HE’S BAAAAAAAAAACK (PROBABLY)

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Friday night the twitter universe lit up with the news that the Angels would soon be parting ways with Josh Hamilton and that Hamilton’s next Major League stop would be the same as his last Major League stop – he would be returning to the Texas Rangers. As illogical as it seems, apparently it’s going to happen, probably tomorrow. The Rangers, Angels, Hamilton, MLB Players Association and Major League Baseball are all signing off on various aspects of the transaction to make it happen.

The rumored deal has Hamilton joining the Rangers with an agreement to reduce the approximate $80 million he is owed under the five year contract he signed with the Angels after the 2012 season, by $6 million, and with the Rangers paying somewhere in the $2-$3 million per year range for the remaining term of the contract. The $6 million reduction of the amount owed Hamilton represents the approximate tax savings he will realize by moving to Texas, a state with no income tax. The benefits to the Angels are getting rid of a player the team no longer wants and knocking $12-$15 million off their obligation to Hamilton.

The MLBPA agreed to the salary reduction, something that they would not do earlier this century when Alex Rodriguez wanted to reduce his contract to induce a trade from the Rangers to the Red Sox. However this time around, there is new management at the MLBPA, which apparently realizes Hamilton needs to move to a new team. Hamilton isn’t really losing any money in the deal with the tax savings, and he also is to receive an opt-out clause for the final year of his contract. It’s doubtful that Hamilton will exercise the option, but it’s another theoretical economic benefit in return for the salary reduction.

With the amount of money changing hands, MLB also needs to approve the deal, which is expected.

As for the Rangers, the move smacks of desperation. So far this season, the Rangers’ offense has been abysmal. Texas went into play Sunday with a .211 team batting average, which ranked 30th out of 30 Major League teams. Four players in Sunday’s starting lineup were hitting below .200, and in the cases of Sin-Shoo Choo, Jake Smolinski and Rougned Odor, WELL below .200. This is the 10th year since Jon Daniels became general manager of the team, and it is clearly the worst offensive unit he has put together. Its ineptitude matches the woeful Ranger teams in the early 1970s.

On the surface, the general thought is that the Rangers have little risk in this deal, gambling the $2-$3 million per year for as many as three years. In the world of Major League baseball, that’s relative “chump change”. The upside for Texas lies in the hope that Hamilton can recapture the form he showed in the five years he was with the Rangers in which he made five straight All-Star teams.

Certainly Daniels has to be worried about his own job security. When Bob Simpson and Ray Davis bought the team out of bankruptcy in 2010, it was in first place. They quickly saw two trips to the World Series, but the team has gone downhill since. They sided with Jon Daniels in the power struggle to run the baseball aspects of the team and ran Nolan Ryan out of town to hand the reins to Daniels.

Now they look out and see a team that looks awful on the field. The starting pitching isn’t good, the bullpen is worse, the defense is terrible and they can’t hit. It’s on the road to a second straight year of at least 85-90 losses; and worse, Ryan has moved on to be involved in directing Houston’s rebuilding program that finds the Astros in first place with a good looking up and coming team.

Daniels then is obviously feeling the pressure. Finding a middle of the order bat at any time is difficult, but much more so at this point in the year. He has hamstrung the team’s payroll flexibility when he acquired Choo and Prince Fielder before the 2014 season. They collectively zap up about a third of the entire payroll. I. E., he has few options.

Since taking over the team, Daniels has tried the formula of low financial risk with high potential gain in player acquisitions. Most have failed miserably, such as Rich Harden. The odds aren’t good that Hamilton will return to the form he showed in his first stint in Arlington. He is three years older than when he left and injuries limited him to 89 games a year ago. He’s on the disabled list now, currently rehabbing in Houston from shoulder surgery. The earliest he’ll be seen in Arlington is mid-May, and that would be a rush job.

His personal life is also in turmoil. The event that ultimately led to his departure from the Angels was his admitted use of illegal drugs and alcohol during the winter. It has now become public knowledge that he has filed for divorce from his wife Katie. They were married in 2004 and have four daughters.

He has been booed in his Arlington’s appearances as an Angel, so it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets as a returning Ranger. The guess here is that he will be welcomed with open arms. This team’s offense is so bad that fans will be willing to overlook the comments he made about Dallas/Ft. Worth not being a baseball town to welcome him back.

The Rangers would like to convince fans that they have a team that can contend. The reality is, they are in a rebuilding process and are not likely to reach the playoffs for at least two or three more years. Their opening day roster was the youngest in the Major Leagues, and top prospects such as Joey Gallo, Jorge Alfaro, Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson and Alex Gonzalez will arrive soon. It’s questionable as to whether the team wants to have Hamilton around as an influence on these young players. There could be more downside to the acquisition than the financial aspects of the deal indicate.

It’s not likely that this ends well. On the other hand, the Rangers had virtually nothing to lose. This team was going nowhere without him. It probably goes nowhere with him.

