Tagged: Rich Harden

Spare Parts

When you talk about the first World Series run by the Rangers, the names that come to mind are Josh Hamilton, American League MVP; Cliff Lee, mid-season acquisition and Yankee Killer in the ALCS; Michael Young, the long-time “Face” of the franchise; and Nelson Cruz, who can carry a team on his back for two-week stretches, including the playoffs.

Those players deservedly got a lot of the press, but another key to the Rangers first run to the pennant were the spare parts. Jarrod Saltalamacchia went on the DL after just two games. Enter last-minute Spring Training acquisition Matt Treanor. Treanor held down the fort so well until the July acquisition of Bengie Molina, Saltalamacchia never again wore a Rangers uniform. Salty was optioned to AAA after coming off the DL, then went to the Red Sox in a September deal.

The Rangers had a winning record during Nelson Cruz’ three trips to the DL in 2010, thanks to the emergence of David Murphy as a viable 4th outfielder. Murphy remains an integral piece of the Rangers today, though speculation grows he’ll become part of a deal sometime this summer.

Ian Kinsler also had two DL stints in 2010. Again, Texas survived just fine, especially in mid-August when Andres Blanco filled in for 19 games and hit .333 with 8 doubles and .818 OPS, playing sterling defense as well.

The pitching staff also had its moments. Rich Harden and Scott Feldman, expected to be the top two rotation pieces, never panned out. It was new acquisition Colby Lewis and CJ Wilson, moving from the bullpen to the starting rotation, who helped keep the Rangers above-board until the trade for Cliff Lee. Likewise, the bullpen got a boost when Alexi Ogando was recalled from Oklahoma City. All Ogando did was earn wins in his first three relief appearances and ended up being the Rangers 7th inning go-to guy.

The pattern repeated itself in 2011. When center fielder Julio Borbon went down in May with an injury, Endy Chavez was called up from Round Rock, hit .301 in 83 games and banished Borbon to the minors, where he remains today. Ogando again served as a vital piece, this time moving into the starting rotation when off-season signee Brandon Webb proved not ready to go out of Spring Training. Ogando thrived as a starter, making the All-Star team. Yorvit Torrealba was expected to be the primary catcher, until Mike Napoli had an offensive year that nobody saw coming.

The stars propel teams, but the spare parts are often the ones that give winning teams the extra edge. The previous 400 words were all written with Robbie Ross in mind.

Robbie Ross, Texas Ranger

Just a year ago today, Ross was pitching for High-A Myrtle Beach. The Rangers 2nd round draft pick in 2008, Ross compiled a 9-4 record with a 2.26 ERA as a starter  to earn a late season promotion to AA Frisco. In 6 games with Frisco, Ross was 1-1 with a 2.61 ERA. Those stats earned Ross an invite to big league camp for Spring Training in 2012.

Ross was expected to do what most rookies his age (21) do. Stick around big league camp for a couple of weeks, mop up a few games, then return to minor league camp, where he would most likely start the season at Frisco, maybe Round Rock if he was lucky.

Ross, however, didn’t recognize his long odds. He just did what he’d been doing since being drafted. He threw strikes. Because he threw strikes, he got outs. There were veteran southpaws in the Rangers camp this year, looking to fill the role vacated by Darren Oliver when he departed for the Blue Jays, chief among them Joe Beimel. He didn’t pitch badly, but a late camp injury ended his chances. Michael Kirkman, who contributed key late-season innings in 2010 but slipped in 2011, was another prime candidate. Kirkman struggled from the outset and has continued to struggle at Round Rock in 2012.

By the time Spring Training was over, Ross had leap-frogged everyone and earned a spot on the Rangers roster. He was expected to be brought around slowly, used in mop-up roles to get his feet wet. Most thought Ross would just hold down the fort until the Rangers either re-signed Mike Gonzalez or traded for another lefty in the pen.

