Tagged: Michael Choice

Looking Ahead To 2015: Bench

In 2011, Andres Blanco was Mr. Irrelevant. Blanco, signed at the end of Spring Training in 2010, was just what the Rangers needed in their first World Series run. Second baseman Ian Kinsler was on the disabled list on two separate occasions and, especially the second time, Blanco played steady defense and contributed some key hits as the Rangers steamrolled their way to an AL West title, their first since 1999.

In 2011, Blanco was still around, but Kinsler stayed healthy, as did shortstop Elvis Andrus. Blanco was with the club the entire season but played in only 36 games, only half of which were starts, getting only 76 at bats the entire season and, in one stretch, went 25 says between game appearances. The Rangers sported a potent 11-player line-up that year. Michael Young acted as a “Super Utility” player and Blanco’s services were seldom needed. He was not even placed on the post-season roster, though he did get a share of the post-season money.

Fast forward now to 2015. Our last spotlight looks at the Rangers bench. Like most teams, Texas will have four men on the bench to start every game. Once upon a time, teams carried 15 offensive players and 10 pitchers on the 25-man roster. This was back in the day of the 4-man rotation and before the era of the Designated Hitter. Now most teams have 12 man pitching staffs, leaving room for only 13 hitters.

For most teams, the bench consists of a second catcher, a utility infielder and two outfielders. The only position definitely filled on the Rangers bench is Carlos Corporan as the second catcher. His acquisition from Houston was for the express purpose of being Robinson Chirinos’ back-up. Beyond Corporan, the picture is murky. Here are some of the contenders:

Infield

If there’s such a thing as a utility incumbent, it would be Adam Rosales. He provided some pop with the bat and can play just about any position on the infield. Last year, he offered up a .262/.328/.378 slash line with 4 home runs in 56 games. Rosales won’t just be given the job, though. There are several other contenders out there looking to grab the pine for more than 50% of the Rangers’ games. There’s Kyle Blanks, a corner infielder/outfielder who showed promising power for the Padres but injuries have slowed him down the last few years. He’s already behind the other players in camp as he’s still getting over issues with both feet. Elliot Johnson has played with Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Atlanta and Cleveland in five major league seasons. He offers more speed on the basepaths than Rosales. In 2013 he was successful on 22 of 24 steal attempts and twice swiped 43 in the minors. Ed Lucas is another candidate. Just two years ago he played in 94 games with the Miami Marlins, and in both of his seasons there played all four infield positions as well as a few games in the outfield. His versatility gives him a shot. In fact, all three candidates here have played both the infield and the outfield in their major league careers, but it’s likely they won’t play much in the outfield. A very longshot candidate would be Tommy Field, a minor league free agent pick-up who played college ball for Texas State in San Marcos. Field has had a couple of cups of coffee in the bigs with Colorado and the Los Angeles Angels but doesn’t offer the versatility, having never played first base. His signing was more for minor league depth than a serious look at helping the big league club.

Outfield

This got covered a lot in the look at the left field battle. As mentioned in that post, there are no less than ten candidates vying for the left field starter position and there’s no doubt the 4th and 5th outfielders will come from that group. You can read that post here. Since the Rangers were so injury-prone a year ago, I’m guessing the Rangers brass would really like to see the positions filled by the home-grown talent that hasn’t had injury issues, such as Michael Choice and Ryan Rua, both of whom could outright win the left field battle. Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields Jr. is in the mix as his Rule 5 status requires him to be with the club all year or be offered back to the Astros for $25,000. Ryan Ludwick’s recovery from shoulder issues also will play a factor. Again, the club wants reasonable assurances of health so Ludwick has to show he is a productive and healthy player again. Jake Smolinski is also in the mix.

Conclusion

The question is, what is Jeff Bannister looking for in his club? If he thinks the Rangers’ best chances to win include speed, Elliot Johnson and Delino DeShields both have great opportunities to earn roster spots. If Banny wants for bang from the bats, the likes of Rosales, Choice and Ludwick become the favorites. And don’t count out another player getting signed at the end of Spring Training to put all of them out of a job. It’s how Blanco and Matt Treanor became Rangers in 2010 and it could happen again in 2015.