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SPLITSVILLE IN THE DESERT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers split a pair of games in Phoenix to start the week, winning game one 7-1 on Tuesday night and losing game two 8-5 Wednesday. The team still has not won a series this year (0-3-2) or even two games in a row as they enjoy their second off day of the week and third of the season on Thursday before opening a three game series in Anaheim this weekend. The series split brought the Rangers’ record to 6-9, leaving them two games behind first place Houston and tied with Los Angeles and Seattle for the worst record in the division.

The series opened Tuesday with Nick Martinez on the mound, and he was again magnificent, turning in his third consecutive quality start. A fielding error ran up his pitch count which forced him out of the game after six innings. He allowed a run on three hits, the second run and first earned run that he has allowed this year. That ballooned his ERA all the way up to 0.42!

Unfortunately, the Rangers scored late in the game after Martinez had departed, such that he was not credited with the win. Reliever Shawn Tolleson turned in another fine relief outing to earn the win, the first for the Rangers’ bullpen this season.

Offensively, Prince Fielder had the big blow, a two-run home run in the eighth inning, as Texas scored six runs in the eighth and ninth innings. Fielder had two hits and three RBIs in the game to spearhead the 7-1 victory.

Wednesday’s game was one of missed opportunities early. They faced the Diamondbacks highly regarded rookie pitcher, Archie Bradley. Bradley is no stranger to the Metroplex as he played for the Dallas Mustangs Connie Mack team. He lives in the Tulsa suburb of Broken Arrow, and coming out of high school, he signed to play baseball and quarterback for Oklahoma. Ultimately, he chose professional baseball over the Sooners after getting drafted high in the first round of MLB’s Amateur Draft.

Bradley surprisingly cracked the Arizona rotation in spring training and came into the game with a 1-0 record and 1.42 ERA in two starts this season. He quickly got the first two outs of the game, but then problems arose locating his pitches. He barely got out of the first inning as he proceeded to walk two batters, hit the next, and walk another to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead. He finally retired the seventh batter of the inning with the Arizona bullpen in action. He was on the ropes for completing even five innings with a pitch count of 37 for the inning.

However, from that point, Bradley clicked in. His pitch command was never pin point, but he got the job done. He walked the leadoff batter in the second inning, but a double play got the D-Backs back into the dugout on just nine pitches. He walked the leadoff batter in the third inning, but didn’t give up a hit until the fifth when Yovani Gallardo singled. Bradley gave up another hit in the sixth to finish his night on the mound. One run on two hits and five walks.

While Bradley was toiling on the mound, the Diamondback hitters were providing run support. A fielding error in the first inning led to two D-Back runs to give Bradley the second inning lead at 2-1. They added single runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to increase the lead to 5-1 by the time Bradley left the game. Bradley was the winning pitcher improving to 2-0 in three starts.

Ranger starting pitcher Yovani Gallardo did not have a vintage performance for Texas. He gave up five runs in five innings on six hits and a walk. Two fielding errors, a familiar theme of this year’s Ranger team, made two of those runs allowed unearned. His record fell to 2-2 with the loss.

The Rangers came back off the Arizona bullpen to score four ninth inning runs. Adrian Beltre’s second home run of the season leading off the ninth was the highlight hit of the inning.

The Ranger starting pitchers have been announced for this weekend’s series in Anaheim, and there is a surprise. Wandy Rodriguez will be added to the roster to start Friday’s game. Struggling Ross Detwiler will be pushed back to get extra sideline work before starting again next week in Arlington. Colby Lewis will start Saturday and Nick Martinez on Sunday. The Angels will counter with Garrett Richards Friday, C. J. Wilson on Saturday, and Hector Santiago on Sunday.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers are now 1-1 in inter-league play this season. Texas and Arizona play another two game series in Arlington on July 7 and 8. Rangers pitchers went 1-4 at the plate in the series – Nick Martinez 0-2 and Yovani Gallardo 1-2.

* Tuesday’s game was the first this year in which Ranger pitchers did not allow an extra base hit.

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CLOSE, BUT NO CIGAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers appeared to have a series win in hand with a 10-5 lead in the seventh inning of the rubber game of a three-game set with Seattle Sunday afternoon, but it wasn’t to be. The Mariners came back with six runs in the final three innings to walk off Safeco Field with an 11-10 victory and a series win two games to one. When the season began, the Rangers’ biggest area of concern was the bullpen. Sunday the concern proved valid.

It was former Ranger Nelson Cruz that drove home the game winner. He hit a sharp single to left field with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth to cap the rally. It was his fifth RBI of the day as he had earlier hit a pair of home runs, one with two men on base. The former Ranger fan favorite showed what the team is missing by choosing Sin-Shoo Choo at twice the price Cruz was willing to accept.

The Rangers used six pitchers on the day, and only one (Anthony Bass) performed well. Ross Detwiler started and was knocked out in the third inning. He gave up five runs on seven hits and a walk, ballooning his ERA to 10.95. It was Detwiler’s third bad start and his status in the rotation going forward has to be at least questionable, though manager Jeff Banister says that Detwiler will remain in the rotation. For sure, the starting rotation has two huge holes right now – Detwiler and the rotation spot vacated by Derek Holland.

