Texas Rangers: Jurickson Profar
Perez loves double plays: Young Martin Perez found a nice pace in Sunday's game, pitching quickly and with confidence. He allowed four hits, but no runs and the double play was very helpful for him. He induced four ground-ball double plays, including one to end the eighth inning, his final frame of the game. Perez was leading the AL with five ground-ball double plays before the game started.
Long start: For just the second time in his career, Perez got through at least eight innings. The only other time he did it was Aug. 11, 2013 against the same Astros. In that one, he got a complete-game victory, allowing just one run on four hits.
Don't steal from me: Catcher Robinson Chirinos' arm was impressive on Sunday as he threw out two Houston runners attempting to steal. He nailed Jonathan Villar in the third and Matt Dominguez in the fifth. He has thrown out four baserunners this season.
Andrus ejected: Elvis Andrus argued a called third strike to end the third inning and was quickly ejected by home plate umpire Alan Porter. It was a low strike call and Andrus didn't like it. The ejection also brought an end to Andrus' streak of hitting safely in every game this season. He was at 11 games prior to Sunday, so he won't catch Al Oliver's club-record 13 in 1979.
Solid substitutes: Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy made their presences felt in Sunday's game. Wilson moved over to shortstop and Murphy came in to play second when Andrus was ejected. They played solid defense, and provided some offensive help in the sixth. Wilson led off the inning with a single, went from first to third on a single by Shin-Soo Choo and scored on Murphy's sacrifice fly, which game in the spot that Andrus would have batted in had not been asked to depart early.
Ogando in for the save: With Joakim Soria having pitched for two straight games, Alexi Ogando got the opportunity to save Sunday's game and came through. It was his fourth career save, his last one coming in 2012 as he pitched when Joe Nathan needed rest that season, grabbing three saves.
Defensive gems: Prince Fielder made a nice diving stop toward the first-base line to take an extra-base hit away from Jesus Guzman with one out in the fourth. Fielder worked earlier this homestand on his footwork and short-hops at first base with manager Ron Washington and will get some more work on other aspects of his defense before the homestand ends. But that was a very nice play for Fielder to keep the Astros off the bases. ... Josh Wilson, playing shortstop after Andrus' ejection, ranged to his left and snagged a line drive from L.J. Hoes, preventing a hit in the fifth.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- A Texas Rangers comeback fell short on Saturday, as the Houston Astros scored in the 10th inning and held on for a 6-5 win.
Texas tied the game in the bottom of the ninth, but a triple by Jason Castro, aided by a strange bounce off the wall in right, put him in position to score on Jose Altuve's sac fly to right. A few thoughts:
Great stop: Astros shortstop Jonathan Villar made a terrific diving play, backhanding a ball to his right and throwing to first to get Alex Rios with Elvis Andrus at second and no outs in the bottom of the 10th. The Astros wiggled out of the jam and preserved the win. The game could still be going on if not for Villar's play.
Baserunning blunder: After Rios hit a double off the wall in left-center to score Andrus and make it a one-run game, the outfielder tried to steal third. He was caught stealing for the first out of the inning, preempting the rally. The next two Rangers batters got out quickly, and any hope of tying the game at that point was lost. Rios also had trouble with a throw back to the infield in the 10th, missing the cutoff man, though it didn't allow the Astros an extra base (that happened on the odd bounce off the wedge wall).
Right Choice: Michael Choice didn't start the game, but he came in to pinch hit to lead off the ninth inning and belted his first career home run 412 feet into the Rangers bullpen to tie the score. It was only the 13th at-bat of the season for Choice, who hits mainly against left-handed pitchers. That included lefty Kevin Chapman in the ninth on Saturday, and Choice took advantage.
Two-out runs: Through three starts for Tanner Scheppers, he's had trouble finishing off innings with runners on base. That was the case again on Saturday as the Astros came back from a 2-0 deficit to score five runs -- four with two outs -- in the fourth inning to take the lead. Scheppers didn't allow a hit in the game until that frame but gave up three singles, a walk and a three-run home run to alter the game early.
Velocity up: When Scheppers was in the bullpen, he was regularly able to dial up his fastball to 95 or 96 mph. That didn't happen this season until Saturday. Scheppers touched 97 at one point and had that fastball in the 93-95 range consistently. That was an improvement.
Better finish: The fourth inning -- and Robbie Grossman's three-run homer specifically (with some help from the Globe Life Park jetstream) -- ruined any bid for a quality start, but Scheppers did bear down in the next three innings to get through seven. He needed 29 pitches as he retired nine of the next 10 batters he faced to finish off his start.
