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.
* 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.