Hard to believe, the season is already at the 25% mark. The Texas Rangers finished the first quarter of the season a lackluster 18-23 at the quarter pole but, considering the season started at 8-16, it’s not horrible. Horrible would be the team behind the Rangers in the standings, the Oakland A’s, who are a full five games behind Texas, which sits in fourth, a half game out of third.
At the end of April, the Rangers’ report card reflected a totally awful offense. The first quarter report card has improved.
The offense has improved greatly from April. The season’s opening month saw the Rangers offense putting together a miserable slash line of .210/.293/.318 with an OPS+ of just 75 (league average would be 100). Shin-Soo Choo ended April at .092. The offense has recovered in May so now they stand at a more respectable .237/.312/.383 with an OPS+ of 96. It still isn’t good but it’s improved to just below average. If the Texas offense performs the rest of the season the way they have in May, the numbers at season’s end could be in the upper third in the league. At this point, the biggest need for offensive improvement is the average with runners in scoring position. The Rangers sit at a measly .214 with RISP. Only 16 of their 117 extra base hits have come with runners in scoring position and only 37 have come with a man on first. Texas is hitting for decent extra base power but nobody’s on base when they do it. Grade: C
Defensively, the Rangers have committed 33 errors in 41 games. Only Oakland has committed more in the AL. Greatness wasn’t expected defensively, despite a couple of well-regarded defenders like Adrian Beltre and Elvis Andrus. In Baseball Reference’s defensive stats, Texas has a MINUS 5 on Total Fielding Runs Above Average, putting them 10th among the AL’s 15 teams. The good news is Prince Fielder admitted Mitch Moreland is a better defensive first baseman than he is and will agreeably be the DH if it helps the team win more games. Grade: D
The rotation took a header right off the bat when Derek Holland went down shortly after making his first start. With Yu Darvish already lost for the year, it was yet another hit the pitching staff could ill afford. The joke is, the Rangers have a better rotation on the Disabled List than many teams have on their active roster (Darvish, Holland, Martin Perez, Matt Harrison and Nick Tepesch). Colby Lewis and Nick Martinez have been outstanding, Yovani Gallardo below average (more later), Ross Detwiler awful and Wandy Rodriguez a godsend. Grade: C
A nice 4-game stretch to close out the season’s first quarter makes the relief stats look better but only Oakland has a worse bullpen thus far. When Neftali Feliz blew a save on May 16th against the Indians, it gave Texas more Blown Saves than Saves on the season. There have been some bright spots: rookie Keone Kela and long reliever Anthony Bass but overall, inconsistency has been the pen’s modus operandi. One night they’ll look like killers, the next like victims. Jeff Bannister has made moves lately to try solidifying the bullpen. Feliz is no longer the closer. Shawn Tolleson has taken to the role so far, having picked up saves in consecutive nights against the Red Sox. Other than that, Banny says he’s not going to have role players in his bullpen for now. He’ll play match-ups more than having a 7th inning guy or an 8th inning guy. Grade: D-
There is no bigger surprise than the play of Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields. The expectation for Double D, who hit only .236 for AA Corpus Christi last season, was, at best, being the 24th guy on the 25-man team, serving primarily as a late inning pinch runner and defensive replacement. Instead, he’s putting pressure on the Rangers to find a place for him in the line-up every day once Josh Hamilton arrives.
DeShields leads the club in steals with 10. He’s actually tied with Adrian Beltre for first on the team in WAR at 0.9. He leads all Rangers regulars in pitches seen per at bat at 4.09 (Tommy Field is better but only has 9 games under his belt). When Hamilton joins the roster, DeShields could find himself in a CF platoon with Leonys Martin as well as a 2B platoon with Field.
While he has an impressive track record, nobody thought Prince Fielder would be as good as he’s been thus far. Fielder’s hitting for average, he’s hitting for power, he’s been the steadiest hitter all season. Facing a shift just about every day, Prince has learned to hit against it, going the opposite way many a time. He leads the AL in multiple hit games. And, as mentioned earlier, he manned up and became the primary DH because he saw that Mitch Moreland’s D gives the team a better chance to win.
