MAKE IT SEVEN OUT OF 10!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The White Sox routed Texas 16-2 in Sunday’s series finale, but the Rangers won the series two games to one, and finished the home stand by winning all three series and seven of 10 games. Sunday’s loss ended a five game Ranger win streak which ties for the longest in the American League this year.

The opening game of the series was the best overall performance of the team this year; and at the end of the season, that may still be true. The offense set season highs for hits (18) and runs scored (12). Robinson Chirinos became the first Ranger to hit two home runs this year. Leonys Martin also homered to make this the first multi-home run game of the season.

On the pitching side, Martin Perez was absolutely magnificent. He threw a complete game shutout giving up three hits and a walk. 12-0 was the final score. He won his third game in four starts and lowered his ERA to 1.67 for the season. It’s only four starts, but Perez is pitching at an All-Star level.

The offense scored early staking Perez to a two run lead in the first inning. They essentially put the game out of reach with seven more runs in the third. Perez deserves a lot of credit for maintaining his focus with the big lead. He kept his pitches down in the zone coercing 11 groundouts in the game. Texas added single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings.

Friday’s game was amazingly the fifth Ranger shutout in the first 17 games. The complete game, the first this season for Texas, gave the bullpen a badly needed day off. Neal Cotts for example had appeared in seven of the first 14 games of the year.

Saturday’s 6-3 win secured the series win, but was emotional on a different level. Colby Lewis was the winning pitcher. He was making his second start since returning from multiple surgeries that kept him out of the big leagues last year. He won for the first time in almost two years to even his record at 1-1.

The Rangers scored in the first inning, one more run than they scored for Lewis in his first start last Monday. A base running miscue limited the scoring to just one run, after the first three batters got hits, including number three hitter Alex Rios’s run scoring double. The White Sox came back to tie the game in the second inning as the first three batters singled to load the bases. Lewis though coolly coerced a ground ball to third that turned into an around the horn double play. The runner on third scored, but Tyler Flowers struck out to end the inning. With bases loaded and no outs a team is likely to score, and Lewis did a masterful job to hold the Sox, who came into the series leading the league in runs scored, to one run.

Texas came back in the fourth inning to add four more runs, the highlight of which was Prince Fielder’s second home run of the year. That was enough for Lewis to nab the win, which he qualified for by completing the fifth inning without further scoreboard damage. Last Monday, Lewis also gave up one run in five innings, and manager Ron Washington was criticized for sending him out to pitch in the sixth, when the roof caved in. Washington again sent Lewis out to start the sixth, but on a short leash. Washington called for a reliever when two of the first three Sox reached base.

Lewis left the game to a standing ovation. He is the most successful post season pitcher statistically. The crowd of more than 45,000 knew of his physical struggles and showed their appreciation. Chuck Morgan followed with another of his outstanding video pieces – highlights from many of Lewis’s past Ranger successes accompanied by John Sebastion’s recording of “Welcome Back”. Lewis spoke about his walk from the mound to the dugout and the crowd reaction after the game saying, “It was sentimental.”

Aaron Poreda and Jason Frasor got the final two outs in the sixth without any White Sox crossing the plate. Neal Cotts pitched a perfect seventh inning. Alexi Ogando ran into trouble giving up two runs in the eighth, but Kevin Kouzmanoff got one of those back with his second home run in the bottom half. Joakim Soria pitched a one-two-three ninth to nail down the win and his third save of the season. 6-3 was the final score.

Lewis told media members after the game, “I’d like to thank the Texas Rangers and the organization for giving me an opportunity tonight. It wouldn’t have meant as much for me to get back out there without having this uniform on.”

Sunday was a miserable performance. Robbie Ross started and gave up a two run home run to Jordan Danks in the third inning. Texas pushed across a run in the third and fourth innings, the latter without benefit of a base hit, to tie the game at two. However, the tie was short lived. A Kevin Kouzmanoff error in the fifth led to three unearned White Sox runs to give the Chicagoans the lead for good. Ross was knocked out in the sixth, allowing seven runs, four of which were earned, on the day. The bullpen gave up nine more including seven in the ninth inning, all surrendered by Hector Noesi.

Offensively, the Rangers managed just one more hit in the game for a total of two. Luis Sardinas, one of the top Ranger minor league prospects, singled in the eighth inning for his first Major League hit.

The highly successful home stand moved the Rangers solidly into second place in the West, 2.5 games behind Oakland and 2.5 games ahead of third place Los Angeles. At 11-8, the Rangers are tied with the Yankees for the second best record in the American League. Make no mistake about it though, the successful home stand came at the expense of bottom rung teams. When the playoffs begin in October, it is doubtful that the Astros, Mariners or White Sox will be among the 10 qualifiers.

The schedule stiffens this week. Texas is on the road, opening Monday night in Oakland for three games. After an off day on Thursday, the trip concludes with three more games over the weekend in Seattle. The team is back in town to host Oakland next week, followed by a trip to Los Angeles, so the next 12 games are all against divisional opponents. Yu Darvish (1-0, 0.82), Nick Martinez (0-0, 4.50) and Martin Perez (3-0, 1.86) are the announced starters in Oakland.

ROSTER MOVES: Friday, the Rangers placed Tanner Scheppers on the 15 day disabled list with inflammation in his right elbow and forearm, which he now claims he has experienced since spring training. Left-handed reliever Aaron Poreda was called up from AAA Round Rock, and Express infielder Andy Parrino was designated for assignment in order to make room on the 40-man roster for Poreda. On Saturday, outfielder Jim Adduci was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken finger sustained sliding into second base Friday night. Adduci is expected to miss about four weeks. Infielder Luis Sardinas was recalled from AA Frisco.

INJURY UPDATE: Matt Harrison had an outstanding outing in a minor league rehab start on Saturday. He tossed eight shutout innings for Frisco, allowing three hits and a walk. He threw 86 pitches, 54 (63%) of which were strikes. He will likely be activated to pitch next weekend in Seattle.

NOTABLE:

* Kevin Kouzmanoff was hitless Sunday to end a 10 game hitting streak. On Monday, Kouzmanoff was named as the American League Player of the Week.

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THREE IN A ROW!

