RANGERS SET ROSTER; DROP OPENER

by Dan M | Posted on Friday, March 29th, 2019

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BY:  Dic Humphrey

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Rangers kicked off the 2019 season Thursday afternoon by taking a 12-4 shellacking at the hands of the Chicago Cubs.  Mike Minor started and got knocked out in the fifth inning.  Six relievers followed.  Jon Lester started for Chicago and completed six innings of two run ball for the win.  Javier Baez hit two home runs and drove in four to spearhead the Cubs’ offense.  The three game series continues this weekend with games on Saturday (7:05 PM) and Sunday (3:05 PM). 

The weather was just perfect for the final season opening game at Globe Life Park.  Game time temperature was 73 (F).  Texas Governor Greg Abbott threw out the ceremonial first pitch.  Former Texas Governor and former United States President George W. Bush was also in attendance.  New procedures for tickets and entry slowed the crowd entering the stadium.  Around game time there were long lines of people trying to enter the stadium.  They didn’t subside until more than 30 minutes after the game began. The biggest downer of the day though was the result.

The roster was finally set with just one surprise.  The oddest situation was Jason Hammel.  Hammel is a 36 year-old 13 year veteran pitcher that has started 377 Major League games and has won 94 times.  He was brought in to be a candidate for the starting rotation if one of the five projected starters faltered, and most probably to be the “long man” in the bullpen if a spot in the rotation did not open up.  He signed a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the Major League club.  He pitched well enough to earn a spot on the Rangers’ opening day roster; but a day after the club announced he had made the team; he informed the Rangers that he had decided to retire. 

The rotation on opening day is the one that was projected when Spring Training began.  Minor was the lone holdover from last year.  The other four are Edinson Volquez, Lance Lynn, Shelby Miller and Drew Smyly.  There were no injuries, and this five-some performed well enough to hold their spots.

The few roster battles revolved mostly around bullpen spots.  Jose Leclerc was named closer early in camp.  Chris Martin returned from last season.  Shawn Kelley was signed as a free agent, and Jesse Chavez returned in free agency.  Veteran Zach McAlister was also signed as a free agent, but he simply did not make the team.  

That left four roster spots to be filled.  When Jason Hammel retired, the Rangers announced that veteran Jeanmar Gomez had made the team.  This week, the biggest roster surprise came along.  The Rangers claimed reliever Kyle Dowdy on waivers.  He was a Rule 5 draft pick last December by the Mets, who fetched him out of the Indians’ organization.  Dowdy wasn’t particularly effective in spring training, but his velocity improved dramatically to attract the Rangers’ attention.  Per the rules surrounding Rule 5 draft picks, he can’t be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers, and if he does, he then has to be offered back to the Indians for $25,000.  If the Indians didn’t want him back, the Rangers could then send him to the minors.  Not likely.

That left two roster spots and four candidates.  In the end, lefties Jeffrey Springs and Kyle Bird claimed those spots.  Conner Sadzeck with a fastball that often touched 100 mph, but with little command was designated for assignment.  He’s out of options, so likely will be traded or claimed on waivers.  Adrian Sampson was the other bullpen candidate.  He was sent to Nashville, where he will be part of the starting rotation.  

The position players were all but set after last weekend.  The usual starting lineup on nine players were Jeff Mathis at catcher, Ronald Guzman at first base, Rougned Odor at second base, Elvis Andrus at shortstop, Asdrubal Cabrera at third base, Joey Gallo in left field, Delino DeShields in center field, Nomar Mazara in right field and Shin-Soo Choo at designated hitter.  Isiah Kiner-Falefa is the backup catcher, Logan Forsythe is the backup infielder, and Hunter Pence is the backup outfielder.  

Ranger manager Chris Woodward went with Hunter Pence at DH in the opener, benching Shin-Soo Choo, the Rangers’ lone All-Star last season.  Choo was definitely disappointed, telling MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan, “I am an everyday player.”  The left-handed batting Choo was 2-17 against Cubs’ starter Jon Lester.  Pence wasn’t much better at 3-15, though one of his hits was a home run.  Pence went 1-4 in the game with his single coming off right-handed reliever Pedro Strop.

The Rangers went with the eight man bullpen despite having three off days over the first two weeks of the season.  Looks like a wise decision after watching the opener.  Once Minor left the game, none of the relievers were particularly effective.  Minor was charged with six runs and took the loss.  Chavez and Dowdy were charged with three runs each.  

On the offensive side, the Rangers actually took the early lead with a two run home run from Andrus in the third inning.  Baez cut the lead in half with his first home run of the day in the fourth inning.  The game really got away from Texas in the fifth inning.  A hit batsman put the lead-off batter on base for the Cubs.  Two scrappy singles followed to score the tying run.  A double and a ground out scored two more runs giving the Cubs a 4-2 lead with two outs.  

Texas was one out away from ending the threat, but Minor walked the next batter to end his day.  Chavez relieved and promptly gave up Baez’s second home run, a three run shot to effectively put the game away at 7-2. 

Texas didn’t score again until the ninth inning while trailing 12-2.  Nomar Mazara homered with Pence on base and two outs.  It was a mammoth blast estimated at 480 feet into the upper deck in right field.  It was notable as the hit came off Cubs’ lefty Mike Montgomery.  

Overall though, it was an uninspiring beginning for the offense.  Texas finished with just six hits, three of which came from Andrus.  

NOTABLE:

  • The Rangers have lost their last three opening day games and six of their last seven.
  • Elvis Andrus made his 11th straight opening day start to tie the Ranger record.  Ivan Rodriguez and Michael Young also made 11 opening day starts.
  • The sellout crowd for opening day totaled 48,538.
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