All Ross has done is succeed, in whatever role the Rangers have asked him. Sunday, he was asked to replace another famous spare part, Alexi Ogando. Ogando, who was made a starter again when Derek Holland went on the DL, threw three hitless innings, then strained his groin legging out a bunt single that was supposed to be just a sacrifice bunt. Ross came in and this time threw four innings of 1-hit ball at the Giants and earning the victory. Ross is now 6-0 with a 1.30 ERA. If Ogando goes on the disabled list, Ross could be the Rangers starter this Saturday against the Astros.

Not bad for someone who wasn’t even projected to be in the big leagues until next year at the earliest. Let’s hear it for spare parts!

Drinking The Kool-Aid

After 42 years of watching this game and being a fan of this team, there’s one thing I’ve learned about Spring Training: Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.

When a veteran player says he’s in the best shape of his life, don’t believe it. When coaches say so and so has been the best pitcher in camp thus far, don’t mentally pencil him in to your starting five for the season. Most of all, when you hear great things about a rookie, resist the temptation, at all costs, of declaring him Rookie of the Year or even Cooperstown bound before he’s even played a regular season game.

Needless to say, I’ve learned how not to drink the Kool-Aid over the past 42 years. I’d much rather be pleasantly surprised by someone, like Mike Napoli in 2011, than bitterly disappointed, like with Rich Harden in 2010.

A few days ago, the Rangers coaches said Koji Uehara has had the best stuff of any pitcher in camp thus far. Uehara had an outstanding season with the Baltimore Orioles in 2011. He had a terrible end of season with the Texas Rangers in 2011. He also kept the Rangers from trading him twice in the off-season. In other words, I don’t care how good Koji looks in camp right now. I’m not going to be a Koji fan until he pitches for Texas the way he did for Baltimore or he finally allows the Rangers to trade him.

Ditto Nelson Cruz. Yesterday, Nellie gave the often heard “I’m in the best shape of my life” speech and said he’s ready to put his hamstring problems behind him for good. Yes, I’ve read Nellie came to camp some 20 pounds leaner, that he did off-season workouts specifically to improve the durability of his hammies, etc. Again, I’ve learned. Cruz has had five DL trips over the past two seasons, all due to his hamstrings. I will not drink this Kool-Aid until Nellie appears in his 140th game of the regular season for the first time. Until then, I’m expecting at least on DL trip for him in 2012.

Yes, when it comes to Spring Training hype, I am known as Mr. Skeptic. So imagine my surprise, in the midst of all my disbelief, that somehow I am totally buying in to the man who has yet to throw a pitch in a major league game and is still a week away from throwing his first pitch in a Spring Training game. Yep, I am officially drinking the Yu Darvish Kool-Aid.

So when I listen to MLB Radio and hear Kevin Kennedy predicting a 13 win season for Darvish, I talk back to the radio and say, “You’re crazy!” When I hear commentators say it will be a rough transition to the American game, I call BS. And when I hear every Rangers minor league hitter who’s stood in against him at batting practice talk about what great stuff he has and how Darvish is going to win a lot of games for Texas, I buy it 100%. Not an ounce of disagreement in my mind.

Why? Because I trust the Rangers front office of Jon Daniels and his staff. They have been on a roll the last few years and I can’t see them committing this much money to an unproven MLB player if they weren’t pretty dang sure it was a good bet.

If Texas didn’t think Yu Darvish was going to perform better than CJ Wilson over the next six years, they would’ve made Wilson a much more substantial offer than they did. Will Darvish do better than Wilson in 2012? Maybe, maybe not. But if JD & Company think Yu will do better over the next six years than CJ, I believe it.

So when minor leaguer Ryan Stausberger says: “Faced #Darvish today. He’s got some wins in him for us this year”. And Jake Skole adds: “filthy stuff Awesome addition to #rangernation“. And when reports say he’s reaching out to bond with his teammates and working at fitting in instead of standing out? I buy it. 100%.

Put me squarely in the Darvish camp in 2012. Reports are he’s already talking to teammates in English. And Spanish. My last post was having fun with his Japanese tweets. Now he (or someone translating for him) is issuing tweets in English.

Will Darvish win more than 13 games for the Rangers, as Kennedy predicted? I think so. He may not win 20, but 15 is in reach. And here’s the REALLY weird thing. While I’m not willing venture much above 15 in predicted wins, I have had this funny feeling for weeks now that we may see a Darvish no-hitter sometime in 2012.