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Texas Rangers coughed up an early 4-0 lead Thursday afternoon, but came back to beat Seattle 8-6 to win their third game in a row, the longest winning streak of the young season. Texas won their second consecutive series three games to one to improve their 2014 record to 9-7, which trails the Athletics by 1.5 games, two in the loss column. Oakland at 10-5 has the best record in the American League. Seattle fell to 7-8 and to a third place tie with the Angels in the division.

Tanner Scheppers started for Texas, his fourth outing of the year. Ranger hitters staked him to an early lead by plating three runs in the first inning and adding another in the second on Sin-Shoo Choo’s first home run in a Ranger uniform. However, as he is wont to do, Scheppers gave up a big inning in the third. In three of his four starts, Scheppers has given up an inning of at least five runs. Thursday afternoon, he recorded just one out in the third inning and ended the day with six runs allowed, all earned on six hits. Included among the Mariners’ six hits was the first home run from Robinson Cano as a Mariner. Scheppers walked three batters and struck out two. The outing ballooned his ERA to 9.82.

Kevin Kouzmanoff led off the third inning with a double knocking Seattle starting pitcher Erasmo Ramirez out of the game. Mitch Moreland doubled him home and later scored on a ground out to tie the game at six. Texas took the lead with two more runs in the fifth inning. 8-6 was the final score. Pedro Figueroa (2-1) was the winning pitcher, Joakim Soria pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his second save. Joe Beimel (0-1) took the loss in relief for Seattle.

The premier game of the series was Wednesday’s stellar pitching matchup between Seattle’s “King” Felix Hernandez, a past Cy Young Award winner, and the Rangers’ Yu Darvish. The game lived up to the billing, as both pitchers were magnificent. Darvish finally was scored upon, allowing a pair of second inning runs, the first runs he has allowed this year in three starts. He completed seven innings, striking out eight and walking two. The two runs moved Darvish’s ERA from zero to 0.82. Seattle batters struck for seven hits, a triple and six singles.

Hernandez was even better. He turned in seven shutout innings, but was removed from the game one batter into the eighth when Leonys Martin tripled leading off. Martin scored to cut the Mariners’ lead to 2-1, and that was the score going into the bottom of the ninth.

Seattle closer Fernando Rodney took the mound to seal the deal. He was great for two batters, getting a fly out from Alex Rios and striking out Fielder. He never retired another batter. A single, walk and error loaded the bases. Rodney then threw a wild pitch allowing the runner on third base to score the tying run. Mitch Moreland then scored the game winner on a soft Martin single into short left center field.

3-2 was the final score, the fourth walk-off win of the year for Texas, which leads the Majors. Relievers Pedro Figueroa and Rodney (0-1) were the winning and losing pitchers respectively.

In the series opener, the Rangers’ offense simply did not show up. The start time temperature was officially 52 degrees, and it quickly dipped into the 40′s. The Rangers’ bats were colder than the temperature. Mariners’ left-handed rookie Reonis Elias made his third start of the season and won his first Major League game by holding Texas to a run on five hits over 6-2/3rds innings. He struck out five, walked two, and lowered his ERA to 2.16. Texas managed seven hits total in the game, only one of which was for extra bases – a double from Fielder. He scored the lone Rangers run, driven in by Kouzamanoff.

The good news for Rangers’ fans was Colby Lewis. He made his first Major League start in 21 months and did well. He shut out the M’s for four innings, surrendered a home run to Mike Zunino in the fifth inning, and should have been taken out then, as his pitch count was almost 90. He had accomplished all that could be accomplished in his return to the mound. Unfortunately, he came back out for the sixth inning and managed to retire just one more batter in the game. In the end, he was charged with four earned runs in taking his first loss of the year. His ERA ballooned to 6.75.

Lewis was relieved by Pedro Figueroa who managed to get just one out in the sixth inning and gave up three more runs. 7-1 was the final score. Hector Noesi, acquired over the weekend in a trade with the Mariners, made his first Ranger appearance and finished the sixth, seventh and eighth innings without further scoreboard damage to lower his ERA to 8.10.

In game two on Tuesday, Robbie Ross put together a great performance on the mound. He pitched 7.2 innings, giving up no runs on five hits. He didn’t walk anyone, but hit Brad Miller twice. He kept the ball low in the strike zone to coax 16 groundouts. Not surprisingly, the game time was 2:22.

The Rangers’ offense supported him with two early runs on back-to-back home runs from Fielder and Kouzmanoff. Both were their first for the Rangers. Texas put the game out of reach in the eighth inning with three more runs, two of which were also driven in by Kouzmanoff. 5-0 was the final score. It was the Rangers’ fourth shutout of the year.

When Matt Harrison returns to the rotation, Ross or Scheppers is the likely candidate to return to the bullpen. Ross went a long way toward staking his claim to stay in the rotation. His ERA is now 1.00 for the season.

The home stand concludes this weekend with three games against the White Sox. Martin Perez (2-0), Colby Lewis (0-1) and Robbie Ross (1-0) are the Friday, Saturday and Sunday starters. Locally, Friday’s game will be televised on channel 21, while Saturday’s and Sunday’s games will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest. Sunday’s game begins at 2:05, while the other two have 7:05 start times.

ROSTER MOVES: On Monday, the Rangers designated Daniel McCutchen for assignment. The move made available spots on both the 40-man and 25-man active roster for Colby Lewis, Monday’s starting pitcher. On Wednesday, the Rangers announced that McCutchen had cleared waivers and had been assigned to AAA Round Rock.

INJURY UPDATE: Matt Harrison made his rehab start for AA Frisco Monday night, and the results were less than expected. He needed 77 pitches to complete 3-1/3 innings, allowing three runs on six hits. In his defense, it was a cold blustery night in North Little Rock with temperatures in the low to mid 40′s. He likely will be afforded one additional start prior to being activated, which will not be on April 23 as previously projected. His next appearance will be this Saturday for either AA Frisco or AAA Round Rock. Also, GM Jon Daniels told the media that Derek Holland is ahead of schedule with his throwing program at the Rangers’ Surprise, Arizona spring training facility. With his knee injury, the real test of his rehabilitation will be when he begins pitchers’ fielding practice drills. Lastly, Joe Saunders had a Wednesday bullpen throwing session cut short with pain in his left ankle.

NOTABLE:

* The Rangers’ bullpen has gone 14-1/3rd innings without giving up a run and have a 0.42 ERA in the seven games so far on the current home stand.

* Texas has won all three home series this year, and has won all three final games of those series.