One nice thing to add to the Rangers bench without costing an offensive roster spot? Yovani Gallardo, the #3 starter acquired from the Brewers, is a good hitting pitcher, with 12 home runs in an 8-year career. He loves to hit and Bannister will almost certainly use him as a pinch hitter on occasion. Not many American League teams have that luxury.

Advertisements

Looking Ahead To 2015: Left Field

“Get your scorecards here! You can’t tell the players without your scorecard. Get your scorecards here!”

Once Spring Training gets underway for Texas Rangers position players, even the coaching staff is likely to need a scorecard to unravel the players competing for the left field job in 2015. The odds are excellent no single player will truly win the job. Far more likely is two players will serve as a platoon most of the time unless or until someone gets the hot hand in mid-season and wins the right to play full-time.

First, a recap of last year and it resembles the mess that begins this season. Eight different players were left fielders for the Rangers in 2014. Shin-Soo Choo led the way with 63 games in left, but he moves to right field this year. Also seeing playing time in left, in descending order of games played, were Michael Choice, Daniel Robertson, Jim Adduci, Ryan Rua, Jake Smolinski, Mitch Moreland and Mike Carp. Of that group, Robertson, Adduci and Carp are no longer around.

Ryan Rua

Ryan Rua

Still around, though, are four players: Choice, Rua, Smolinski, and Moreland. BUT THAT’S NOT ALL, FOLKS! They’ll be joined in Spring Training by Rule 5 pick Delino DeShields and non-roster invitees Ryan Ludwick, Nate Shierholtz, Antoan Richardson, Carlos Peguero and Jared Hoying. What does this tell you? The Rangers front office is not 100% sold on any single player for left field. It’s a wide open competition. Here’s where each of them likely stand.

Ryan Rua

Rua is the “front-runner” for the job, mostly on the basis that he was the starter in left field in Game 162 in 2014. A 17th round pick, Rua could become the third Rangers’ 17th rounder to make a name for himself in the big leagues, joining Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland. He began to turn heads in the organization in 2013 when he mashed 29 homers for Class A Myrtle Beach, whose park is NOT conducive to home runs, then adding another 3 in 95 plate appearance cup of coffee with AA Frisco. The power wasn’t as prevalent in 2014, but he hit .300 with 10 home runs in half a season with Frisco, then .313 with 8 home runs in 58 games at AAA Round Rock before getting the call to Arlington just before September roster expansion. With the Rangers, he hit .295 in 28 games with 2 home runs and 11 RBI. Rua has hit at every level and had a positive defensive WAR. Though he largely played second base in the minors, he’s got some experience in left field.

Michael_Choice

Michael Choice

Michael Choice

All things considered, if I had a wish for one person to lay claim to left field, the choice would be Choice. Nothing against Rua. The difference is power. Michael Choice has more home run potential in his bat than Rua and outside of Prince Fielder, there’s no other Rangers player with 30 home run potential than Choice, at least until Joey Gallo shows up. Choice outright won the right field job in Spring Training last year after being acquired in a straight up trade that sent popular Craig Gentry to Oakland. A Dallas native, everyone was ready to love to former first round draft pick and he blew his first chance. He never got untracked at the plate, hit a paltry .182 with 9 home runs in 86 games (with a trip to Round Rock mid-season). His defense wasn’t good and Fangraphs had him listed with an overall NEGATIVE 2.1 WAR. Yep, he graded out at worse than replacement level. Still, he’s a former 1st round draft choice with pop in his bat. He will get another chance. We’ll see if he can seize it.

Mitch Moreland

Let’s not kid ourselves. Mitch Moreland will NOT be the regular left fielder. For the most part, he will serve as the Rangers designated hitter, so I will dwell on him in a later post. He is, however, going to see playing time in left field, maybe right field as well, but not as a regular.

