BY: Richard W. Humphrey
Opening day is less than two weeks away, but the Rangers still look like a MASH unit. Many are nagging injuries, but with much of spring training in the books, the continued injury situation is now a real concern.
On the infield, second baseman Jurickson Profar has been out with shoulder tendonitis. He has been able to hit, but not throw, and consequently didn’t play in the field until this week. His batting average is just .250 in 15 games, but he leads the team with 11 RBIs. The middle infield isn’t getting to work together however as shortstop Elvis Andrus now has elbow soreness and is shut down from throwing. Third baseman Adrian Beltre hasn’t played in a week because of a strained left quad muscle. He’s a tough guy that will undoubtedly take the field against the Phillies on the last day of March, but he has been bothered with leg injuries off an on over the past two seasons, and there is no doubt it negatively impacts his offensive game.
In the outfield, Sin-Shoo Choo, Leonys Martin and Alex Rios have all missed time to injury. Choo has left elbow soreness and has not played in a week. Martin has suffered from back stiffness and is not getting the at bats he needs to be in shape for the season. Rios is back in the lineup after missing eight days with a strained intercostal muscle.
Catcher Geovany Soto is now in camp after undergoing ankle surgery, but has just 10 at bats in four games. This week Mitch Moreland left a game with a rib cage injury that impacts his swing. It’s not an injury that can readily be played through, such that there is a real possibility he opens the season on the disabled list.
Then there’s the pitching! Derek Holland is now with the team in Arizona, but of course he is out until at least June and probably longer with the knee injury that necessitated microfracture surgery. Matt Harrison has appeared in two games, one of which was an A game, after suffering more back problems. He hasn’t been very effective and most definitely will not be on the opening day roster.
That theoretically left Yu Darvish, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando for the rotation, with a host of candidates for two spots. Colby Lewis has made some appearances as he works to rebuild his arm strength. He is a possibility for the fifth starter spot in the rotation, as with early season off days, a fifth starter may be needed for just a couple of starts before Harrison returns. Jose Contreras was given a look, but apparently will retire. Nick Tepesch made 17 starts for Texas last year, but has already been sent to minor league camp.
That leaves Tommy Hanson, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross and newly signed Joe Saunders as candidates for the two spots in the rotation. They may actually may be competing for three spots, as Ogando has not pitched well (6.35 ERA in four starts) and perhaps has health questions. In fact, there are some insiders that believe that Scheppers is now the front-runner for the 3-4-5 spots in the rotation. Scheppers has performed well so far, with a 3.12 ERA in three A game starts. He also has the added attraction of possibly developing into a very good starter. In the vernacular, he has a “high ceiling”. Robbie Ross has been effective and is also a real candidate for the rotation. He has a 1.88 ERA in four games. Saunders has been unimpressive with a 6.43 ERA, but most insiders believe the veteran will be in the rotation when the season begins.
Manager Ron Washington earlier said that he wanted to name his starting rotation around March 20th so pitchers could prepare for the season with two more spring appearances. With so many question marks, that time frame has been delayed, but it is likely that the starting rotation will be named soon.
That leaves the bullpen in flux. The pen was very good last year with Joe Nathan as the closer, Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts as the left-handed relievers, and with Scheppers as the primary right side option in the late innings. Nathan is gone. Neftali Feliz gets the first call to take his place. Joakim Soria is the backup in case that doesn’t work. Soria has been outstanding, having allowed just three hits and no runs in seven spring appearances. Feliz has not been great so far. His velocity touched 95 once or twice Tuesday night for the first time, as his fastball has largely been in the 91-93 range. At this point, no one seems concerned as the club has options; which may ultimately include Jason Frasor, who has been good this spring. However, if a strong closer doesn’t emerge early in the season, the team could be in for some rough going.
However, if Scheppers and Ross make the rotation, the bullpen suddenly looks very thin. Michael Kirkman is a left-handed reliever candidate, but he hasn’t been effective. Ogando however could end up in the pen.
There are certainly some positives. Outfielder Michael Choice has been outstanding. He is hitting .348 in 20 games. He’s interestingly getting some playing time in center field. If the play on the field was the only factor, he probably would have a roster spot locked down. However, other factors, such as contract options often cloud the equation. Also, catcher Robinson Chirinos has been a pleasant surprise with a .435 batting average in 13 games. Some believe he has out played J. P. Arencibia. Right handed reliever Shawn Tolleson has a real chance to make the opening day roster too. Tolleson, who graduated from Allen High School, played at Baylor and lives in Dallas, has impressed with a 2.70 ERA in three games.
* The Phillies have named former Ranger Cliff Lee as their opening day starter to oppose Yu Darvish. It will be Lee’s second opening day start in Arlington as he opposed the Rangers as a member of the Indians on the opening day of the 2009 season.
* The Rangers have announced that Greg Maddux, brother of pitching coach Mike Maddux, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch at the opener. Maddux won 355 games in his career and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in July. The natural choice to throw out the first pitch was of course the newly retired Michael Young. However, the invitation had already been extended to Maddux when Young decided to retire.
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