* With Hector Noesi’s appearance in this series, the Rangers have now utilized 30 players in games this year, the most in the Majors.

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EXTRA DOMINANT

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers continue to dominate Houston as they took two of three games this weekend to win their second series of the year. Both wins were by the score of 1-0. Texas has dominated the Astros in recent years, having won 15 consecutive series between the two Texas teams dating back to 2008. Since 2009, the Rangers have a 38-8 record against Houston, a .826 winning percentage.

The Rangers complete the first two weeks of the season with a 6-6 record, winning two series at home two games to one, and losing two series on the road two games to one.

Martin Perez closed out the Houston series Sunday afternoon with eight shutout innings to win his second game of the year against no losses. He allowed five hits and walked three, while striking out two. The Rangers’ defense supported Perez with four double plays, while catcher Robinson Chirinos threw out two would be Astro base stealers. Alexi Ogando pitched a perfect ninth inning for his first save. Donnie Murphy’s sacrifice fly in the sixth inning scored Josh Wilson with the only run of the game. Brett Oberholtzer (0-3) took the loss for Houston.

On Friday night in the series opener, Yu Darvish made his second start of the year and was simply dominant. He completed eight innings, allowing just one hit. He retired the first 15 Astros he faced. Matt Dominguez singled to open the sixth inning to end the perfect game bid. Jose Altuve walked in the seventh inning. Those were the only two Houston base runners when Darvish was on the mound. Darvish has completed 15 innings in two starts this year giving up just 10 base runners (eight hits and two walks), none of which have scored. He finished second in last year’s Cy Young voting and looks poised to move up a notch in the voting this year.

The problem is that the Rangers’ offense is giving him no support. Darvish has thrown 190 pitches in those two starts, and the score of the game when he delivered each of those pitches was 0-0. In the first start, the Ranger hitters found home plate after his last inning pitched, and the bullpen held on to the lead to make Darvish the winning pitcher. No such luck Friday night. The Ranger hitters waited until the 12th inning to finally score to take a 1-0 victory, the third walk-off win this year. Chirinos singled home the run to make Houston’s Brad Peacock (0-1) the losing pitcher. Jason Frasor (1-0) pitched a scoreless 12th inning to record the victory.

Saturday night’s game went extra innings again. Kevin Kouzmanoff singled home a run in the first inning, while J. P. Arencibia drove home a second inning run with a ground out to give Texas an early 2-0 lead. The Astros however struck for five fourth inning runs off Tanner Scheppers to take a 5-2 lead. A walk and a pair of singles loaded the bases for Houston with one out in the fourth. Houston tied the game at two with a sacrifice fly and single. Robbie Grossman then broke the tie with a three run blast into the right field seats. Texas came back with a run in the bottom half of the inning and cut the lead to one run with another run in the eighth.

Michael Choice pinch hit to start the ninth and tied the game on the second pitch he saw with his first career home run. The run took Scheppers off the hook for the loss and sent the game into extra innings for the second straight night. The walk-off magic was not to be on Saturday though. Jason Castro tripled with one out in the Houston half of the 10th. Jose Altuve’s sacrifice fly drove him home for what proved to be the game winner.

Elvis Andrus singled to start the home half of the 10th. He promptly got into scoring position by stealing second base. Alex Rios grounded out though. Kouzmanoff struck out and Choice grounded out to end the game. Joakim Soria (1-1) was the losing pitcher for the Rangers. Kevin Chapman (1-0), who gave up Choice’s game tying home run in the ninth inning, was the winning pitcher. Anthony Bass pitched the scoreless 10th for Houston to earn his second save of the season.

When the season began, there was great concern over the pitching, particularly the starting pitching with Darvish, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland on the disabled list. Colby Lewis was also working to take a stab at the starting rotation after undergoing two surgeries last year. In actuality the starting rotation has been fine, especially since Darvish was activated after missing just one start. In the last eight games, the starting pitchers have posted a 2.39 ERA, but the Rangers are just 4-4 in those games. The bullpen is perhaps of more concern with an ERA of 5.25 before Ogando’s scoreless relief inning Sunday. The bullpen has converted just two of four save opportunities, and has taken the loss in four games.

The greater concern though is the offense. ANEMIC! Texas is averaging 3.75 runs per game. They twice scored 10 runs in a game and are 1-1 in those games. They have scored just 25 runs in the other 10 games, a miserable 2.5 runs per game. Going into play Sunday, just eight teams had scored fewer runs than the Rangers. They have hit five home runs on the season, even with half the games played in hitter friendly Globe Life Park.

Prince Fielder is particularly disappointing. He’s hitting .149 with just two extra base hits, both of which were doubles, and three RBIs. Alex Rios has been the Rangers best offensive player, one of five Rangers to have hit a home run and leading the team with seven RBIs. He has also stolen three bases.

Texas now trails Oakland by two games in the West, as the A’s are off to a fine 8-4 start. The home stand continues with seven games this week. Seattle is in town for four games starting Monday night, followed by the White Sox next weekend for three.

ROSTER MOVES: Over the weekend, the Rangers traded for relief pitcher Hector Noesi. The Mariners sent Noesi to Texas for a player to be named later or cash considerations. Jurickson Profar was moved from the 15-day disabled list to the 60-day DL to make room on the 40-man roster. Adrian Beltre was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to last Thursday to make room for Noesi on the 25 man active roster. More roster moves will come Monday to put Colby Lewis on the active roster, as he has been announced to be Monday’s starting pitcher against Seattle.

NOTABLE:

* Elvis Andrus’s 11 game hitting streak to start the season came to a halt Sunday with an 0-2. He was ejected from the game after arguing a called third strike in his second at bat.

* Opposing starting pitchers have thrown a quality start (six or more innings pitched, with three or fewer earned runs allowed) in four straight games and in six of the last seven gaems.

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RANGERS LIMP HOME FROM BOSTON

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers dropped the rubber match of their three game series with the Red Sox on Wednesday to lose their second series of the year two games to one. The Rangers return to Arlington this weekend with a 4-5 record, having completed their first road trip of the season with two wins and four losses.

Wednesday’s game was well pitched by both starters. Robbie Ross pitched into the sixth inning, allowing a run on two hits. The run was unearned. He did however walk six. He threw 98 pitches to complete 5-1/3 innings.