Yep, I’m drinking the Kool-Aid. I hope it tastes as sweet in October as it is right now.

What’s Half A Million Bucks Between Friends?

When you hear about wacky insurance policies – a Hollywood actress insuring her legs, a company insuring their big event won’t get wiped out by a meteorite hitting the Earth – it’s pretty safe to say the insurance company was betting they’d never have to pay, thus pocketing the premiums for themselves. Wednesday night, the bet didn’t pay off.

A Dallas area carpet and countertop company began advertising in Texas Rangers games at the end of August, telling viewers if they bought their carpeting or countertops from them, it wouldn’t cost them a cent IF Josh Hamilton hit a grand slam in September. Hamilton delivered in Wednesday’s 9-1 win over the Cleveland Indians. It was his third career slam.

The owner of the company says customers are getting about a half million dollars worth of free merchandise from him thanks to the blast, presumably even the man who hit the home run, as the company apparently had been hired by the Hamiltons to do their home. Of course, the carpet store isn’t losing a half million dollars in all this, just the insurance company who took the bet that it wouldn’t happen. The carpet store just loses the premium they paid on the policy.

Still, it was fun to see something like that come through for people, much like the excitement one feels for the golfer who wins a car in a hole-in-one contest. More exciting was the win that inches the Rangers one small step closer to their second straight division title.

Derek Holland was right on the money again, allowing a single run in seven innings of work in securing his 14th win. Holland has the 2nd worst ERA among all the starters (even then it’s a pretty good 4.02), but he also has the best run support of any of the starters, And, as his four complete shutouts prove, he can at times be dominating.

 The win was needed, as the Angels had won earlier in the day over the A’s. When Oakland took a 1-0 lead over Anaheim and Jered Weaver early, I had modest hopes for an Oakland win. That was tempered with the realization the A’s were countering with Rich Harden. Sure enough, Harden eventually returned to his 2010 Rangers form, giving up 3 runs in the 6th, ensuring Texas would have to win to keep pace.

At this point of the season, every day the Angels don’t gain ground makes it that much more difficult for them to catch the Rangers. Now we also know, when there’s free carpeting involved, Josh Hamilton can be lethal. Just two days ago, this space expressed concern over Hamilton’s rather pedestrian numbers (for him) over the past month plus. Since then, Hambone’s hit two out of the park. I’d love to take credit, but it probably has more to do with Josh’s 4th daughter being born and everyone being healthy. Now he can relax again.

Nelson Cruz had his first AB coming off the DL. Struck out. He’ll be brought along slowly, especially since David Murphy is doing nothing to deserve being taken out of the line-up.

Wednesday’s win put the Rangers 21 games over .500 for the first time since 1999. They still have a chance of topping that team’s club record of 95 wins.

Texas is now 8-1 vs. the Tribe in 2011. The final game of the season series and the Rangers’ next to last homestand is tonight, while the Angels have the day off. A Rangers win puts the lead at 3 1/2 with only 12 games to go.

Free carpeting and countertops can’t make that happen anymore. Maybe someone can offer free trips to Tahiti for a Hamilton slam…

 

Riding The Scooter: Rangers 2, Rays 0

 

Scott Feldman

Two years ago, Scott Feldman had to be on top of the world. With a devastating cutter, Scooter was the Alexi Ogando of 2009, slated as a bullpen piece but pushed into the starting rotation due to injury. If I’m not mistaken, I believe he replaced Matt Harrison at the time. He never relinquished control of the rotation and ended up leading the Rangers with 17 wins, procuring for himself a hefty raise in the process.

To mark the achievement, Scooter was given the honor of being the Rangers’ Opening Day starter. He began the season much as 2009, with a number of workmanlike performances. Nothing outstanding, but nothing horrible. After just a few starts, however, horrible started rearing its ugly head. Feldman’s cutter stopped cutting. Instead of weak ground balls, he was giving up solid line drives. The ERA continued to balloon.

