Road Trip Time For The Rangers

by Dan M | Posted on Sunday, April 14th, 2013

BY:  Dic Humphrey

The Rangers hit the road this weekend where they play 14 of their next seventeen games, two seven-game road trips interrupted by three games with the Mariners on April 19, 20 and 21.  They are just three series into the 2013 season, WAY too early to make solid pronouncements; but with three series wins, the early indications are good.  Two of the series have been with Tampa Bay and Los Angeles, teams that many picked to win their respective divisions, so the competition has been good.  Here’s a rundown of what Ranger fans have seen so far.

BULLPEN:  The biggest worry for this team when the season began was the bullpen.  Essentially Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers and closer Joe Nathan were the remnants of last year’s pen, one of the best the Rangers have ever fielded.  So far, the pen has allowed four runs in 17-2/3rds innings.  Scheppers has been especially strong out of the pen in something of a surprise, as he was slow getting started in spring training and was one of the final bullpen pitchers to make the team.  He is unscored upon in three games (3.2 IP) and was the winning pitcher on the opening day in Arlington, when the Rangers rallied late to beat the Angels 3-2.  Scheppers has a great arm, throwing perhaps the fastest fast ball on the staff.   He is making a strong bid to be the primary eighth inning set-up man.

Nathan has converted all three save opportunities presented to him.  He hasn’t been lock down good, and in fact in last Monday’s game, he was the beneficiary of a terrible strike three call that ended the game.  That save was the 300th in his career.  He is the 24th reliever in Major League history to reach that milestone.  Rays’ manager Joe Maddon sent Nathan his lineup card for the game as a memento of the occasion.  Maddon wrote on the card, “Congrats.  Outstanding career.  Keep it going.”

Joe Ortiz has also been outstanding so far.  In his first three appearances, he allowed a run in 4-2/3rds innings.  Ortiz and Robbie Ross have given the Rangers a fine left-handed bullpen presence so far.

Again, it’s too early to make pronouncements, but there are some good young arms in this bullpen to go with veterans Nathan and Derek Lowe.  The biggest worry when the season began may turn into one of the team’s strengths sooner rather than later.

STARTING ROTATION:  When the season began, the rotation was perceived as being solid at the top with Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish.  The keys were thought to be three and four starters Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando.  So far, Holland and Ogando have been fine, turning in three very good starts.  Texas won all three of those games, and Ogando earned the win in his two.  The concern is Harrison.  He was placed on the disabled list this week with back problems after getting knocked around in his first two starts.  In the season opener, he allowed six runs, and was rocked for a pair of two-run home runs last Saturday in his second appearance.  Justin Grimm was called up from AAA Round Rock to make Harrison’s scheduled start in Seattle Thursday night.

There is actually some concern over Darvish as he has experienced blister problems in both his starts.  He fought through it against Houston with a perfect game on the line, but was forced out of his second start after just five innings.  He is however showing signs of stepping up to take his place as one of the top five hurlers in the American League.

The injury situation at the top made Tuesday’s sterling performance by fifth starter Nick Tepesch even more important.  Tepesch, a former 14th round draft pick, showed amazing mound presence as he pitched into the eighth inning allowing just a run on four hits.  There is speculation that with Colby Lewis making strong progress in his rehabilitation that the fifth starter could be used as few as four or five times until Lewis returns.  However, if the Rangers see more outings like last Tuesday’s, Tepesch will not be the one ousted from the rotation to make room for Lewis.

OFFENSE:  Lance Berkman and Nelson Cruz are off to fast starts with Berkman hitting .480 and Cruz .387 after seven games.  A. J. Pierzynski and Ian Kinsler are also burning opposing pitchers.  Kinsler leads the team with three home runs and eight RBIs, while Pierzynski is hitting .346.  (Pierzynski is also getting rave reviews for his pitch calling and handling of the staff.)  Adrian Beltre, Leonys Martin and David Murphy are off to slow starts, with all three hitting less than .200.  Craig Gentry, who shares center field duty with Martin, is hitting .300 and has been the catalyst for scoring opportunities.  Gentry is clearly the better center fielder and one of the fastest players in the American League.  He has two stolen bases, one of which contributed heavily to the Rangers scoring the winning run at the home opener.

For sure with the home run hitters on last year’s team that are no longer with the Rangers, this offense doesn’t have the power that last year’s team did.  However, this year’s team has so far been consistent and shows that it can score in a variety of ways, such that they can win games when home runs aren’t forthcoming.

DEFENSE:  As expected, this team has performed well defensively.  They made three errors in seven games, two in the infield and one in the outfield.  Only six teams have fewer than three errors so far this season, so the Rangers rank solidly in the top 10 in fielding percentage.

The schedule will be difficult for the next three weeks.  Seven of the next 10 games are with much improved Seattle.  The first seven-game road trip takes them to Seattle and Chicago, with Chicago being to play the Cubs, not the White Sox in the Rangers first taste of inter-league play.  After the brief three game home stand, the Rangers then embark on another seven-game road trip, this time to Los Angeles to face the Angels and Minnesota.  That basically wraps up April.

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