Joe Saunders seemed to know Monday night, in the aftermath of a third straight rocky start, that he and the Texas Rangers had reached an impasse.
If he didn’t know it then, he found out Tuesday afternoon.
Saunders was designated for assignment a day after allowing four homers and seven runs in a 7-1 loss to the Orioles. Miles Mikolas, a reliever-turned-starter at Triple A Round Rock, will replace Saunders in the rotation and make his first big-league start Wednesday at Camden Yards.
With the Rangers in development mode, Saunders was occupying a spot that would be better filled with a potential piece for 2015. Mikolas can’t do much worse than Saunders, who leaves with an 0-5 record and a 6.13 ERA in eight starts.
“From the very outset, he was confident that he could help us win some games,” assistant general manager Thad Levine said. “I’m quite certain this didn’t go as well as he had hoped.”
Enter Mikolas, whose final six appearances at Round Rock were as a starter. He posted a 3-1 record with a 3.58 ERA in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League.
The Rangers inserted him into the rotation as soon as they could to avoid him gathering any rust sitting around for the Saunders spot to come up again. Yu Darvish will pitch Thursday on normal rest, and fellow right-handers Nick Tepesch, Colby Lewis and Nick Martinez will pitch this weekend at New York.
Mikolas would then start again Monday to open a seven-game homestand.
“This isn’t a spot start. He’s going into the rotation,” Levine said. “We understand this is a work in progress. We’re expecting to see a full repertoire when he gets up here.”
Pitching coach Mike Maddux said that Mikolas has added a slider to a repertoire that includes a fastball, curveball and changeup. Acquired in the off-season as a hard-throwing reliever, Mikolas’ style has evolved into more of a starter’s profile.
“He’s adjusted to the job description pretty quickly,” Maddux said. “We’re looking for someone to step up, and he’s getting the opportunity to do it.”
The Rangers expect that Derek Holland will have an accelerated rehab assignment once he is cleared for game action.
He stayed in Arlington during the current road trip to continue working to strengthen his left knee. The Rangers won’t clear him until he is able to field bunts to the third-base side of the mound without favoring his leg.
But his arm strength isn’t lacking, hence the belief that he won’t need to be on a progressive schedule like the one pitchers have in spring training.
“His arm is more advanced than that,” Levine said. “But we’re going to see more than one rehab outing.”
The Rangers usually make a lot of noise July 2, the opening of the international signing period, but this year they will be a non-factor.
The Rangers blew past their cap last year, spending more than $8 million. Their overage was so significant that, per the collective bargaining agreement, they can’t sign a player for more than $250,000. Their pool is only $2 million.
Nevertheless, the Rangers expect to have a productive J2 signing period despite being unable to make a big splash.
“We thought last year was an up year,” Levine said. “We were aware when we did what we did last year that we were going to have some limitations this signing period. We are able to plan for that. We challenged our scouts to identify players at a different price point than in the past, and we’re very encouraged by that.”