, three righties he was expected to join in the Frisco rotation next week. He may be a RoughRider not long after that, as Lewis could be ready by April 11. Darvish and Harrison should return not long after that.
Martinez could get rocked in Tampa on April 5, and even if he doesn’t, his mound opposition that day will be David Price.
But strange things sometimes happen, like Justin Grimm and Tepesch earning AL Rookie of the Month honors in April and May a year ago.
Martinez’s backstory gets even more unlikely when you drill back to his college days. Here’s the profile I wrote on him for last year’s Bound Edition, heading into the 2013 season:
Rangers area scout and Davidson College product Jay Heafner spent two years as an infielder in the Texas farm system, playing in 2006 for Short-Season A Spokane and in 2007 for Low A Clinton. While teammates like Chris Davis, Craig Gentry, and Michael Kirkman were working on things that would eventually get them to the big leagues in 2008, 2009, and 2010, Heafner spent 2009, 2010, and 2011 in the Bronx watching most of the 26.1 innings that Fordham University’s starting second baseman happened to pitch, sometimes in the sleet, and it was that resolve and vision that led to Heafner recommending Martinez to the Rangers — as a pitcher — and to the 18th-round pick that the club spent on him. The lanky righthander was not mentioned at all by Baseball America among the 25 draft-eligibles from New York (and 1,361 players overall) in its 2011 pre-draft features, but Heafner believed there was something there, and he appears to have been right. It’s a remarkable story. In his three Rams seasons, Martinez (who started 146 of a possible 165 games at second base) amassed an unsightly 5.47 ERA in those 26.1 scattered innings (6.2 as a freshman, none as a sophomore, 19.2 as a junior), giving up 33 hits (.311 opponents’ average) and 16 walks while fanning 22. Yet in two pro seasons, he’s gone 11-9, 3.99 in 31 starts and 15 relief appearances, issuing only 55 walks while punching out 165. Working in the low 90s with an effective change, his curve has come along to the point at which he threw it for strikes 88 percent of the time in Fall Instructional League play this year. In eight FIL innings, opponents hit .241/.333/.241 against him, and he maintained the velocity he’d shown as a mainstay in Low A Hickory’s rotation during the season. The next step for Martinez will be High A Myrtle Beach, a level that Heafner never reached as a player, and the expectations for the 22-year-old pitcher go well beyond that.
It’s yet another tip of the cap to the Rangers scouting and player development group, who found a middle infielder that was hitting under .300 without power at a small New York college program and, in less than three years, have him in line to start a Major League baseball game. On the mound.
Can’t predict ball.
I was in Surprise in 2010 the morning that Ron Washington issued a shocking statement about a very big mistake he’d made the previous summer.
I was in Surprise in 2011 the morning that it was announced that Chuck Greenberg was leaving the Rangers, less than a year after he’d officially arrived.
Having scheduled just a weekend trip to spring training this year, I figured the odds were pretty good I’d get there and back without any drama.
Maybe next year.
As soon as we landed in Arizona on Friday, we headed to the back fields, ecstatic about our good fortune that Yu Darvish’s start that afternoon had been rerouted to the AAA game, which would take place on chain-link-fenced Field 5, where we’d be closer to the action than the first row of any stadium in Major or Minor League Baseball, among what would probably be an audience in the double digits.
I didn’t get the greatest night’s sleep Thursday, waking before 5 a.m. to make the early Friday flight, but mine apparently went better than Darvish’s. He woke with a stiff neck and was scratched from the back fields start — and eventually from his Opening Day assignment.
Jump ahead two days. Waiting at Gate 6 to board our flight home, news popped that Jurickson Profar had torn a muscle in his throwing shoulder, and would miss up to three months getting it back into playing shape.
Everything between was basically perfect.
Darvish didn’t make it to Field 5 on Friday, but we did anyway, and got another reminder that things don’t always go as expected.
