Injuries force Rangers to address pitching
With Perez and Harrison out, offensive issues take a back seat
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers are looking for a right-handed bat to reinforce an offense that may be third in the league in batting average but is 10th in slugging percentage and 11th in run scored.
The Rangers could use more from the top of the order, and they need Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder to provide more production, but they also know the lineup is going to remain incomplete unless they can get more from the bottom half.
But manager Ron Washington still believes he has a contending team.
"I think things will turn around if we can get consistent with our offense and consistent on the mound," Washington said.
In other words, Washington knows the Rangers need to do a better job on both sides of the ball, but it's pitching that everybody is focusing on now that it's likely Matt Harrison and Martin Perez are out for the season. Any chance of an early inexpensive fix for the offense probably evaporated in Spring Training when Nelson Cruz signed with the Orioles. Now there is only free-agent switch-hitter Kendrys Morales. Texas has scouted him, but the club shied away from the asking price and the prospect of losing a Draft choice as compensation.
So right now, it's all about a pitching staff that has the astounding honor of leading the Major Leagues in shutouts (nine) and games in which they allowed eight or more runs (10). The Rangers' staff has been seesawing between spectacular and disastrous for six weeks, and there is no doubt which way it was leaning after everything that was learned on Wednesday with the news that Harrison continues to have severe back issues and Perez headed for Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
"That was a big blow. Those were two guys we were depending on," Washington said. "But we'll keep battling and see what resources we have. We'll get better before it's over with."
The Rangers can at least rest for the moment, knowing that Yu Darvish will be on the mound on Friday night against the Blue Jays. This will be Darvish's first start since a one-hitter against the Red Sox last Friday that became a two-hitter after a scoring change on Wednesday.
Darvish will be pitching on six days' rest. Texas gave him extra time to recover after the 126-pitch outing against Boston, but with all the injuries that have clobbered the pitching staff, that may no longer be an affordable luxury. The Rangers need more of Darvish on the mound.
With all that ails the Rangers' pitching, the two things they have been able to count on are Darvish at the head of the rotation and Joakim Soria at the back end of the bullpen. While so many other teams grapple with their closer situation, Soria is 7-for-7 and has allowed just one hit in the past month.
The problem is Soria usually only pitches when the Rangers are ahead and almost never when they give up eight-plus runs. That's as big of a drawback as only being able to send Darvish out there once every five days, because those two are the pillars holding up the rest of the staff.
"Like I said at the beginning of the season, the only thing I can do is stay healthy and keep taking my turn in the pitching rotation," Darvish said.
Right now, Colby Lewis is the Rangers' No. 2 starter, which wasn't a bad proposition a few years ago, before he missed 21 months with significant elbow and hip injuries. Lewis has taken Texas into the sixth inning in five of six starts, although he has yet to pitch six complete innings, has a 4.99 ERA and opponents are hitting .349 off him.
But the Rangers are 4-2 in Lewis' starts, and he pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings in his last start against the Astros on Monday. Three of Texas' nine shutouts have come against Houston.
"Colby has come a long way," third baseman Adrian Beltre said. "[Monday] he was the Colby of old. Hopefully he can find that consistency because we're going to need him."
Then comes Robbie Ross Jr., who seemed headed back to the bullpen after going winless in five starts. Now he is the No. 3 starter and the Rangers have to push him up to start either Saturday or Sunday.
Ross was going to be pushed back to Tuesday before Harrison and Perez hit the disabled list, but Nick Tepesch will likely take that spot. Tepesch was excellent at Triple-A Round Rock and allowed just one run on two hits in 5 1/3 innings in his first start for the Rangers on Wednesday. His pitch count was too high, but Tepesch did show a much better mix and command of pitches than he did last year as a rookie, and that encouraged Washington as much as anything.
The Rangers have veteran options for the fifth-starter's spot, with Joe Saunders close to coming off the DL with a stress fracture in his left ankle and Scott Baker working as the long reliever in the bullpen. Instead, they'll go with rookie Nick Martinez, who in two months has gone from an unheralded Minor League pitcher to a surprise spot starter to his new role as one of the key members of the staff.
If the Rangers put out a help wanted ad for pitchers, they might want to stress there is great opportunity for upward mobility and rapid career advancement within the organization. Certainly some of their top young pitching prospects -- like Alex Gonzalez, Luke Jackson, Alec Asher, Sam Wolff and others -- should have noticed there could be great opportunity in a short period of time for those who are pitching well..
After all, general manager Jon Daniels said the Rangers were going to first look inside the organization for their pitching needs. But if Saunders can get back in two weeks and Derek Holland can return sometime in June, Texas might be able to ease the need to rush its top prospects before they're ready.
Then the Rangers can turn their attention back to the offense and find some reinforcements for the lower half of the lineup before it is too late.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.