Jake Smolinski

Jake Smolinski

Jake Smolinski

Smolinski is an interesting name to add to the mix. A former 2nd round draft pick of the Nationals, Jake signed with the Rangers as a minor league free agent after being released by the Marlins in 2013. Like Rua, Smolinski started 2014 at AA Frisco, earned a July promotion to the majors on the basis of a 10 HR, 43 RBI half season, hit .389 in 11 games before getting sent down to Round Rock when Jim Adduci returned from the DL, then returned to Texas in mid-September after rosters expanded. Overall, Smolinski contributed a .349/.391/.512 slash line to the Rangers with 3 HR and 12 RBI in 24 games. This, however, is considerably higher than the combined .267 he hit in 80 games for Frisco and Round Rock. Like Rua, he also had a low walk rate getting used to the major league strike zone. With stats so similar to Rua’s, the edge goes to the former just because he’s a year younger and thus has a little more upside. I have a feeling Smolinski will be part of a late spring trade that will bring either a utility infielder or a left-handed reliever to Texas.

Delino DeShields

Son of a former major leaguer, DeShields is a Rule V pick from the Houston Astros, which means he MUST be on the Rangers roster all year or he has to be offered back to the Astros for $25,000. That means DeShields will be given every opportunity to win the job of 4th or 5th outfielder. If nobody wins left field outright, the odds of DeShields getting a job go down substantially. The upside for DeShields is speed. In five minor league season, he’s swiped 241 bases. The downside is he’s never played above the AA level and has a “lazy” tag attached to him.

Ryan Ludwick

Ryan Ludwick

Ryan Ludwick

Ludwick is an interesting wild card here. A 12-year big league veteran, he’s only 3 years removed from a 26 home run, 80 RBI season with the Cincinnati Reds. He also once hit 37 home runs for the Cardinals. A shoulder injury in 2013 cost him a lot of his power. If he can find that power stroke again in camp, Ludwick could grab the job outright.

Nate Schierholtz

Schierholtz has played exclusively in the National league for the Giants, Cubs, Phillies and Nationals, putting up a career .253/.302/.405 line with 52 home runs. Rangers fans saw him in the 2010 World Series with the Giants. Last year was pertty forgettable for Nate, as he hit a combined .195 for the Cubs and Nationals in 122 games. A longshot at best to make the squad.

Carlos Peguero, Antoan Richardson, Jared Hoying

I’m lumping the last three together because their chances of sticking with the Rangers for the Season Opener are even more doubtful than Schierholtz. Over four seasons, Peguero has never played more than 46 games at the big league level. He’s got some pop in his bat, having hit 30 home runs for AAA Omaha last season but the odds are he’s one of those 4-A players, a AAA All-Star who just doesn’t translate to the big league level. Richardson has had two brief appearances in The Show, 4 at bats with the Braves in 2011 and 16 with the Yankees last year. He’s got little power to speak of but has 324 steals in 10 minor league seasons. If he makes the team it’s because DeShields didn’t and a lot of other people had bad springs. Hoying is a 10th round draft pick of the Rangers who became a minor league free agent and re-signed with the club. He got a non-roster invite as a courtesy after hitting 26 homers with 78 RBI for Round Rock last year. The homers were more than twice as many as he’d ever hit in a professional season. If Hoying is on the roster in April, things have gone horribly wrong for the Rangers.

A lot of people have the opportunity. Seeing how it all shakes out will be the most interesting story for the Rangers this spring.

The Friday/Saturday Sundry: 6/6/14

SO LONG AND WELCOME BACK

Another week, another Ranger lands on the disabled list. Alexi Ogando is the latest to join the walking wounded. Things have gotten so bad I’m fully expecting to hear that Luis Ortiz, the Rangers #1 pick in Thursday’s MLB

Alexi  Ogando, On The Shelf

Alexi Ogando, On The Shelf

Draft, will need to undergo Tommy John surgery the day after he signs with the club.

Still, the overall news of the week for the Rangers health is positive. Tanner Scheppers returned from the disabled list Thursday and got thrown right in the fire during the 8th inning of Texas’ 8-6 win over the Baltimore Orioles. Scheppers didn’t look particularly good, giving up a home run to Adam Jones, but he induced a double play to end the 8th with only the solo home run as damage. What was heartening to see was the bullpen line-up after Colby Lewis got pulled following five meh innings: Robbie Ross Jr., Scheppers and Joakim Soria. It was the first time this season the pen had a familiar ring to it. Ross Jr. pitched his best outing in weeks, throwing two shutout innings with no hits and picked up the win when Texas broke a 5-5 tie in the 7th.