By the time the magical season of 2010 was over, Feldman (along with #2 starter Rich Harden) were but a memory for Rangers fans. Feldman ended up on the DL, never came close to sniffing a post-season roster position and underwent microfracture surgery on one of his knees in November.

Going into 2011, Feldman was being counted on for…nothing. At best he was a longshot to be the Rangers’ long man in the bullpen out of Spring Training. Even that was doubtful due to his recovery from the surgery. Scooter began 2011 on the DL. When he finally began rehab starts in AAA Round Rock, it was doubtful he would even see Rangers Ballpark in Arlington during the season, unless he decided to watch a game in the stands.

When his rehab time had run out and the Rangers had to make a decision, they asked Scooter to allow himself to be removed from the 40-man roster and remain in Round Rock. Having the right to refuse, Feldman exercised his right. As a result, Darren O’Day was sent to Round Rock and Feldman returned to the Rangers, strictly as the long man in the bullpen.

Feldman didn’t even appear in a game for the Rangers for almost two weeks after his return. What few appearances he did make, however, were fairly solid, certainly a lot better than most of the performances of his predecessor, Dave Bush.

When Matt Harrison began to falter his last couple times out and complained of tired legs, Feldman was awarded a one time only spot start (only the 3rd needed by the Rangers all season long), replacing Harrison last night to face the Tampa Bay Rays.

Feldman had arguably one of the best pitching performances of his career, going six shutout innings, allowing no runs on a measly two hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Rangers fans saw that devastating cutter cutting once again. Scooter’s groundout to fly out ratio was 13-0! Neftali Feliz had a rough 9th inning, loading the bases before getting the last out to preserve the shutout.

The first game featuring no Nelson Cruz or Adrian Beltre in the line-up was not good for the rangers offense, but a Josh Hamilton solo homer turned out to be all the offense that was needed for Texas to maintain their 3 1/2 game lead over the Angels.

Last night was supposed to be a one time only start for Scott Feldman. I predict six days from now, when the Rangers visit the Rays in Tampa, Feldman will again get a start, this time in place of Alexi Ogando.

The Perfect Set-Up: Rangers Sweep A’s

If the last seven days of baseball had been scripted for Texas Rangers fans, it pretty much followed said script to the letter.

After nine, count ’em, nine consecutive days of having the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim staying a mere game behind the Rangers in the AL West, the week of August 8-14 stood as the best chance for Texas to put some more space between them and their closest competitors. While the Rangers were set to close their home stand with three games against last place Seattle, followed by three on the road with third place Oakland, the Angels were facing a six game road swing through Yankee Stadium and the Rogers Centre in Toronto.

Sure enough, the Rangers took two of three from the Mariners while the Yankees took two of three from LA, putting the Texas lead back up to 2. Then the Atleticos (they put the Spanish name for the team on their unis in Sunday’s game) cooperated fully, letting Texas sweep them for the second consecutive series. Meanwhile, the Blue Jays came from behind to win the rubber match with the Angels in extra innings Sunday to take their series 2-1. Thus the crucial week played just as it was hoped, with the Rangers gaining three games on the week to end the week 5-1 and with a 4-game margin over the Angels.

How important is this? It’s huge, considering the first and second place teams square off against each other for a four game set in LA beginning tomorrow night. Bottom line is, even if the Angels manage to sweep this upcoming series, Texas will still leave California Thursday night no worse than tied for first place. HUGE!

Game 1 of the Oakland series was a no doubter. New A’s Public Enemy #1, CJ Wilson, who made a few comments about Oakland that were a lot milder than the way they were taken, pitched six strong innings in pacing Texas to a 9-1 pasting of the A’s. The middle game of the set, a 7-1 final, was a lot closer than the final score indicates. Colby Lewis and Trevor Cahill matched 0’s for six innings, with Cahill tossing a no-hitter through 5. Texas finally broke through with two runs, followed by the A’s cutting the lead to 2-1. It wasn’t until after Cahill left the game that Texas teed off on the A’s relief corps, plating 5 insurance runs to run away with the decision.