Hard-hit balls: Prince Fielder hit a few balls hard on Saturday, perhaps a sign that his timing is coming around. Fielder's single in the first was a one-hopper through the shift and probably the hardest ball he's hit all season. He also hit a long fly ball in the third. It's a small thing, but with Fielder struggling to do anything, it was noticeable.
Leadoff strikeouts: Neither leadoff hitter had a good night on Saturday. Shin-Soo Choo, who came in with seven strikeouts the whole season, had five in five at-bats, including four off Jarred Cosart (two of them looking). It was the first time he had five strikeouts in his career. The last time he had four strikeouts in a game was in July 2012 while with Cleveland. Astros center fielder Dexter Fowler wasn't much better, striking out in his first three at-bats against Scheppers (one of those looking).
Did it hit him?: Carlos Corporan was given first base in the sixth on a hit-by-pitch that plate umpire Rob Drake said hit the jersey. But it sure looked on the replay like it didn't hit him. That is a call the manager can challenge, but the Rangers chose not to do that. The HBP came with two outs, and Scheppers retired the next batter to end the inning.
Briefly: Donnie Murphy got a chance to play second base and took advantage with a double, a walk and two runs scored. Andrus has now hit safely in 11 games to start the season. The club record is 13 by Al Oliver in 1979.
Up next: Left-hander Martin Perez (1-0, 4.50 ERA) takes the mound for the Rangers in the final game of this series against Brett Oberholtzer (0-2, 4.91) in a 2:05 p.m. game.
It was the longest game (by innings) to go scoreless in Arlington since Sept. 22, 1992, when the Rangers lost to the Minnesota Twins 1-0 in 13 innings. Nolan Ryan started the game for the Rangers with Pudge Rodriguez catching. Both Ryan and Rodriguez were at the game Friday.
Darvish dazzles: The Rangers' ace loves pitching against the Astros. Last season, he was one out away from a perfect game in Houston in April. On Friday, he had a perfect game through five innings before Matt Dominguez -- hitting .129 when the game started -- hit an 0-2 breaking pitch for a looping hit to left-center. Darvish retired the next three batters to end the inning with no damage done, but it ended his perfect game and no-hit hopes. In that at-bat, Dominguez hit a foul ball down the right-field line that Alex Rios nearly caught but wasn't able to (and it would have required he dive against the wall, which would have been risky). Shortly thereafter, Darvish gave up the hit.
Still, Darvish went eight innings and gave up that lone hit with one walk and nine strikeouts. It was a terrific performance. He now has pitched 15 innings of scoreless baseball.
Darvish established his fastball the first time through the order, then utilized the slider more the second time through. Once again, he was efficient, throwing 101 pitches in his eight innings of work. Darvish was in command and in control out there, not even getting to a three-ball count until he walked Jose Altuve with two outs in the seventh. It didn't hurt that the Astros rolled out a lineup that featured six batters hitting under .200 and another hitting .226.
Baserunning problems: Shin-Soo Choo did a terrific job of getting on base Friday, drawing three walks and a single in six plate appearances. But after a single in the 11th, Choo stole second base with one out and Elvis Andrus at the plate. Andrus hit a dribbler in front of the plate and Choo froze rather than moving to third. With Andrus' speed, it would have put even more pressure on the Astros, never mind possibly putting the winning run at third base with two outs, should a wild pitch or something have happened. Instead, Choo stayed at second and the Astros retired Alex Rios to end the inning.
10th-inning issues: Texas had a great chance to win the game in the 10th inning, loading the bases with no outs. Houston brought in Marwin Gonzalez and inserted him as part of a five-man infield with no left fielder. The Rangers needed a fly ball and couldn't get it. Mitch Moreland hit into a fielder's choice with the Astros throwing out Rios at home. Chirinos struck out and Leonys Martin grounded out to second.
Not quite in ninth: The Rangers rallied with two outs in the inning as Martin singled and Josh Wilson also singled, with Martin going to third. Choo had a typically solid at-bat, getting behind in the count but still drawing a walk. Andrus came up with the bases loaded and grounded out to end the inning.
Is that blood?: At one point in the sixth inning, TV cameras showed the top of Darvish's thumb was cut and he was bleeding a bit. It didn't seem to bother him as he continued to pitch.
