Texas Rangers: Nate Robertson
Spring training was extended by two weeks due to the World Baseball Classic, and games began only a few days after camp opened. The culmination of that long spring came Tuesday when the team announced a series of roster moves, as the Rangers now have identified 22 of the 25 players who will be on the Opening Day roster for Sunday night's contest in Houston.
"The spring went extremely well this year," manager Ron Washington said. "As we went deeper into the spring, we improved as a team. I thought we progressed the way I figured we'd progress. We were slow in the beginning and picked it up as we went along, but I expected it. Especially since we only had a few days before the first game. We were playing in February when we were still trying to work out the kinks."
The Rangers head back to Texas to play an exhibition game in Arlington against the Mexico City Red Devils at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on Thursday night. The scheduled game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Surprise on Thursday will feature only minor league players.
Texas then will head to San Antonio for a pair of games Friday and Saturday in the Alamodome before beginning the regular season the following night against the Astros in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN.
Other team notes:
Washington also said the Rangers have not decided whether they will carry an extra pitcher or position player until they need to make room for a fifth starter April 9.
"I think we'll come up with that between before we head to San Antonio," Washington said. "It might be after, but somewhere in there we'll make the decision."
Washington compared Robertson's transition to a more control-oriented delivery to that of Frank Tanana, who underwent a similar transformation and extended his career with a few more successful seasons before hanging up his glove.
Robertson hasn't pitched with a big league club since 2010 and even saw time in independent baseball last season, but he sees his successful training camp as a springboard to continue his quest to return to the majors. Robertson had an option to ask for his release but instead accepted his minor league assignment.
"I haven't even gauged interest from other teams, which I think shows my desire to remain in this organization," Robertson said. "I have to weigh the other factors too if there is an opportunity to extend my career someplace else, but I'm just going to let that play out.
"I still have a desire to play this game so I'm not going home."
The Rangers' lineup for today's game:
2B Ian Kinsler
SS Elvis Andrus
DH Lance Berkman
3B Adrian Beltre
LF David Murphy
RF Nelson Cruz
C A.J. Pierzynski
1B Mitch Moreland
CF Leonys Martin
LHP Brad Mills
LHP Michael Kirkman
LHP Nate Robertson
RHP Tanner Scheppers
CF Peter Bourjos
2B Luis Rodriguez
1B Brendan Harris
C Hank Conger
DH John Hester
3B Luis Jimenez
LF J.B. Shuck
RF Randal Grichuk
SS Andrew Romine
RHP Garrett Richards
|ESPN MLB Insider Jim Bowden joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett in Surprise to discuss what to expect from the Rangers this season. |
"I told him this morning that he made the team," Washington said. "I haven't had that veteran presence (on the bench) that can make a difference, and that is a role he has played. He knows how to stay ready. What I've seen this spring is he has passed some of that experience on to the younger guys. He is always holding court. It's what we had when we had Omar Vizquel here."
Baker typically doesn't log frequent at-bats during the season, instead often seeing time as a late-inning replacement or getting a spot start for a regular who is getting the day off.
The 31-year old received plenty of playing time this spring and made the most of the opportunity. Baker turned heads, especially with his offense, and was on a hitting tear that lasted nearly three weeks. At one point he was 20-for-40 (.500) and reached base in eight consecutive plate appearances. Even after a relative cool streak during the last week, Baker still ranks among the Cactus Leaders in several offensive categories.
It is one of the contradictions of spring training that good performances are downplayed because the statistics don't count, yet jobs are won and lost based on those same performances.
The six-year MLB veteran has carved out a nice career because of his versatility, as he can play five positions: first, second, third, left and right field. Baker likely won't see much time at third but will be used at the other positions.
Baker is scratched from Monday's game with a sinus infection. He also missed Sunday's game against Cincinnati and was pulled from Saturday's contest in the third inning because of the ailment.
More team notes:
RHP Kyle McClellan is nearly two weeks into a projected 3-4 week period of not throwing due to a strained right lat muscle. Once cleared, he will begin a long-toss and flat-ground throwing program.
