The sidelined Texas Rangers right-handers became the focal point of pitching coach Doug Brocail, the medical staff and several members of the front-office and scouting departments as they moved forward from injuries that will put them on the disabled list to start the season.
Cashner, slowed this spring by biceps soreness, tossed two no-hit innings on 33 pitches in a minor league game against his old organization, the San Diego Padres. Ross, another former Padres pitcher, threw 20 pitches, all fastballs, in his first session of live batting practice since undergoing surgery Oct. 13 for thoracic outlet syndrome.
Assuming neither suffers a setback, Cashner will be the first to appear in the rotation. The Rangers could have him back by the second turn through the rotation in mid-April, and they continue to weigh whether to use two off days in the first two weeks to skip his spot.
Ross came to camp knowing that he wouldn’t be ready by Opening Day, but the opening week of May now appears to be a possibility and he could be pitching in a minor league game by next week.
But each is mindful that the ultimate step is to be at full strength, no matter how long it takes to get there and no matter how well they felt Wednesday, before they join the rotation.
“I felt like I really haven’t missed much,” said Cashner, the former TCU star who signed a one-year, $10 million contract in November. “I don’t feel like I’m very far off. I definitely have to go through the progressions, but I feel like I could compete on a major league field today.”
I definitely have to go through the progressions, but I feel like I could compete on a major-league field today.
Ross was first up Wednesday, throwing to a pair of minor league hitters. But he drew a crowd of 15 to 20 club personnel, including general manager Jon Daniels, assistant GM Josh Boyd, Brocail, bullpen coach Brad Holman and multiple special assistants to the GM and scouts.
The Rangers signed Ross in January to a one-year deal worth $6 million plus incentives. They designed a conservative rehab program that initially could have brought Ross back as early as June, with the thought that he would be at full throttle for the stretch run.
However, Ross has had no issues with each new step in his throwing program. Early May is realistic for his return, but he continues to not look too far ahead.
“It’s another positive step in the right direction,” said Ross, who is focused on his mechanics and the movement on his pitches. “I’m feeling normal right now. It’s just a matter of building reps, getting that feeling back, and getting stretched out appropriately.
“The end of the journey is going to be me back on the mound for the Rangers in the big leagues. I don’t know which date that is going to be. I kind of get lost in the process. If you get your sights set too far out ahead of you, you’re going to trip over your own feet.”
Cashner was tripped up in early March after coming to camp healthy and throwing multiple bullpens and live batting practice. He made two visits to Texas, one to see team orthopedist Dr. Keith Meister, and another to see internist Dr. Greg Pearl.
Neither found any significant issues, and Pearl administered a shot that helped loosen up the bothersome area. Cashner has been moving steadily forward since his return to camp and doesn’t see any reason why that should change.
If you get your sights set too far out ahead of you, you’re going to trip over your own feet.
“It was good to get out there and get all of my pitches,” Cashner said. “I felt like where I’m at right now, pain-free, and everything’s coming out, what I’m working on right now with Brocail keeping my hip closed, things are finally starting to come together.”
Brocail liked what he saw from Cashner, who threw all of his pitches for strikes, and Ross, who did what he needed to do, while mindful of how much they have left to do to be ready for the season. The Rangers also need to decide if they will go with a five-man rotation or a four-man rotation that utilizes open dates April 6 and April 10.
In a perfect world, Brocail would go with five so that all pitchers get their rest. He said that Cashner could easily be ready by mid-April and won’t linger into May.
“Tomorrow and the next day mean everything,” Brocail said. “We can build a program off of tomorrow. I’ve put it down five ways from Sunday. I think I have six different scenarios. They all have him coming back in April.”
The only known quantities in the rotation are Cole Hamels, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez. A.J. Griffin has likely secured the spot created by Ross’ absence. If the Rangers open with a five-man rotation, they will choose one from a group of Dillon Gee, Mike Hauschild, Nick Martinez and Eddie Gamboa.
Though Cashner was bullish on his outing, he wants to be certain he’s healthy before jumping back into the rotation.
“That’s the biggest thing, and I feel like we’re on the right path,” he said. “I’ll be ready whenever they call.”