SURPRISE, Ariz. — After Yu Darvish, the Rangers’ rotation consists of Recently Released, Duct Tape, Band-Aid and Gorilla Glue. And they don’t have a closer. And their middle relief is muddled, too.Other than that, this staff is locked and loaded.It is far more fun to panic. It is only March 7 but, regardless of the early date, the ugly truth is the Rangers’ starting rotation is a mess.Don’t blame the manager for this. This falls on the general manager.While the Rangers celebrated adding Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo, they seemed to forget that the game is still about pitching. This team has been so good over the past five years because of its collective ability to get the other guys out.Manager Ron Washington said Friday morning the team will know by March 19 the starters from relievers.On Friday, a pair of their starters started in separate games — one represents hope (Martin Perez), the other woe (Joe Saunders).Count me in on Martin Perez, who allowed two runs with three walks in three innings against the Dodgers in a fake game on Friday. He has the ability to become a legit No. 2 starter behind Darvish, and lighten the impact of the absence of the injured Derek Holland.“I think I’m ready,” Perez said.That is the hope.The rest is a messy-guess.Pitching coach Mike Maddux has done a commendable job of instilling a persevering attitude among his pitchers since he arrived, but he’s not God. What the Rangers need is magic healing dust to sprinkle on Holland and Matt Harrison, that or something that allows Yu to start all 162 games.The Rangers say Holland will be back from microfracture surgery on his knee after the All-Star break, which is what they have to say. But Holland is not pitching this year.“What a piece to have when he returns,” Wash said. It sure will be ... in 2015.The Rangers are not saying this, but even if/when Harrison returns next month, they can’t expect him to immediately regain his All-Star form from two years ago. If he remains healthy enough to pitch 28 to 30 games, call it a good start.“We’re slow-pacing him,” Wash said. Anyone who has multiple back surgeries in less than one year always comes back better than before.The Rangers aren’t saying this but, after Yu, their starters are not ideal, or even good.“We’ve got plenty, plenty of options,” Washington said.Every team has options; whether the option is any good is another matter.Alexi Ogando should be a reliever, but he is needed as a starter.Right now he will be the No. 3 starter, yet he has never demonstrated he can consistently go more than 5 2/3 to 6 innings. He was on the disabled list three times last year.(When the Rangers make me manager for a day, the first thing I do after giving myself a 50-year, $500 million contract is make Ogando my closer.)It is impossible not to be in love with his stuff, but equally impossible not be afraid of his durability.That leaves the team to sort through Saunders, Lewis, Robbie Ross, Tanner Scheppers, Nick Tepesch, Michael Kirkman, Jose Contreras, Tommy Hanson and a bunch of other guys that scare you to death for the final two or three starting pitchers.That Saunders, who signed two days ago, is pretty much already assured a spot in the rotation should be a full moon-sized red flag.He threw a pair of scoreless innings against the Royals in a B-game Friday, which translates to nothing in April. Scouts ranged his velocity from 87 to 91 mph. Now to the stats that matter: He has not posted a winning record since 2009, and twice in his nine years in the bigs his ERA has been under 4.00. What he can do is throw a ball forever.You can’t expect him to regain his ’08 and ’09 form — when he was 33-14 in two years for the Angels. If he does, then maybe Maddux is God.Lewis didn’t pitch at all in ’13, had hip surgery and, despite a proven record of overcoming everything, to expect him to do it again is not an easy sell.Contreras may be 67 years old, and the other guys just don’t look like long-term options.Jon Daniels had built a staff that expected to have Yu, Holland, Harrison and Perez as the main four with a fill-out-the-rotation guy as the fifth. That’s not a bad staff.Life screwed up this master plan, and now it’s a mess he needs to fix. This pitching staff is on the GM.While he’s at it, find a reliable closer and fifth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-inning guys, too.And a closer.Other than that, this staff is ready to go. Follow Mac Engel on The Big Mac Blog at www.star-telegram.com/sports/.
Mac Engel, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @macengelprof