Boston’s Jake Peavy was even better than Ross. He pitched 6-2/3rds innings, giving up just three hits. One of those however was a home run to Mitch Moreland leading off the seventh inning that tied the game at one. Peavy and Ross both received no decisions.

Alexi Ogando relieved Ross. He got out of the sixth and pitched a scoreless seventh. Meanwhile, the Rangers broke the tie in the eighth. Elvis Andrus led off with a double, moved to third on Prince Fielder’s ground out and scored on Alex Rios’ sacrifice fly to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead.

However, Texas still needed six outs to win the game. Ogando walked the leadoff batter in the eighth, never a good thing. Former Ranger A. J. Pierzynski tapped a soft single to put runners at first and second. A ground ball to short resulted in a force out placing runners at first and third. Lefthander Neal Cotts then relieved Ogando to face the left handed hitting David Ortiz. Ortiz won the battle and the game with a three run shot, a high drive that was just barely fair down the right field line.

4-2 was the final score. Ogando (0-1) was charged with the loss. Cotts gets a blown save, his second of the year. Boston reliever Andrew Miller (1-0) was the winning pitcher, and former Ranger Koji Uehara pitched a one-two-three ninth inning, including one strikeout, for his second save.

The Rangers lost the first game 5-1 Monday night, marking the third consecutive series that they have started with a loss. Tanner Scheppers was the starting pitcher, and he pitched much better than he did a week earlier in the season opener. He gave up a pair of runs over five innings on nine hits. He struck out three and walked one. It took 91 pitches, and he was tagged with the loss. Scheppers is now 0-1 with a 9.00 ERA for the season.

Three Ranger relievers finished the game, with Seth Rosin giving up Boston’s final three runs in the seventh to put the game out of reach for Texas.

Boston’s John Lackey, the Abilene, Texas native, tossed seven innings, giving up the Rangers’ run on five hits. He earned the win to improve to 2-0 on the season. The Rangers tagged two relievers for three hits, but did no scoreboard damage.

Sin-Soo Choo and Alex Rios were the only Ranger hitters with multi-hit games, and six of the Rangers’ eight base hits were singles.

On Tuesday night, the Rangers jumped out early by plating five runs in the third inning. Robinson Chirinos led off the inning with his first home run of the year on a full count. The other four runs scored after two were out. Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, and Donny Murphy had run scoring base hits, and the final run scored on a bases loaded walk to Chirinos.

Texas added three more in the fourth to take a seemingly commanding 8-0 lead. Fielder, Beltre and Murphy drove in the runs.

But this is Fenway Park where virtually no lead is safe. The Red Sox got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the fourth, with former Ranger Mike Napoli singling home Dustin Pedroia, who had doubled to lead off the inning. The Rangers matched that run in the fifth, but the Red Sox came back with three more runs in the seventh. Texas seemingly had the game in hand with a 10-4 lead going to the bottom of the ninth, but the Sox didn’t go easily. They put three more on the board before the Rangers recorded the 27th out. Closer Joakim Soria pitched the ninth, giving up the three runs in a non-save situation.

10-7 was the final score. The 10 runs matched the season high for Texas. Red Sox starter Felix Doubront (1-1) was hit hard. He couldn’t complete three innings and took his first loss of the year.

Martin Perez was the Rangers’ starting pitcher. He scrambled with control issues. He walked three, all leading off an inning, and threw a wild pitch. In the end though, he completed 6-1/3 innings, allowing four runs, all earned, on eight hits. He was aided greatly by five double plays from his fielders. He earned the win to improve his record to 1-0 on the season.

Again, it’s early – just nine games of 162 have been played; but the defense is a continuing concern. Texas made three more errors in the series running their season total to 11, most among the 30 Major League teams.

Also, the injury situation reared its ugly head again. Adrian Beltre came out of Tuesday’s game early with a strained left quad. He was sent back to Dallas Wednesday morning for an MRI and to be examined by Dr. Keith Meister.

This weekend, Yu Darvish is scheduled to make his second start of the year, his first in Arlington against the Astros on Friday night. Colby Lewis is penciled in for Saturday, and Tanner Scheppers is tentatively scheduled to pitch Sunday afternoon’s series finale. The three game series with Houston is the opener for a 10 game home stand. The Mariners follow Houston next week for four games, followed by three with the White Sox over Easter weekend.

ROSTER MOVES: This section promises to be a regular addition to these posts. Texas placed Joe Saunders on the disabled list on Monday and replaced him with Daniel McCutchen. It was the second call to the Majors this season for McCutchen, who was not on the opening day roster. Prior to Wednesday’s game, the Rangers purchased the contract of Kevin Kouzmanoff from AAA Round Rock in response to the Adrian Beltre situation. To make room for Kouzmanoff on both the 40-man roster and the 25-man active roster, the Rangers designated Seth Rosin for assignment. The Rangers will be making another roster move by Saturday, as they have announced that Colby Lewis will be the starting pitcher that night against the Astros.

NOTABLE:

* Matt Harrison made his first official minor league rehab start Tuesday for Frisco. He threw 60 pitches to complete 4-2/3rds innings, giving up one run (earned) on three hits. He struck out three batters and walked no one. His projected return to the Rangers’ starting rotation is April 23.

* Sin-Shoo Choo leads the Major Leagues with a .475 on base percentage. He is hitting .355 for the season.

* Elvis Andrus has at least one hit in all nine games so far this season. He’s hitting .308 over the hitting streak.

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NO BROOMS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Brooms were not needed in St. Petersburg Sunday, as Yu Darvish came off the disabled list to pitch the Rangers to a 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Rays and avoid a sweep in the three game weekend series. Darvish scattered seven hits (four singles and three doubles) over seven innings in the best Ranger start of the first six games. He struck out six, walked just one and became the first Ranger starting pitcher to be credited with a win this year. Alexi Ogando, Neil Cotts and Joakim Soria retired six of the final eight batters to preserve the win. Soria earned his first save of the year with a three up three down ninth inning performance on 14 pitches.

Tampa Bay’s Alex Cobb was just as good if not better than Darvish. He too completed seven scoreless innings, allowing just three hits. In the top of the eighth inning, Texas finally cracked the scoreboard with a two-run home run from Elvis Andrus, hit off Joel Peralta in relief of Cobb. The Rangers added an unearned run in the ninth inning scored by Adrian Beltre who reached base on an error and driven in by Donnie Murphy’s single.