Another piece of good news on the health front. Fifth outfielder Jim Adduci is likely to return from his DL stint this weekend against the Cleveland Indians. Adduci was off to a great start in 2014, going six for his first 13 with two doubles and three RBI when he broke his finger on the bag while sliding (or diving). While only the “fifth” outfielder, Adduci is definitely a step up from Daniel Robertson, who failed to tag up at third on a fly to right in Thursday’s game and cost the Rangers a run.

Word has it Neftali Feliz is close to returning to the bullpen as well so, believe it or not, the Rangers are actually getting healthier for a change.

 

 

"<strong

ANOTHER SERIES, ANOTHER FORMER RANGER RETURNS

Tuesday marked the return of Nelson Cruz to Arlington. Cruz hit a home run in Tuesday’s win over Texas but the Rangers held him in check the rest of the series. This weekend another favorite from the World Series teams returns. David Murphy was the fourth outfielder for most of his time in Texas but was the starter in left field in 2013. Now he’s back to being a 4th outfielder with the Indians and once again he’s thriving, hitting .280 with 5 home runs and 34 RBI. To put that in perspective, if Murph was still a Ranger, those numbers would lead the club in RBI and rank third in home runs.

 

CHOICE HEATING UP?

In the second inning of Thursday’s game against the Orioles, I tweeted that a Michael Choice hot streak would help the Rangers immensely. With Prince Fielder out for the season and Mitch Moreland stuck at two home runs, the Rangers have very little power outside of Adrian Beltre and Shin-Soo Choo. Choice is that potential power bat but he’s been hitting right around the Mendoza line all season long. As if he’d read my time line, Choice went deep for his fourth home run within minutes of that tweet and he added a double for good measure late in the game. Choice is not a great defensive player in the outfield so if he isn’t hitting he really isn’t doing much to help the club win. If Thursday’s game is any indication, Choice just might be getting the hang of this major league hitting thing. If so, the Rangers offense might start scoring runs more consistently.

 

Minor-League-BaseballDOWN ON THE FARM

This should probably wait a few days because there is likely a lot of movement in the Rangers minor league system coming over the next week or two. Still, I feel the need to point out the incredible season being put up by a couple of Rangers’ prospects. Joey Gallo is tearing up the High-A ranks with the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. Gallo is currently hitting .330 with 21 home runs and 50 RBI. Myrtle Beach is not a hitter’s park. In fact, the entire Myrtle beach roster hit only 64 home runs in the course of the entire season. Gallo is on a pace that would net him 2/3 of the entire 2013 team if he stayed with the Pelicans the whole season. That isn’t going to happen. Gallo may not even play in the Carolina League All-Star game. In just a matter of weeks if not days, expect Gallo at the AA level with the Frisco RoughRiders. The same could be said of Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez. Last year’s top draft pick is 5-2 with a 2.62 ERA in helping lead the Pelicans to a league best 40-18 record.

On the AA level, looking to get promoted soon is Luke Jackson. The righthander checks in at 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA and could find himself in AAA Round Rock soon. On the hitting side, if Gallo gets promoted as expected to play third base in Frisco, the current third baseman, Ryan Rua, already has a case for promotion to Round Rock as well. Rua is hitting a robust .313 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI. Round Rock would certainly welcome Rua and Jackson. The Express are easily the worst team in the Rangers minor league system record-wise, posting a 26-34 mark despite having a roster full of talent with major league experience. Maybe they’re mostly utility player/back of the rotation major league experienced but still, they’ve been to the Show and fans expected more from them.

Of all the players mentioned here, I think Jackson has a shot at being in Arlington before the end of the season. He may just be a September call-up, but he should get a shot before season’s end. Don’t look for Gallo in a major league uniform until the end of next season at the earliest.

