Yes, Yu Darvish's neck is stiff and he's not going to start the season in the rotation. I get that.
But for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume that the Texas Rangers' ace gets healthy enough to make at least 30 starts this season. If he does that, it's a pretty safe bet that the 2013 Cy Young runner-up will be the team's top pitcher.
But when the season is over, which pitcher ends up as the team’s second-best?
There are a few logical candidates -- and maybe some you haven't thought about.
Let's start with the pitcher currently in the No. 2 slot in the rotation: Martin Perez. He was 10-6 with a 3.62 ERA in 124 1/3 innings in 2013, solidifying a spot in the rotation and earning a long-term extension this offseason. While the Rangers' spring training has been full of injury reports, Perez has managed to stay healthy and under the radar. He's prepared for the season and has pitched well in the process.
We know sophomore slumps are pretty common in sports. But it took so long for Perez to finally show the potential most thought he had that 2013 could serve as the beginning of a string of consistent seasons. It had to give him a huge boost of confidence.
It's easy as we dissect who's going to fill out this rotation to forget that there's a guy who won 18 games in 2012 and could return to the rotation and do what he did in 2011 and 2012 -- as long as his back holds up. Matt Harrison was frustrated that a soft mattress prevented him from making the rotation out of spring. But his health questions make it tough to pick him to have the second-best season.
Colby Lewis has had a promising spring and has a bunch of toughness and grit to hang in and pitch well. It sure appears that this new hip is working just fine. It's lengthened his stride, and he's making the adjustments with his mechanics to account for that. His velocity has been good and he has a track record to suggest that if that hip holds up, he'll find a way to win games.
What about Tanner Scheppers? He's a real dark horse here. I think he's got the stuff to handle the starting job and we'll get a better idea early, since he's the Opening Day starter. But will his arm allow him to throw enough innings to be considered the second-best pitcher on the club when the season ends?
If we go by spring training stats, Robbie Ross has to get some consideration. He's been striking out batters like crazy and limiting damage. He's also shown an ability to pitch efficiently. All important traits for a starter.
My pick: Perez. I don't think he'll have the sophomore slump that has bitten some other pitchers. He's come into spring training with the right attitude, knowing he can and must improve on last year. He's worked hard and has shown good command. He's got confidence and wants to prove he can pitch for an entire season. But the other guy to watch is Lewis; don't ever count him out.
Who's your pick?