Colby Lewis was one of the game’s best pitching prospects while coming up through the Rangers’ farm system, with Baseball America ranking him as their No. 32 overall prospect in 2003, sandwiched between Adrian Gonzalez at 31 and Josh Hamilton at 33.
That season he made 26 starts for the Rangers as a 23-year-old rookie, posting a hideous 7.30 ERA while opponents batted .317 with a .952 OPS in 127 innings. Shoulder surgery followed in early 2004 and Lewis didn’t return to the majors for 27 months. Over the next two seasons he was let go by the Rangers, Tigers, Nationals, A’s, and Royals while posting a 6.20 ERA in 40.2 innings as a reliever. And then that was it.
Lewis headed for Japan, but after back-to-back dominant (and healthy) seasons for the Hiroshima Carp he returned to the United States last month and has re-signed with the Rangers. Lewis inked a two-year, $5 million deal with a $3.25 million team option for 2012, and yesterday Texas general manager Jon Daniels made it clear that he’s guaranteed a spot in the rotation going into spring training:
We expect Colby to be one of five in our Opening Day rotation. This was not the development program we had in mind. It may be a little different path, but he has had a lot of success and a lot of experiences that make us feel that Colby will be a strong addition to our staff.
Lewis has the seventh-worst ERA in baseball history among pitchers with at least 200 career innings, but the former first-round pick is still just 30 years old and went 26-17 with a 2.82 ERA and exceptional 369/46 K/BB ratio over 354 innings in Japan. Had a Japanese-born pitcher posted those same numbers he’d have little trouble finding a deal for more than $5 million. For example, Kenshin Kawakami got $23 million from the Braves last offseason and Hiroki Kuroda signed with the Dodgers for $35 million two winters ago.
MLB.com’s T.R. Sullivan notes that the Yankees, Twins, A’s, and Pirates were also interested in Lewis, but his familiarity with the Rangers and a guaranteed spot in the rotation no doubt led to a Texas return. Perhaps he’ll struggle again, but if you view Lewis as simply a pitcher who performed extremely well in Japan for two years rather than a former prospect bust it certainly makes sense for the Rangers to take a $5 million risk.
We’ve got some potential craziness building in the American League Wild Card race with one day left in the regular season.
After dropping both halves of a doubleheader on Saturday in Baltimore, the Yankees are now just one game up for the first spot — hosting duties. Houston, currently in the second spot, won again Saturday in Arizona behind two Colby Rasmus homers and a very good start from Collin McHugh. Anaheim won Saturday in Arlington, Texas in maybe the wildest game of the year to stay one game back of the ‘Stros.
This also touches the still-undecided American League West, where the Rangers only have a one-game lead on the Astros and will face a fired-up Angels team on Sunday afternoon. By design, the start times for all these games that matter are the same: 3:05 p.m. ET. Only the Cardinals and Braves will play at a different time (due to Saturday’s rainout).
Buckle up, people. Get your popcorn ready. All that.
Your box scores and AP recaps from Saturday …
Yankees 2, Orioles 1 (Game 1)
Royals 5, Twins 1
Angels 11, Rangers 10
Nationals 3, Mets 1 (Game 1)
Rockies 2, Giants 3
Marlins 7, Phillies 6 (Game 1)
Blue Jays 3, Rays 4
Reds 3, Pirates 1
Yankees 3, Orioles 4 (Game 2)
Red Sox 0, Indians 2
Cubs 1, Brewers 0
Nationals 2, Mets 0 (Game 2)
Marlins 5, Phillies 2 (Game 2)
Astros 6, Diamondbacks 2
Padres 1, Dodgers 2
Facing an elimination number of one, the Astros staved off elimination in the AL West by beating the Diamondbacks on Friday night by a 6-1 margin. The Rangers suffered a heartbreaking loss to the Angels on Saturday afternoon, which temporarily put the Astros’ fate in their own hands.
Colby Rasmus hit a pair of solo homers and Jose Altuve added a solo shot of his own. Starter Collin McHugh tossed seven innings of one-run ball, limiting the Diamondbacks to six hits and a walk with six strikeouts. Reliever Will Harris allowed a solo home run to Paul Goldschmidt in the eighth, but Luke Gregerson closed out the game with a scoreless ninth.
The Astros trail the Rangers by one game in the AL West and lead the Angels by one game for the second AL Wild Card slot. The Rangers can clinch the AL West on Sunday afternoon with a win or an Astros loss. The Astros can clinch the second AL Wild Card on Sunday afternoon with a win or an Angels loss.
The Yankees lost both ends of Saturday’s doubleheader against the Orioles and lead the Astros by only one game for the first AL Wild Card slot.
If the Astros win and the Rangers lose on Sunday, they will play an AL West tiebreaker in Texas. The winner will win the second AL Wild Card if the Yankees win on Sunday, or the first AL Wild Card if the Yankees lose on Sunday.
If the Astros lose and the Angels win on Sunday, the two teams will be tied for the second AL Wild Card. They would play a tiebreaker in Houston, and the winner would play the Yankees in New York in the Wild Card game.