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 4/28-5/4

Star of the WeekEvery 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.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

After the 3-game debacle that was the home series against the Oakland A’s, it was beginning to look doubtful the Rangers would have ANY Star Players of the Week in ANY department. The offense wasn’t hitting, the defense wasn’t playing well and the pitching was woeful. Then the Rangers took to the road to play the Los Angeles Angels and all was right with the world again. In taking two of three from the Angels, the Rangers not only got back on the winning track, the offense showed a few signs of life again. Even J.P. Arencibia got into the act Sunday with a two-hit performance that raised his batting average up to a whopping .116 (his OPS went from .271 to .420 in the game). Still the Single Game Star of the Week goes to one of the rookies in the line-up, Michael Choice. In Sunday’s 14-3 pasting of the Angels, Choice led a balanced offensive attack with two hits in five at bats, including a 3-run blast to left center that broke the game wide open. Choice ended the day with 4 RBI, giving him 12 for the season. The two honorable mentions for the week came from the same game as Choice’s winner. Prince Fielder had his first 3-hit game as a Ranger, with two doubles and 3 RBI. And the aforementioned Arencibia came within an eyelash of hitting a grand slam his first time up, only to have the ball caught in a leaping grab at the fence. Had that one cleared, the Rangers catcher would have sat on a 3-hit, 2-home run, 6 RBI game. Baseball is a game of inches, though, and seeing as that first ball was inches short, Choice gets the award by inches.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

In the series at Oakland, Shin-Soo Choo went down with a badly sprained ankle trying to beat out an infield hit and proceeded to miss the next six games. What Choo has done since returning to the Rangers line-up is nothing short of sensational. In the just-completed series with the Angels, Choo came to the plate 15 times and reached base 12 of those 15 times. That’s an On Base Percentage of .800 over a 3-game stretch. For the week, Choo went 8-16 at the plate with a home run and 3 RBI. He also walked six times, two of those intentionally, was hit by a pitch twice, stole a base and scored four runs. For the week, Choo hit .500 with a .667 OBP and an OPS (On-Base plus Slugging Percentage) of 1.354. If The 2-3-4 hitters in the Rangers order (Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder) start producing the way they have in the past, this Rangers line-up will be plenty dangerous in the weeks and months to come.

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

After the Oakland series it was doubtful the Pitching Star of the Week was going to come from the starting rotation. Yu Darvish had the shortest outing of his MLB career on Monday and started his second start of the week against the Angels by giving up solo home runs to two of the first three hitters he faced. Previous 2-time winner Martin Perez came down to earth by a patient A’s line-up that ballooned his ERA northward by over a run in a single outing. Robbie Ross Jr. had his second consecutive poor outing. Colby Lewis did prove pretty effective against the Angels but Matt Harrison laid an egg in his second start off the DL Saturday. The Rangers bullpen had to do an awful lot on the week, accounting for almost half of all the innings pitched for the week. Which brings us to another rookie making a name for himself with Texas: Nick Martinez. Coming into the season, Martinez had pitched only 32 innings as high as the AA level when he earned a starting nod in the Rangers’ 5th game of the season. He returned to AA Frisco after the start, pitched two games and less than ten innings, then returned to the Rangers to fill in as the long reliever, at least until Joe Saunders returned from the DL. After the last week, the question is does Saunders have a place with the Rangers when he’s ready to come off the disabled list? In two games this week against the A’s and the Angels, Martinez threw 7.2 innings of shutout baseball, allowing only four hits and three walks while striking out four batters. The first game was especially welcome to Ron Washington. Yu Darvish had only gone three and a third against the A’s in the first of a 3-game set. Any bullpen breakdown would put the Rangers at a major disadvantage for the rest of the series. After Aaron Poreda finished off the fourth inning for Darvish, Martinez came on and took care of the last five innings of work, allowing the A’s only two hits. He followed that up by again relieving Darvish yesterday and taking care of the last two and a third, falling an out short of qualifying for the rare 3-inning save. Martinez could still find himself back in Frisco soon as the Rangers may prefer he get regular work instead of the inconsistent role of the middle reliever. For now, though, Martinez gets his time in the spotlight here.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

Ending the week at 2-4 is probably more than most of us fans expected after Oakland decimated the Rangers in Arlington, outscoring the guys in the white hats (well, actually the red and sometimes blue caps) by a combined 25-4 score. In Arlington, no less. Texas then went on the road and righted the ship somewhat, taking two of three from the Angels to end the week in second place in the AL West, two games behind the A’s. Had the Rangers lost Sunday’s finale against the Angels, they would have fallen to third place, but a 14-3 smackdown ensured second place for at least another day.