Nice arm: Astros catcher Jason Castro threw out two Rangers runners Friday. He got Andrus trying to steal after Andrus didn't get a good jump to end the third, and he nailed Martin on a pitch-out call to end the fifth.
Nice catch: Martin had the highlight of the night, making a diving catch to end the seventh inning.
Offensive issues: The Rangers couldn't do much with the bats, though they had some chances. The best might have been in the seventh, when the Rangers put two on with one out and had the bases loaded with two outs and couldn't score anything. Houston opted to intentionally walk Martin -- the first time that has happened in his young career -- to pitch to Wilson and Scott Feldman struck him out to end the frame. Give Feldman some credit. His curveball was working and he pitched very well only two days after his father died.
Hesitancy hurts: With Kouzmanoff at first, Moreland laced a ball to the gap in right-center in the second inning, but Kouzmanoff didn't get a good read on the ball and hesitated. He ended up at third base but might have had a chance to score had he been running right away. That put runners and second and third with one out, but J.P. Arencibia struck out, and Martin grounded out to end the threat.
Big hand for Nolan: Ryan, a Hall of Famer and former Rangers CEO, was at the ballpark on Friday night and sat next to former president George W. Bush in the owner's box (his usual place from the past handful of seasons). He was shown on the video board between innings early in the game and received a standing ovation (while "Don't Go Breaking My Heart" played as background music).
Alex Rios: The Rangers' No. 5 hitter was the club's top run producer the first week of the season. Rios had five RBIs and three extra-base hits, including the only homer by anyone in that middle of the lineup. Rios didn't dominate headlines with names like Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo joining the lineup. But he's a critical component batting in that spot. (And I should throw in that Elvis Andrus has had a great week as well, but didn't quite have room for him this week.)
Shin-Soo Choo: He was brought in to get on base and he has done that. He's seeing a lot of pitches -- again, something he normally does -- and has found numerous ways to get on base. Heck, the guy had a walk-off walk last week. It was the first one for the Rangers since 1999.
Second base platoon: With Jurickson Profar out with the torn muscle in his shoulder, the Rangers are relying on Donnie Murphy and Josh Wilson to handle that spot right now. It's only one week, but both made contributions. Wilson has hit well in his three starts (5-for-8 with three RBIs) and Murphy showed his glove on Sunday, making a nice play in a close game with the Rays.
Starting rotation: Outside of Darvish, who was the sixth different starter to begin the season, the starting rotation wasn't what the Rangers had hoped. Nick Martinez did give them a quality start, but Tanner Scheppers and Joe Saunders struggled in their first starts. As a whole, the rotation had a 6.66 ERA in the first five games (again, that was BEFORE Darvish's excellent start on Sunday). We'll see if things get better for them this week.
Catchers at the plate: It wasn't as if the Rangers brought in Geovany Soto (who is now hurt) and J.P. Arencibia expecting huge offense. But Arencibia and backup catcher Robinson Chirinos haven't supplied much. Both catchers have just two hits between them (both by Arencibia).
Alexi Ogando: He has had a disappointing start to the season after losing his rotation job this spring. Ogando actually lowered his ERA on Sunday despite giving up a hit and a walk in the eighth inning and forcing Neal Cotts to come in and finish off the frame in a tight game. The Ogando who was so dominant just a few years ago hasn't shown up yet.
Meanwhile, across the Gulf of Mexico, the Rangers will try to build on a similar approach as they attempt to find a more consistent offense after Friday's 8-1 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays left them with eight runs over the past three games. Entering Saturday's contest against the Rays, the Rangers rank ninth in total bases (52) and tied for 11th in stolen bases (1) with four other teams in the American League.
"We've got to get more aggressive on the bases," Ron Washington said prior to Saturday's game. "We had opportunities to go first to third, to steal. It's a matter of trust. That has to become natural development and instinct."
Part of it is getting the right lead. Part of it is reading the way the batter hits the ball.
Ultimately, it's a matter of chemistry, the intangible connection between what the manager expects and allows and how the player responds. With several new players on the club, Washington respects the early learning curve and understands it might take time for his mentality to catch on.
But to speed up the learning process, Washington had third base coach Gary Pettis work with Jim Adduci, Michael Choice, Shin-Soo Choo and Leonys Martin on leads and running from first to third hours before the 6:10 first pitch.
"We had Gary out there working with them, and if he doesn't want you to take a chance, he'll scream at you to stay there," Washington said of Pettis, who had 354 stolen bases and scored 568 runs during his 14-year career. "We want to make them aware of how we run the bases, the proper read, proper secondary. Be willing to challenge somebody."