On the pitching front, Colby Lewis, Nick Martinez and Keone Kela all get nods. Lewis has possibly been even better than he was in the Rangers’ World Series years. Usually one of the league leaders in home runs allowed, he’s only given up three in 8 starts. In 50 innings he has 41 K’s, outstanding for a pitcher whose fastball seldom tops 90 on the radar guns. All this on a resurfaced hip. Colby pitched in pain for years. Now he probably wishes he’d done the procedure sooner.
Martinez was hands down the AL’s best pitcher in April, posting a sub 1.00 ERA. He’s struggled in his last few starts but still sports a 3-0 record with a 1.88 ERA. Pretty good for a guy who had never pitched above AA when forced into the Rangers plans a year ago. Martinez was below average a year ago, expected considering his situation, but posted a sub-3.00 ERA in 5 September starts. Seeing his success roll over to 2015 is great.
Keone Kela is a rookie who’s performed well in every role the Rangers have given him this year. He’s been used in long relief, short relief, in the middle of games and in high leverage late inning situations. Through it all, he’s put up a 3-1 record, 2.25 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 20 innings. Only 22 years old, Kela is already thought of as a future closer in another year or two.
With three-fourths of the season still ahead, everyone has time to improve back to expected levels. Still, two of the biggest disappointments are infielders.
Everyone had high hopes for second baseman Rougned Odor following a rookie campaign in which the 21-year-old hit a respectable .259 with 9 home runs and 48 RBI. This writer projected Odor for about .270 this season with 14 home runs and 70 RBI. Instead, he laid a big egg. The league adjusted to Odor and he didn’t adjust back. With a .144 average after 29 games, Texas sent Odor to AAA Round Rock to get his game back. He’ll likely be back no later than the All-Star break (and already has 3 Home Runs for the Express) but nobody expected him to get sent down either, so who knows?
Meanwhile, his teammate Elvis Andrus has everyone worried. Never a great hitter, Elvis is regressing so far again this year, checking in at this writing at .224 with a homer and 11 RBI. After spending most of his career as the #2 hitter in the line-up, Andrus shows up at #6 more often than not these days. Once he’s on base, he only has 5 steals in 8 eight attempts. This would all be acceptable if he played defense the way he’s known to, but even that is regressing. Elvis has nine errors in the season’s first 41 games and should have gotten tagged with his 10th in a game against the Red Sox this week. Put it all together and you have a MINUS 0.5 WAR. That’s right, Elvis is now considered a BELOW REPLACEMENT LEVEL player! This from a guy who averaged over 4 WAR from 2011 to 2013. Oh yeah and a new long-term contract just kicked in this year. The only thing saving Elvis right now is the Rangers feeling they don’t have an everyday shortstop down on the farm. I think the problem is mental. In the World Series years, the Rangers were full of leaders and Elvis could just enjoy playing baseball. Now he’s a veteran and maybe expected to do more and he’s letting it get to him. If he doesn’t hit, fine. But Elvis, you’ve got to get your D back!
On the pitching side, I could say Neftali Feliz is a disappointment but he’s never regained his velocity since Tommy John surgery. For me, the biggest pitching disappointment is Yovani Gallardo. Sure, he’s a bit removed from his days fronting the Brewers rotation. But I didn’t expect him to have so many command issues. Gallardo is 3-6 with a somewhat respectable 4.26 ERA but it seems every start is a struggle for him. I’ve gotten used to Eric Nadel describing the action on the radio and hearing an opposing batter has worked the count to 3-2 on Gallardo. He’s only allowed 15 walks but every batter feels like a long battle. While he’s not a heat thrower, Gallardo is reminding me of Rich Harden in 2010, where you just prayed the at bat would end soon. He’s averaging less than 6 innings a start and he’s the guy who’s needed as the “ace” with Holland and Darvish out. When acquired, Gallardo got pencilled in as the #3 starter. He’s pitched like more of a #4 than the #1 or 2 results the Rangers need from him now.
That’s the first quarter report card. Overall grade: C-
I figure on average, fans think their baseball teams are about ten wins better than the number of wins they end the season with. Even fans who know their teams will be terrible figure they can’t suck as badly as they eventually show us they do. On the other end of the spectrum, one only has to look at teams that win 100 games a year routinely, as the Yankees did in the early 2000’s, to know that their fans thought they should have won 110 games every year, if not more. This is really the “Backseat Manager” effect, that strange affliction that tells us we could do a better job managing our team than the current man in the position.
