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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