LHP Martin Perez has been cleared to begin a throwing program once he is pain-free. Perez said this morning that the fractured ulna bone in his left forearm is feeling better. He is no longer wearing any protective gear on the arm. Perez is anticipated to begin throwing next week.
RHP Joakim Soria continues recovery from his second Tommy John surgery. Barring any setback, he will begin throwing live batting practices the week of April 8.
RHP Colby Lewis (flexor tendon surgery) is on the same time frame as Soria for beginning to throw live BP, again barring any setback.
Other team notes:
- The Rangers also announced on Sunday that the club has received left-handed pitcher Brad Mills on a waiver claim from the Los Angeles Angels.
Mills, 28, will join the Rangers later today or tomorrow and has been added to the major league roster. To make room on the 40-man roster, right-handed pitcher Neftali Feliz was placed on the 60-day disabled list.
The left-hander was 1-0 with a 6.00 ERA (6.0 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO) in three games and one start for the Angels this spring. He pitched six innings in a minor league game in his last outing on Thursday.
Mills spent most of 2012 at Triple-A Salt Lake, posting a 5-10 record with a 5.86 ERA in 19 starts and 21 overall appearances. He made one spot start for Los Angeles, throwing five shutout innings on July 8 vs. Baltimore to earn his first major league victory since Aug. 5, 2011.
In 15 career appearances with the Blue Jays and Angels, including 10 starts, Mills is 3-3 with a 7.76 ERA.
Feliz, 24, was placed on the 15-day disabled list on May 19 with right elbow inflammation and did not pitch again in 2012 before undergoing Tommy John ligament replacement surgery on Aug. 1. He is continuing to rehab from the surgery.
- Alexi Ogando will start Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Reds ahead of presumed No. 3 starter Derek Holland, who will take the mound on Monday. Holland is getting back on his normal throwing schedule after playing with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic. The Rangers have not made an official announcement on their No. 3 and 4 starters, only committing to Matt Harrison, as the No. 1 and Yu Darvish as the No. 2. Today's other scheduled pitchers are LHP Nate Robertson, RHP Joe Nathan and RHP Cory Burns.
- Michael Kirkman will continue to be stretched out in case the Rangers decide to use him as the fifth starter when camp breaks, although he is not being called an official candidate for the role. The Rangers won't need their fifth starter until April 9 due to two early off days. Derek Lowe also continues to be stretched out with rookie Nick Tepesch as the only official in-house candidate for the job.
- When asked who has been the biggest surprise in camp this season, manager Ron Washington said outfielder Craig Gentry.
"He figured out how to get through a baseball and figured out how good he can be and is just letting it go," Washington said. "He is showing me a total game. He is daring on the base paths now. Him having a successful year like he had last year, and another year of baseball under his belt, is understanding what his game is, and he's not afraid of showing that."
- Washington was also asked the best person he was ever around in the clubhouse.
"1977 Dodgers -- Reggie Smith, Davey Lopes, Steve Garvey, Rick Monday, Ron Cey," Washington said. "Those are the best guys I've been around. Those are the guys that taught me how to be a major league player.
"Dutsy Baker was the one single guy when I got to the big leagues that took care of me. He just gravitated to me and made sure what I needed was there."
- Texas is one game above .500 for the fourth time this spring and is yet to reach two games above in spring training.
- The Rangers released nine players from minor league camp: RHP Andrew Benes, 2B/SS Santiago Chrino, 1B Andrew Clark, RHP Joucer Martinez, RHP Steve McKinnon, LHP Scott Olsen, RHP Chance Sossaman, LHP Pedro Tirado and RHP Brett Weibley.
- Today's game marks the second and final game between the Rangers and Reds this spring. They played for the first time on Saturday, with Texas winning 6-2 at Goodyear Ballpark.
- Jeff Baker remains out of the Rangers lineup with a sinus infection. He was removed from Saturday's game in the third inning due to the condition.
