Mike Maddux tried to put the state of the Texas Rangers rotation in the best light possible.
“Our rotation is full of opportunity,” Maddux said. “Full of opportunity.”
It’s been an interesting season so far for the pitching coach with a staff that seems to change daily. Injuries happen throughout a season, but the Rangers are on an unforeseen pace.
Finding out Wednesday that left-handers Matt Harrison and Martin Perez are possibly done for the season simply added to the list. Perez is leaning toward season-ending Tommy John surgery. Harrison has more back issues, with significant nerve irritation.
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Yu Darvish started the season on the disabled list, and Opening Day starter Tanner Scheppers and projected fourth starter Joe Saunders are currently on it.
But Maddux isn’t complaining. Instead, he’s viewing it as a chance to work and develop young starters such as Nick Tepesch and Nick Martinez.
“Guys are going to get chances to go out there and earn their keep and I kind of like the challenge,” Maddux said. “There’s some fun to it. It’s a silver lining on a gray cloud but we always say, ‘We’ll find a way.’ We’ll find a way to get through it and become better players because of it.”
Darvish has been the one stabilizing presence each time through the rotation. He makes his eighth start Friday night against the Blue Jays and another long outing would be welcomed.
The Rangers’ bullpen has worked a major league-leading 45 2/3 innings over the past 13 games. The starters have produced only two quality starts in the past 16 games.
Both of those have come from Darvish, who has gone at least six innings in six of his seven starts to date. His deepest outing came last Friday against the Red Sox, as he flirted with a no-hitter over 8 2/3 innings.
Darvish has been the only pitcher the Rangers can count on to go deep in games. Lewis has yet to reach the six-inning mark in his six starts, and Robbie Ross has done it in just three of his eight starts.
“He’s been our most durable guy and that says a lot,” Maddux said of Darvish. “Right now, we need some durability.”
Darvish continues to establish himself as a Cy Young-caliber pitcher, piling up innings, strikeouts and wins. The Rangers are 6-1 in his starts this season and 14-20 when someone else is on the mound.
Darvish is still growing as a pitcher, too. Maddux reminds people Darvish has only two full years in the big leagues under his belt. It’s a different brand of baseball played in MLB compared to Japan.
In Japan, Maddux said, every batter has a fairly similar swing, whereas major leaguers have a variety of swings to compete against. Darvish has also learned to use his fastball more often and more effectively.
“We’ve tried to throw more heaters because that makes your other stuff that much better,” catcher J.P. Arencibia said. “He’s been throwing that well and everyone knows that he’s got his slider and he still dominates with it. He’s one of the best I’ve ever caught.”
And Arencibia will catch him more often. Manager Ron Washington said those two have built a nice chemistry throughout the season and wants to keep it going.
Darvish has a 0.93 ERA in four starts with Arencibia behind the plate.
Why has that battery worked?
“Because he listens to me,” Darvish said, jokingly. “I just tell him to sit down and don’t stand up.”
Joking aside, the Rangers are hoping Darvish can lead them to another win and get them back to the .500 mark after they lost two of three to the Astros. They’d also like to get back on track at home; they go into this homestand losing seven of their last nine at Globe Life Park.
It’s been a tough stretch in every aspect for the Rangers and the injuries are worrisome. But they still believe they can get to where they want, even though the road has become more difficult.
“We have to stay positive,” third baseman Adrian Beltre said. “This year has been our year for injuries, freak injuries, injuries even after guys who worked hard to get back on the field. It’s life. We can’t sit here and cry about it.
“We’re trying to get healthy and whoever is healthy right now, do their job and try to win ballgames.”