This week just about everyone in MLB plays their “rivalry” interleague series. For the Rangers, this year’s rivalry is with the Colorado Rockies. Texas plays two games in Denver, followed by two games in Arlington. The week ends with three games at home against the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox, including former Rangers Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara and A.J. Pierzynski.

The Rockies are a surprising 19-14 on the season and have a lot of offensive fireworks in their line-up, including Troy Tulowitski, Carlos Gonzalez, Justin Morneau and Charlie Blackmon. The Rangers also will have no DH in the first two games, relegating Mitch Moreland and Michael Choice to the bench. If there’s a bright spot, I really like the way Wash had the starting rotation set up to enter this series. The games in Denver features starts by Martin Perez and Robbie Ross, Jr., two pitchers who get a lot of ground ball outs. In the rarefied air of Coors Field, Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish would find pitching at Coors more problematic. In terms of pitching, the rotation is set up for more success in Colorado. Lewis and Matt Harrison will face the Rockies in Arlington. Meanwhile, the Red Sox will have to face both Darvish and Perez. A 4-3 record or even a 5-2 record on the week is possible if the rotation is as successful as they’ve been set up for.

Elsewhere in the division, the A’s are at home all week against the Mariners and Washington Nationals, the Angels have three at home against the Yankees followed by a 3-game set in Toronto, the Mariners travel to Oakland for 4 then return home for another 4-game set against the Royals, while the lowly Astros take to the road all week with four in Detroit and a 3-game set in Baltimore.

Texas Rangers Stars Of The Week: 4/21-4/27

Star of the WeekEvery 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.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Single Game):

In six games, there was not a single over the top outstanding performance that warranted a Player of the Week (Single Game). From a “What’s Going To Happen?” perspective, Michael Choice seems like a good pick this week. Shin-Soo Choo went down with a badly sprained ankle in the first of the 3-game set against the Oakland A’s. It was up to the rookie Choice to not only fill Choo’s shoes in left field but also replace his bat at the top of the Rangers order. Choo has already won over Rangers fans with his patience at the plate and finding ways to get on base. Could Choice do the job? That question got answered in his first game at the lead-off spot. In five at bats, Choice saw a total of 19 pitches, turning that patience into reaching base three times in those five plate appearances: two walks and a single. Choice scored the first run of the game in the first inning and drive in the winning run with a 9th inning single. I don’t see Choice as quite ready for everyday playing status yet but he has been a more than adequate replacement while Choo’s ankle mends.

Star of the WeekPosition Player Star of the Week (Full Week): 

Choo, Prince Fielder and Adrian Beltre are the players expected to produce the most power. Elvis Andrus and Leonys Martin are in charge of the speed. It’s easy to forget the Rangers have one guy in their line-up who provides a little speed, a little pop and pretty good defense as well. Alex Rios could quietly put up the overall best numbers of any Rangers player in 2014. Rios is on a hot streak right now. Over the last six games, Rios hit .375 with 9 hits in 24 at bats, including a double, a triple and a stolen base. Rios got a rap for being a lazy player when he came to the Rangers from the White Sox. When you watch him, what you eventually realize is Rios is fast. He’s tall at 6’5″, so when he runs, he looks like he’s taking it easy. The next thing you know, he’s already taken the extra base. His defensive play in right field is a vast improvement over his predecessor, Nelson Cruz. Like his running, Rios may not have stats that stand out in most weeks but by season’s end you’ll look and realize he had a pretty darn good year. This week, he did good enough to lead the pack.

Star of the WeekPitching Star of the Week: 

Unbelievable. Only four weeks into the season and Martin Perez has won 75% of the Pitching Star of the Week Awards. In consecutive weeks no less. Another week, another 3-hit shutout. Ho hum. This time, Perez tossed the gem against the Oakland A’s, which is even more impressive than the 3-hitter he tossed against the White Sox his last time out. The A’s are a notoriously patient team. Perez not only shut them down on only three hits, he finished his second straight complete game in just 109 pitches, an average of just 12 pitches per inning. He walked two, struck out three and only allowed one runner to get to second base. As usual, Perez had the double play ball working for him. Two of the A’s five baserunners for the game were immediately erased thanks to ground ball double plays. Can Perez keep up the pace throughout the season? Maybe. Since August of last season, nobody has more wins in baseball than the 23-year-old. Thanks to his success, Texas now appears well on its way to a pretty formidable starting rotation.

