Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Tanner Scheppers to start Opening Day
By Richard Durrett
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Texas Rangers have named their starting rotation for the 2014 season. And it includes no one who was in the rotation to open the 2013 season. Heck, there's only one guy who was nearly guaranteed a spot when spring training began.
Tanner Scheppers will be just the second pitcher since 1945 to make his first major league start in a team's season opener. Fernando Valenzuela was the last to do it.
That pitcher is Martin Perez. And he won't even be the club's Opening Day starter. Texas opted to go with Tanner Scheppers, who at 27 years old, is actually one of the elder statesman of a rotation whose average age is 25.6 years old. Joe Saunders, at 32, is the oldest. By far.
Rather than have Perez, who started Game 163 last year in Arlington and lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, get the nod on Opening Day, the Rangers opted for Scheppers, who spent last season as one of the club's primary setup men. He pitched well enough this spring to earn a spot in the rotation last week and is on schedule to pitch Monday. Yu Darvish, who was supposed to start on Opening Day, will not start the season in the rotation because of a stiff neck. He was checked out Wednesday by Dr. Drew Dossett in Dallas and an MRI showed no structural damage. Darvish is slated to play catch Saturday and then the club will figure out a plan to work him back into game shape.
But it means Scheppers becomes the club's sixth different Opening Day starter and, perhaps, the most unlikely. When spring began, it seemed more likely Scheppers would end up in the bullpen rather than the rotation. But Scheppers' solid spring performance combined with injuries and struggles of others thrust him into the rotation. And now, he'll be the first Ranger -- after Hall of Famer Greg Maddux throws out the ceremonial first pitch -- to throw a pitch in 2014.
Perez, 23, hopes this season validates what he did last year. He's had a good and uneventful spring, a rarity for Rangers' pitchers. He will start Game 2 against the Phillies. Left-hander Robbie Ross, who wanted to start and has taken advantage of the opportunity, will complete that first series. Like Scheppers, Ross' candidacy for the rotation was a longer shot than most when spring began. But he just kept getting outs and going deeper into games. On Tuesday, Ross pitched seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts against a Cleveland lineup with plenty of regulars. That cinched his spot. He struggled to get left-handed batters out in 2013, but has done a better job against them in Arizona the past five weeks.
Nick Martinez is the surprise. The 23-year-old right-hander threw 32 innings in Double-A Frisco last year after starting the year in Class A Myrtle Beach. He had a 1.12 ERA in that limited action in Frisco, but also posted a 2.87 ERA in Class A. It's unclear how many starts Martinez might make -- the club doesn't need him until April 8, based on the schedule. It also shows the club didn't want to ask Alexi Ogando to go back to starting after putting him in the bullpen a few days ago. He's had trouble with his command this spring and they're sticking with him in the pen.
This is the rotation as it stands now. But there's a trio of pitchers waiting in the wings and all three could be ready sooner rather than later. Colby Lewis has had a good spring and has had no issues with his hip. But he still needs time to get his pitch count up and continue to stress consistency in his delivery, which has changed now that he has more range of motion and his stride is longer. Matt Harrison, whose soft mattress early in spring cost him any chance of making the rotation when the season began, continues to progress and could be ready to go in a few weeks.
Then there's Darvish. The report on him has to be taken as good news since there was no structural damage. It's unclear how long he'll need, but the fact that nothing major popped up means perhaps weeks rather than months.
But the chances of winning Warren Buffett's million dollars with a perfect NCAA bracket had to be better than predicting these five pitchers in the Rangers' rotation when spring training began. But that's the way the last six weeks have gone for this team.