Detwiler gave up three runs in the first two innings, but the Rangers appeared to take control of the game with a seven run third inning. It started with a Leonys Martin single. Elvis Andrus then reached base on a throwing error. Prince Fielder drove home the first run of the inning with a single. Another single loaded the bases, and Sin-Shoo Choo then plated the second run with a ground out. Adam Rosales followed with a run scoring single. Rougned Odor then grounded into a force out driving home the fourth run. That set the stage for Jake Smolinski’s first home run of the season, a three run blast that completed the seven run outburst.

Texas put together another rally in the sixth inning to score three more runs. Unfortunately, 10 runs was not enough with this Ranger bullpen.

Bass relieved Detwiler in the third inning and did an outstanding job again; a performance that should have earned a win. He pitched 3-2/3rds innings allowing no runs on four hits. He walked no one and struck out three.

That got the Rangers to the seventh inning. Shawn Tolleson, Tanner Scheppers and Neftali Feliz were supposed to be the backbone of this bullpen, with the question marks being the rest of the relief corps. On this day though, all three were scored upon. Tolleson gave up one run in the seventh, the first he’s allowed this year in five outings. Scheppers walked three men in the eighth; and they all scored, one on a Keone Kela bases loaded walk. That was the only batter Kela faced, as Feliz was called upon for a five out save. He allowed two inherited runners to score in the eighth inning on Ranger killer Kyle Seager’s single, to bring the Mariners within a run at 10-9. After the M’s tied the game at 10 with two outs in the ninth, Cruz singled home the game winner.

It was Feliz’s first blown save of the year, first loss of the year and first blown save ever against the Mariners. In fact, it was the first time the Mariners have scored on Feliz in 23 career appearances, including one start.

It was also unquestionably the most disappointing loss of the season for Texas.

The Rangers and Mariners traded 3-1 wins to open the series. Texas won Friday night, the first win in the opening game of a series this season in four tries. Yovani Gallardo started and shut out the Mariners for six innings. Tolleson was good again with a three up three down seventh inning. Two of the outs were strikeouts. Scheppers made his 2015 debut in the eighth inning. He was shaky, giving up a run on two hits. Neftali Feliz closed out the game by pitching a scoreless ninth inning.

Gallardo got the win. He’s 2-1 and his ERA dropped to 3.45. Tolleson and Scheppers earned holds, already the third for Tolleson. Feliz earned his second save.

Offensively, the batsmen scored in the first inning with Martin scoring on Fielder’s double to give the Gallardo a 1-0 lead before he ever took the mound. Robinson Chirinos became the first Ranger to hit two home runs this season in the fifth inning when he hit a solo shot to center field. Adam Rosales singled home the third run in the eighth inning.

On Saturday, the Rangers simply could not solve Felix Hernandez. There’s a reason he’s considered one the top pitchers in the American League, if not THE top pitcher. He’s good! He struck out 12 over seven innings, allowing a run on two hits. Danny Farquhar and Fernando Rodney finished off the Rangers in the eighth and ninth innings, as they allowed no base runners and struck out three of the six batters they faced.

Andrus drove in the Rangers’ run with a fifth inning ground out. Martin had both Ranger hits.

Hernandez improved to 2-0 on the season with a 2.37 ERA. Rodney earned his third save. Colby Lewis (1-1) took the loss as he allowed all three runs on 10 hits over 5-2/3rds innings.

The Rangers fell into last place in the West at 5-8 with Sunday’s loss. Houston surprisingly sits atop the division at 6-6, 1.5 games ahead of the Rangers. Next up for Texas are the Arizona Diamondbacks for two games in Phoenix after an off day on Monday. The Rangers are 19-10 all time against Arizona. The D-Backs will be the Rangers’ first non-divisional opponent and first inter-league opponent this year. Nick Martinez and Gallardo will be the starting pitchers Tuesday and Wednesday.

NOTABLE:

* Nelson Cruz’s two home runs Sunday brought his season total to eight, which leads the Major Leagues.

* The Rangers’ seven run inning was just their second since the start of the 2014 season.

* The Rangers are 1-4 in day games this year, having lost four straight since winning the afternoon finale in the opening series in Oakland. Surprisingly, the Rangers have seven home runs in the five day games, but just three home runs in the eight night games.

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AN OFF DAY!

BY: Richard W.Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – After playing 10 straight games to start the season, Texas gets their first off day Thursday after losing their second series in a row, this time to the Angels two games to one. The Rangers record is 4-6, and they are in fourth place behind ahead of only 3-4 Seattle.

Los Angeles routed Texas 10-2 in Wednesday afternoon’s series finale. Texas summoned Anthony Ranaudo to start the game in injured Derek Holland’s place. It did not go well. Ranaudo struggled with his command, and Los Angeles capitalized early with a six run second inning. Shoddy fielding contributed. Three of the runs scored after a muffed ground ball with two outs, which was surprisingly scored a hit. The Rangers mustered six hits in the game, and their only scores came on solo home runs in the fifth and ninth innings.

The Rangers won game two on Tuesday night 8-2, as they have won game two on all three series so far this year. It was also the game that Nick Martinez pitched. Martinez has pitched great, receiving super run support and winning half the games Texas has won. He’s allowed just one run in 14 innings over his two starts, and that was an unearned run on Tuesday night, so his ERA is a pristine league leading 0.00.