All this as preface to this Rangers fan still thinking, even without Yu Darvish, his team still is capable of being an 85 win team. The odds are great that they won’t get to 85. The bullpen beginning the season is nothing to brag about. The offense has the core back from injury but not enough depth to deal with any injuries to that core again. The starting rotation is actually the strong point despite the loss of their ace. It’s certainly a stronger rotation front to back than the one the Rangers rolled out most nights in 2014. Yeah, 85 wins seems a tad optimistic, but dang it, that’s the potential this team has.
Even if I’m ten wins off, 75 wins is a darn sight better than Bruce Bukiet thinks Texas will do. I should say what Bukiet’s mathematical model says they will do. Bukiet has the skins. He’s a mathematician who also runs a gambling analysis website. His winner’s picks have been pretty accurate. Here’s what CBS News wrote about Bukiet’s predictions last year and the chart of this year’s picks:
“Before the start of the 2014 season, Bukiet correctly predicted that Detroit would go on to win the American League Central, the Dodgers would win the National League West, St. Louis would win the Central and Washington would win the NL East.”
What I quibble with is not the top but the bottom of the standings. Bukiet’s mathematical model says the Rangers will finish 64-98 in 2015. Let that sink in. 64 wins. The Rangers of a year ago won 67 games, most of them without Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, Derek Holland and Mitch Moreland. Darvish missed about the last quarter of the season and Jurickson Profar, the expected second baseman, played zero games. Zero.
Fielder is back this year, as is Choo and Moreland. Holland is here for the whole season. Colby Lewis has a year’s experience on his new hip and was visibly better in the second half of 2014 than the first half. Nick Martinez and Rougned Odor are two sophomores with a year of experience under their belts.
In other words, barring injury (and every pre-season prediction doesn’t consider injury), the Rangers offense is better than it was a year ago, the starting rotation is better than it was a year ago. The bullpen begins the year sketchy but the reinforcements on the DL are not expected out for long.
Maybe my 85 win hopes are ten games better than they’ll probably finish, but Bukiet’s 64 win prediction? No way.
Texas-Oakland kicks off the season Monday night. Time to forget last year and make this year count.
One week from Opening Day and the Opening Day roster is starting to take shape for the Texas Rangers.
Gone are non-roster veterans Ryan Ludwick and Nate Shierholtz. Nick Tepesch and Anthony Ranaudo will not appear in the starting rotation. At this point, only the utility infield position is available on the offensive side and three bullpen slots are open.
Here’s what the Rangers are looking like so far:
1B Prince Fielder
2B Rougned Odor
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
C Robinson Chirinos
C Carlos Corporan
DH Mitch Moreland
LF Ryan Rua
LF Jake Smolinski
CF Leonys Martin
RF Shin-Soo Choo
OF Delino DeShields, Jr.
The only minor surprise here is DeShields making the team as the 5th outfielder. A Rule 5 pick who’s never played above Double A, DeShields’ speed ended up being the deciding factor that sent the more powerful Ludwick and Shierholtz to pondering what to do next with their careers.
The only remaining offensive position open is utility infielder. Adam Rosales is still the favorite to get that slot. He’s had a good camp and was a good complementary piece a year ago. Yet there are still 4 utility infield candidates still in camp: Rosales, Ed Lucas, Elliot Johnson and Tommy Field. Field has been a slight surprise. The former Texas State athlete has played in just about every game in spring training and shown some pop with two home runs. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the LA Angels, but got released by both the Angels and the Pirates last year. I still don’t think Field makes the club but will instead be the starting second baseman at AAA Round Rock. I do think if Rougned Odor has a sophomore slump that Field would become a consideration as a starting replacement instead of Rosales, who would stay in a utility role. Lucas and Johnson? They’ll probably be released and signed just before Opening Day by another club.
Over to the pitchers. Here’s your Rangers rotation:
Martinez won the 5th starter slot on the basis of a strong spring 0.84 ERA, capped off by six scoreless innings in his last start. He ended 2014 strong and came out firing bullets in ’15. Tepesch, who also spent most of last season in Texas, showed the same tendencies that have dogged him in his career thus far. Great the first time through the order, considerably more hittable the second and third times through. He still has a shot at making the team in long relief, where he’d only need to face a line-up one time through.