And that goes the same for a player like Prince Fielder, who admittedly made a mistake in Friday night's loss when he paused coming around third despite Pettis' go sign and ended up being tagged out in a rundown.
"Prince admitted he made a mistake," Washington said. "We don't care about them getting picked off, getting thrown out. We want them to be aggressive. We trying to get them to run. Don't play tentative. You never know what you can do unless you do it."
Martinez debut: Nick Martinez will make his major league debut when he starts for the Rangers on Saturday night. The Miami native plans on having 50 friends and family members at the game. The team purchased Martinez's contract from Double-A Frisco and added him to the 40-man roster. Daniel McCutchen was optioned to Frisco to make room for Martinez on the 25-man roster. McCutchen did not fare well in his Rangers debut Friday, when the right-hander allowed three runs, two earned over 2 1/3 innings against the Rays. Martinez combined to go 12-7 with a 2.50 ERA in 27 games (25 starts) with Myrtle Beach and Frisco in 2013, his third professional season.
Saunders update: Joe Saunders, who exited Friday's game in the fourth inning after being hit on the left ankle by a comeback line drive off Evan Longoria's bat, had a nasty bruise on his ankle Saturday. The pitcher said he rode the bike as part of his pregame routine. The team will determine his next start based on how he responds to bruise over next few days.
Lineup shuffle: Michael Choice makes his first start for the Rangers when he bats sixth in the order as the right-fielder. In addition, Alex Rios will bat as the designated hitter. Washington said he wanted to give the regular outfielders an opportunity to get off their feet, especially on the turf at Tropicana Field.
Darvish ready: Washington said Yu Darvish, who will make his first start Sunday after missing his schedule Opening Day start due to a stiff neck, will be able to pitch as long as he can Sunday.
"I think he can throw 100 pitches," Washington said. "It's all determined on how Tampa Bay battles him, how he gets through each inning. He's not going to be out there throwing 115 pitches, though."
In his first start last season, Darvish tossed 111 pitches in the memorable attempt to finish with a perfect game before it was broken up with two outs in the ninth. Washington insinuated on Saturday that Darvish would not go past the 100-pitch mark, even if Darvish is cruising along to more perfection.
"But he's going to be out there as long as he's effective," Washington said.
Profar fielding again: Jurickson Profar (shoulder) resumed fielding drills with Washington for the second consecutive day. Profar will travel with the team when the Rangers go to Boston to face the Red Sox in a three-game series starting Monday. Washington anticipates Profar doing more each day after the second-baseman took several ground balls on Satuday. "He just can't throw like he was in spring training, but he's starting to get there," Washington said.
Last, but not least: Catcher Chris Gimenez took the free agency route rather than accept an outright assigment to Round Rock.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- It's early, and yet the Texas Rangers already have a penchant for comebacks in 2014.
For the second consecutive game, the Rangers found a way to score the runs they needed in the ninth and took the series from the Philadelphia Phillies with a 4-3 win.
Some quick thoughts:
Comeback kids: Down two runs in the ninth, Adrian Beltre started the comeback with a single. Jim Adduci's pinch-hit single scored Beltre to make it a one-run game. Leonys Martin scored Mitch Moreland, who hit a double earlier in the inning, to tie the score. Then Shin-Soo Choo ended up delivering with a patient walk with the bases loaded to win the game. It was the Rangers' first walk=off walk since 1999.
Early chance goes awry: The Rangers had a terrific opportunity to score early runs and grab the lead on Wednesday and couldn't get the job done. Singles by Choo and Elvis Andrus and an errant throw by right fielder Marlon Byrd put them at second and third with no outs. The key at-bat was Prince Fielder's. He got the count to 3-2, then took a swing at a pitch out of the zone and struck out. Beltre's ground ball back to the mound wasn't fielded well by Kyle Kendrick, but Choo's hesitation got him caught in a rundown. Choo stayed in it long enough to allow both runners to move up, but with two outs, Alex Rios' ball to deep center was caught. Just like that, the Rangers got nothing.
Ross vs. lefties: One of the big questions going into the game was whether Robbie Ross could retire left-handed hitters consistently -- something he didn't do last year. He left a slider in the middle of the plate to Ryan Howard, who crushed it 411 feet to right-center for a two-run shot to give the Phillies a 3-0 lead in the third. And of his seven hits allowed, three of them came off the five left-handers that Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg had in the lineup.
