Nick Tepesch and Justin Grimm weren’t in the Texas Rangers’ rotation plans for 2013 as recently as two months ago.
Matt Harrison was healthy and headed toward an Opening Day start. Martin Perez was the frontrunner to be the No. 5 starter until May, when Colby Lewis would be healthy after surgery in July.
Perez, though, lasted only three days into March before he broke his arm and was declared out for at least two months, and Tepesch become the fifth starter.
Harrison lasted two big-league starts before his back became so bad that he had to have surgery Tuesday and will be out until after the All-Star break. So Justin Grimm was called upon from Triple A.
While Harrison begins his road to recovery and Lewis and Perez begin the final steps of theirs, the Rangers are quietly holding their breath/knocking on wood/keeping their fingers crossed that another injury can be avoided.
Their pitching depth is already being tested enough.
“In 2011, there were only seven starts we didn’t make, and then it seems like all the injuries hit at once,” Harrison said Wednesday in a phone interview. “There’s plenty of guys. We’ve got Colby and Perez coming back within a month or two, so I think we’ll be all right.”
Harrison can’t walk more than an hour a day for two weeks, and he can’t bend over or lift more than 10 pounds. That means no scooping up his 18-month-old daughter, which is sitting very well with her.
The good news, though, is that the operation wiped out the pain that had been shooting into his legs. But he’s still looking at three months before he can rejoin the rotation.
“Most of the day I’m in the recliner,” Harrison said.
The Rangers could consider themselves fortunate to be missing only Harrison.
Yu Darvish, who started Wednesday night in a late game against Anaheim, was dealing with a blistered ring finger for his first three starts that has since cleared up.
Thursday’s scheduled starter, Nick Tepesch, avoided serious injury Saturday when a line drive caught his forearm but only scraped it rather than bruising it or breaking it.
The Rangers used an off day on the schedule to get Darvish two extra days of rest, and Derek Lowe could have stepped in for a spot start Thursday had Tepesch been forced to miss it.
But the injuries to Harrison and Perez couldn’t be smoothed over by a spot starter or a break in the schedule. Another injury of that magnitude could have the Rangers scrambling until either Lewis or Perez is ready.
“That’s the nature of the beast,” general manager Jon Daniels said.
Lowe could be an option for the rotation, though he hasn’t had enough meaningful duty in long relief to build up his arm strength.
Josh Lindblom might be the best candidate. Though he has been a reliever so far in his young career, and was in spring training this year, the right-hander has been working as a starter for Triple A Round Rock with positive results.
He threw 94 pitches in his last start, and his spot on the 40-man roster would make him a quick and easy fix. The Rangers have a spot on the 40-man after Charlie Leesman declined assignment to the Rangers after they claimed him Friday.
Two more spots can be created by shifting Harrison and Joakim Soria to the 60-day disabled list. Randy Wells and Brad Mills, also possibilities at Round Rock, would take a spot on the 40-man if they were to be needed.
“If you go into a season with five starters, you’re in big trouble,” Daniels said. “You’re going to need eight to 10 guys, realistically, by the end of the year most seasons.”
The exception for the Rangers was 2011, when five pitchers combined for 155 starts and no stints on the DL. Last year, injuries to Lewis and Neftali Feliz reminded the Rangers of the importance of starting depth.
They got a refresher course with Perez and Harrison, not that they needed one. Until Perez and Lewis are ready for the big leagues late next month, the Rangers will be trying to avoid a case of the hiccups.
“I’m comfortable with the club right now,” Daniels said Tuesday. “I’m always thinking about that next hiccup. We’ve got a couple guys on the mend. Hopefully we can avoid that hiccup for a while.”