The series started with a clunker game Friday night. Joe Saunders was the Rangers’ starting pitcher, and he wasn’t good. He gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits in just 3-2/3rds innings. He was literally knocked out of the box when he was hit in the ankle by a line drive. He took the loss, the first decision of the year awarded to a Rangers’ starting pitcher. He walked three, hit a batter with the bases loaded, and gave up six hits to the 22 batters he faced.

Saunders was taken to the hospital for X-rays, which were negative. He indicated Sunday that there was some swelling and discoloration, but that he felt he would be able to start again when his turn comes up later in the week.

Daniel McCutchen, who was called up last Tuesday followed Saunders and gave up three more runs. One of the runs he allowed was also unearned. Fielder drove in the Rangers lone run long after the game was decided. He singled home Elvis Andrus in the eighth inning to avoid the shutout. It was his first RBI as a Ranger. 8-1 was the final score.

It was a poorly played game, as the Rangers made four errors that led to the unearned runs. Also, a promising scoring opportunity in the fourth inning was scuttled on an egregious base running error by Fielder. It was one of those games that is best to forget.

On Saturday, rookie Nick Martinez made his Major League debut, and he was impressive. He completed six innings, the longest start in the first five games, and gave up just four hits. Unfortunately, two of those hits left the yard, one of which followed a walk. Yuniel Escobar struck for a solo home run in the third inning, while Matt Joyce hit the two run bomb an inning later. Martinez struck out three and walked three, while showing amazing poise and mound presence. He looked like he belongs.

The Rangers’ offense jumped on Rays’ starter and former Cy Young Award winner David Price for two runs in the first inning and added another in the second. Alex Rios drove in the first inning runs with a double. Andrus drove home Josh Wilson in the second to stake Martinez to an early lead. The Rangers never trailed while Martinez was in the game, as Sin-Shoo Choo drove home a fourth run in the fourth inning with a sacrifice fly.

Martinez left after six innings and 85 pitches in line for a win, as the Rangers led 4-3. The bullpen couldn’t do the job though. Jason Frasor gave up two hits, but no scoreboard damage in the seventh. Cotts however wasn’t so good. A lead-off walk led to two eighth inning runs, both scoring on James Loney’s double. 5-4 in favor of the Rays was the final score, with Cotts taking the loss, and Brandon Gomes getting the win for Tampa Bay. Grant Balfour earned his first save with a scoreless ninth inning.

The Rangers finished the week 3-3, as did the Astros and Athletics. They trail the 4-2 Mariners by a game in the A. L. West. The Angels are in last place at 2-4. With all the injuries, hanging around .500 is good. If there is an area of concern so far, it’s the defense. They have committed eight errors in the six games, which places them last among the 30 teams in fielding percentage and tied with the Dodgers for most errors.

Ultimately though, the real concern is the starting pitching. Six different pitchers started the six games. Darvish looked to be the ace the Rangers need him to be. Nick Martinez had perhaps the next best start. It is questionable though as to when he will get the chance to pitch again. Martin Perez was very good, while Robbie Ross threw a game that will be a winner most nights. Tanner Scheppers and Saunders weren’t good.

Colby Lewis threw a decent game at Round Rock Sunday completing five innings on 98 pitches. He has an opt out clause in his minor league contract if he is not placed on the active roster by Thursday. He’s definitely an option to start Friday’s game against the Astros in Arlington, which would be Saunders’ regular turn in the rotation. Saunders’ status with his recent ineffectiveness and injured ankle is definitely in question.

Texas opens a three game series in Boston on Monday night. The matchups are Tanner Scheppers against John Lackey (1-0) on Monday, Martin Perez against Felix Doubront (1-0) on Tuesday, and Robbie Ross against Jake Peavy (0-0 on Wednesday. Scheppers, Perez and Ross are all 0-0 on the year.

ROSTER MOVES: Daniel McCutchen was optioned to AA Frisco on Saturday to make room for Martinez, who was called up from Frisco. Martinez was then optioned to Frisco on Sunday to make room for Darvish, who was activated from the disabled list. Chris Gimenez cleared waivers and was offered an outright assignment to AAA Round Rock. Gimenez turned down the assignment and became a free agent.

NOTABLE:

* Yu Darvish recorded his 500th career strikeout Sunday when he struck out the first two batters he faced. He became the fastest in baseball history to reach 500 career strikeouts, doing so in 401.2 innings. Kerry Wood held the previous best with 404.2 innings.

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IMPROBABLE OPENING SERIES

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers took two of three from the Phillies this week, a most improbable series win. Texas started the season with a makeshift roster precipitated by unprecedented injuries. 17 players were not on last year’s opening day roster, and seven more are on the disabled list. Three opening day players had been with the team less than a week on opening day. This team barely resembles the one that Texas envisioned last winter when they re-configured the roster from last season. There is just one starting pitcher in the rotation that started a game last season for Texas.

The Rangers improbably scored a touchdown and a field goal in the season opener – 10 runs – and lost. They proceeded to combine for another touchdown over the next two nights – seven runs – and won a pair of games. Go figure. The Rangers improbably started two pitchers in the series that were making their first Major League start. The Phillies’ Cliff Lee threw one of his worst career starts allowing eight earned runs over five innings, yet improbably he recorded a win. A. J. Burnett and Kyle Kendrick threw the two best starts of the series, but the Phillies improbably lost both games. Winning two games out of three was thus highly improbable for Texas.

Opening day was extremely disappointing. Tanner Scheppers started for Texas, had command problems and gave up a six spot in the second inning, an inning in which he threw a wild pitch and walked three batters. He completed four innings, giving up seven earned runs total. The Rangers’ offense improbably bailed him out for the loss by putting seven runs on the board over the first four innings to match the Phillies. Pedro Figueroa was the first reliever out of the bullpen, and he was tagged for the loss. Four Ranger relievers finished the game. Seth Rosin (pronounced “Rozine”) was the only Ranger pitcher on the day that did not allow a run.

On Tuesday, A. J. Burnett and Martin Perez locked up in a pitchers’ duel. Burnett gave up a run on seven hits over six innings. Perez almost matched him pitch for pitch. He gave up two runs over 5-2/3rds innings, also on seven hits. In the end, neither figured in the decision.

Ranger fans got a glimpse of why management was willing to thrust $130 million on Sin-Shoo Choo this off season. He walked and got two hits in four plate appearances. He led off the seventh inning with a single and scored on an Adrian Beltre double to tie the game at two. He walked to lead off the ninth and scored the game winning run on a Beltre single. Choo and Beltre. Good combination.

