February 28, 2013

‘Tattoo soreness’ and other significant developments in the Rangers’ camp

Lance Berkman gets a hit, the bullpen is still a question mark and good vibrations from Derek Holland.

Still checking, but the Texas Rangers appeared to have had an all-time franchise first here Thursday. A player missed a game because of “tattoo soreness.”

Not just any player either. It was shortstop Elvis Andrus who was scratched from the lineup.

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Not just any tattoo either. This one was an elaborate piece of needlework that went from the top of the left shoulder all the way down the arm to the elbow.

Uh, Elvis. Can we talk?

You think maybe committing to this kind of “art” decision, which is a tribute to his late father, might have been best in the off-season instead of spending nine hours of needle time over the last two days out here?

Whatever, Elvis says this is his first and final tattoo:

“Too much pain.”

While “tattoo soreness” was the strangest event of the day, there were a couple of other significant developments in Thursday’s camp.

For starters, Lance Berkman was one for the first time this spring, hitting leadoff in the batting order at DH (1 for 2, drew a walk and scored twice) against the visiting Cleveland Indians.

Also for starters, Derek Holland was the leadoff pitcher, making his second Cactus League start after a shaky spring debut last week.

To each his own, but as spring training began three weeks ago, I had the three most important issues for the Rangers ranked this way:

No. 1, the progress of Holland, a 12-game winner in 2012, but even with the 12-7 record, no one was applauding. The lefty was considered a major disappointment and was also shut down for a month with shoulder fatigue.

I’d say pitching coach Mike Maddux also had a strong case of fatigue simply dealing with the always interesting Holland.

No. 2, the progress of Berkman, who at age 37 has arrived on the scene to solidify the Rangers’ batting order, despite coming off a 2012 season when mainly knee injuries kept him on the shelf for 130 of 162 games.

No. 3, reworking a depleted bullpen in front of closer Joe Nathan. Let’s just say that in the early go, fitting in the new bullpen pieces remains a total mystery. Again, it’s the early go. Very early.

But three weeks after posting that personal 1-2-3 Rangers’ urgency list, there won’t be any changes from here. Admittedly, however, there are voices in this camp saying the bullpen bingo situation is the top concern at the moment.

But on Thursday, it was Holland everyone wanted to see, working four strong innings in his last Rangers’ appearance in maybe three weeks. He leaves this weekend to join the Team USA rotation in the World Baseball Classic.

In what was a 10-0 win — first W of the spring for the Rangers — Holland faced a somewhat rare batting order (particularly this early in the spring) of seven Cleveland regulars.

At the urging of Maddux, Holland is attempting to feature a changeup, after basically ditching that pitch last season. Combined with a good fastball, the change was a hammer for him Thursday.

Many have also suggested Holland needs a change in another area, like ditching the fun-loving comedy routines with the media and becoming more serious about his craft. Derek, himself, has agreed with some of the criticism.

Surprisingly, the guy who doesn’t agree is manager Ron Washington.

“I want him to maintain focus on the mound, but off the field I don’t want Derek to change who he is,” Washington said Thursday.

“I want this Derek Holland, not some made-up Derek Holland. If you are trying to change your personality, it never works. But I am asking for more focus from Derek when he’s out there on the mound.

“The focus thing is part of the maturing process as a pitcher. Derek is a good kid. I have confidence he is going to give us the focus and move forward as a pitcher.”

With a rotation that appears solid at the top — Yu Darvish and Matt Harrison — it’s imperative the Rangers add a third dependable starter. Holland has immense talent and has had past success in the rotation.

No other rotation candidate is even close to him in the areas of talent and success.

So even on the last day of February, with still a long month to go before the Rangers open the regular season, the Derek Holland of Thursday was a good vibration moment.

No, it wasn’t worth a tattoo, but on this day Elvis had already led the major leagues in that area.

Randy Galloway can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on Galloway & Co. on ESPN/103.3 FM.

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