Forget the jokes about his age and size. Bartolo Colon, the man affectionately known as “Big Sexy,” is making a legitimate case to break camp in the Texas Rangers’ rotation.
Colon had his most impressive outing against the Los Angeles Angels on Sunday, allowing an unearned run on two hits with three strikeouts and no walks at Tempe Diablo Stadium.
"Kind of what we've seen before," manager Jeff Banister said. "A lot of strikes. Moved the fastball around, knows how to pitch. A lot of moxie on that mound and a lot of know-how, nothing rattles him."
Colon retired the final seven batters he faced. The most impressive may have been the third inning when he faced household names at the top of the Angels’ order.
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Colon got Ian Kinsler to fly out, Mike Trout to ground out and Justin Upton to strike out. Colon followed up with another 1-2-3 inning in the fourth by striking out Albert Pujols and then inducing groundouts by Kole Calhoun and Zack Cozart.
“I changed my pitch, I was throwing a changeup, so I got them out of rhythm,” said Colon, who won the 2005 Cy Young pitching for the Angels. “That’s why I got the outs quick.”
All of it points to Colon becoming a more serious rotation candidate, especially if the Rangers follow through on their plans of using a six-man rotation.
Cole Hamels, Doug Fister and Matt Moore appear on track to break camp in the rotation.
Martin Perez will be in the rotation, too, but the Rangers could use an abundance of caution in bringing him back. Perez had surgery on his right (non-throwing) elbow this off-season, but is making progress.
Perez will pitch in his first game Monday, a minor-league contest, but could open the season on the disabled list. That would open up a spot for Colon.
The other opening could come if the Rangers move Mike Minor back to the bullpen like they opted to do with Matt Bush on Sunday.
Minor appears to be Colon's biggest challenger, although Jesse Chavez and Clayton Blackburn remain candidates. But Colon doesn't pay too much attention to those sorts of things.
“I don’t think about it really,” Colon said. “I’ve been in the game so long, it’s not my decision. I just have to do my job and let them make the decisions.”
If Colon ends up making the Rangers squad, he’ll earn a base salary of $1.75 million.
Colon’s day didn’t get off to the best start.
Kinsler reached when Rangers right fielder Nomar Mazara couldn't come up with a diving catch. Kinsler then scored on an errant throw by first baseman Joey Gallo.
Colon worked out of trouble in the second. He gave up a leadoff single to Calhoun, and then a single to Japanese star Shoehi Otani. Otani’s second hit of spring training came on a fastball Colon intended to throw inside that found the middle of the plate.
But, with two runners on and two outs, Colon struck out catcher Martin Maldonado to escape unscathed.
"Early on, tough diving catch in right field we don't make, only run he gave up," Banister said. "So ... really good pitcher, knows how to pitch."
Colon had no idea how many pitches he threw afterward, describing it as another thing he “doesn’t care about.” Officially, it was a 53-pitch outing. Colon needed 34 to get through the first two innings and 19 to get through his final two.
“I think it’s one of the best [outings this spring] I’ve had because what I’ve been trying to do is throw strikes,” Colon said. “That’s what I’ve been doing to try to make it happen.”
Colon pitched OK in his first two spring outings. He allowed one run on two hits with no walks and one strikeout in two innings vs. San Diego in his debut March 1.
In his second outing vs. Oakland last Tuesday, Colon allowed two unearned runs on five hits with one walk and two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings.
Colon, who turns 45 in May, is attempting to make the Rangers’ rotation and pitch a 21st season in the big leagues. He made 28 starts last season with Minnesota and Atlanta, combining to go 7-14 with a career-worst 6.48 ERA.
For now, though, it appears that Colon is pitching well enough to get serious consideration from the Rangers or possibly elsewhere. But that’s not something a veteran who has logged more than 3,300 innings with 240 career victories worries about.
“I don’t think about it,” Colon said.