Mineral Wells Index
— By CLINT FOSTER
The British government's World War II era phrase, "Keep calm and carry on," has grown somewhat cliche after it's recent re-popularization and superfluous parodies.
But, for what it's worth, there may not be a better motto for Texas Rangers fans to utter to themselves as we enter the unknown landscape that is the 2014 Rangers' season.
A more apropos slogan for the Rangers this spring could have been "Keep calm and don't hurt yourself," as the team has suffered a staggering number of injuries of varying degrees long before the first pitch of Opening Day at the Ballpark in Arlington, now named after an insurance company.
Whether by a hex from Ian Kinsler or just plain bad luck, the Rangers have lost a total of seven players to injuries this spring, not including pre-existing injuries.
Second baseman Jurickson Profar and catcher Geovany Soto are both expected to be out 10-12 weeks with a torn right shoulder muscle and right knee injury, respectively, while backup center fielder Engel Beltre has been placed on the 60-day disabled list with a fractured right tibia. Even shortstop Elvis Andrus has complained of soreness in his throwing arm, although he should be ready for Opening Day.
But no position group has been hit as hard as the Rangers' pitching staff. After Derek Holland's untimely offseason knee injury that required microfracture surgery, the Rangers lost reliever Joseph Ortiz to a broken foot and, most recently, ace Yu Darvish to neck stiffness.
This comes on top of pre-existing injuries to starters Matt Harrison – whose back has become further aggravated, possibly due to a pea under his mattress – and Colby Lewis, who are still not back to playing strength, and former closer Neftali Feliz who, although he is healthy now, has been surrounded by questions about his lack of velocity and ability to bounce back mentally from that fateful Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.
Considering all of the injuries, it's easy to be discouraged. Shoot, even I had to talk myself off of a cliff. Because, as bad as things are, they really aren't that bad.
With most of the clubhouse resembling a MASH unit, the Rangers have named there pitching rotation to start the 2014 season. Last year's setup man, 27-year-old righty Tanner Scheppers will be the Rangers' Opening Day starter against the Philadelphia Phillies, followed by the only pitcher expected to be in this year's rotation, 22-year-old left-hander Martin Perez.
Rounding out the rotation are 24-year-old southpaw and bullpen beast Robbie Ross, recently acquired 32-year-old lefty Joe Saunders and the biggest surprise of the rotation, rookie Nick Martinez.
Give Ron Washington and Mike Maddux credit. All things considered, it appears they have truly put together the five best starting pitchers available to them. The hope is that Darvish and Harrison will be able to join the lineup within the next few weeks, which should be just long enough for the temporary lineup to make a decent mark.
Although Scheppers was expected to remain in the bullpen at the beginning of spring training, he pitched well enough to impress the coaching staff and earn a spot at the top of the rotation. I personally have very few worries about how Scheppers will perform out of this spot. He has already proven himself as a reliable pitcher and has improved leaps and bounds over the course of his young career.
Then there's Ross who, like Scheppers, has been an invaluable bullpen piece for the Rangers, thus far. But he wanted the chance to start and, also like Scheppers, proved himself worthy of a shot this spring, going deeper into games and continuing to close out innings. It would be easy to see Scheppers and/or Ross remaining in the rotation for a while as placeholders until Holland, and hopefully Lewis, are healthy again.
Saunders has some people scratching their heads, as he hasn't exactly been brilliant this spring. But he has attributed much of his struggles to some dead arm from working himself so hard, so quickly, and if Washington and Maddux buy it, so do I.
Still, don't expect Saunders to be a world-beater while he's on the mound. His primary purpose should be to eat innings, something he's more than capable of doing, to give the shallow bullpen a bit of a breather.
As for Martinez, I believe this kid could surprise some people. He posted a 1.12 ERA in 32 innings at Double-A Frisco last year after registering a 2.87 ERA the previous year at Class A Myrtle Beach.
Young pitchers that are worth half their salt usually tend to perform well in their first couple of starts because hitters simply aren't used to seeing them (see Justin Grimm and Nick Tepesch). Hopefully for Martinez, he will only have to pitch two or three times and have the opportunity to build a nice stat line before all is said and done.
The early schedule bodes well for this duct-taped rotation, because although they face talented teams in the Phillies, Tamp Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox, they will have plenty of rest with two off-days sprinkled in amongst the first 10 games.
If Darvish, Harrison and Lewis continue to progress as they are expected to, the Rangers' pitching staff could be close to full strength sooner rather than later. One thing is for sure, the Rangers will need all of their bullets if they want to make a push for the playoffs in an AL West that promises to be significantly more competitive than it has been in recent memory.