Back in 2010, Elvis Andrus and Robbie Erlin had breakthrough baseball seasons. Andrus, in his second big league campaign, made his first All-Star Team at age 22 and had an outstanding playoff run, hitting .294 and stealing eight bases in nine tries. Erlin, age 19, in his second pro season, dominated at Low A Hickory (89 hits and 17 walks in 114.2 innings, with 125 strikeouts), and was tabbed by Baseball America as the Rangers’ number four prospect, behind Martin Perez, Profar, and fellow 2009 draftee Tanner Scheppers.
At the end of that 2010 season, among the possibilities of where you might have found Andrus and Erlin (who was traded to San Diego in 2011 with fellow pitching prospect Joe Wieland for reliever Mike Adams) on March 21, 2014 was probably not an entry that had them facing each other in a AAA exhibition game.
But injuries happen, and as a result of a couple of them, Erlin (auditioning for a rotation spot in San Diego due to Josh Johnson’s strained tendon) was making a back fields start and Andrus (still nursing forearm soreness and in need of at-bats) was leading off the bottom of every inning.
Andrus doubled the other way off Erlin in the first inning, singled the other way off him in the second, and doubled the other way off him in the third, but that’s not the story.
In a camp in which Prince Fielder and Perez have been virtually the only projected starters to have a clean run in camp, it’s actually pretty good news that Andrus is playing baseball every day, even if it’s not on both sides of the ball and involves every-inning plate appearances on the back fields. He’s at least expected to be ready to go by Monday’s Opening Day.
Alex Rios and Mitch Moreland appear to be past early-camp oblique injuries, but now Geovany Soto is expected to miss the same 10-12 weeks as Profar, with a torn meniscus in his knee requiring surgery. But Matt Harrison’s recovery from his latest lower back thing should delay the start of his season by only a few weeks, Colby Lewis should beat him to the active roster, and Adrian Beltre’s quad and Shin-Soo Choo’s elbow will be fine. Probably.
I don’t want to write another sentence about injured ballplayers, or complain about the state of the Rangers’ overall health with the opener around the corner — national writers like Ken Rosenthal and Buster Olney have joined the local beats and columnists in focusing on all of that — but I will say this: Right now is exactly when you most want Ron Washington to be the manager of your baseball team.
And as little interest as I have in post-season awards, things are teed up at this point for Wash, who once finished second in the Manager of the Year vote, and third another time, to win the trophy in 2014.
For that matter, as dark as the baseball cloud appears to be right now, there’s no sense in assuming that Wash’s team can’t win its own trophy this season. The odds may get longer with every press release, but I kinda like when this team is put in a corner.
With Profar and Soto out until the middle of the season, second baseman Rougned Odor and catcher Jorge Alfaro — number 1 and 1A on the club’s top prospects list — aren’t going to be in Arlington next week. Odor is slated for Frisco and Alfaro (almost certainly) for Myrtle Beach, where the two finished their 2013 seasons after second-half promotions. But if Odor translates another strong camp to another quick start, and if neither Josh Wilson nor Kensuke Tanaka nor Adam Rosales nor Brent Lillibridge (nor someone Texas acquires in the next couple days) holds things down at second base early on with Texas, Odor may be gone from the RoughRiders by time Alfaro arrives.
A “veteran American League scout insists,” according to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, that “Odor is so talented [that Texas wouldn’t] miss a beat with Profar out three months.” But Jon Daniels said the club will prioritize Odor’s development over any temptation to rush the second baseman, who turned 20 last month. Rangers announcers will have a little more time to ramp up on the pronunciation of his name, and for now might focus instead on the rule we learned back when Akinori Otsuka was closing games here that the “u” is silent.