Decent debut: No, Ross didn't dominate the Phillies and he wasn't efficient, throwing 96 pitches in five innings. But Rangers manager Ron Washington wanted Ross to keep his team in the game. He did that; he just couldn't get any help from his offense. Ross pitched out of some jams and ended up with a career-high seven strikeouts. Ross had at least two men on base in every inning, yet limited the damage. All in all, not a bad first start.
Two-out RBI: Martin had a two-out RBI single to right in the seventh inning, scoring the Rangers' first run. It scored Moreland, who hit the third triple of his career, diving into third base ahead of the throw on a ball hit to the right-center gap.
Velocity up, control down: Pedro Figueroa's first four pitches on to Chase Utley were in the mid-to-high 90s. They also were all balls. But with one out and a runner at first, Howard smoked a Figueroa fastball right into the Fielder's glove for a double play.
Solid Seth: Rangers reliever Seth Rosin came in for the eighth and ninth and pitched well, allowing one hit and no runs in both frames. Rosin has tossed three scoreless frames so far this season.
More for Moreland: After a rough start to the season, Moreland found his stroke late in Wednesday's game. He had a triple in the seventh and a double in the ninth.
Up next: The Rangers are off on Thursday before heading to Florida for a three-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays. The pitching matchups:
Friday, 6:10 p.m. CT: LHP Joe Saunders vs. RHP Jake Odorizzi
Saturday, 6:10 p.m. CT: RHP Nick Martinez vs. LHP David Price
Sunday, 12:40 p.m. CT: RHP Yu Darvish vs. RHP Alex Cobb
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Adrian Beltre's walk-off single to right scored Shin-Soo Choo with the winning run as the Texas Rangers got their first victory of 2014, 3-2 over the Philadelphia Phillies. Some quick thoughts on the game:
Clutch: Beltre delivered in big moments twice on Monday, something he did with regularity last season. With two outs and a runner at third in the seventh, Beltre doubled the other way to score the tying run. Beltre was tops in the league last year with a .416 average in the "close and late" stat, which is how a batter fares when his team is leading by one, tied or has the tying run on base. He had two hits and two RBIs in those situations on Monday, including the game-winning single in the bottom of the ninth.
Bullpen lineup: With a close game, manager Ron Washington lined up the bullpen the way he wanted to in the later stages. That was Jason Frasor to finish off the sixth and pitch the seventh, lefty Neal Cotts in the eighth and closer Joakim Soria in the ninth. They all did the job, allowing no runs on one hit with one walk and four strikeouts in 3 ⅓ innings.
Choo vs. lefty: The Phillies sent a steady diet of left-handed pitchers out against Choo on Monday and it worked. On Tuesday, they opted to take righty A.J. Burnett out and put lefty Jake Diekman in with Choo leading off the seventh and Choo punched a ground ball single to left. He ended up scoring on Beltre's two-out double to right. Choo had just a .215 average against lefties last season.
Perez solid: Martin Perez left with a deficit, but that doesn't change the fact that he pitched well overall in his first start of 2014. The lefty allowed two runs -- both in the sixth -- on seven hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. He was locked in a scoreless contest with Burnett until the sixth, when he allowed a leadoff double to Cesar Hernandez and then surrendered hits to three of the next five batters he faced. Perez's slider and changeup were excellent and he attacked the strike zone, something he talked about before the start.
Getting in replay flow: The Rangers challenged one play in the sixth inning on Tuesday and won it, getting the call overturned. You can read more about that here. But to me, what was more interesting was watching how the mechanics worked as the club decided whether or not to challenge. Earlier in the sixth, Washington showed how slowly he can walk to chat with an umpire so that Joey Prebynski could look at the replays. They showed the umpires got it right, so Washington looked in the dugout and got a sign from someone (likely bench coach Tim Bogar) not to challenge, and didn't. Later in the inning, walking slowly yet again, Washington got the go sign and the Rangers won the challenge. That's how you do it.
Missed opportunities: Prince Fielder came up with runners at first and second and no outs in the third inning and wasn't able to convert, popping up in foul territory near the Phillies' dugout. Beltre then hit into a fielder's choice and Alex Rios lined out to second base to end the frame. ... Fielder smoked a two-out double in the fifth -- the bat speed was extremely fast -- and Beltre hit a ball to one of the deepest parts of the stadium, but it was caught against the wall to end the frame.