The bullpen is more problematic. There are seven openings and thus far, these are the only sure bets:
Neftali Feliz (closer)
Tanner Scheppers (8th inning)
Shawn Tolleson (7th inning)
Freeman is a southpaw just picked up from the Cardinals. Before his acquisition, rookie Alex Claudio was the only lefty remaining in camp and he was starting to have troubles against left-handed batters in games. Freeman has a few years in the bigs under his belt and has a bullpen slot even though he just joined the team.
As for the other three slots? It’s anyone’s guess. A good case can be made for rookie Keone Kela, who has yet to give up a run in 8.1 innings this spring. He’s allowed only two hits and struck out 10. Other candidates are Tepesch (10.38) ERA, Jon Edwards (1.69, 17 K’s in 10.2 IP), Phil Klein (9.00 ERA), Kyuji Fujikawa (1.35 ERA), Lisalverto Bonilla (9.00 ERA) and Anthony Bass (9.00 ERA). Ross Ohlendorf (0.00 ERA, 1 hit and 11 K’s in 5.1 IP) will have a role with the Rangers, but minor injuries will keep him off the active roster Opening Day. Rangers brass hope he’ll be ready by May.
The bullpen doesn’t sound very impressive, but most teams don’t know how good their bullpen truly is for at least the first third of the season. You can also bet at least one waiver claim will bring someone new to the roster and at least one other slot becomes interchangeable with a shuttle going back and forth from Arlington to Round Rock.
Seven days left to Opening Day. It can’t get here soon enough.
By now, even the average baseball fan is aware that Texas Rangers ace Yu Darvish is, at minimum, out for at least half the season with a strained ulnar collateral ligament and more likely gone for the season and headed for Tommy John surgery.
The response was immediate and expected from the Rangers faithful: already the 2015 season is gone. Kaput. Doomed. A 67-95 team already down its best pitcher? How could the response be any different?
How about this for a response: Losing Darvish most certainly DOES hurt but it doesn’t mean the Rangers should automatically be picked to occupy the AL West cellar for the second consecutive year.
All one has to do is compare this year’s Rangers pitching staff to the one that began the 2014 season to feel just a little bit better about things. Remember, a year, the Rangers already knew Derek Holland was already out until after the All-Star break at the earliest. Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison weren’t penciled into the rotation until the end of April at the earliest. Then Darvish himself came down with a stiff neck and got scratched from the Opening Day start as a precaution. Thus, we had a Rangers starting rotation of Tanner Scheppers, Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez. Perez was beginning just his second major league season, Ross and Scheppers were transitioning from the bullpen and Martinez had never pitched above the AA level before. The rotation member with the most major league service was Saunders and everyone knew he was a #5 starter at best.
Compare that to the expected rotation without Darvish to start 2015- Derek Holland, Yovani Gallardo, Colby Lewis, Ross Detwiler and one of Martinez, Nick Tepesch and Anthony Ranaudo, obtained from the Red Sox for Robbie Ross. Or none of those three could be #5, replaced by Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez, the Rangers’ #3 prospect behind Joey Gallo and Jorge Alfaro. Gonzalez threw three shutout innings against the A’s just today (3/9) in an exhibition game.
When the news on Darvish came down, a lot of doom and gloom came down from fans, particularly on Twitter. Sure, it was understandable but those fans didn’t expect this: Derek Holland replied to some of them. Dutch basically said, “Oh, so the other 24 members of the team don’t matter?” “You think the rest of us should just give up?” It was a great response, especially from Holland.
Dutch has always had a label: good stuff, inconsistent and he’s a goof. Anyone who’s paid attention to Holland since he came back from knee microsurgery in September last year should note the difference in the public Derek Holland. He still likes to have fun but he’s also let everyone know how he isn’t satisfied how his career has gone so far (51-38 with a 4.38 ERA). Dutch was often scolded by former manager Ron Washington when he let his focus slide. Now you hear him talking about stepping up and being the ace if he has to, how he’s striving for more consistency. If Holland’s performance changes and matches the new intensity he’s showing, Rangers fans could be in for a very big surprise this season.