- After Sunday's contest, Texas has only three spring games remaining in Arizona. The Rangers will also play the Arizona Diamondbacks in Surprise on March 28, but Texas will only use minor leaguers in that matchup. The team has a second game scheduled for March 28 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington against the Mexico City Red Devils. Texas then plays a pair of contests on March 29 and 30 at the Alamodome in San Antonio before opening the regular season on March 31 in Houston.
|Lance Berkman joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett live from Surprise, Ariz., to discuss spring training and how he feels better than he expected to heading into the season. |
Super-sub: Texas named an emergency starter due to injury for the second consecutive game. Derek Lowe took the hill in place of Yu Darvish, who was scratched with a stiff neck. Lowe pitched three scoreless innings, allowed three hits, walked one and struck out three. His strong outing came on the heels of that of Michael Kirkman, who was equally impressive in relief of Kyle McClellan, who was scratched from Sunday's start due to injury.
Hit parade: Ian Kinsler broke out in a big way, going 3-for-3 with a two-run home run, two runs scored and a pair of singles. He has looked better at the plate of late and appeared due for a game like he had Monday night. He also had two excellent defensive plays at second base.
No ordinary Joe: LHP relief pitcher Joe Ortiz continues to be all but unhittable this spring. He pitched two scoreless innings on Monday, allowing two singles. But he followed each hit with a double play and struck out two. In nine innings, Ortiz has allowed five hits, one walk and struck out nine. His ERA is 0.00.
Nasty Nate: LHP Nate Robertson wasted no time getting through his first of two scoreless innings of work, retiring the Royals in order on only seven pitches. Robertson has not allowed a run in 10 innings.
Moreland still raking: Mitch Moreland spent a lot of time on the base paths Monday, as he went 2-for-2 with a pair of singles and a walk. He also scored two runs and had one RBI. Moreland leads Texas with 11 RBIs. His two hits raised his spring batting average to .395.
Hit-maker: Shortstop Elvis Andrus had a single in the second inning, extending his hitting streak to 10 games.
Good glove: CF Engle Beltre made a great diving catch to end the top of the seventh inning and rob Salvador Perez of an extra base hit.
First at first: Lance Berkman went 2-for-4 in his first game at first base this spring. He was the designated hitter for all of his previous 12 games.
Sweet 17: The Rangers’ 17 hits were the second-most this spring (18 on Feb. 28 vs. Cleveland Indians).
What's next?: Texas will play its second and final game of the spring against the Chicago Cubs at HoHoKam Stadium on Tuesday at 3:05 p.m. CT. The game can be heard live on ESPN 103.3 FM. RHP Alexi Ogando (1-1, 3.48) is the scheduled starter for Texas. LHP Chris Rusin (2-0, 0.69) is expected to take the hill for Chicago.
|Manager Ron Washington joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett live from Surprise, Ariz., to discuss how the Rangers are looking heading into the 2013 season. |
Regarding the bullpen, Joe Nathan as closer is the only slot manager Ron Washington has been willing to define thus far.
Newcomer Jason Frasor seems like the eighth-inning guy since he has filled that role for much of his career.
Beyond that, everything in the bullpen is up for grabs. Kirkman's role is among those still being defined.
"I don't see myself as anything right now," Kirkman said of his bullpen role. "I think I can go in there and get any lefty out, but I think I can go out there and pitch three or four innings, too. Whatever [Washington] needs that night, I feel I can go out there and do it."
The 26-year old split time between the minors and Texas the past three seasons, but that trend is probably over considering his spring performance to date. He also pitched well toward the end of last season when he made 28 appearances with Texas, posting a respectable 3.82 ERA and striking out 38 in 35.1 innings. In four spring games, Kirkman has allowed just three hits in six scoreless innings with six strikeouts.
"Toward the end of last year, I've seen him hone in and become a little more consistent," Washington said. "This spring, he's been a lot more consistent, and that's what you look for. We always knew he had the stuff. It was just a matter of him becoming more consistent, and he's certainly doing that right now."
Punchouts haven't been a problem for Kirkman, as he's struck out approximately one batter per inning throughout his career. Walks, on the other hand, have been a bit of an issue. His walk total has gradually creeped up each season, including in 2012 when he walked a combined 48 batters in 83.1 innings between Triple-A and Texas. While opponents own a .202 batting average in his 57 career major-league appearances, he also averaged 4.4 walks per nine innings during those contests.
