Nick Tepesch will finish this season as the clubhouse leader for the one of the openings in the 2015 Texas Rangers’ starting rotation.
Get used to the idea.
What he did Saturday night in a 6-3 loss to Kansas City, which scored three times in the fifth inning as Tepesch fought a losing battle with the command of his pitches, was a to-be-expected hiccup for any pitch.
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But Tepesch has that much more experience and has advanced that much more than fellow right-handers Nick Martinez and Miles Mikolas in the race for the 2015 rotation.
On paper he will be ahead of Alex Gonzalez, Luke Jackson and any other minor league player who gets a chance next spring in big-league camp.
Off-season moves could knock Tepesch out of the mix, depending on how loosely the ownership group spends its money or how freely general manager Jon Daniels deals Rangers prospects.
But as things stand with 34 games remaining, with the off-season hot-stove business months away, Tepesch is in the rotation. And that might not be the worst thing to happen to the 2015 Rangers.
Seriously. His six-run hiccup against Kansas City put an end to a streak of four nice starts in which he had started to show club management and the coaching staff that he has learned how to minimize damage and how to work deeper into games.
Tepesch (4-8) bowed out after 61/3 innings Saturday, when he couldn’t avoid a big fifth that was a self-made disaster. He issued three walks, all on four pitches, and one came with the bases loaded and two outs to snap a 1-1 tie.
Tepesch got two quick strikes on the next batter, but left an 0-2 slider up and over the middle to Omar Infante. The Royals’ second baseman deposited it into left-center for two more runs.
“You’re continually trying to find it, and I couldn’t find it in that inning,” Tepesch said. “It was just a bad inning.”
Consecutive singles off Tepesch to start the seventh came around to score as left-hander Alex Claudio couldn’t get Jarrod Dyson in a side-sided matchup with runners at second and third.
But just the fact that Tepesch was allowed to start the seventh after allowing four runs, even with the bottom of the order coming, is a sign that the coaches’ confidence in him has grown.
“He has opened my eyes a lot,” manager Ron Washington said. “Even tonight he made some pitches when he had to. And, more important than that, he was out there competing.”
They see a pitcher working efficiently and capably when trouble presents itself, the fifth inning notwithstanding.
When those coaches look at 2015 — and that’s what this season has been about since Operation Development was launched in late June — they see Tepesch in the season-opening rotation.
After Yu Darvish and Derek Holland, no pitcher has a spot locked up. Daniels has already conceded that at least one pitcher from outside the organization is needed.
Say the Rangers get only one, and for the heck of it, call him James Shields. Darvish, Holland, Shields, Tepesch and Colby Lewis could be the rotation until Martin Perez returns after rehabbing from Tommy John surgery.
Maybe Tepesch is the seat-saver for Perez. Maybe it’s Lewis. Maybe the Rangers go after a No. 5 starter such as Kyle Kendrick or go really crazy and land a front-line arm and No. 3-type.
Tepesch could still be standing when the Rangers begin the regular season. The past month, even with what happened against the Royals, has put him in a favorable position in the race for the 2015 rotation.
“It’s been one of those months where I’ve realized what I need to do to be successful,” Tepesch said. “It’s finally coming to a head.”