Add to Dutch the newly acquired Yovani Gallardo. He’s an innings eater, a former ace and someone whose new focus on getting groundouts instead of strikeouts plays right into Globe Life Park. Colby Lewis showed in the season’s second half he’ll be the same reliable starter he was in 2010 and 2011. Detwiler was a decent 9-8, 3.58 as a starter for the Nationals in 2012.
Without Darvish, the Rangers rotation will never be confused as one of the best in the American League. It won’t even be the best in the AL West. It is, however, still better than the rotation the Rangers threw out there most of the 2014 season.
That’s right, 15 different pitchers got at least one start for the Rangers in 2014. If a member of the rotation never misses a start, he’s on track to make 32 or 33 starts. For Texas, not a single starter managed even 30 starts and the pitcher who had the most starts, 29, didn’t even play in 2013, was coming back from hip replacement surgery and posted a 6.54 ERA after his first 16 starts.
Yes, 2014 was a disaster from the get go for the Rangers pitching staff. It began before Spring Training even arrived, with Derek Holland messing up his knee in a home accident involving a flight of stairs and his dog. Thanks to a stiff neck, ace Yu Darvish got scratched from the Opening Day assignment and replaced by Tanner Scheppers, making his first ever major league start. Among the names getting a start in 2014 were Robbie Ross (12), Miles Mikolas (10), Scott Baker (8), Joe Saunders (8), Lisalverto Bonilla (3), Jerome Williams (2) and Phil Irvin (1).
More well-known names started but fell by the wayside. Second-year Martin Perez threw back to back complete game shutouts in April, then went down for the dreaded Tommy John surgery in May. Matt Harrison appeared on the comeback trail from back issues and thoracic outlet surgery, but lasted only four starts before back issues resurfaced. His career is in jeopardy. Lastly, Darvish began experiencing elbow discomfort and wound up making only 22 starts before calling it a season.
So why is there so much hope in Arlington this year? Believe it or not, it starts with starting pitching. A year ago, the lack of depth in the minors contributed to the poor performance of the pitching staff. This year, two guys who made over 20 starts for Texas a year ago aren’t even sure if they’ll make the team for the Season Opener. Here’s the rotation as we know it:
There’s no question Darvish is the ace of the staff. On any given night, there’s the potential for greatness. Darvish has the biggest arsenal of pitches most anyone has seen. At any given time, a hitter can expect one of 8 to 10 different types of pitches. Yu is temperamental and will often shelve a pitch for good in the first inning if he feels it isn’t working that day. Still, he’s good for 15 wins or more for the season.
It was Dutch who suffered the first injury going into 2014. If the results he showed upon his return in September continue in 2015, this could be a special year for the lefthander. Holland made five starts down the stretch in 2014 and posted a 2-0 record with a 1.46 ERA, going seven innings in four of the five starts and giving up two earned runs or less in all of them. Holland has been inconsistent throughout his big league career but his 4-0 win over the Cardinals in Game 4 of the 2011 World Series ranks as one of the best performances in Rangers history. He’s got the stuff. By all accounts, last year’s injury has upped his desire. If Derek gets consistency, he could easily add another 15 wins to the Rangers total.
Gallardo is the new kid in town, a guy who lives in Fort Worth in the off-season and now truly gets to plays his home games at home. Gallardo is an innings eater and, as he’s gotten older, has become more of a ground ball pitcher than a strikeout machine. Ask Matt Harrison and CJ Wilson how that ground ball thing works out in Arlington. There’s reason for excitement about having at least a year of Gallardo (he becomes a free agent at season’s end). He was once the ace of the Milwaukee Brewers staff. Now he’s a #3. That’s something to feel good about.
