Always atop each team’s preseason list of keys for success is the health of its starting rotation, and already the Texas Rangers are playing from behind.
Next on the Rangers’ pre-spring checklist this year was consistent production from Derek Holland and Alexi Ogando, and the early results aren’t necessarily what they seem.
Holland’s performance, even considering the six-run road bump he encountered Monday, has cooled concerns about him.
Ogando, however, hadn’t eased as many minds even though he, too, had had only one hiccup entering his fifth start of the season.
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Such is life when a pitcher is making a transition from one role to another, even though Ogando thrived the last time he went from the bullpen to the rotation.
Such is life when a pitcher hasn’t been able to consistently command his fastball, and when a key member of the rotation is out until after the All-Star break.
But Ogando said there’s no extra pressure on him with Matt Harrison felled by back surgery. Ogando said that he can worry only about himself and getting a stranglehold on his fastball.
His latest chance to test the pitch arrived Tuesday night in a late game against the American League’s top hitting team.
“It doesn’t really concern me that much,” said Ogando, who entered Tuesday with a 2-1 record and a 3.32 ERA. “It’s something that goes away sometimes, but if you just keep working hard and keep trusting your stuff, it’ll come back.”
Ogando had allowed four runs through seven innings Tuesday. His fastball command was dicey in a two-run first inning but improved as he found his rhythm.
The Rangers’ rotation, meanwhile, has an anchor in Yu Darvish, who is scheduled to start Wednesday. Holland and Ogando rate as veterans compared with the other two in the rotation, rookie right-handers Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm.
Colby Lewis and Martin Perez are still a month away from being able to contribute. Ogando has never been more important to the rotation, though that’s not the way he is thinking about the Rangers’ pitching situation.
“It’s not a pressure or a bigger responsibility,” he said. “All we have to do is contribute as much as possible and do our job every game.”
Ogando took steps toward that in his between-starts bullpen session Saturday after issuing five runs in only 21/3 innings Thursday at Wrigley Field.
Pitching coach Mike Maddux and bullpen coach Andy Hawkins examined all possible causes for the spotty fastball command, which has been an issue since spring training.
They found a mechanical flaw in which Ogando was rotating too much toward second base. The key was executing the new delivery in the game.
“We worked on his delivery to get back to where he wants to be,” Maddux said. “It’s a little more direct line to the plate. He was happy with it.”
Said Ogando: “I’m just focused on getting my control back and pitching better. I didn’t change anything. I’ve just been working on my mechanical issues.”
While Ogando’s fastball problems are an area of concern, the Rangers aren’t in full-blown panic mode. He has still been effective, save for the start last week at Wrigley Field.
The fastball, though, makes his slider and changeup better pitches. While he has survived with those two pitches early on, it’ll be tough to keep doing it.
The Rangers, already without Harrison and waiting on Lewis’ return, have to keep the faith in Ogando.
“We know he can spot the fastball. He’s been doing it his whole life,” manager Ron Washington said. “We just have to keep working. One of these times he’ll lock in and get it back.”