Briefly: Former president George W. Bush was on hand, sitting in the owner's box. It was odd not seeing Nolan Ryan down there with him as the two have watched a fair number of games together at Globe Life Park since Bush left office. ... Catcher Robinson Chirinos, playing in his first game of the season, showed off his arm in the second, getting Jayson Nix trying to get to second base. It appeared to be a botched hit-and-run attempt, but Chirinos made a terrific throw that had Nix out by a lot.
Up next: LHP Robbie Ross is on the mound for the Rangers as they take on the Phillies and RHP Kyle Kendrick in the final game of a three-game series, which starts at 7:05 p.m. at Globe Life Park. Ross has been in the bullpen the past two seasons and now will get a shot to start for the first time since making six starts for Double-A Frisco in 2011. Seattle Seahawks quarterback and Rangers Rule 5 draft pick Russell Wilson will throw out the ceremonial first pitch.
SAN ANTONIO -- The Texas Rangers set their 25-man roster Saturday as they get set to begin the season. Here’s a quick look at that roster:
1B Prince Fielder
2B Donnie Murphy
SS Elvis Andrus
3B Adrian Beltre
INF Josh Wilson
The biggest question late in camp was how the Rangers would approach second base with Jurickson Profar out 10 to 12 weeks with a torn muscle in his shoulder. Murphy was claimed off waivers from the Chicago Cubs and in three games in a Rangers’ uniform has hit well. Wilson has more experience and has been with the club longer in camp. Manager Ron Washington also likes Wilson’s defense. ... Fielder has to feel good entering the season after a solid spring training. He seems comfortable around this team and appears primed for a big year. ... Andrus says he’s fine and ready to go for the season after arm issues this spring. ... Lost in all the infield activity is Beltre, still the key, to me, for this infield and lineup. The Rangers need him to stay healthy.
Geovany Soto out 10 to 12 weeks following surgery to repair a torn meniscus, Washington must figure out how to deploy his catchers. ... Arencibia did not hit the ball well this spring, though he showed slight improvement late. ... The 29-year-old Chirinos had a productive spring and appeared in 13 games for Texas last season after playing in 20 games for the Tampa Bay Rays in 2011.
LF Shin-Soo Choo
CF Leonys Martin
RF Alex Rios
OF Michael Choice
OF Jim Adduci
DH Mitch Moreland
Adduci impressed the Rangers at camp and his left-handed bat joins the bench over Kevin Kouzmanoff, who had a good spring, too. Adduci has options and speed, too, giving him the edge. Kouzmanoff will start in minors, but roster could change plenty in first few weeks. Adduci made his big league debut last year after 10 seasons and 889 games in the minors. ... Martin didn’t hit well for much of spring, but hit a HR on Saturday and is healthy. There are too many Rangers who can’t say the same. ... Choice was the offensive star of spring training. Now he gets the chance to show he can do it when the games count.
As we do every year, here are five reasons the Rangers will win the AL West and five reasons they won't.
FIVE REASONS RANGERS WILL WIN THE AL WEST
1. Top of the lineup. The Rangers added Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder this offseason, bolstering a lineup that didn't score runs consistently enough in 2013. With Choo's track record of getting on base -- .392 on-base percentage is fourth-highest in the majors the last five seasons -- and Fielder's ability to pound the ball and produce, the Rangers should have opportunities to score runs earlier (something they didn't do enough of last year) and more consistently. Adrian Beltre, the club's cleanup hitter, has been one of the top hitters in the game the last three years and Alex Rios is underrated in the 5-hole.
3. Schedule. The Rangers got a break from the schedule makers in 2014. It helps that the Houston Astros are in the AL West. But even in interleague play, they get a few teams that aren't expected to contend like Colorado and the New York Mets. Home games early -- 13 of the first 19 -- should help the club tread water while they get some injured pitchers back. And they finish the season in September with 17 of 23 in Arlington, including the final four against the Oakland A's. That should be an advantage.
5. Injuries, questions with other AL West teams. It's not just Texas that is dealing with injuries. Jarrod Parker of the Oakland A's needs Tommy John surgery, putting a dent in the rotation. The Angels' back end of the rotation is a question mark and they must prove that the last two years were simply a case of underachieving for a high-priced team. Seattle certainly improved, but are they good enough to challenge the A's, Angels or Rangers in the division? It's clearly up for grabs with no team having a big advantage. That helps a Texas team dealing with early injuries.