It’s incredible to believe that Colby Lewis led the Rangers staff in starts with 29 in 2014. As mentioned above, this is a guy who didn’t even play a game in 2013. After blowing out an elbow near the end of the 2012 season, Lewis’ arthritic hip added to his woes, finally getting to the point where his career was in jeopardy. After getting his hip shaved, Lewis began a long rehab process. As much as a thank you for his contributions during the World Series years as anything, Lewis got the chance to rehab in the minors. Who knew the injuries on the big league club would bring him back to Texas in mid-April. The results weren’t good the first half of the season. Just looking at box scores and statistics, one might think Lewis merely suffered from bad luck from the BABIP gods but those of us actually watching the games knew differently. Colby got shelled often. His pitches weren’t fooling anyone and he wasn’t hitting his spots. Remember, though, this is a guy who was still getting used to pitching without pain when putting pressure on the hip. Once he started getting used to it, the results were outstanding. From July 19 on, Lewis was only 4-8 but his ERA was 3.86. The BABIP through July 18 was .410. The rest of the way it was .267. Now Texas has the fully rehabbed Lewis for a full season and as their #4 starter instead of #2.
#5: Up For Grabs
This is the reason for optimism about the Rangers. A former #1 is now a #3, the former #2 is now the #4 and two of the guys fighting for the last spot were the #3 and #4 pitchers a year ago. This bodes well for the Rangers. It certainly gives them more depth than they had a year ago. Nick Tepesch (5-11, 4.36) and Nick Martinez (5-12, 4.55) are the incumbents. Martinez was here by necessity a year ago after never having pitched above AA all year. Despite staying all year, he’d surely benefit by at least beginning the year at AAA. For Tepesch, this is his third year with the Rangers. He needs to show improvement, particularly in facing the opposition batting order the second and third time. He still has at least one option so he could also go to AAA for a while. Martinez and Tepesch will compete with Lisalverto Bonilla, who pitched decently in three starts, newcomers Ross Detwiler (Nationals) and Anthony Ranaudo (Red Sox) and possibly top prospect Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Some have Gonzalez pegged as a possible surprise winner, but GM Jon Daniels would like to get him some more seasoning and not rush him. Before the first exhibition game is in the books, Detwiler and Tepesch are the likely front-runners.
In The Wings
He isn’t available until after the All-Star break at the earliest but Martin Perez will be ready to pitch again this season. Meanwhile, there’s no telling what will happen with Matt Harrison. Nobody has ever attempted to return from the type of back surgery he had. Harrison could come back or his career could be over. If it’s the latter, he can retire knowing he was a vital part of two World Series teams.
No matter how you slice it, this is a much deeper starting rotation than the Rangers had a year ago. It may not stack up in quality to the Mariners rotation or even the A’s but it has the potential of being a very good staff, not to mention one able to withstand an injury or two.
Every Monday, this space names the Texas Rangers Stars of the Week. These are the guys who went above and beyond during the previous week. Each week two position players and one pitcher get special mentions. For position players, there’s a Star of the Week for a full week’s performance and one recognizing an outstanding single game. The pitching Star of the Week could be either.
Robinson Chirinos is making a claim to start most of the games as catcher while Geovany Soto is on the mend.While this award is for a single game, Chirinos actually had two outstanding games during the week. In Tuesday’s 10-7 win over the Boston Red Sox, Chirinos led off the third with a towering home run over the Green Monster to stake the Rangers to a 1-0 lead. It was the start of a 5-run uprising in the inning. Chirinos also added the last RBI of the inning when he walked with the bases loaded. In the fifth, with Texas up 8-1, Chirinos led off with a double and later scored the ninth run of the game. That’s the OFFICIAL game Chirinos gets Star of the Week for. As an honorable mention, Friday’s and Sunday’s twin 1-0 wins over the Astros both featured Chirinos prominently. In Friday’s 12-inning nail biter, Chirinos provided the 12th-inning single that plated the only run of the game in walk-off fashion. Sunday it was time for his defense to shine, as the Rangers catcher threw out two would-be Houston base stealers, helping Martin Perez earn his second win of the season. Below is Chirinos’ home run in the Boston game:
Kevin Kouzmanoff was the last man NOT to make the Texas Rangers 25-man squad out of Spring Training. The only reason he didn’t make the team was because he was strictly a corner infielder, while Texas needed someone like Josh Wilson, who could play three infield positions. When Adrian Beltre went down with a tight quadriceps muscle in Tuesday’s win over the Red Sox, Texas summoned Kouzmanoff from AAA Round Rock in a hurry. Despite not having played in the majors in almost three years, Kouzmanoff got off to a quick start for the Rangers, getting hits in each of his first four games with Texas. Kooz actually has a six game big-league hitting streak going now, with a 900+ day gap between games two and three of the streak! For the week, he hit .417 with a double and RBI. With Sunday’s announcement of Beltre going on the disabled list retroactive to Wednesday 4/9, Kouzmanoff will be the Rangers starting third baseman for the next week and a half minimum. If he continues to play the way he has the first four games, not only does it help the Rangers short-term, it will make it hard for Jon Daniels to send him back to Round Rock once Beltre is back.
