By Dic Humphrey
With five Cactus League games in the books, the Texas Rangers are still looking for their first win. A 5-5 tie in the opener last Friday has been followed with four consecutive losses. At this time of the spring though, game results mean virtually nothing. Individual performances do.
One performance of note is Martin Perez. The young lefty was actually the Rangers’ fifth starter at season’s end last year and may already have a leg up in the competition for that roster spot this spring. In Monday’s game he pitched two perfect innings against the Rockies, needing just 27 pitches to record the six outs. Sixteen of those pitches were strikes. He also pitched a perfect inning in one of last week’s intrasquad games using just nine pitches to do so, all of which were strikes. Ranger manager Ron Washington has praised Perez’s penchant for keeping the ball down in the strike zone and for his ability to mix in his slider and change.
Perez is ranked as the 81st best prospect in baseball by Baseball America, which is a drop from previous years. He is, however, just 21 years old. He has always been considered to have a world of potential. Consistency has been his problem. He was 1-4 with a 5.45 ERA last year with the Rangers, pitching in 12 games, six of which were starts. He was actually pretty good in 10 of those appearances, but in his debut against Detroit and in a late season start against Oakland, he was roughed up for nine earned runs while recording just four outs.
He has minor league options left, which could work to his benefit. The Rangers will not need a fifth starter until the ninth game of the season. If Perez wins the job, he could be optioned to AAA for a start to stay sharp, allowing the Rangers to carry an extra position player for the first eight games. It is speculated that whoever wins the fifth starter spot in Spring Training may be just a short-term place holder, as Colby Lewis is making remarkable progress in his rehabilitation from arm surgery and may be able to join the rotation sometime in May. However, Ranger fans need look no further than late last June, when three of the original five starters coming out of spring training were on the disabled list. If Perez performs well, there will be a place for him.
Another noteworthy performance was Yu Darvish’s first start of the season Tuesday against the White Sox. He was devastating, completing two scoreless innings by facing the minimum of six batters. He needed just 28 pitches, 16 of which were strikes, to twice retire the side. There is no question that he is much more comfortable this spring after spending 2012 in the big leagues. He is also benefitting from far less hoopla from the Asian media members. A year ago around 100 were following his every move. This year there are approximately 20 on a regular basis.
Leonys Martin has been a bright spot in the Rangers’ dismal offensive showing so far. They are hitting .215 and have scored just 13 runs in the first four games, but Martin is 5 for 10 with a walk and three runs scored. It is generally assumed that Martin and Craig Gentry will platoon in center field. But since most pitchers are right handed, Martin will be getting the lion’s share of playing time as the left-handed hitting counterpart. Gentry, however, has been no slouch himself. He is 4-10, with run scored and two RBI. Both Martin and Gentry have stolen a base.
On the injury side, neither Adrian Beltre nor Lance Berkman has seen action. Both are suffering through calf strains. Berkman is expected to appear in a game later this week. Neither is expressing concern because there are still plenty of remaining spring games to get their swings into shape for the season. However, it isn’t a good sign that this pair, projected to be the Rangers three and four hitters in the batting order, are not on the field.
There has been a mountain of speculation about the Jurickson Profar and Mike Olt situations. They are the Rangers’ top two minor league prospects. Team President Nolan Ryan chimed in last week by indicating that Profar would need to have a role on the team that would assure him at least 350 at bats or else he will be in Round Rock playing every day. Ultimately though, any decision to put either of this pair on the Major League roster will depend on what they do this spring. So far, Profar is 1-5 in four games with three walks, two strikeouts and a run scored. Olt is 1-8 in five games with a home run, two RBIs, a walk and four strikeouts.
It is still the first week of games in the longest Spring Training in Rangers’ history, so there is plenty of time for every situation mentioned to turn around. However, there are some nifty performances by fifth starter and bullpen candidates, not to mention Yu Darvish, which has to be encouraging for Ranger fans.
- The Rangers officially named Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez as Special Assistant to the General Manager. His duties will include minor league instruction, scouting, and marketing and community activities. He especially will be involved in the training of the Rangers’ top minor league catching prospect, Jorge Alfaro.
- Matt Harrison was knocked around in his first spring game, requiring 40 pitches to get through one inning in which he allowed four runs on six hits.
- Michael Kirkman was especially impressive in a two-inning relief appearance last Saturday against the Royals. He struck out three, gave up a hit and completed the outing with 25 pitches, 18 of which were strikes. He is a strong candidate for the bullpen.
- Justin Grimm may already be out of the fifth starter race. He was roughed up for three runs and four hits in two innings of work against the Rockies. However, the damage was inflicted in his first inning of work (the third inning), and he came back with a four-up, three-down fourth, allowing just a walk. He was also unimpressive in an intrasquad game last week.
- Highland Park’s Chris Young signed a minor league contract last week with an invitation to Major League training camp with the Washington Nationals.