The opening act of the Texas Rangers’ makeshift pitching staff Monday rated as a flop, though the memory of the 14-run failure has faded thanks to a two-game rebound by the rotation and the bullpen.
But not all panic among the fan base has been soothed.
The final two spots in the rotation are up next, and Joe Saunders and Nick Martinez are starters who have had fans on edge since they were announced as part of the rotation last week.
Saunders didn’t impress much last month during Cactus League games, but at least he made his starts. Martinez never started an “A” game, appearing only twice in relief, yet he left Arizona as the No. 5 starter.
They will pitch the next two games against Tampa Bay at Tropicana Field, but they might not be around much longer.
Right-hander Yu Darvish and Colby Lewis are coming back soon. Darvish will be back Sunday. To fit them into the rotation, two pitchers are going to have to go.
The rotation, in other words, soon will look vastly different than it did four days ago, and the return of Darvish and Lewis, possibly at the expense of Martinez and Saunders or maybe Martinez and either Tanner Scheppers or Robbie Ross, will restore some order to the Rangers’ pitching staff.
“We’ve got some good guys coming back,” Scheppers said. “I think it will be huge for us. Every one of those guys has been very successful, and it’s only going to help our team out.”
While Darvish, the staff ace, will wrap up the three-game series this weekend, Lewis’ return date hasn’t been scheduled. He allowed five runs in 5 2/3 innings Tuesday in an exhibition game against Triple A Round Rock, and a scout who watched him left unimpressed.
Lewis can opt out of his minor league contract April 10, though doing so would seem like a long shot because he is loyal to the organization that brought him back from Japan and because the organization is so loyal to him.
He could pitch for the Rangers as soon as early in the next homestand.
“I don’t think about it,” manager Ron Washington said. “I just know who we’ve got pitching that day, and I try to give all my karma to them and hope that it’s enough to get them through the game and give us what we need to have from them.”
Martinez is an easy choice to remove from the rotation. The right-hander is a rookie, one who has never pitched above Double A, and can be optioned back to Frisco quickly.
Saunders is a tougher call. He’s a veteran who the Rangers believe can be a serviceable innings-eating No. 5 starter until Derek Holland returns in June or July. Saunders can’t be optioned to the minors.
The Rangers could keep him in the rotation and choose to move either of their first-time starters, Scheppers and Ross, back to the bullpen. Scheppers was roughed up on Opening Day, allowing seven runs in four innings, and Ross allowed three runs (two earned) Wednesday over five innings.
Scheppers was bumped from his Sunday start in favor of Darvish, but the club said that he will start Monday at Boston and Ross will start Wednesday. Even though they still have a rotation spot, Scheppers or Ross could return to their 2013 relief roles once Matt Harrison returns to the rotation later this month.
“My goal is to be a starter. If that presents itself some time in the future, I’ll deal with it then,” Scheppers said.
Saunders and Martinez could be the first forced from the rotation with Darvish and Lewis close to making their 2014 debuts, but the Rangers aren’t just trying to hang on until they get back to full strength.
Instead, their belief is that they can win with any of their current rotation members on the mound.
“I know what’s missing, but I’m not concentrating on it one bit,” catcher J.P. Arencibia said. “I’m looking at the team we have today in this clubhouse. I’m not looking at anything but today’s game. If you look anything past that in this game, you’ll get caught behind everybody else. We strap it on with what we have today.”
The hope is that the starters with uncertain futures aren’t looking ahead either.
“I just allow them to think about what their job is now, not what is going to be a week from now, a month from now,” Washington said. “I like for them to stay in the moment and think about what they have to do now.”