Originally, Yu Darvish was my winner for the second consecutive week for his dominant effort against the Astros, where he threw one-hit ball at the Astros over eight innings, striking out nine. Then along came Martin Perez on Sunday. To be sure, Darvish had a “better” game than Perez but the 23-year-old was just as spectacular against a woeful offensive attack from Houston. Plus, unlike Darvish, Perez got credited with the win. In his third start of the season, Perez went eight strong innings, giving up no runs on five hits and three walks with two strikeouts. The young lefty also started resembling southpaws who have come before him over the past few years in Texas, Matt Harrison and C.J. Wilson. Both were among the league leaders in getting hitters to ground into double plays. Over his past two starts, Perez has induced nine double plays including four by the Astros in Sunday’s game. Add in the two caught stealing by Robinson Chirinos and Perez never allowed an Astros baserunner to get into scoring position. Click here to see highlights of the Perez win.
The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be
Texas went 3-3 the second week, treading water while dealing with their injury woes. Texas went 1-2 in Boston against the Red Sox, while winning two of three from the Astros at home. The offense has struggled mightily since Beltre went down as shown by the two 1-0 games against the lowly Astros. With no Beltre, Houston intentionally walked Prince Fielder three times over the weekend. Fielder has yet to hit a home run as a Rangers player, though he stung the ball hard both Saturday and Sunday. The once-feared Rangers power attack has only managed five home runs in the first 12 games. That HAS to improve or treading water will soon become an extended losing streak, no matter how great the pitching.
The Rangers are at home all week with four games against division-rival Seattle and three against the Chicago White Sox. The biggest highlight of the week is Wednesday night’s game, when Yu Darvish squares off against Felix Hernandez. Darvish has thrown 15 scoreless innings thus far (15 innings in which the Rangers have not scored a run for him either), while Hernandez has struck out 30 batters in his first 21 1/3 innings. Also on tap: the return of Colby Lewis, who throws the opener against the Mariners tonight. Lewis hasn’t pitched in the majors since July 18th, 2012. He’s not only coming back from elbow surgery but also a hip resurfacing procedure. Nobody knows whether Lewis will have the stamina to go every fifth day for the rest of the season, let alone if he can still pitch effectively in the big leagues. Nobody has ever tried coming back from hip resurfacing in baseball before. What we do know is, based on how he performed in the World Series years for Texas, Globe Life Park will be rocking tonight and Lewis is sure to get an incredible reception from the fans when he strides to the mound in the top of the first.
Oddity of the Week
Elvis Andrus got ejected from Sunday’s game for arguing a called third strike at the end of the third inning. As a result, from the top of the fourth until the top of the ninth, when Alexi Ogando came in to record the save, Texas for the first time fielded a line-up containing NO players from the Rangers’ 2011 World Series team.
The Rangers’ minor league teams uniformly got off to slow starts but Thursday’s games saw all four full-season teams secure wins, the first time all four have won in the same day. Even then, there was good and bad news. On the good side, last year’s first-round pick, second baseman Travis Demeritte, cranked his second and third home runs of the season for the Hickory Crawdads. Hickory entered the game hitting in the .180’s as a team but managed to improve their BA to above the Mendoza line with nine hits overall, including Demeritte’s two dingers. Also on the good side was Myrtle Beach’s third baseman Joey Gallo. At 19, Gallo is among the top power hitters in all the minors. After a slow start at the plate, yesterday Gallo unleashed a 4 for 4 day for the Pelicans including a double and his first two High-A home runs. If Gallo can cut down on his strikeouts, he could be a major league presence for years to come.
