Maybe it was all the young roster hopefuls working out at Globe Life Park, maybe it was the effect of having a new manager overseeing things, or maybe it was the fact that spring training is less than a month away.
Whatever the reason was Wednesday morning, the Texas Rangers’ annual midwinter minicamp seemed to have more energy than in past years.
The club’s newest pitcher probably deserves a big chunk of the credit.
There’s no mistaking that the Rangers’ outlook for 2015 suddenly looks better than a week ago with right-hander Yovani Gallardo pitching every fifth day. The Fort Worth resident, acquired Monday in a trade with Milwaukee, fills a void in a starting rotation that was the biggest area of weakness facing the club entering the new season.
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But the acquisition has a trickle-down effect throughout the pitching staff, not just the rotation.
“We wanted to address our starting pitching and … in Yovani Gallardo we feel like we got a consummate professional,” assistant general manager Thad Levine said. “He’s a guy we’ve been trying to pursue the last couple of years. He’s a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. He’s extremely durable, great athlete, great teammate. We’re really ecstatic to have him.”
Gallardo joins fellow righty Yu Darvish and left-hander Derek Holland atop the rotation with another righty, veteran Colby Lewis, locked into the No. 4 spot. Pitching coach Mike Maddux said that the fifth spot is open for competition, with lefty Ross Detwiler and righty Nick Tepesch the leading candidates to fill it.
Those who miss out become depth, something the Rangers didn’t have last season. Lefty Martin Perez will bolster the rotation once he returns from Tommy John surgery, likely in July, and lefty Matt Harrison hasn’t encountered any issues early on in his throwing program after spinal-fusion surgery last year.
Gallardo will also help lessen the burden on the bullpen. He’s an innings-eater, having passed 200 innings twice in his career, and the deeper he goes in games, the fewer outs the bullpen has to get and the stronger it will be at the end of the season.
“I’ve said all along your team is as good as its bullpen,” Maddux said. “And the bullpen is only as good as the rotation. They’ve got to protect one another and feed off one another.”
The Detwiler-Tepesch competition will be intriguing. The Rangers don’t know much about Detwiler, acquired in December from Washington, but like his arm action and the deception in his delivery. They are curious to see how he will respond to being a starter after working exclusively out of the bullpen in 2014.
Tepesch was asked to make some tweaks to his delivery, and Maddux has liked what he has seen.
“He’s taking it to heart, and he’s starting to see some dividends from what he’s done,” Maddux said. “He’s getting the ball down easier, the sinker is sinking more and his changeup is much improved, and we haven’t even thrown the breaking balls yet.”
Darvish and Holland continue to receive clean bills of health after injuries shortened their seasons in 2014. Both were part of the minicamp sessions Wednesday.
So was Gallardo, who beamed when asked about the chance to pitch for the team he grew up watching and at a ballpark that is 25 minutes from his home near Eagle Mountain Lake on good traffic days.
“Having that opportunity to play here at home, going home every day after every ballgame, it doesn’t get any better than that,” he said.
Gallardo wasn’t the only one feeling positive energy Wednesday. Everyone involved in the minicamp seemed to be in a better mood, and Gallardo probably deserves a big chunk of the credit.
No. 1 RHP Yu Darivsh: He has the stuff to be a top-five pitcher in the American League.
No. 2 LHP Derek Holland: A strong September could lead to an Opening Day start.
No. 3 RHP Yovani Gallardo: Comes loaded with experience as a top-of-the-rotation starter.
No. 4 RHP Colby Lewis: Led Rangers in starts, innings in 2014. No small feat.
No. 5 LHP Ross Detwiler: Hasn’t started since 2013, but wants to be in rotation.
RHP Nick Tepesch: Could push Detwiler to bullpen if delivery tweaks take hold.