And speaking of closing games, it didn’t take much on Friday to see that Neftali Feliz, who couldn’t keep the ball down and whose 90-92 on the scoreboard velocity-meter probably wasn’t a miscalibration (given Ryan Feierabend’s subsequent 93), wasn’t doing a whole lot of inspirational work to lay claim to his old role, especially when Joakim Soria has been so efficient in camp. Feliz had reportedly hit 97 in winter ball, encouraging the Rangers that his heyday velocity had returned. He never approached that this month, sitting low-90s and touching 95 on maybe two or three pitches. He didn’t exceed 92 on Friday.
Wash said Saturday morning that Soria was now his man in the ninth inning, and Feliz wasn’t. And that Alexi Ogando and Neal Cotts would get the chance to hold things down in the eighth inning, and Feliz wouldn’t. Asked to give an assurance that Feliz would break camp with a big league job . . . Wash wouldn’t.
Yesterday afternoon, the Rangers optioned Feliz to AAA. To rebuild arm strength.
And the organization’s trust.
The last time Feliz was a minor leaguer (not counting very brief rehab assignments) was 2009. In Oklahoma City.
The eighth inning was a discussion point since, that same morning, Wash confirmed that Scheppers — who had thrown 75 pitches in Friday’s efficient six-inning start (95-100 pitches if you count the extra work he got in the bullpen after being lifted), fanning six and walking none and hitting 96 on that same gun — had won a rotation spot.
Scott Feldman (2008), C.J. Wilson (2010), and Ogando (2011) set examples here as relievers who made successful transitions to the rotation.
Feliz (2012), not so much.
Get it done, Schep.
You, too, Robbie Ross. Hard to imagine that seven scoreless innings yesterday — after Scheppers had just become the first Rangers pitcher this spring to log six frames (four outs more, incidentally, than he’d ever recorded as a pro, at any level) — isn’t a prelude to the lefthander, who was nothing but a starter in the minors but has been nothing but a reliever in the big leagues, joining the beleaguered rotation himself. While nothing has been made official, that seems to be a near-lock at this point.
We all could have imagined, a month ago if not a week, a perfect scenario in which Scheppers took the ball on Opening Day, perhaps on the back end of a Darvish-to-Wash handoff, tasked with holding an eighth-inning lead against the Cliff Lee Phillies as Feliz began to stretch in the bullpen.
Instead, Feliz will be in Frisco, sizing up his Express road threads for Tuesday’s exhibition against the RoughRiders (when he’ll perhaps relieve Lewis), and waiting for Thursday’s opener in Round Rock, as Oklahoma City — now an Astros affiliate — comes to town. Somewhere in that span of days he’ll meet Chris Snyder, his new catcher, unless the two shake hands today as Snyder arrives in big league camp on his new non-roster deal while Feliz prepares for his first day of minor league drills.
And Scheppers may get the ball Opening Day anyway, only it would be in the first inning. Whatever number he occupied on the potential rotation depth chart this winter, Monday’s start won’t go to number one (Darvish) or number two (Harrison) or number three (Holland). It could go to Scheppers, or to Perez.
In 2011, the Rangers’ second World Series season, they used seven starting pitchers all year, with those aside from the top five making only five total starts.
In 2014, Texas could exceed both numbers in April.
And that’s whether or not veteran righthander Scott Baker, reported last night to be on the verge of signing a non-roster deal with the Rangers after refusing a AAA assignment with the Mariners, works his way from Round Rock to Arlington sometime in the season’s first month.
Coming back from spring training, what I really wanted to write about was Nick Williams stinging the ball with regularity and driving it with authority the other way to left field, which incidentally was almost exclusively his defensive home in 2013, while, at least on the two days I saw him this weekend, he was working in center field, which is a very cool development if it sticks.
I wanted to write about what middle infielder Yeyson Yrizarri (who turned 17 last month) did against Royals blue-chip lefthander Sean Manaea (who turned 22 last month) in a AA game on Saturday — an assignment Yrizarri got because Odor was with the big club that day, contributing a ringing pinch-hit double down the right field line — and about what Ronald Guzman (age 19) has been doing against all pitchers in what’s become a shocking number of looks with the big club (and about the impact this Guzman opportunity has to have had on Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson and Drew Robinson). About the work Joey Gallo still has to do, in spite of a raw power tool that Baseball Prospectus’s Jason Parks calls “the best I’ve ever seen at the [minor league] level.”