The negative side of the ledger came from the pitching staffs. Luke Jackson, one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects, had a bad game, giving up seven runs in only 3 1/3 innings for the AA Frisco RoughRiders. Even more troublesome was the performance by Cody Buckel of Myrtle Beach. Just a year ago, Buckel was not only one of the Rangers’ top pitching prospects, he also made his first appearance in the big-league camp in Spring Training. All of a sudden, Buckel picked up a case of what they call the “yips”. Suddenly, he lost all command on his pitches. In the minors, Buckel exhibited great control. Now he was walking batters, hitting batters and struggling to find the strike zone. He got shut down in AA after several ineffective starts. He popped up late in the season in the Arizona Summer League but got shut down again after things didn’t get any better.
This spring, Buckel was back and, while he was a bit on the wild side, he did seem to have improved his command. Buckel had worked with pitching coaches and sports psychologists and looked like he was on the road back. Texas started him at High-A Myrtle Beach this year. His first start showed the strides he had made when he allowed only one hit and no runs in four innings of work. Yes, he walk four in four innings but insiders said he had command of some of his pitches.
In his second start, though, it was like none of the improvements had ever happened. After getting the first two outs with relative ease, Buckel walked the next four batters to plate a run before getting a groundout to end the first. When he opened the second inning by walking the first two batters then hit the third to load the bases, Buckel’s night ended. One inning, one run, six walks, a hit batter and no strikeouts. I’ve rooted for Buckel to come back. They say his stuff is great. But something has happened to him and it’s iffy whether he’ll ever return to the prospect he once was.
The good news is Adrian Beltre has just a mild quad strain so he isn’t expected to miss substantial time. The bad news is we still don’t know if he’ll be placed on the 15-day DL anyway. The Rangers plan to give Beltre the weekend before deciding what to do. The only thing we know is he won’t play in the home series with the Astros this weekend. Expect Kevin Kouzmanoff as the Rangers’ starting third baseman this weekend. Not placing Beltre on the DL this weekend means the long-awaited return of Colby Lewis won’t happen for a few more days. Lewis was originally slated to start Saturday’s game. With Beltre NOT on the DL, Lewis graciously agreed to push back his return to the Rangers until Monday or Tuesday (he had an out in his contract that would have allowed him to declare free agency if he wasn’t on the Texas roster by Thursday 4/10). For a team already missing Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto, losing a third starter, especially the likes of Beltre, would be a crippling blow. Here’s hoping he’ll be back in the line-up Monday when the Mariners come to town.
BAD “D” IN BIG D
One of the biggest red flags after the first nine games is the Texas defense. It was expected there would be some weakening of the Rangers D in 2014. Prince Fielder isn’t as good a defender at first as Mitch Moreland and Ian Kinsler was a pretty good defender at second when he was a Rangers player. What wasn’t expected was Texas committing eleven errors in the first nine games, easily the worst mark in the major leagues. Even more shocking, six of those eleven errors have been by the most reliable defenders in a Rangers uniform, Elvis Andrus and Adrian Beltre. One of the three errors on each of them can partially be blamed on Fielder’s inability to pick up a short-hop throw. The other two are strictly on them. Andrus in particular got shut down for the last couple of weeks in Spring Training with a sore arm. I think we’re seeing the result of that layoff. As for Beltre, one of the best third basemen in the game, I hope this early showing isn’t a sign of his reflexes starting to slow down at age 35. Only time will tell.
The Rangers begin a 10-game homestand this weekend against the Houston Astros. Texas was 17-2 against Houston a year ago. The Astros are a little improved, ie they could win 70 games this year instead of 60, so 17-2 might give way to 14-5 this year. Still, if Beltre is going to miss a series, this is the one he can most afford to miss. Texas has two of their most trustworthy pitchers, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez, going in the three game set, so winning at least two of the three is realistic.
MAJORS: Houston (4-6) at Texas (4-5)
AAA: Colorado Springs (Rockies 4-4) at Round Rock (RANGERS 5-3)
AA: Frisco (RANGERS 3-4) at NW Arkansas (Royals 2-5)
High-A: Myrtle Beach (RANGERS 3-4) at Wilmington (Royals 2-5)
Low-A: Asheville (Rockies 4-4) at Hickory (RANGERS 5-3)