Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Spring training preview: No. 2 starter
By Richard Durrett
Note: Spring training will arrive before you know it. To get you ready, we'll take a look at every position between now and February, when pitchers and catchers report to Surprise, Ariz.
With Derek Holland injured, the competition for the No. 2 starter spot should be very interesting.
Today's position: No. 2 starter
It was a dog named Wrigley that altered the Rangers rotation five weeks before pitchers and catchers arrive in Arizona. Derek Holland, the club's No. 2 starter behind Yu Darvish, was "horsing around" with his boxer, Wrigley, when the dog charged up the staircase and tripped Holland. The pitcher slammed his knee into the stairs and said that had he not grabbed the railing just in time, he might have fallen down the stairs and cracked his head open.
But the damage to his cartilage was bad enough that it required surgery on his left knee. The club has given Holland a timetable of midseason to return, though he says he hopes he can get back sooner than that.
No matter when the actual date is, Holland won't be ready to start the season and won't be around for a few months once it does begin. That's a huge blow to the rotation. Holland had put together a 2013 worth building on. After struggles in 2012, Holland became a more consistent pitcher last season. He had a 3.42 ERA, a run and a half lower than the previous season. He never missed a turn in the rotation, the only Ranger pitcher to do so. It was the kind of season he vowed he'd have and the 27-year-old was looking forward to validating it with another one (just like Matt Harrison did in 2011 and 2012).
Now, Holland must wait until midseason to do that. And it means the Rangers must figure out what to do in his absence. The club is looking externally and internally to create rotation competition this spring. As it stands now, Darvish, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando are in. The group of internal candidates, so far, includes Nick Tepesch, Colby Lewis (if he can prove he's healthy), Michael Kirkman and Robbie Ross. Tanner Scheppers is also stretched out as a starter, but it seems likely he'd end up in the pen. Jose Contreras is also coming to spring training.
The club is also looking at the free-agent market. Assuming they don't surprise everyone and go big by signing Masahiro Tanaka, the Rangers could look at some pitchers on shorter-term deals. That makes Jerome Williams appealing. His numbers certainly don't jump off the page, but he could be a low-risk, high-reward option on a one-year deal who could come to spring training and fight for a spot. Ubaldo Jimenez, Bronson Arroyo and Ervin Santana are among the other options. Arroyo is intriguing because he has proven to be an innings-eater, but he might require a three-year deal.
OUTLOOK: Losing Holland hurts a rotation that has other questions, like whether Harrison can return to form and if Perez is ready to handle a full season as a starter.
Holland talked last week about the frustration of the injury and how much he was looking forward to proving himself again 2013. He'll have to do that by working hard in rehab and helping the club once he returns. Perhaps he can look at it as being the trade deadline piece that makes a difference.
But the competition to see who replaces him should be very interesting.