FIVE REASONS RANGERS WON'T WIN AL WEST
1. Injuries. Where do we start? The club has not only dealt with a ridiculous number of injuries to the rotation, but also two starting position players. Don't underestimate how much that could hurt the club since pitching reinforcements appear on the way. Not having starting catcher Geovany Soto and second baseman Jurickson Profar for 10 to 12 weeks means the fill-ins have to hold their own for an extended period of time. That won't be easy. And what happens if the Rangers suffer another injury?
3. Rough start. If the injuries to this team mean that it stumbles out of the gate, it could be tough to make that ground up. The schedule has home games early, but also some tough series on the road against Tampa Bay and Boston and six games against Oakland (three on the road and three at home). Should the Rangers struggle early, the road to a title gets even tougher.
4. Emergence of Angels, A's. What if the Angels' bats finally put it together this year? Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton didn't play to their capabilities last year. But if they put it together this year with Mike Trout doing his thing, this team can pile up runs. They'll need to with the back end of their rotation. Oakland is hurting on the starting pitching front from the spring but still has that great bullpen and the ability to get clutch hits.
5. Bullpen. Joe Nathan isn't back there anymore. Joakim Soria was an All-Star at the position a few years ago, but that was pre-Tommy John surgery. The bullpen won't have Tanner Scheppers setting up, either, as he's needed in the rotation. Neftali Feliz couldn't find his velocity or command this spring. There are a lot of questions to be ironed out in that pen.
The short answer is yes. Certainly, Washington and the rest of the Rangers are under pressure this season to contend. The club made back-to-back World Series trips in 2010 and 2011, but that's getting smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror. The Oakland A's have won the division the last two seasons and the Rangers have played in one postseason game in that span, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in the AL wild-card game in 2012 after a late-season collapse. The Rangers have spent money and resources to acquire talent for this season and with that comes the expectation of postseason play.
But how can Washington be blamed for all the injuries? The manager heads into the season with Martin Perez or Tanner Scheppers as the two leading candidates to start Opening Day. His ace, Yu Darvish, is getting examined today by a back specialist to see what's going on with what everyone thought was just a stiff neck, and won't be ready for Opening Day. Jurickson Profar, the starting second baseman, is out 10 to 12 weeks. So is starting catcher Geovany Soto, taking from the rotation a backstop who had developed chemistry over the last year and a half with the pitching staff.
Washington's likely closer Neftali Feliz couldn't find his velocity or any consistent command this spring and was optioned to minor league camp on Tuesday. Alexi Ogando, once penciled into the rotation, pitched is way out of it and back to the bullpen. The starting rotation currently has two official members, less than a week before Opening Day, though Robbie Ross' performance on Tuesday has to get him a spot in the rotation, right? Also, starting shortstop Elvis Andrus is dealing with soreness in his shoulder and elbow after not throwing this offseason.
Unfortunately for the Texas Rangers, the club has a long list of injuries impacting Opening Day and beyond. But the spring training injuries that are likely to have the biggest bearing on how this team does early in the season happened in the last two days.
Both Jurickson Profar and Geovany Soto are out 10 to 12 weeks. Profar tore a muscle in his shoulder and won't require surgery, but will need plenty of rest. Soto tore his meniscus in his left knee and will need surgery.
Matt Harrison's soft mattress has cost him the chance to open the season in the rotation. Yu Darvish has a stiff neck that calls into question whether he'll make his Opening Day start. Elvis Andrus didn't throw in the offseason and that's altered his spring and preparation for the season.
So which of these injuries will have the biggest impact?
This may surprise some of you, but I'm taking Soto. No doubt, the lack of great options to play second base makes the Profar injury a rough one for this team. But to not have the club's starting catcher for three months impacts everything from the lineup to the pitching staff as a whole.
Soto's batting average since coming to Texas is just .222. But it sure seemed like most of his hits last year happened in a big moment, didn't it? And his bat got better as last season progressed, ending up with a .245 average, nine homers and 26 RBIs in 54 games.
Odor has had a solid spring. He's hitting .294 (5-for-17) and has played well at second base. He's another one of the club's prospects that scouts really like and believe has a bright future.
No. Not yet, anyway. And it's a feeling the Rangers share as general manager Jon Daniels told reporters in Arizona today that Odor will stay in the minors.
I know it's tempting to put the 20-year-old in the lineup while Profar is out and see what he can do, especially with some internal options that aren't overwhelming. But this would clearly be a case of rushing things.
