Rangers Pitching is A-Okay

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, March 23rd, 2012



Local fans are grumbling about the Rangers 5-12 record in their first 17 Cactus League games, but this is not a stat to worry about. Spring games, especially early spring games are often decided over the final three innings when starters have departed, and the players in the game are minor leaguers that are unlikely to see the light of day in Arlington this season. From this point forward though, the results will have more significance. The initial camp roster of 58 has been pared down by at least 14. Starting position players are playing more innings, some even the entire game. Starting pitchers are now expected to last at least five innings, as they head into their fourth appearance of the spring.

So far the starting pitching has been outstanding. With Neftali Feliz’s third spring start Tuesday; all seven starters have made three appearances. The collective statistics for the projected starting five of Colby Lewis (0-1, 3.00), Derek Holland (2-0, 2.00), Matt Harrison (1-0, 1.80), Yu Darvish (0-0, 3.00) and Feliz (0-1, 4.50) are 3-2 with a 2.79 ERA. Those statistics are for Major League games only. Lewis has made just two Major League appearances and a third in a triple-A game the stats for which are not included. This weekend, Darvish and Feliz are expected to pitch in intrasquad or minor league game, as the team plays the Angels on their scheduled day, and the Rangers don’t want to show them off to their chief division challenger.

Scott Feldman has also been good this spring with nine outstanding innings in three appearances. Unfortunately for his statistics, he was hit hard trying to complete a fifth inning last Saturday, which skewed them. Alexi Ogando likewise was very good in his first two appearances, but gave up some runs aided by poor fielding support as a reliever in a game against the Cubs last weekend.

Actually, the two that have struggled the most are Darvish and Feliz, the two that have never started a major league game. Darvish has shown his reputed assortment of pitches, but location has been a problem. He has walked seven in nine innings. His average pitches per inning are 15.3, a reasonable number, but he’s thrown just 58% for strikes.

Feliz has blamed his early struggles on concentrating on throwing off speed pitches irrespective of the situation. His outing last Tuesday was his best – three innings allowing just two hits and a walk, while striking out two. However, he did not go out to pitch a fourth inning as planned because of shoulder tightness. Pitching Coach Mike Maddux said afterward that it was precautionary, but there is concern as Feliz was shut down at one point last season for two weeks with shoulder fatigue.

Overall though, the starting pitching is shaping up just fine. The bullpen though is another matter. Closer Joe Nathan has struggled. He has allowed six runs, all earned, in three innings. He has walked three and given up five hits for a whopping 2.67 WHIP. Primary set-up man Mike Adams had hernia surgery this off season and is slow rounding into form. He’s pitched just three innings and hasn’t been sharp with a 6.00 ERA. Koji Uehara made his fourth appearance this week, and it’s the only one that he did not allow a run. His ERA is 12.46.

Maddux told Dan Plesac on the MLB network that Ogando is one of the best five starting pitchers on the team. He’s also been very good in relief last year in the playoffs and in 2010. With the struggles of Nathan and Adams so far, Ogando is a most important piece to the bullpen puzzle.

As for the left-handed reliever position in the bullpen, Michael Kirkman threw two scoreless innings Tuesday, allowing just a hit and striking out one. That’s his best outing by far, as his ERA and WHIP were 10.5 and 2.00 in his four prior appearances. The team likes his pitch assortment, and he has pitched in relief in each of the past two seasons, so he has experience in the role at the major league level. He’s the favorite despite the poor results so far, but Neil Cotts, Joe Beimel and Mitch Stetter are still in the mix for the roster spot.

Robbie Ross is also turning heads in spring training as a candidate for the left-handed reliever. He has pitched just six games above the Class A level in the minor leagues, but has thrown well. GM Jon Daniels said earlier this week that Ross is a serious candidate for the spot. He is forcing the Rangers to decide between his value to the major league team right now, and his development as a starting pitcher. Despite his showing, no runs allowed on just three hits in four innings this spring, Ross would be a huge surprise if he makes the opening day roster.

CONTRACT MATTERS: Derek Holland agreed to a five year contract this week valued at $28.5 million. It has unspecified incentives, and the club holds options for two more seasons that would bring the total value to $49.5 million if exercised. The team thus controls Holland’s services for his three arbitration years and up to three years after arbitration when he could be a free agent. This contract is significant as it is the first one this off season that involved buying out free agency eligible years.

Also of note is that Josh Hamilton indicated to former major league general manager Jim Bowden on Sirius XM radio that he wants to be a Ranger and that his price tag will be smaller if a deal gets done before the season begins than it will be if he hits free agency. Hamilton is on the second year of a two-year $24 million contract and can opt for free agency after this season.

The Rangers and Hamilton had contract talks earlier this off season that were tabled after Hamilton’s alcoholic relapse at Sherlock’s Pub in January. Prior to the incident, he had said he wanted a contract extension finalized before spring training, as he didn’t want the distraction of contract negotiations during the season. This was the first indication that the deadline has been moved forward. The Dallas Morning News later reported that Nolan Ryan said the team would be in contact with Hamilton’s agent.