Ron Washington is often criticized for calling too many sacrifice bunts. The sabermetric crowd thinks he gives up too many outs by doing so. In both the seventh and ninth innings, Choo moved into scoring position with an Elvis Andrus sacrifice bunt. There were no complaints about the strategy on Tuesday night.

Wednesday, Kyle Kendrick turned in the best pitching performance of the series. He allowed a run over seven innings, giving up just five hits to the Rangers. Kendrick struck out four and walked no one. He departed in line for a win with a 3-1 lead, and an inning later, the Phillies turned over the two run lead to their closer Jonathan Papalbon. This time Beltre and Choo switched roles. Beltre led off the inning with a single to start the rally. He scored as did pinch hitter Jim Adduci to tie the game. At the end, Choo worked a bases loaded walk on a 3-2 count to drive in the winning run.

Rosin had pitched the ninth inning to qualify for the win. He’s a Rule 5 draft pick, which essentially means he has to stay on the active roster all season, or be offered back to the team that lost him. It’s just two appearances, but he’s giving every indication that staying around all season won’t be a problem.

The roster will likely be in flux for a while. Chris Gimenez was claimed on waivers last week and was on the opening day roster as the third catcher. He was designated for assignment on Tuesday and cleared waivers this week. He has been assigned to AAA Round Rock. The Rangers added a bullpen arm in Daniel McCutchen to take his place after using four relievers Monday. At least two more roster moves are coming this weekend, as the Rangers have announced Nick Martinez as Saturday’s starting pitcher against Tampa Bay and Yu Darvish Sunday. Neither are currently on the Rangers’ active roster.

The Rangers departed today for a six game east coast road trip. The first three games are in Tampa. Joe Saunders will start Friday night’s opener. The trip continues in Boston Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with the same starting pitchers for the Rangers in the same order as the Philadelphia series – Scheppers, Perez and Ross.

Taking two of three from Philadelphia was definitely great news for Texas. They need to stay close early this season while they await the return of the A team from the disabled list. A bad start doomed the Angels the past two seasons. A bad start for Texas could just as easily doom the Rangers’ playoff chances this season. Fortunately, the perceived chief contenders in the West – the Athletics and Angels – also have problems. The Athletics like the Rangers have significant injuries. The Angels look just as dysfunctional this year as they have been the past two. Oakland is 1-2 and Los Angeles is 0-3 after their first series. LA’s sweep came at the hands of Seattle, so the Mariners lead the division at 3-0. Houston won their first two games against the Yankees, so will be tied with either Seattle at 3-0 or Texas at 2-1 for first or second place, pending the outcome of their Thursday finale with New York.

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THE 2014 ROSTER

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

The Rangers officially set their roster at 3:00 PM Sunday afternoon, though the details were basically known a day earlier once their final exhibition game in San Antonio was completed. They lost that game to the Astros 13-6. WOW! What a surprise this opening day roster is.

Four of the players weren’t in camp when spring training began, including three that weren’t in camp a week ago. Infielder Donnie Murphy, right-handed reliever Seth Rosin, and catcher-third baseman Chris Gimenez have been claimed on waivers since Wednesday. Joe Saunders was signed to a minor league contract after spring training began.

Five more were given little chance of making the team when spring training began – outfielder Jim Adduci, right handed reliever Shawn Tolleson (who played at Allen High School and Baylor University), left-handed reliever Pedro Figueroa, infielder Josh Wilson, and catcher Robinson Chirinos. Also Nick Martinez, an infielder at Fordham University switched to pitcher after getting drafted by the Rangers, was assigned to AA Frisco; but will be activated next Saturday to be the starting pitcher in game five.

The Rangers also placed Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison and Jurickson Profar on the 15-day disabled list, as well as Geovany Soto on the 60-day DL. The team had earlier placed Derek Holland and Engel Beltre on the 60-day DL. Infielder Adam Rosales was designated for assignment.

The end result is: Pitchers (11) Neal Cotts, Figueroa, Jason Frasor, Alexi Ogando, Martin Perez, Seth Rosin, Robbie Ross, Saunders, Tanner Scheppers, Joakim Soria and Tolleson. Catchers (3) J. P. Arencibia, Chirinos and Gimenez. Infielders (5) Elvis Andrus, Adrian Beltre, Prince Fielder, Murphy and Wilson. Outfielders (6) Adduci, Michael Choice, Sin-Shoo Choo, Leonys Martin, Mitch Moreland, and Alex Rios.

The bottom line is that the opening day roster is far different than anyone imagined last February.

“Fluid” was the adjective manager Ron Washington used in discussing the roster with reporters Saturday. Gimenez essentially has to be on the opening day roster as MLB frowns upon waiving a player before the season begins that was claimed so late in spring training. He gives the Rangers three catchers, a rarity in this day and time when 12 man pitching staffs are the norm. General manager Jon Daniels said on ESPN radio (KESN 103.3 FM) Sunday morning that he didn’t believe they would have three catchers on the roster for very long. With Soto’s injury, the team wanted to add some depth at catcher, so grabbed Gimenez when Oakland placed him on waivers. It would seem that his immediate Ranger career will be measured in days instead of weeks, but Texas hopes he’ll clear waivers and stay in the system.

Texas also signed veteran catcher Chris Snyder from Spring Woods High School in Houston for additional catching depth. He’ll start the year at AAA Round Rock.

Rosin (pronounced “Rozine”) was selected by the Dodgers from the Phillies in the Rule 5 draft. Los Angeles waived him when he didn’t make their team, and the Rangers claimed him. Rosin must stay on the Rangers’ active roster for the season in order for the Rangers to keep him. He can not be optioned, and if he clears waivers, he must be offered back to the Phillies.

The biggest surprise was undoubtedly the starting rotation. Scheppers will start in Monday’s opener against Philadelphia, followed by Perez on Tuesday night and Ross on Wednesday. Scheppers joins Fernando Valenzuela as the only two pitchers since World War II to start on opening day in their first Major League start. Saunders will start next Friday’s series opener at Tampa Bay.

When he announced the rotation, Daniels challenged the media members present to guess the fifth starter, offering $1.00 if they could get the correct name. None could. Nick Martinez was the name. He had a fine spring, and will be activated for Saturday’s game. By waiting until Saturday to add Martinez to the roster, the Rangers have the luxury of carrying an extra position player for the first four games.

