Potential pitching setbacks with loss of Harrison

by Dan M | Posted on Saturday, April 27th, 2013

By Dic Humphrey

The Rangers faced a couple of pitching setbacks in recent days.  Matt Harrison, who struggled in two starts before being placed on the disabled list with back stiffness, admitted that the problem did not respond to injections.  He and the Rangers ultimately decided on surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back, which was performed earlier this week.  The bottom line is that the 18 game winner a year ago will not be back with the Rangers until after the All-Star break, and perhaps long after the All-Star break as there is no assurance that the surgery will have better results than the injections; though immediately after the surgery, Harrison said he felt better already.
Also, reliever Joakim Soria suffered a setback in his rehabilitation from the Tommy John surgery that was performed last year.  Soria was once an All-Star closer and was hoped to take over a strong bullpen role perhaps as early as next month.  That timetable is out the window now.  He is shut down from throwing for two or three weeks after suffering a strained pectoral muscle on the right side of his chest.  His anticipated return date is now around July 1.
So far, the rotation is holding up fine.  When this week’s series with the Angels began, the starters’ ERA was 3.06, second best in the American League to Boston’s 2.53.  Opponents’ batting average was only .220, the lowest in the A. L.  The staff collectively had ten quality starts in the first 20 games.  So far, Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm are doing well as replacements for Harrison and Colby Lewis.  They are collectively 2-1 in five starts with very respectable ERA’s of 2.70 (Grimm) and 3.07 (Tepesch)….and are just rookies.  It seems improbable that they can approach those averages over the course of the season; but right now, they have given the Rangers four good starts out of five; and in the fifth, Tepesch was removed from a game with an injury.
The bullpen was perhaps the biggest question mark for this team when the season began.  It was hoped the band of youngsters with good arms that general manager Jon Daniels put together could keep the Rangers in the race until such time as the veterans Soria and Neftali Feliz were healthy enough to lend a hand.  So far it’s been no problem.  As the season nears the four week mark, the bullpen has proved to be perhaps the biggest strength of the team.  They were 5-0 with an ERA of 1.85, best in the American League and second to the Atlanta Braves in the Majors going into play Tuesday.  Tuesday night’s loss to the Angels in extra innings was the first for the bullpen this year. They are one of just three teams without a blown save so far this year, Atlanta and Toronto being the other two.
Four youngsters – lefties Robbie Ross, Joe Ortiz, and Michael Kirkman and right hander Tanner Scheppers, all of which are being paid a salary at or near the Major League minimum, have been outstanding.  Scheppers appeared in nine of the first 19 games, winning two while not allowing a run in 10-2/3rds innings.  Joe Ortiz has won a pair also.  Ross has picked up where he left off last year.  Kirkman recorded the rare three-inning save last Sunday.  Derek Lowe, the veteran long man, won last Saturday’s game with four hitless scoreless innings that required just 31 pitches in relief of Tepesch after Tepesch left the game when struck with a batted ball.
GM Daniels talked to MLB.com’s T. R. Sullivan this week about the bullpen saying, “…the early returns have been good.  Not only the results, but the way our guys are going about it:  a lot of strikes and a lot of quick innings.”
For sure the results have been good.  After Tuesday’s extra innings loss in Anaheim, the Rangers’ ERA was 2.84, good enough to lead the American League.  Despite the setbacks for Harrison and Soria, help could be on the way.  Lewis could return next month.  So could Martin Perez, who was actually in the Rangers rotation at the end of last year.  Another name for Ranger fans to remember is Josh Lindblom, one of the pitchers the Rangers received from Philadelphia in the Michael Young trade last winter.  Lindblom made more than 100 relief appearances the last two seasons with the Phillies and Dodgers.  He didn’t make the Rangers opening day roster, but has been lights out at AAA Round Rock (2-0 with a 1.06 ERA).  He is now being stretched out as a starter to give the Rangers the option to utilize him in either capacity.
Last winter, Daniels showed faith in the pitching talent he had assembled rather than sign free agent Kyle Lohse or trade for the likes of Rick Porcello or Aaron Harang.  So far, the youngsters are responding positively to the faith Daniels showed in them.  Any team can always upgrade their pitching, and Daniels is undoubtedly monitoring the trade market.  The biggest fish that is rumored to possibly be available at some point this summer is the Rays’ David Price, a Cy Young Award winner.  The Vanderbilt alum would help any team in the Majors.  If he does become available, the Rangers will surely be in the mix.  They have the salary capacity to take on Price’s salary, and they have the prospects to trade for him.  Unless an impact pitcher such as Price becomes available though, the Rangers will likely stay with the internal candidates tha

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