The Rangers have scored 37 runs on the season. They have hit eight home runs. 18 of the runs scored, and six of the eight home runs have come in the two games that Martinez has started.

It hasn’t been a free ride for Martinez though. He works fast. That keeps his fielders sharp. It also speeds up the game. Martinez is appreciative of the run support, saying after Tuesday’s game, “When these guys swing the bat hot like that, I try to do my best to get them back into the dugout.”

It’s just two starts. Way too early to go crazy and predict that he’ll make the All-Star team or some such. But in a season that looks bleak in a lot of areas, he’s the brightest light in the Rangers’ camp.

The series started Monday night with a disappointing 6-3 loss. Texas knocked Matt Shoemaker around for three first inning runs to seemingly take charge of the game. That lead lasted until the fifth, when Ross Detwiler gave up a pair of home runs, each of which was preceded by a walk. The four runs gave the Angels a 5-3 lead. They added a run in the ninth for the final score.

The attendance at Monday’s game was announced at 18,401. Shocking! It was the first game in almost five years that failed to draw 20,000. Since attendance in the American League is based on ticket sales, not the actual turnstile count, the total meant that the Rangers’ season ticket sales fell below 20,000 for the first time in years. Attendance has declined the past two seasons, and appears to be in for another decline of 20% or more this year.

After Thursday’s off day, the Rangers embark on an eight game road trip to the Pacific time zone. It starts with three games in Seattle to finish up the first round of division play. Next week has two off days as they play two games in Arizona on Tuesday and Wednesday and three over the weekend against the Angels to start a second round of divisional play.

NOTABLE:

* Tanner Scheppers will be activated for Friday’s game in Seattle. Anthony Ranaudo was sent back to AAA Round Rock after Wednesday’s game to make a roster spot available for Scheppers.

* The Texas bullpen has thrown 43-1/3rd innings in the first 10 games, the most bullpen innings in the Major Leagues.

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ONE WEEK IN THE BOOKS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers lost two of three this weekend to the Astros, their first series loss of the season. It dropped their season record to 3-4 as to date, they have alternated winning and losing each day.

The home opening game was even more disastrous than the regular season opener in Oakland. Starting pitcher Derek Holland threw only in the 80s in the first inning, gave up a run and came out of the game afterward. 24 hours later, he was parked on the 60-day disabled list with a shoulder strain. Outfielders Ryan Rua (ankle) and Sin-Shoo Choo (back) also left the game early with injuries. Rua was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Saturday. Choo did not play Saturday or start Sunday, but he pinch hit in the eighth inning of Sunday’s game, and stayed in the game in right field for the balance of the 14 inning affair amassing three plate appearances.

The Rangers never caught up with Houston in the opener after falling behind in the first inning and lost 5-1 with the lone run scoring from third on a Delino DeShields, Jr. ground ball force out.

The lone Ranger win came on Saturday in Yovani Gallardo’s home debut. The Fort Worth native admitted afterward that he was nervous pitching with his parents and friends in attendance, but he was fine, giving up two runs on eight hits over 5-2/3rd innings. He was the winning pitcher in the 6-2 Ranger win, his first W as a Ranger that evened his record at 1-1.

There wasn’t much to talk about offensively despite the four run margin. Astros’ errors made four of the six runs unearned. Elvis Andrus had two RBIs, while Rougned Odor and Carlis Peguero drove home the other two.

On Sunday, starting pitcher Colby Lewis encountered one bad inning – the second – when the Astros tagged him for four runs on four hits, none of which were singles. He ended up pitching into the eighth inning, allowing no more runs and just three additional hits.

Houston starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel breezed through six scoreless innings, before running into trouble in the seventh inning. The Rangers got back two runs to chase Keuchel and then took Lewis off the hook for the loss by scoring two more in the eighth to tie the game.

Neither team scored in the ninth inning, but the Rangers looked to have a walk-off win in hand when Leonys Martin hit a blast to right field with the bases loaded in the 10th. Astros’ right fielder George Springer broke Ranger fans’ hearts by making a fabulous catch on the drive as he crashed into the fence, most surely taking away a walk-off grand slam home run.

The game stayed tied until the 14th inning, when Houston scored two runs to win 6-4 and take the series two games to one. Logan Verrett, the seventh Ranger pitcher of the day, took the loss falling to 0-1.

With a week in the books, the Rangers are in some ways worse off than anticipated with their 3-4 record and in some ways better. The good part is that the division looks awful. The Angels and Mariners were thought to be the top two teams in the division. The Angels are just 2-4 and their top two starting pitchers – Jered Weaver and C. J. Wilson – have not pitched well. The Mariners are tied with the Astros for first place, just one-half game ahead of Texas with 3-3 records. Oakland is tied for third with the Rangers at 3-4.

The bad news of course is the injuries. Holland was counted on to be a mainstay in the rotation, especially after Yu Darvish was lost for the season. He’s out at least two months and the All-Star break may be a more realistic time frame for his return.