An offseason conversation with pitching coach Mike Maddux seems to have fixed that problem, though, as Kirkman has not walked a man this spring and has shown great improvement in his command.
"I tried to stop jumping at the plate. I worked on my mechanics, and it is really working out for me," Kirkman said. "That was something Mike Maddux called me about this offseason. He was watching some video after the playoffs, and that was one of the things he saw, that we could bear down and clean up a little bit. Now, I'm throwing more strikes."
Kirkman's bullpen role will ultimate depend on the performance from a deep group of candidates during the final two weeks of spring training as well as the decision for who will fill the open the fifth starter slot.
In addition to the aforementioned bullpen arms, Texas has also had strong performances from lefties Nate Robertson and Joe Ortiz. Derek Lowe was signed on March 6 to add depth, and rookies Johan Yan and Coty Woods have pitched well.
Throw in the other spring contenders -- along with the eventual returns of relievers Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz, as well as the possibility of Robbie Ross returning to the pen if he isn't named the fifth starter or only holds it for a short time -- and the bullpen could become quite competitive.
RHP Kyle McClellan (strained lat muscle) is not expected to resume a throwing program for 3-4 weeks.
RHP Colby Lewis (surgery -- torn flexor tendon) and Joakim Soria (Tommy John surgery) each threw a bullpen session on Friday.
C Eli Whiteside (mild left calf strain) has resumed baseball activities and is listed as day-to-day.
LHP Martin Perez (fractured left ulna) is not expected to resume a throwing program for approximately four weeks.
Other team notes:
In Sunday's other split-squad game, the Rangers will close out a two-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Cashman Field in Las Vegas at 3:05 p.m. CT. LHP Robbie Ross (1-0, 3.86) will start for Texas. RHP Carlos Villanueva (0-1, 5.87) takes the mound for Chicago. The game can be seen live on Fox Sports Southwest.
Both Sunday split-squad games are considered road games. Texas is 4-1-1 in its past six road games.
Special Assistant to the GM/Instructor/Ambassador Ivan Rodriguez has arrived in camp and will be in uniform in Arizona for the next week.
Minor leaguer Luis Sardinas committed a fielding error yesterday, ending the Rangers' errorless streak at eight games.
LHP Derek Holland is expected to return to Rangers camp today after Team USA was eliminated from the World Baseball Classic on Friday. Holland was recently bothered by a stomach ailment, which is believed to have been food poisoning. He was examined by the Team USA doctor and will be examined by Rangers team doctor David S. Hunter when he returns from the Las Vegas trip. Holland reported he feels better and will throw a bullpen today. He is scheduled to pitch in a minor league game on Tuesday.
Texas has carried extra players in its major league camp due to the World Baseball Classic and the pair of split-squad games this weekend. However, that roster is expected to be trimmed after today's games as fewer players will be needed and due to natural attrition as only two weeks remain in spring training.
Jeff Baker currently leads the major leagues in the spring with a .500 batting average (20 for 40).
DH Lance Berkman is the only presumed everyday regular-season starter who is in today's starting lineup.
Today's game in Peoria marks the third and final time Texas plays Seattle this spring. The Mariners won both previous matchups.
The Las Vegas game between Texas and the Cubs is the third of four games the teams will play this spring. They will wrap up the four-game series on Tuesday in Mesa.
What this means: Texas moves above the .500 mark for the first time this spring -- an impressive feat after the team opened the spring with an 0-5-1 record.
Fast start: The two first-inning runs Texas scored were officially listed as unearned but that is in baseball terms only. Sacrifice flies drove in each run after aggressive baserunning put the first two batters of the game in scoring position. Ian Kinsler reached on a throwing error and capitalized by going from first to third on a ground ball to left by Elvis Andrus. His play forced a throw to third, which was bobbled, and an astute Andrus moved up to second. With two men in scoring position and no one out, the two deep fly balls that followed by Lance Berkman and Adrian Beltre scored the pair for Texas, giving the Rangers an early 2-0 lead.
|Manager Ron Washington joins Fitzsimmons & Durrett live from Surprise, Ariz., to discuss how the Rangers are looking heading into the 2013 season. |
Nate the great: Nate Robertson pitched his seventh scoreless inning of the spring but almost got dinged up while doing so. With one out in the sixth and a runner at first, a line drive was hit back at the box. Robertson took a half-defensive, half-protective move to knock the ball down in front of him. Despite the close call, he kept his wits and threw the ball to second, leading to an inning-ending double play.
