Springtime Storylines: Will the Texas Rangers' rotation hold up?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Next up: The Texas Rangers


The
big question: Will the rotation hold up?

When Nolan Ryan rode into town in 2008 and took over as Rangers’ President he vowed to make a historic weakness in Texas — pitching — into a strength. He wanted his starters to be better-conditioned physically and mentally with the aim of having them throw deeper into games.  Last season it paid off, with team ERA dropping and his starters’ innings pitched improved to seventeenth from dead last the year before. We’ll have a better idea if the improvement was a matter of personnel or philosophy after this season, because the cast, she has changed.

Kevin Millwood is gone, traded to Baltimore. In his place is a pitcher who, if healthy, can be better, but who is never ever healthy: Rich Harden. Harden has been a bit erratic this spring, but no one is too worried about it. Harden will actually be the number two starter, with Scott Feldman getting the Opening Day nod. Those two will be followed by C.J. Wilson, Colby Lewis and Matt
Harrison. Tommy Hunter would have been there but for a strained oblique that will have him starting the year on the DL.

Feldman was something of a revelation last year. Is it sustainable? Some very smart people suggest the answer is yes because his improvement in 2009 was the result of some conscious changes in approach from the guy in the form of changing his arm angle and relying much more heavily on a cut fastball that proved to be most effective.

Colby Lewis is back from a couple of great years in Japan. If he’s more like NPB Lewis, the Rangers will have a good one on their hands. If he pitches like he did during his first major league tour of duty it will be pretty ugly. Wilson is pulling a Kyle Farnsworth and converting into a starter after years in the pen (I like Wilson’s chances better for reasons we’ll just broadly refer to as his superior mental approach). Harrison has been hit hard in two partial seasons as a starter.

I like Feldman’s chances to put up another good season, but beyond him you have an injury case, a converted reliever a kid and unknown quasi-import.  It’s possible that all of them will take nicely to Nolan Ryan’s mental approach.  But I’m a bit worried about them being able to do so physically, and I think that there’s a decent chance we’ll see the Rangers’ pitching slide back down to where we’re used to seeing them: at the bottom of the league in multiple categories.

So what else is going on?

  • Is Neftali Feliz Joba-south?  Feliz was a candidate for the rotation but will be in the pen instead. I wonder if he’s the latest in a line of promising starting pitchers who break into the majors as relievers in the interest of preserving their arms but who end up finding themselves stuck in the bullpen forever, wasting so much of their promise.
  • Vlad Guerrero in Texas made so much sense that I’m amazed it actually happened.  The big talking point over the winter was just how awesome he hits in the Ballpark at Arlington. Not as big as a related talking point was the fact that he’ll no longer be able to hit against Rangers’ pitching there.  I have no idea how he’ll do. I’d place just as much odds on him going on a tear as I would on him having one of those forgettable superstar-in-winter seasons like Harmon Killebrew with the Royals or something.
  • I’d be remiss in not mentioning the ownership situation. The deal isn’t closed yet, of course, and won’t be by Opening Day.  Last year Major League Baseball had to come in and help Hicks with payroll. The longer that sort of stuff lingers into this season the worse it will be.  If a serious roadblock presents itself that stretches the timeline out further, it could impact the ability of the team to make moves to stay in the pennant race if need be. Right now that seems unlikely — they’ll probably get it done — but it’s an issue looming out there.

So how
are they gonna do?

This is one of those previews that made me more and more pessimistic the more I thought about it.  I had it in my mind that the Rangers would be a solid second place choice behind Anaheim, but I’m not terribly comfortable with that at the moment.  The rotation scares me and the injuries scare me even more. We’ll do the Mariners next, but both of these teams have problems. It may all come down to Cliff Lee’s abdomen vs. Ian Kinsler’s high ankle sprain.  It’ll be close either way.

Prediction: Second
place, AL West, but this is not your Lock of the Week or anything.  It’s a shaky second place pick, no question about it.

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Red Sox analyst Remy struck by monitor as wind causes havoc

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AP Photo
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BOSTON — Red Sox TV analyst Jerry Remy was hit in the head by a falling TV monitor as swirling winds caused havoc during the first inning at Fenway Park.

Remy was sent home from Boston’s game Saturday night against the Minnesota Twins but is expected back Sunday. Former player Steve Lyons, also an analyst during some games, came in for Remy.

The strong winds made for an interesting first.

Minnesota’s Robbie Grossman hit a fly that appeared headed for center, but a gust blew it to right, sending right fielder Michael Martinez twisting as the ball fell for a triple.

There were a handful of stoppages as dirt and litter swirled around the field. Batters stepped out to wipe their eyes and Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez headed to the dugout to have a trainer help him clear his left eye.

White Sox ace Chris Sale scratched for ‘clubhouse incident’

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Getty Images
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CHICAGO — Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale was scratched from his start against the Detroit Tigers on Saturday night after he was involved in what the team said was a “non-physical clubhouse incident.”

Sale, who was to attempt to become the majors’ first 15-game winner, was sent home from the park.

“The incident, which was non-physical in nature, currently is under further investigation by the club,” general manager Rick Hahn said in a statement. “The White Sox will have no additional comment until the investigation is completed.”

The White Sox clubhouse was open to reporters for only 20 minutes before it was closed for a team meeting before the game. Manager Robin Ventura did not discuss the incident later in his pregame availability.

Right-hander Matt Albers started in Sale’s place and the White Sox planned to use multiple relievers. The crowd booed when Albers was announced as the starter as the teams warmed up.

Sale had been shown as the starter on the scoreboard until about 15 minutes before the scheduled first pitch, which was delayed 10 minutes by rain.

With the White Sox fading from playoff contention, Sale’s name has been mentioned as a possible trade target for contending teams.

The left-hander, 14-3 with a 3.18 ERA, has been outspoken in the past.

Sale was openly critical of team president Ken Williams during spring training when he said the son of teammate Adam LaRoche would no longer be allowed in the clubhouse. LaRoche retired as a result, and Sale hung LaRoche’s jersey in his locker.

The 27-year-old Sale has said he’d like to stay in Chicago. He was the 13th overall pick out of Florida Gulf Coast in 2010 and has been selected as an All-Star five times. He started for the American League in this month’s All-Star Game.

Sale, who is 71-43 in his career, entered the day leading the majors with 133 innings pitched and three complete games.

In his last outing Monday, Sale allowed one hit over eight shutout innings before closer David Robertson gave up four runs in the ninth in Chicago’s loss to Seattle.

The White Sox, who started 23-10, had dropped eight of nine games before Saturday and sat in fourth place in the AL Central, creating speculation that Sale and fellow lefty Jose Quintana could be dealt.

Hahn said Thursday the White Sox were “mired in mediocrity” and hinted at possible big roster changes.

Tigers GM Al Avila said before the game that many teams were looking for starting pitching.

“Yet there are not as many good starting pitchers available,” Avila said. “And the guys that may come available are going to come at a steep price.