The Ranger offense has been puny, not unexpectedly. There’s virtually no power. Texas hit no home runs in the Houston series, and still have just the four they hit in game four at Oakland as the only long balls of the season. The team batting average is .197, the on-base percentage is .280 and the slugging percentage is .299.

The defense is awful too. The Rangers have made eight errors and rank 27th in fielding percentage.

Los Angeles is in town for three games starting tonight. Ross Detwiler and Nick Martinez start Monday’s and Tuesday’s games. A replacement for Holland to start Wednesday afternoon’s series finale has not been identified.

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HERE COMES HOUSTON

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers host the Astros Friday afternoon in their 2015 home opener. They will take the field with a 2-2 record after splitting their season opening series in Oakland. A .500 road trip is welcome for almost any team, any time in the Major Leagues. For a team expected to finish the year below .500, a team that had the youngest 25-man opening day roster in the big leagues, a roster which included six rookies; a .500 road trip should be ecstasy.

However, the play on the field didn’t look nearly as good as the result. In the first three Oakland games, all of which had 7:05 start times locally, Texas managed to score just three runs on 12 hits, none of which were home runs. Two of their starting pitchers failed to complete five innings, and defensively, they made five errors, after a scoring change on Thursday reduced the error total from six. They were indeed fortunate to manage a win in those first three games after getting out-scored 19-3.

Thursday’s finale started at 12:35 PM, and the light of day brought out the thunder in the Rangers’ bats. They staked starting pitcher Nick Martinez to a 3-0 lead before he even took the mound, added two more runs in the third and three more in the fourth to extend the lead to 8-0 en route to a 10-1 getaway day victory. Martinez completed seven innings to tie his Major League high. He surrendered just four hits and no runs. He pitched comfortably with the early lead, as the Ranger batters supported him with four home runs. (Choo, Moreland, Beltre and Odor.)

So while the results were good, there is cause for concern. The two starting pitchers obtained in trades this past off-season pitched poorly. Yovani Gallardo completed just four innings in the season opener as Texas was shutout 8-0. Two days later, Ross Detwiler failed to complete five innings, as Oakland again routed the Rangers, this time by the score of 10-0. These are the two pitchers GM Jon Daniels obtained in trades this winter to upgrade the starting rotation. It’s just one start for both pitchers, but recent history indicates that pitchers moving from the National to the American League, as Gallardo and Ross are doing, have difficulties with the transition.

The team defense was also poor. Elvis Andrus initially committed four errors in those first three games until one was taken away by the scoring change. Cal Ripken, Jr. once committed just three errors over an entire season at shortstop. With Andrus, the problem looks to be one of focus, which is disappointing. This is Andrus’ seventh year in the league. He needs to be one of the team leaders that younger players look up to as an example.

Prince Fielder looked especially clumsy Wednesday night as he got lost on a high pop just a few paces from the first base bag, literally flopped on his back side in his attempt, and didn’t so much as put a glove on the ball. He started three of the four games at first base. Mitch Moreland is a far superior defensive first baseman. You have to wonder if the day is coming sooner rather than later when Moreland gets the lion’s share of playing time at first with Fielder moving to designated hitter.

The concern about vulnerability against left-handed pitchers grew too. The Ranger regular lineup has five left-handed batters, three of which struggle against left-handed pitchers. Oakland started a left-hander (Scott Kazmir) on Wednesday, and manager Jeff Banister replaced two left-handed hitters with righties Jake Smolinski and Adam Rosales. It didn’t make much difference as the Rangers managed just three hits on the night and Oakland romped 10-0.

One bright light on the series was the bullpen in game two. For sure the bullpen looked like the weakest area of the team on paper, with the concern starting with closer Neftali Feliz and the top set-up men. Colby Lewis turned in a fine start, allowing a run on three hits over six innings. With Tanner Scheppers on the disabled list, Banister went with rookie Keone Kela, making his Major League debut, in the seventh inning. He got into trouble, as Oakland loaded the bases with one out. However Kela got out of hot water with a double play ball.

Shawn Tolleson, who the Rangers feared would start the season on the disabled list, pitched a one-two-three eighth inning striking out one; and Feliz matched those results in the ninth inning to earn his first save. It was a good sign to see the pen hold the lead in the final third of a close game.

The winning pitchers in the series, Lewis and Martinez, collectively started almost one-third of the games last season – Lewis 29 and Martinez 24. Last season, Lewis struggled with an ERA north of 5.00, but he improved as the season progressed. He was recovering from multiple surgeries and the improved performance on the field correlated with improved health. A winter of rest seems to have improved his health even more.

Martinez was clearly part of last year’s rotation because of the onslaught of injuries. However, he showed material improvement last September. He impressed enough in spring training to earn a spot in the rotation, and if Thursday’s performance in Oakland is any indication; he looks poised to build from the experience he got last year in those 24 starts.

Banister said in spring training that he planned to use his whole roster, and he did in this series. Friday’s starting pitcher Derek Holland was the only player that didn’t see action, and Delino DeShields, Jr. was the only position player that did not start a game. DeShields did garner his first Major League hit on Wednesday after relieving Leonys Martin in center field.