Odor has a total of 30 games played in Double-A Frisco. He hit .306 in those games, but it was a small sample against better pitching. Odor must prove he can handle it for a little while longer before he moves up to Triple-A or makes the Rangers think about promoting him to the big leagues. The 20-year-old has just a total of 296 minor league games in rookie ball, Class A and Double-A. He needs a little more seasoning.
Internally, Josh Wilson, Kensuke Tanaka and Adam Rosales will get looks. Wilson is a right-handed hitter whom Washington likes for his defense. Wilson is 12-for-46 (.261) in 21 Cactus League games. Tanaka, a left-handed hitter, was sent to minor league camp recently, but is back on the big league side and starting at second base today. He's 32 years old and with limited big league experience. At this point, two of the three internal candidates could make the roster if the Rangers don't find someone externally.
The easy, knee-jerk would be to promote Odor with a lack of solid options available. But it's too soon to do that. We'll see Odor in Arlington in the near future -- just not on Opening Day.
San Diego Padres in Thursday's Cactus League game. It was his third extra-base hit of the spring.
It's clear the Rangers want to get Profar as many at-bats as possible this spring. Because shoulder soreness slowed him down a bit, most of those at-bats have come at DH early in the spring before he transitions fully back to second base. Profar's bat has been solid. He's 9-for-29 with two doubles, a homer and 10 RBIs. Sure, some of those at-bats have been late in games against minor leaguers from other teams. But at this point, it's about getting plate appearances for Profar.
There's a reason Profar was the No. 1 prospect in baseball last season. But that was only on display in glimpses in 2013. He hit .234 with six homers and 26 RBIs in 85 games (286 at-bats) last season as he moved around to a variety of positions without a regular spot.
That, of course, is the big question. Can Profar prove that all of the things written about his future will materialize in the present? The Rangers clearly believe Profar can live up to at least some of those expectations, trading Ian Kinsler to Detroit for Prince Fielder, allowing Profar the opening to start at second.
Profar, for his part, has not used the fact that he bounced around to different spots last year as a reason for his struggles.
"I'm not a guy that makes excuses," Profar said earlier this offseason. He said his focus is on learning from 2013 and getting better in 2014.
Manager Ron Washington has been pleased with Profar's progress on defense this spring, as he has worked on his foot work and learning some of the intricacies of second base, including developing chemistry with Elvis Andrus. Profar is throwing again and the next few weeks will be big for him in the field as he and Andrus try to get as much time together in games as they can.
But for all the talk of the top five spots in the Rangers' order, how Profar does in that bottom group -- not to mention how he does defensively at second base -- will have an impact on how balanced this lineup can be. It's time for Profar to move from prospect to player.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Nate Adcock, a 26-year-old non-roster right-handed pitcher considered a long shot to make the Texas Rangers this spring, was eating breakfast in the clubhouse when Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson asked if he could join him.
For 10 or 15 minutes, Adcock and 25-year-old catcher Brett Nicholas, invited to big league camp after a solid Double-A season, peppered Wilson with questions.
“We just wanted to be a sponge and soak it all in,” Adcock said. “He was telling us about his day and that he gets in at 5:45 in the morning and doesn’t leave until 7 [p.m.]. He puts in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours.
That’s the reason the Rangers selected Wilson in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft in December. They paid $12,000 to grab him from the Colorado Rockies.
The investment was for days like Monday.
After breakfast, Wilson stretched his arm and joined manager Ron Washington for the daily extra infield practice. Tucked back on a half-field, with plenty of cameras clicking, Wilson listened intently as Washington put him through a variety of individual infield drills.
“He surprised me for not being out on the baseball field for a while,” Washington said. “I might have burned his legs up a little bit, but he made it through all the drills and did a fantastic job. He’s got tremendous aptitude. That’s why he is who he is. You give him something and he knows how to apply it.”
Wilson stretched with the team, chatting with regulars Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus and Jurickson Profar. He then took grounders with the rest of the infielders as part of the team fundamental drills. Several hundred fans, many of them dressed in Seahawks colors and a few of them with handmade signs thanking him for the Super Bowl victory, cheered as he scooped up balls and practiced flips to second base to start double plays and throws to first to finish them. Wilson watched as some of the club’s players in the lineup for today’s game took batting practice.
He’s expected to be in uniform and watch from the dugout during the club’s Cactus League game with the Cleveland Indians and then talk to the media. He’ll also spend some time with some of the club’s minor leaguers and then will eat a private dinner with some of the team’s core players.
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