Martinez however may be on tap for just one start, and possibly will be shipped out after Saturday’s game. Colby Lewis has an opt out clause on April 10. If he’s not on the Rangers’ active roster by that date, he can opt out of his contract. April 10 is an off day, and Lewis is expected to be activated that day to start against the Astros at Globe Life Ballpark the following night.

The humongous amount of injuries this spring have masked a lot of the good things that have happened to the Rangers this spring. One is Scheppers and Ross stepping up to claim rotation spots with injuries to Darvish and Harrison and Alexi Ogando’s ineffectiveness. Their performances to earn rotation spots is a testament to the depth this organization has developed in their farm system. Unfortunately, with Darvish and Harrison expected to return shortly after Lewis, the likelihood is that Scheppers or Ross will return to the bullpen by May. Unless of course, there are more injuries.

Darvish’s start date on the disabled list was retroactive to March 21. He thus could be activated as early as April 6, though he’s not expected to be ready by then. He threw a 32 pitch bullpen session Sunday and reported no physical issues. His injury is obviously a key to the season. If he misses a material amount of time, the Rangers could be scrambling to finish .500 instead of scrambling to make the playoffs.

One surprise is Kevin Kouzmanoff failure to make the team. He hit .370 this spring with three home runs and 12 RBIs. Kouzmanoff is a corner infielder with Major League experience. Manager Ron Washington told MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “I don’t have a reason why Kouzmanoff didn’t make the team.” There is a strong likelihood that Kouzmanoff, who was assigned to AAA Round Rock, will join the team sooner rather than later.

The season starts Monday. Donnie Murphy or Josh Wilson will start at second base. Michael Choice, who led the team in RBIs this spring, will undoubtedly start somewhere with the Phillies starting left-hander Cliff Lee. Choice could be the designated hitter or could be in left field. The weather man forecasts an overcast day, but no rain, with a high of 81. This is the start of the 21st season in the ballpark. The actual first game was played on April 1, 1994. It should be a glorious celebration.

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MORE WOE IN SURPRISE

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Woes for the Texas Rangers kept coming Sunday. This time the injury is far more than the nagging type that keeps a player out day to day. This time it’s Jurickson Profar, and this time it’s for 10-12 weeks. Profar was originally in Sunday’s lineup against San Diego. He was scratched when he complained of pain in his shoulder. It proved to be a torn muscle. At this time, surgery is not contemplated, but he is expected to be out for three months or so.

The Rangers will initially look within the organization for a replacement. Adam Rosales, who was ticketed for the back-up middle infield position, is one candidate. Josh Wilson and Brent Lillibridge are two more. The Rangers undoubtedly will also be pursuing avenues outside the organization.

This comes on the heels of shortstop Elvis Andrus’s throwing problems that are expected to sideline him from the playing field until almost opening day. The projected starting lineup has not appeared together this spring and now will not.

On the pitching side of the equation, the milieu began to clear with three announcements Saturday. Tanner Scheppers has won a spot in the starting rotation. He likely starts game three against the Phillies on April 3. Joakim Soria has been named the Rangers’ closer. Most believed Neftali Feliz came to spring training with the job to lose, and he apparently lost it. Feliz is said to be in a position of earning a spot in the bullpen. Some have read into that announcement that he may not even be on the opening day roster. He probably is, but there is no assurance that he automatically gets the eighth inning set-up role. Alexi Ogando has been assigned to the bullpen and will have a strong shot at the set-op role, as will Jason Frasor.

The Bleacher Report put out a list of the four most disappointing Rangers in spring training. Ogando was one of them. He was thought to be one of four solid pitchers in the starting rotation when spring training began. He soon became one of three solid pitchers in the starting rotation when Matt Harrison’s physical problems short circuited his appearance on the opening day roster. Despite all of that, Ogando has pitched his way out of the rotation and into the bullpen.

To some degree, the Rangers have no one but themselves to blame for Ogando’s failure to develop into a reliable starting pitcher. He was in the 2011 rotation, made the All-Star team, won 13 games, and turned in a 3.51 ERA. His effectiveness slowed toward season’s end, but there was certainly great promise for his continued growth as a starter. Instead, the Rangers moved him to the bullpen in 2012 to make room for Feliz in the rotation. That decision seems to be in error for both pitchers, as both are now struggling to hang onto roster spots. Ogando was back in the rotation last year, but was sidetracked by injuries that sent him to the disabled list three times. Now he’s in the bullpen again.

Soria has certainly earned the closer’s spot on this roster. He has pitched eight innings in eight games, allowing one run and five hits. He has walked no one for a 0.63 WHIP. He has a lot to live up to trying to match Joe Nathan’s results the past two seasons. Nathan saved 80 games and had just six blown saves in 2012 and 2013. Nathan also had the luxury of Tanner Scheppers and as the big-armed eighth inning set-up man. The Dallas Morning News’ Gerry Fraley tweeted that the Rangers were 76-3 last year with Scheppers-Nathan at the finish. Needless to say, that was the American League’s best.

The other three names on the Bleacher Report list of disappointing Rangers are Sin-Shoo Choo, Leonys Martin and Colby Lewis. Choo is hitting just .152 in 15 spring games with a .231 on base percentage. He has struck out 11 times in 46 at-bats. There is not much concern now about Choo. With the contract he landed, he’ll be in left field for the foreseeable future no matter what he hits.

Martin has been slowed by injuries and has batted just 37 times. He’s batting .216 with seven strikeouts. Martin is also seeing stiff competition from Michael Choice, who is batting .333 with a .358 on base percentage. With Martin out of the lineup, Choice has received significant playing time in center field. Choice hit a three run home run against the Royals yesterday to further state his case for a roster spot.

The inclusion of Lewis is somewhat of a head-scratcher. Lewis is coming back from a significant hip surgery. He’s really in uncharted waters as no baseball player has ever had this particular surgery. Lewis seems to be progressing. He has not built the stamina that the Rangers want to see from a starter, such that he is not able to throw 100 pitches yet. However, he could still be a factor at some point in time of the season if he’s not part of the starting rotation on opening day.