The Rangers’ first 13 games of the season have divisional foes as opponents. Houston will sit in the other dugout for the opening series in Arlington, coming in with a 1-2 record. Holland starts on Friday, followed by Gallardo and Lewis on Saturday and Sunday. The Angels follow Houston to town for three games to start next week, before the team gets their first day off of the season after 10 straight games. The divisional swing will be completed over the second weekend of the season with three games in Seattle.

NOTABLE:

* Tanner Scheppers pitched a perfect inning for Frisco Thursday night in his first minor league re-hab appearance. He needed just 12 pitches to strike out the side.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Ranger Rap, much like the Rangers’ front office has been in hibernation this winter. However, with the 2015 season starting Monday for Texas, Ranger Rap is back. The team snatched a tie from the jaws of victory Saturday in their final spring game. They held a 4-0 lead with two outs in the ninth and no Mets on base. Then came a walk, a bloop single and another walk. That set the stage for a game tying grand slam home run, When the Rangers failed to score in the bottom of the ninth inning, the game went into the books as a 4-4 tie.

Saturday’s tie made the Rangers’ spring record 9-19-5 and ended a nine game losing streak, but that’s still 10 straight games without a win. Certainly, wins in spring training count for nothing in terms of making the playoffs; but you can bet that GM Jon Daniels wishes they had won a few games in the final third of training camp to build momentum for the regular season.

After the game, the Rangers departed for Oakland for Monday night’s season opener, with Sonny Gray starting for the Athletics and Yovani Gallardo for the Rangers. The Rangers’ roster was officially set Sunday. The normal batting order is Leonys Martin leading off as the centerfielder, followed by Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Prince Fielder at first base and Adrian Beltre at third base batting third and fourth in some order, Sin-Shoo Choo bats fifth and plays right field followed by designated hitter Mitch Moreland, left fielder Ryan Rua, catcher Robinson Chirinos, and second baseman Rougned Odor.

The four position player back-ups are catcher Carlos Corporan, infielder Adam Rosales, and outfielders Jake Smolinski and Delino DeShields.

The starting rotation was announced earlier in the week: Gallardo, Derek Holland, Colby Lewis, Ross Detwiler, and Nick Martinez. Lewis, Detwiler and Martinez are scheduled to start games two, three and four in Oakland, with Holland starting the home opener against the Astros next Friday.

The final seven for the bullpen are closer Neftali Feliiz, Shawn Tolleson, Roman Mendez, Phil Klein, Keone Kela, Logan Verrett, and Anthony Bass. Tanner Scheppers, Kyuji Fujikawa, Matt Harrison and Lisaverto Bonilla begin the season on the 15-day disabled list. Yu Darvish, Martin Perez, Jurickson Profar and Antoan Richardson start the season on the 60-day disabled list.

A roster usually ends up with a couple of surprises, and for this roster, one surprise is a bullpen of seven right-handed pitchers. No lefty reliever impressed enough to make the team. Sam Freeman was thought to be the chief left-handed specialist in the pen when he was acquired in a trade last weekend, but he didn’t show enough to stick, despite his record of 2-0 with a 2.61 ERA last year with the Cardinals. He’s out of options, so was designated for assignment.

Kela would have been thought of as a surprise when spring training began, but was all but assured a spot in the pen when the Rangers arrived from Arizona for the final two exhibition games at home against the Mets. He was unscored upon in nine appearances in Arizona.

Verrett was claimed on waivers from Baltimore this week. He’s a Rule 5 draftee and must stay on the active roster all year. If not, he goes through waivers and if he clears, must be offered back to the team from which he was drafted before he can be sent to the minor leagues. Verrett, a Texas native that pitched at Baylor, was attractive because he is stretched out to pitch multiple innings. He is the likely “long man” in the bullpen though Klein and Bass can also pitch more than an inning at a time.

At this point, the large concern is in two areas. Can the offense score enough runs, and can the bullpen hold a lead?

First, the offense. Last year, the team scored 637 runs, the second lowest total since moving to the ballpark; which is effectively the worst offensive performance over that span, as the fewest runs scored total was in 1994, a season that ended on August 12 when the players went on strike. They need to increase 2014′s total by approximately 150 runs to be competitive. It’s imperative that Fielder and Choo, who’s collective salaries represent about one-third of the Rangers’ payroll, perform to expectations. They need to combine for 50 home runs and 200 RBIs. If they don’t, this team is sunk.

The bullpen could be a disaster early. Feliz’s velocity is down, usually just in the 91-92 range; certainly nowhere near the 96-97 he routinely threw as the closer of the 2010 and 2011 teams that went to the World Series. He also did not perform well this spring on the second day when pitching back-to-back. He’s at least a concern. Scheppers was counted on to be the eighth inning set-up man in games with a late lead, but he’s on the disabled list, though he threw a nice outing at Frisco Sunday and could return sooner rather than later.

This roster has nine players that have not been on an opening day roster, three of which have not appeared in a Major League game. All told, there are six rookies.