The Week That Was & The Week That Will Be

All in all, nobody can complain too much about a 4-2 road trip, especially when it involves a 3-game sweep of your main rivals in their own house. An excruciating loss on Sunday to the Mariners only led to “What could’ve been…” thoughts. Still, it was a successful week and one in which the Rangers returned two big components to the line-up. Following the sweep of the A’s, the Rangers activated Adrian Beltre from the disabled list. Two days later, Matt Harrison returned to make his first start in over a year on Sunday. Beltre still is treating his injured quad gingerly. He’s not running at 100% speed but his presence helped the line-up immediately. The downside was Texas lost Beltre’s more than capable replacement, Kevin Kouzmanoff, to back issues. The defending AL Player of the Week is on the DL and may miss significant time to a herniated disc. The Rangers should know soon whether Kooz requires surgery or not. In other words, Beltre now NEEDS to stay healthy as there’s not much help available with some offensive pop at third base if he goes down again. Harrison was brilliant early and got through six innings in pretty good shape against the Mariners and was in line for the win Sunday until the Rangers’ worst nemesis, Kyle Seager, launched a 3-run shot off Alexi Ogando in the 8th to propel Seattle to a 6-5 win and ended the Rangers string of four consecutive series won. Since the start of the 2013 season, Seager is hitting .381 against the Rangers in 105 at bats with 11 doubles, nine home runs and 22 runs batted in, including three homers and 7 RBI in 7 games this year. I don’t actively dislike many players but Seager is really starting to bug me. I even fantasize about the Rangers signing noted headhunter Vicente Padilla to a contract the day before the Rangers face the Mariners and Seager again.

This week continues the Rangers AL West tour. Texas is home for a quick three game set against the A’s, then it’s off to California for the second time in two weeks, this time for a first look at the Los Angeles Angels. The A’s will be looking for some payback after getting swept by Texas in Oakland a week ago. Still, even with the A’s and Rangers tied atop the AL West, Oakland is reeling a bit, having followed up their sweep by the Rangers by dropping to of three in Houston to the lowly Astros. Plus, the A’s have to contend with both Yu Darvish and Martin Perez in the series. The Angels have a lot of offense early and will pose a challenge to Texas pitching. Thus far, the Rangers have posted a 9-4 record within the division, the best mark in the AL West. They’ll need to keep it up this week to keep the pressure on their rivals.

 

Bad Moon Rising

Adrian Beltre 2Just when it looked like things were settling down for the Texas Rangers, Adrian Beltre shakes everything up again. As Michael Corleone famously said, “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!”

Everything was going swimmingly well for the Rangers Tuesday night. The offense was churning out hits and scoring runs at will against the Red Sox, even with a different type of line-up for Ron Washington. Michael Choice got the start in center field, leaving Leonys Martin on the bench. Mitch Moreland also got the night off against the left-hander. Wash had both ends of the second base platoon, Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy, in the game and had Beltre occupy Moreland’s DH slot. So of course, on a night when he doesn’t have to play the field to save wear and tear on his body, one of Adrian’s quads tightens up and he pulled himself from the game in the fifth inning. Beltre won’t play today’s finale, either. He’s already jetted back to Texas to get examined by the Rangers’ team doctor.

I’d love to say this is a precautionary measure and Beltre will be back in the line-up Friday night when the Astros come to town. After all, he’s dealt with bad hamstrings the last two seasons and stayed on the field. Going back further, you’d be hard-pressed to find somebody tougher than Beltre, as described in a pre-season article on ESPN.com:

Years before Beltre headed north, Welke discovered how tough the slugger could be when he visited him in the Dominican Republic shortly after an offseason gone awry prior to the 2001 campaign.

“His appendix burst and he nearly died,” Welke said.

The wound from the surgery done in the Dominican Republic also didn’t heal properly. He had to have a second surgery during spring training that year to close it, and he lost about 30 pounds. Yet he was determined to return to the field as soon as possible.

“He tried to play games with a colostomy bag attached to him under his uniform,” Welke said. “Can you imagine? That’s how badly the guy wanted to play.”