Lewis is still one of four starters in the running for the final two starting rotation spots. Tommy Hanson, Joe Saunders and Robbie Ross are the other three. Ross is certainly a strong candidate. He became the first Ranger pitcher this spring to pitch into the sixth inning last Thursday when he completed 5-2/3rds against the Reds. He has a 1.88 ERA in 14-1/3rd innings so far this spring. He may actually get a rotation spot by default as Hanson did himself no favors yesterday, getting hit for seven runs in 5/2/3rds innings by the Royals, while Saunders gave up nine runs on eight hits in 1-1/3rd innings on Sunday.

Texas could skip the fifth starter the first time through the rotation with a scheduled off day after the opening three game series against the Phillies. A fifth starter under that scenario will not be needed until April 9. However, Yu Darvish is now sidelined with neck stiffness. In short, the pitching staff now looks to be in chaos for the season’s start.

Certainly at some point in time, Harrison and Holland will be back. Colby Lewis may have built the stamina to contribute. For the short term though, this looks brutal.

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MASH CONTINUES

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 tendenitis. 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 intracostal 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 20 so that the pitchers can 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.

NOTES:

* 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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SPRING TRAINING BEGINS

BY: Richard W. Humphrey

Rangers’ spring training will be in full swing Wednesday when position players are expected to report. Pitchers and catchers reported last weekend, and games will start February 27. There isn’t much suspense about the opening day roster as barring injury, 20 roster spots are already allocated.

Those players are the starting 10 position players (assuming the two catchers basically alternate) are catchers Geovany Soto and J. P. Arencibia, first baseman Prince Fielder, second baseman Jurickson Profar, third baseman Adrian Beltre, left fielder Shin-Soo Choo, center fielder Leonys Martin, right fielder Alex Rios, and designated hitter Mitch Moreland. Four of the five starting pitchers are expected to be Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez, and Alexi Ogando. The bullpen spots allocated are right handers Neftali Feliz, Joakim Soria, Tanner Scheppers and Jason Frasor. The lefties are Robbie Ross and Neal Cotts.

That leaves two pitching spots available – a fifth starter and another bullpen hand. The three position player positions are backup infielders and outfielders.

The biggest questions coming into spring training are who will be the fifth starter and who will be the closer?

First, it is assumed that Feliz will be the closer, or at least get the first shot at the job. Feliz was the Rangers’ closer in 2010 and 1011, making the All-Star team in 2010. His foray into the starting rotation in 2012 ended after just seven starts and eight appearances total before he underwent Tommy John surgery. He came back late last year, but appeared in just six games, pitching 4-2/3rds innings. Soria was also a premier closer for Kansas City in the past and has recorded 160 career saves. Tanner Scheppers has also said he wants to be considered for the slot. He has a 7-3 record with two saves and a 2.64 ERA in two Major League seasons for Texas. He has the big fastball that clubs like their closer to have and strikes out a little more than seven batters per nine innings. Having these three solid candidates to be the closer enabled the Rangers to say good-bye to Joe Nathan, which saved more than $9 million in salary to be utilized for the offense.

The Rangers signed Tommy Hanson last week, who becomes perhaps the leading candidate for the fifth starter position in the rotation. He was once a prized pitcher for the Atlanta Braves when he came up in 2009 and went 11-4 with a 2.89 ERA. Last year with the Angels though, he was 4-3 with a miserable 5.42 ERA. His season was thrown off track by the untimely death of his younger stepbrother.

Other fifth starter candidates include Nick Tepesch, who was 4-6, 4.84 in 17 starts and two relief appearances last year as a rookie. Scheppers and Ross were also worked as starters in winter ball. lastly, Colby Lewis was re-signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to Major League spring training. He did not pitch in the Majors last year and has undergone surgeries to his arm and hip since being shut down last year. He says he feels great, and his early throwing sessions have gone well.

No matter how the rotation turns out, it is the team’s biggest question mark going into the season after Derek Holland, last year’s team leader in starts and innings pitched succumbed to a knee injury, which required microfracture surgery, incurred playing with his dog at home. He’s out until mid-season, and his effectiveness when he returns is a question. Matt Harrison is a question mark after undergoing more surgeries (three) than starts (two) last year. He was scratched Monday from a throwing session with stiffnes in his neck. Ogando has not shown that he can be a consistent starting pitcher over the course of a full season. Martin Perez was good last year after joining the team in late June, winning 10 games in 20 starts. However, he is still a second year player that has not started over the course of a full season.

In the bullpen, there are a host of veteran players and young strong arms as candidates for at least one spot. Joseph Ortiz was last year’s opening day roster surprise, but he is not one of those candidates. He was hit by a motorcycle as a pedestrian last month in Venezuela. He’s out for three months at least with a broken foot and has already been placed on the 60-day disabled list to make room for Hanson on the 40-man roster.

On the offensive side, the batting order is expected to be Choo, Andrus, Fielder, Beltre and Rios in the first five spots (in that order). Profar and Martin are expected to bat eighth and ninth in some order, leaving Moreland and the catchers for sixth and seventh. It’s a marvelous lineup on paper. Both Choo and Fielder as left-handed batters should benefit from the jet stream that boosts fly balls hit to right and right center. The addition of this pair may make this the best lineup in baseball.

Defensively, the team probably suffers to put such a pristine offense on the field. Fielder is below average at first base. Profar is really a shortstop. He’s learning second base, and he comes to camp with shoulder tendinitis that restrains his early workouts. The injury occurred lifting weights in Curacao after the winter league season. For the next week, he can bat and field. He just can’t throw. The backup infielder candidates at the beginning of camp are Adam Rosales, Brent Libbibridge, Josh Wilson and Kensuke Tanaka.

In the outfield, Choo is average. Martin is still a work in progress tracking down fly balls, but showed a surprisingly strong arm. Rios is better than Nelson Cruz in right field, but he doesn’t throw as well as Cruz. Cruz incidentally remains unsigned, and it is still possible that he returns to Texas on a one-year deal after striking out in his quest for a long term contract. Michael Choice, the U. T.-Arlington player acquired from the Athletics in the Craig Gentry trade, is a leading candidate for a back up outfield roster spot as is Engel Beltre.

The bottom line is that the offense should be terrific, the defense should be adequate, the bullpen should be strong again, and hopefully the starting rotation has enough depth to keep the team in games early. The bench could be an absolute disaster though. It will be adequate spelling starters once a week, but in case of an injury that requires a disabled list stay, the bench is in no position to chip in and hold the team together.

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