The rotation appears to be serviceable, though it doesn’t stack up with the Mariners and Angels, each of which have three starters better than any in the Rangers’ rotation. There may be help on the way. Martin Perez was expected mid-season in his return from Tommy John surgery. His throwing program is progressing better than expected. Alex “Chi Chi” Gonzalez was impressive again Saturday with five shutout innings against the Mets. It almost makes you wonder if he’s being assigned to AAA solely to push his arbitration and free agent years out one additional year.

As for the division, Los Angeles and Seattle are the favorites. L. A. won 98 games last season, the most in the Majors. They have a better rotation than the Rangers, a better closer than Feliz with Huston Street, and Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the middle of their batting order, clearly an upgrade over Fielder and Beltre. Seattle has the best rotation in the division, led by Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton, and added Nelson Cruz for more pop in the batting order to go along with Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager. They also brought in the fences at Safeco Field.

The Rangers then are hoping to escape the cellar and are playing for third place at best. Houston bested them by five games last year, and looks to be getting better by virtue of young players getting better. At Oakland, Billy Beane has made so many changes from the team that had the division championship well in hand last July 15, and then lost in the Wild Card play-in game; that it is difficult to predict where they will finish. They have been the class of the division since 2012, and may challenge the Mariners and Angels for the division championship. They may also fall behind the Rangers and Astros in the standings. Who knows?

Monday the game begin to count in the standings. The Rangers open with four in Oakland, then return home for three next weekend with the Astros and three more with the Angels. By the time most Ranger fans have filed their 2014 federal income tax return, we will have a much better fix on the Ranger team we have on the field this season.

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2015 COACHING STAFF

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers finally announced the majority of Jeff Banister’s coaching staff this past weekend. Pitching coach Mike Maddux, hitting coach Dave Magadan, assistant hitting coach Bobby Jones, and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins all return in those roles from last year’s staff. Former Ranger draft pick and player Steve Buechele will be the bench coach, Hector Santiago replaces Benji Molina as the catchers and first base coach, and Jayce Tingler joins the staff in a newly created position – Major League Field Coordinator.

Buechele, Ortiz and Tingler are all promotions within the Rangers’ organization. Buechele has managed Ranger farm clubs for the past five years. He played more than 1,100 Major League games, mostly with the Rangers, but also with the Cubs and Pirates. This will be Ortiz’s tenth season in the organization. He has been the minor league catching coordinator for the last three seasons and is credited for much of the improvement of Robinson Chirinos last season. Tingler has been with the Rangers for eight seasons and has been the minor league field coordinator for the past three. This position has been likened to being the assistant bench coach.

Maddux and Hawkins are returning for their eighth seasons on the Rangers’ coaching staff. Magadan is back for his third season as hitting coach, while Jones is back for his second season as assistant hitting coach.

The announcements leave the Rangers one coach short. They are still looking for a replacement for Gary Pettis, who accepted a position on the Houston Astros’ coaching staff. Pettis was the Rangers’ third base coach, and he also worked with outfielders and base runners. Pat Listach is the only rumored candidate at this time. Listach was the Astros third base coach the past two seasons.

In roster moves, the Rangers made it official that they are declining the club option for Alex Rios, which makes him a free agent. Pitchers Nate Adcock and Alfredo Figaro along with infielder Ed Lucas were taken off the roster. Figaro and Lucas were outrighted to AAA Round Rock. Adcock became a free agent when he refused assignment to Round Rock.

The Rangers and Colby Lewis have ended negotiations at least for the time being on a 2015 contract. Lewis opted to test the free agent market rather than accept the Rangers’ offer. General Manager Jon Daniels did say however that the “door is still open” for Lewis to return to the Rangers next year.

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JEFF, NOT TIM

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

To the surprise of many, the Rangers named Jeff Banister, not Tim Bogar, to be their new manager. Bogar led the team to a 14-8 record after taking the helm as interim manager when Ron Washington resigned. He was considered a strong favorite to land the job. GM Jon Daniels said later that Bogar did not lose the job. Banister simply overwhelmed them in the interview process and won the job. Banister was introduced at a Friday morning press conference at Globe Life Park. Three players attended the press conference – Derek Holland, Elvis Andrus and Sin-Shoo Choo.

Daniels described the selection process in more detail. He said they screened approximately 40 people to come up with a list of eight candidates to interview. Those included internal candidates Bogar, Mike Maddux, and Steve Buechele; as well as candidates from other organizations – Banister, Tory Lovullo, Kevin Cash, Joe McEwing and Alex Cora. After the initial interviews, the Rangers pared the list to three finalists – Banister, Bogar and Cash. Daniels said that 12 team officials were involved in the interview process. It also included seeing Banister at his home in the Houston area prior to making the decision.

The clue that Bogar was no longer the leader of the pack came on Wednesday when it was tweeted that the coaches were free to interview with other organizations. If Bogar was going to be named manager, he likely would have retained a number of the current coaches. The tweet surely signified that the manager would be someone else, someone that had flexibility in naming his coaching staff.