Excellent encore: Andrus has his second strong game since returning from playing in the World Baseball Classic, chipping in a single and double with an RBI. He is 3-for-5 since rejoining the Rangers.
Baker still white hot: Jeff Baker entered the game in the sixth inning and continued his amazing spring at the plate. He singled in his first at-bat, raising his average to a remarkable .546. He entered the game leading the Cactus League in batting average and OBP. If the Rangers don't have room for the veteran utility man on their regular-season roster, it is hard to imagine someone wouldn't give him a shot after his spring performance.
Slowly but surely: Kinsler is gradually coming out of his early spring funk. He went 1-for-3 with a double and two runs scored. The Rangers second baseman has reached base in eight out of the last 10 and has hits in three straight. He is yet to completely break out, but he is hitting the ball harder and is showing signs of coming around at the plate.
What's next?: Texas travels to Scottsdale Stadium to take on the defending World Series champion San Francisco Giants at 3:05 p.m. CT. RHP Derek Lowe (0-0, 0.00) will make his Texas Rangers debut. RHP Matt Cain (1-2, 5.40) is the scheduled starter for the Giants.
|Jim Bowden joins Ben and Skin to talk about Rangers spring training and some interesting trade scenarios. |
Some of them did that in chilly conditions on Field 1 (Nolan Ryan Field) on the Rangers side of Surprise Recreation Campus. Robertson, who remade his delivery this offseason with hopes of extending his career, was pleased with how his low three-quarter arm slot reacted to hitters as he threw to them for the first time without an "L screen" in front of him. He gave up a couple of singles, but also struck out Leonys Martin with a slider and was glad that he got to pitch to some left-handed hitters.
"I've had four elbow surgeries and I knew I needed to do something to give me another chance," Robertson said. "I taught it to myself this offseason and I'm glad to see I've got movement on my pitches. I'm not a velocity guy. I can't tough 94 or 95 mph anymore. So it's third on my priority list behind command and movement. The more velocity you have, the greater your margin of error. I have to locate my pitches, and I did that today."
But there were two pitchers later in the game that impressed the scouts on hand: Josh Lindblom and Joe Ortiz.
Lindblom, who came over from Philadelphia in the Michael Young trade, struck out the side. He got Craig Gentry to chase a slider, Geovany Soto struck out on a fastball swinging and Mike Olt watched a fastball hit the corner for a third strike.
"Today the biggest thing was my fastball command," Lindblom said. "It was down on both sides of the zone. If you do it, you're going to have success."
Ortiz, a longshot coming into camp, continues to pound the strike zone. One scout compared him to Eddie Guardado as a guy that may not have high velocity but keeps the ball down and is constantly ahead of hitters. He did touch 92 mph on the radar gun and had two strikeouts, both on sliders.
Another error: There's something about Gentry that seems to bug Elvis Andrus. For the second straight game, Andrus committed an error off a ball hit by Gentry. Andrus rushed the throw, which was high, allowing Gentry to get to second base. He was stranded there as Harrison got out of the inning.
Highlight reel: Leury Garcia had one of the better defensive plays of camp, barehanding a tough chopper and throwing to first to get the speedy Andrus. ... Mitch Moreland made a nice backhand stab at first base on a hot shot, keeping the ball in front of him and getting the out.
Tepesch's tale: Nick Tepesch threw some nice breaking pitches, striking out Ian Kinsler and Nelson Cruz on sinkers. He hit 91 mph on the radar gun.
Buckel's line: Cody Buckel, one of the fifth starter candidates, gave up three hits (all singles), a walk and a wild pitch, but allowed just one run.
Big hits: Pierzynski had an RBI single, scoring Kinsler. ... Reserve Brett Nicholas had a three-run homer and a double in his two at-bats. ... Juan Apodaca had a two-run triple in the fourth.
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