I wanted to write about a Chris Bostick-Sherman Lacrus moment on the back fields Saturday afternoon and about Ryley Westman’s backstory and about what Bill Stein’s kid is doing these days — and how it might impact the Rangers’ minor league hitters — and about an awesome 15-minute session in the bullpen involving Lewis, Mike Maddux, Andy Hawkins, and Brad Holman.
I really wanted to write about Alfaro and about what he did to that poor Royals runner straying off third and about what he did when his shortstop’s throw to first was wide and up the line and about how he nearly Blake Griffin’d that popup over the first base dugout and about what he can do with a bat in his hands and about how 1.82 + 4.18 equals not only six but also, in Alfaro’s case, something very cool and super-unique and about how confident I am that Pat Cantwell will play catcher in the big leagues, maybe for a long time as Alfaro’s sidekick, eventually, with both of them learning from Yadier’s big brother, which would be pretty great, all of which, you might have noticed, I can hardly contain myself about.
And about how extra-cool this picture of Jorge and Landry and Max and Preston and Dominic and Jake will be when they’re in high school and he’s in his prime.
But real life — in a baseball context — intervened, and instead I’m writing about unwelcome assignments to the disabled list and to Round Rock, and a growing pile of headaches stacking up for the Rangers, days before a new season gets unwrapped.
I suppose there’s a lesson in there for the five nine-year-olds who just got two very busy days in on the back fields, that they may never play with or against a player as good at baseball as the 215 that they saw suited up as Rangers this weekend, yet more than 150 of them may never get past AA and never make any money playing the game, and others who have made it to the big leagues will miss time because they threw too much or threw not enough or got run over by a motorcycle or tripped by a dog, or because they suffered a surgically indicated knee injury triggered during the catcher’s crouch, or slept wrong.
It’s hard. Bad things happen to athletes, and to teams.
And to fans, I guess. I know it feels that way now.
But when it comes to sports I’d much rather be frustrated, even despondent, than apathetic. If the bad stuff ever got to be too much, it would easy enough to cauterize the whole sports thing and move on, but that’s not me and that’s not most of you. Sports isn’t always Candy Land, and winning is a lot sweeter when it’s hard to do.
It’s been the worst spring training in Rangers history from a health standpoint. But it was the best spring training ever for Landry and Max and Preston and Dominic and Jake, and I bet for Jorge, too, as his picture continues to come into hi-def, rock ’n’ roll focus.
Those five kids, and that young catcher, are reminders to me of what’s so good about this game, even when it’s bad.
Because for those kids, on Field 5 and the rest of the diamonds fanned out around it, and in the stadium a few hundred yards and, for the fortunate ones, maybe just a few years away, amid all the long odds and the invariable setbacks there’s plenty of hope to dream on.
Texas hosts Seattle this afternoon and then busts tail for the airport with all the force and purpose of Elvis going first to third. Those guys, you can bet, can’t get out of Arizona soon enough.
And I can’t wait for Monday. It will be the final day of an ugly baseball month, and the first day of what we hope is another 162+. I’m fired up about Michael Choice, I’m fired up about Tanner Scheppers and Robbie Ross and Joakim Soria, I’m fired up about Jorge Alfaro and Rougned Odor and Yeyson Yrizarri and the Nick’s, Williams and Martinez.
That’s the type of stuff I expected to write about on my return from Surprise. Not the other stuff. The bad news has trampled the good news coming out of Surprise the last couple weeks, but that in no way disables — in fact it probably adds fuel to — my sports instinct to demand that yet another season of ball come on in, man, and go ahead and bring it.