That’s what makes this early departure troublesome. Maybe it is just one of those, “We’re just two weeks into the season, let’s make sure he’s ready for everything to come” type of deals. The pessimistic me says, “Nope. This is something more.” After all, Adrian Beltre wants to play baseball. He loves to play baseball. If Wash schedules him for a day off, the odds are better than 50-50 Adrian will talk him out of it and he’ll play. This time, however, he pulled himself from the line-up in the middle of the game and apparently agreed pretty quickly to go get it checked out in Texas. That tells me this is something Adrian is REALLY worried about.

If Beltre goes on the DL, there are no really good options for Texas. Kevin Kouzmanoff had a good spring and could be brought up to replace him but face it: Nobody can replace Beltre’s defense on the field and not many can provide his offense either. A Kouzmanoff MIGHT prove adequate for a 15-day DL stint but not much more than that. Without Beltre, there’s not a lot of protection for Prince Fielder in the line-up. I can see Alex Rios moving from fifth to fourth and that will help somewhat. It will also make the bottom half of the Rangers order even weaker.

Texas pitching is on a three-week trajectory to settling down. Colby Lewis returns Saturday, Matt Harrison is about three weeks away from a return himself. The last thing the Rangers need is troubles on the offense (and defense). Losing Adrian Beltre for any amount of time could be disastrous for the Rangers chances in 2014.

The Walking Wounded

Spring Training records mean nothing. Spring Training statistics mean nothin. I get that.

Still, I can’t help but feel a little disconcerted by the walking wounded and reclamation projects floating around Texas Rangers camp in Surprise this spring. Today brought two more entries to the list: Elvis Andrus will be out for at least a couple of days due to right arm soreness which he’s had throughout camp. Meanwhile, Mitch Moreland could find himself on the disabled list to start the regular season after suffering an oblique injury and getting pulled from a game after just one inning yesterday.

image_20121221102423If these two were the only problems it would be OK with me, but this is the latest in a long line making its way through Rangers camp. Adrian Beltre is having problems with one of his quads and has been held out of the line-up for five days now. Jurickson Profar is just now starting in the field after having shoulder tendonitis at the start of camp. Geovany Soto is only three games into his spring after ankle surgery. Leonys Martin has had some nagging injuries that have him in and out of the line-up. Same with Alex Rios. And that’s just the offense.

Over in the pitching staff Matt Harrison had his injury comeback delayed by sleeping on a bad mattress and missing two and a half weeks with a bad back. It feels like half the pitching staff is trying to come back from injuries: Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria from Tommy John surgery, Colby Lewis from elbow problems and a hip replacement, Harrison from the back issues. At this point, there are only three starters established: Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando. Only Darvish has had what would be considered a good spring. Perez has been inconsistent and Ogando more bad than good thus far (8.43 ERA). Battling for the final two spots, Lewis has yo-yo’d back and forth: one good outing, one putrid. Harrison won’t be ready for the start. Nick Tepesch (11.25 ERA) was so bad he’s been optioned already. Veterans Tommy Hanson (3.24 ERA) and Joe Saunders (6.43 ERA) haven’t outperformed anyone. The two best prospects for the back-end right now are Robbie Ross (2.08 ERA) and Tanner Scheppers (3.12 ERA), but if both earn rotation spots, that leaves two big holes in the bullpen, where Ross served in a set-up capacity and Scheppers was the 8th inning guy.

Back to the offense: the Rangers have hit 15 home runs this spring. Three have been hit by players who were playing Low-A ball in 2013 and have no hope of making the club this year. The power hitting part of the line-up: Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo have combined for only three of them. The biggest bright spot has been Michael Choice, obtained from the A’s in a trade for Craig Gentry. Choice is hitting .378 with three doubles, a triple and two home runs. With Moreland a likely DL candidate, Choice will likely be the starting DH for this year’s Rangers.

J.P. Arencibia has been so bad at the plate (.156 BA, the Rangers have put him in several minor league games to face easier pitching. He, along with two starters and the projected utility infielder are all hitting under .200.

Yeah, it’s only Spring Training. The stats and the records don’t mean anything. It does breed concern for the regular season.