Team need has brought Robbie Ross back to the Texas Rangers, who on Thursday had a Yu Darvish-size hole to plug in their starting rotation.
Ross was working on the same schedule as Darvish at Triple A Round Rock, so he was selected to head north for the series finale against Tampa Bay.
“If it was one of those other guys’ day, they might have been the guy,” manager Ron Washington said.
That isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for the left-handed Ross, who opened the season in the Rangers’ rotation before flaming out and getting banished to the minors to work on his craft and regain his confidence.
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He had done so of late for the most part, including a complete-game win Aug. 2. But the thought as recently as a week ago is that he wasn’t ready to return, and another thought is that his future is back in the bullpen.
All of that came to light in Ross’ first big-league start since May 17. He coughed up six runs, four on a pair of two-run homers, and was gone after only 4 1/3 innings in the Rangers’ 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay.
Ross, though, knows that he has a second chance that he can’t let slip away.
“This is a disappointing time to have this happen,” Ross said. “Right now, I’m just trying to battle and seize this opportunity. Tonight wasn’t a good one, but I’m hoping the next one is better.”
The pitching-heavy Rays won three times in the four-game series, holding the offense-starved Rangers to seven runs. The Rays aren’t known for their punch at the plate this season, and for the first five batters it looked as if they would struggle against Ross.
But they scored two two-out runs in the second and added two more runs in the third, and Evan Longoria knocked a two-run homer in the fifth. Ross was gone two batters later.
“I felt good,” he said. “Obviously, the outcome was the outcome. I wish it could have been better. I wish I could have gone out there longer and kept us in the game.”
Ross (2-5) could very well keep filling in for Darvish, who was diagnosed with mild elbow inflammation, until the staff ace determines he is ready. Darvish gave some mixed signals as to when that might be, saying that he could have pitched Thursday if the team had really needed him but later not committing to another 2014 start.
But it’s hard to imagine Ross finishing the season in the rotation, even if Darvish decides to shut it down. Rosters will expand Sept. 1, and surely the Rangers will have some pitchers they would like to audition.
One American League scout recently raved about Alex Gonzalez, calling “Chi Chi” the Rangers’ best prospect and saying that he could easily break spring camp in the 2015 rotation.
Gonzalez’s future is in the rotation. The same can’t be said with any certainty for Ross, who continues to hold onto the hope of becoming a big-league rotation fixture even though the same scout who saw Gonzalez has a Triple A grade at best on Ross as a starter.
In June, when Ross was demoted to Round Rock, the plan was to bring him back as a reliever. The plan before Wednesday, when Darvish was placed on the disabled list, was to bring Ross back in September as a reliever.
The Rangers say no determination has been made on Ross’ future. Washington said that a decision on if Ross will start again hasn’t been made.
But Ross remains a young pitcher who is still developing and can get better, and he says that two months in the minors have made him better.
The Rangers have learned that no team can ever have enough pitching depth. Ross, though, will have to hustle if he wants to avoid spending his career in the bullpen.
Let’s face it: That isn’t a bad way to go at all. Ross, who has had success as a reliever, might need to face it. His window to be a starter is closing.
“It’s all about execution,” Washington said. “He just hasn’t been executing his pitches. Tonight was just an example of not executing. He just didn’t make his pitches when he had to.”