Sunday’s finale should have been easy. Facing former Ranger Rich Harden, the Rangers struck for 3 in the first due to Harden pitching like, well, the Rich Harden who pitched for the Rangers in 2010. By the time Harden was gone (over 100 pitches in just 4 innings), the Rangers were comfortably ahead 6-0. Consistent Matt Harrison was on cruise control when, suddenly, the A’s decided to make a game of things. Taking advantage of well-timed hits sandwiched around a couple Rangers errors, Texas suddenly found the game tied at 6 heading into the 8th inning. A 1-out Mitch Moreland walk in the 9th, followed by a stolen base by pinch-runner Craig Gentry, set up David Murphy’s game winning 2-out single. Three Neftali Feliz-thrown outs later, the Rangers had their sweep and their four-game lead over the Angels. 

AMAZING STAT: Heading into Sunday’s finale, Texas stood at 68-52 on the season. One can easily say the Texas offense is nowhere as potent as it was in the World Series year of 2010. Josh Hamilton isn’t hitting for as high an average or with as much power as his MVP year. Ian Kinsler is having a down year with the bat. Elvis Andrus has regressed defensively. Yet Texas entered Sunday’s game with a better 120-game record than the 2010 team (they were 67-53 at this point). The reason? A better rotation in the #3-#5 slots than a year ago and a LOT more offense out of the catcher position with Mike Napoli and Yorvit Torrealba compared to Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor.

Four games in LA coming up. Reasonable expectation? Missing Dan Haren’s spot in the rotation works in the R’s favor and gives Texas a good chance to go at least 2-2 and maintain the 4-game lead. Too bad I won’t see every inning of every game. Can’t stay up that late and function well at work the next day like I used to. Having a lead when it’s time to retire for the night would be nice, though…

By the way, thank you Robinson Cano, for beating the Angels Thursday and thank you, Edwin Encarnacion, for your game-winning hit for the Blue Jays today!

 

Vacation Over

I’m starting to wonder if I should go on vacation more often, at least in 2011.

In my absence, the Rangers went 8-2, including a seven game win streak heading into the All-Star break. A year ago, Texas limped into the break with a 4 1/2 game lead of the Angels, but were swept at home by the Orioles in the last four games.

In 2011, Texas got revenge on the Birds by taking three in a row, then put some more zing on things with four in a row at home over Oakland. Two of the A’s starters were Rangers a year ago- Rich Harden and Brandon McCarthy. We beat ’em both. Especially sweet was the win over Gio Gonzalez. Some may recall Texas smoked Gonzalez earlier this season, only to have a 7-0 lead wiped out due to rain before the game could become official. This time Gonzalez was smoked a second time, this time to its proper conclusion.

The Rangers offense is coming alive at the right time. Most of the line-up is hitting right now. Better still, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland both threw shutout ball in their last starts. The performance of those two starters will be key to then Rangers fortunes in the second half, since starting pitching help appears to be very limited approaching the trade deadline this year.

Still, despite the 8-2 record in my absence, Texas could gain no ground on the Angels, who also have won eight of their last ten, including a first half ending sweep of the Mariners. The LA offense has also come alive of late and with their starting pitching, it could give Texas fits down the stretch. Still, I’ll take a one game lead any time, especially if it’s on the last day of the season!

Got to tour Fenway Park yesterday. Pictures will follow. Loved our tour guide and seeing a lot of the sights, but I have to say there are aspects of the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington Tour that are better. At RBiA you get to visit the press box, a luxury suite, the dugout and even the clubhouse when the R’s are on the road. At Fenway, it was just the left field line seats, the Green Monster seats, the Red Sox Hall of Fame (not on the RBiA tour, but admission is free there) and the right field group seats. They also snapped pictures at the start, making said pics available to you in 8×10, 5×7 and wallet size plus a ballpark pic for “only” $35.  Still, it was a fun tour, filled with great historical tidbits from our guide,  and thankfully in the morning, as temps reached the mid-90’s in Bean Town yesterday.

Back to the real world tomorrow for me as well as the Rangers, who start out on the road at Seattle. Hopefully the three game layoff doesn’t affect the momentum the team has going for it.