By Dic Humphrey
The future of Nolan Ryan in the Texas Rangers’ organization has still come to no resolution more than two weeks after the press release that announced the new job titles. This raised the uncomfortable possibility that Ryan has had his import in the organization reduced and that he might be leaving the team. Since last weekend’s statement from Ryan that, in effect, said that he and the two principal owners were continuing discussions about his status, there has been little hard news about the situation. The Rangers play the Cubs in exhibition games in Las Vegas this weekend, and Ryan is in Nevada with the team. There is no speculation at this point as to when a resolution may be forthcoming.
Derek Lowe made his Cactus League debut for the Rangers Friday when he pitched two solid innings against the Giants. He allowed two hits and a walk, but no runs in the appearance, which came just nine days after he agreed to a minor league contract with the team coupled with an invitation to Spring Training. The 16-year veteran has been a starter and reliever in his career. He is most likely a candidate for the bullpen, but hasn’t been ruled out as a starter.
The bullpen is the area of the team that will be most changed this year, and appears to be one of great concern with the season opening game two weeks away. Joe Nathan is back as the closer. Jason Frasor, a right-hander signed as a free agent this winter, and Michael Kirkman, who has seen limited action with the Rangers in each of the past three seasons, join Nathan as the only three that have secured bullpen spots at this juncture. That leaves four spots. One and possibly two will go to a left-hander. Robbie Ross will get one if he doesn’t win a spot in the Rangers’ rotation. There are a host of candidates for the bullpen; including veterans Randy Wells, Nate Robertson and Kyle McClellan, Rule 5 draft pick Coty Woods, and long shot prospects Lisalverto Bonilla and Ben Bowen. Tanner Scheppers, who appeared in 39 games for Texas last year, is struggling through a hamstring injury. Josh Lindblom, acquired from Philadelphia in the Michael Young trade, and Evan Meeks have not been effective. Not only was Lowe signed after Spring Training began, but the Rangers are said to be looking outside the organization, most notably sending veteran scout Don Welke to look at the Yankees’ Joba Chamberlain. With the losses of veterans Mike Adams and Koji Uehara in free agency, and Alexi Ogando to the starting rotation, middle relief will be younger and less experienced. The bullpen will undoubtedly be in a state of flux long after the season begins.
The fifth starter competition will be the focus in Las Vegas this weekend. Surprising prospect Nick Tepesch starts Saturday against the Cubs, while Ross starts Sunday. Tepesch is rated as the Rangers’ 19th best prospect in this year’s Newberg Report. He combined for an 11-6 record in 28 starts at High A Myrtle Beach and AA Frisco last summer and is impressing the Rangers with his bid for the starting rotation. He has pitched eight innings in three Cactus League games, allowing two runs on seven hits. He has struck out eight batters and walked two.
WBC UPDATE: The United States team bowed out Friday night, losing 4-3 to Team Puerto Rico. Journeyman pitcher Nelson Figueroa was the winning pitcher after he shut down the Americans by scattering two hits over six innings. The U. S. team rallied from a 4-0 deficit with a run in the seventh and two more in the eighth, but veteran Major League reliever J. C. Romero came on to retire the final four U. S batters, including two by strikeout, to record the save. The Giants’ Ryan Vogelsong was the losing pitcher.
The final four, to be played in San Francisco, is now set with teams from The Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico coming out of Pools C and D to join the previous qualifiers from Pools A and B, Japan and The Netherlands. The games begin Sunday with the final game set for Tuesday night. Japan and The Dominican Republic are the favorites to win.
In the past two Classics, talents have emerged on Major League teams’ radar screen, such as Yu Darvish in the 2009 Classic. At the point, the talent that has impressed the most is Hensley Muelens, the manager of The Netherlands. Muelens is San Francisco’s hitting coach and will be a sought-after managerial commodity after leading the underdog Netherlands team all the way to the finals.
This is the third World Baseball Classic, and the U.S. has yet to qualify for the finals. The U.S. is now 10-10 all time in the three WBCs, losing once in the first round and twice in the second round.
With the elimination of Team USA, Derek Holland returns to Rangers’ training camp. He appeared in just one game but pitched well, going five innings and giving up two runs on four hits. Nelson Cruz is still involved with the Dominican Republic team, while Jurickson Profar will be joining The Netherlands team for the finals.
- There has been no official announcement, but the spring rotation is set up at this point for Matt Harrison to be the Rangers’ Opening Day starting pitcher.
- Joey Gallo, a 2012 draftee, accompanied the Rangers to Las Vegas this weekend as an extra player. Gallo graduated from Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas last year before being selected by the Rangers with the 39th overall pick in the June draft.
- Next Tuesday, the University of Texas at Arlington of the Western Athletic Conference will play TCU of the Big XII Conference at 7:00 PM at the Ballpark in Arlington.
- Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on Saturday that pitcher Kyle McClellan was diagnosed with strained right lat muscle. It will likely be three or four weeks before he can resume throwing.