Banister is 50. He was born in Oklahoma, but grew up in Texas, graduating from LaMarque High School. He has shown a lot of gumption dealing with health issues from an early age. He was diagnosed with cancer in high school and was advised to have his leg amputated. He refused and beat the cancer after seven operations. In junior college, he was involved in a home plate collision that paralyzed him for 10 days; and was told by the doctors that he would never be able to play competitively again. He beat the odds on that one too, coming back to play well enough to earn a scholarship to the University of Houston, where he played well enough to get drafteed by Pittsburgh in the 25th round of the 1986 June Amateur draft.

His professional playing career spanned seven years and included five days in the Major Leagues in which he never took the field and batted once. He beat out an infield single in that at bat to finish with a 1.000 batting average for his Major League career. When the playing career ended, he coached and manageed in the minor leagues until taking over as bench coach of the Pirates during the 2010 season.

Banister came highly recomended by Clint Hurdle, who was the Rangers’ hitting coach in 2010. Hurdle also had a previous association with Jon Daniels early this century in the Colorado Rockies organization. Quite candidly, Hurdle was so impressive in his stint here as hitting coach that he likely would have been tabbed as the Rangers’ manager had he contracturally been available, but he is signed through 2017 with the Pirates.

At the press conference, Banister was asked about his coaching staff, but gave little indication of what the staff will look like. He said that he had spoken with Bogar, who is signed through next season, pitching coach Mike Maddux, and hitting coach Dave Magadan. Third base coach Gary Pettis accepted a position on A. J. Hinch’s coaching staff in Houston. Banister gave no other indication as to his thinking on the coaching staff.

At this point in time, the Rangers are in the mode of bringing young players to the Major Leagues and re-building the winning culture. Banister is viewed as someone that can do both. Certainly at small market Pittsburgh, he has Worked to develop young players. Pittsburgh has made the playoffs the past two seasons as a Wild Card team after failing to play .500 in a season for 20 consecutive years. The Rangers talk boldly about being back in contention next season, and they might; but the real course of the team is the bringing the plethora of top prospects the minor league system is producing to the Major Leagues in the coming seasons; players such as Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Luke Jackson and Alex Gonzalez, just to name four.

It is generally believed that Ron Washington would have been the manager of the Rangers next year had he not resigned. Daniels has said as much. Washington was getting a pass on the team’s 2014 record because of injuries. The real question though was always that in view of the direction of the team, was Washington the right man to manage the team going forward? Now that he is gone, situations and problems have become known, such that it is painfully obvious that Washington was not the right man. Thankfully for the Rangers and their fans, Washington resigned. Hopefully, Banister is the man the Rangers need to manage the team going forward.

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MANAGERIAL UPDATE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The search for Ron Washington’s replacement is the Rangers’ number one priority at this point. They interviewed internal candidates Steve Buechele, who managed the Rangers’ AAA team at Round Rock last summer, and pitching coach Mike Maddux last week. This week, they plan to interview interim manager Tim Bogar and five outside candidates. The candidates from other organizations have been identified as Jeff Bannister, the Pirates bench coach this past season, Red Sox bench coach Tory Lovullo, White Sox third base coach Joe McEwing, Indians bullpen coach Kevin Cash and Alex Cora who manages Caguas in the Puerto Rico Winter League.

Similar to Jon Daniels’ first managerial search in 2006 after he fired Buck Showalter, none of the candidates have previously been a Major League manager,

Cash is the least experienced of the group, having finished his playing career just three seasons ago. All of the other outside candidates have some managerial experience in the minor leagues. Lovullo has been considered in recent years for the managerial openings with the Dodgers and Cubs. He has been John Farrell’s bench coach for four years at both Toronto and Boston. Lovullo and McEwing are thought to be under consideration for the vacant managerial position at Minnesota, where St. Paul native Paul Molitor is thought to be the favorite.

Bogar is still considered the leading candidate after leading the Rangers to a 14-8 record after Washington resigned, including winning 13 of the final 16 games. In another development, the Arizona Diamondbacks asked for and were granted permission to interview Bogar for their managerial opening. Bogar is under contract with the Rangers for one more year, which precipitated the need to request permission from the Rangers.

Texas also announced a host of roster moves on Monday. Outfielder Engel Beltre, right-hander Wilmer Font, left-hander Pedro Figuroa, and infielder Guilder Rodriguez cleared waivers and the Rangers have assigned them outright to AAA Round Rock. Also first baseman/catcher J. P. Arencibia and first and third basman Kevin Kouzmanoff cleared waivers. Since both of these players have previously cleared waivers and been outrighted to the minors, they have the option to take free agency rather than accept assignment to Round Rock.

Left-handed reliever Joseph Ortiz was also waived, but he was claimed by the Cubs. Ortiz broke a leg in an automobile accident last winter, and was assigned to AA Frisco when he was physically able to play. However, he wasn’t very effective for the Rough Riders and had a questionable attitude, such that he was not called up to the Rangers in September when the Major League rosters expanded.

The moves bring the Rangers’ 40-man roster down to 37 according Ranger media relations director John Blake. There will definitely be more cuts from those 37, as players such as Yu Darvish have not been reinstated to the 40-man roster from the 60-day disable list as yet. On top of that, at least two top prospects will be added to the 40-man roster – catcher Jorge Alfaro and starting pitcher Luke Jackson. If they are not, they would be subject to the Rule 5 draft in December.

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