Texas Rangers spring training is charging toward actual Cactus League ballgames.
The Rangers will have only three full-squad workouts and an intrasquad scrimmage before moving from the back fields of the Surprise Recreation Campus to Surprise Stadium and playing the Kansas City Royals.
Martin Perez will start the spring lidlifter after Yu Darvish was bumped to Friday. Nothing to see here, like an injury or some such, but just a reshuffling of the pitching order by pitching coach Doug Brocail.
Maybe Darvish doesn’t like the chill in the air so far.
Thoughts? Here is The Surprise Five.
1. Even when Josh Hamilton struggled so terribly in July 2012, when he was torn between his wife’s desire for him to quit chewing tobacco and playing for a mega-deal and trying to get the Rangers back to the World Series, manager Ron Washington said that he kept plugging Hamilton into the lineup because the 2010 American League MVP still had a presence.
Reporters can sense his presence in the clubhouse, too, and especially when he’s not there.
So, it was peculiar to not see him Wednesday morning, and then the reason why he was absent was revealed. His left knee isn’t right again, and he flew to Houston for an exam with the orthopedist who performed the June 8 knee reconstruction.
The immediate thought was, “Here we go again.” No one is surprised by this development, and certainly the Rangers are not.
They are willing to take a flier on Hamilton, who is in camp on a minor-league deal and will make only the league minimum of $500,000 and change if he makes the club. He has to do so as a serviceable first baseman, a position he has never played professionally, and as an option in left field.
That’s if he hits and if his knee holds up.
Admittedly, it was feeling like he was a front-runner for one of the open bench spots. He has been saying all the right things and had been looking like a ballplayer even with the Rangers keeping him on a conservative schedule.
There’s still time for Hamilton to get plenty of Cactus League action if this latest tweak isn’t significant. If it is, though, his career might be running out of time.
2. The Rangers will likely have more information on Hamilton’s status Thursday. He wasn’t going to be playing in games the first week anyway, and maybe that gets pushed back a little further.
It would appear, then, that maybe the opening for Joey Gallo to make the roster would get a little wider. Well ...
The smart money remains on Gallo starting the season at Triple A Round Rock. He needs to play every day, which theoretically he could do in the majors.
He could play for Mike Napoli when the first baseman gets a game at designated hitter. Gallo could play in left field when Shin-Soo Choo is at DH and Nomar Mazara is in right field. Even time at third base would be available when Adrian Beltre gets a DH day.
As much as he wants it and as much as fans might want it, the numbers aren’t adding up for Gallo breaking camp with the Rangers. Could he be with them after two butt-kicking months at Triple A?
That’s probably the more likely route for Gallo to get to the majors this season.
3. Cole Hamels yielded to my persistence Tuesday, actually I just caught him at the right time, and was fairly candid about why my devil’s advocate line of question on why he keeps pushing himself to his maximum limits when he’s already accomplished so much in his career.
The guy has a beautiful wife and family, a huge contract and plenty of career achievements that the vast majority of major leaguers wish they had on their resume. Such a wonderful life might lend some to shave five minutes off their workout or each a piece of pie for dessert.
If Hamels does those things, bet the under on how often he does them. He grinds and grinds and studies and studies in the hopes of being perfect.
Pitching coach Doug Brocail, though, said that Hamels doesn’t need to be perfect. He just needs to be the pitcher he has been the past 11 seasons. His 3.31 career ERA and .239 opponents batting average rank sixth among active pitchers with 1,500 innings.
Since debuting in 2006, Hamels is third in quality starts (226) and strikeouts (2,122). Since joining the Rangers, they are 34-10 in his 44 starts.
But in a what-have-you-done-lately world, the freshest memory of Hamels is him walking off the mound after only 3 1/3 innings in Game 1 of the 2016 American League Division Series. He had allowed seven runs (six earned) in an extension of his late-season struggles.
Never mind that he finished 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA. Game 1 trumps all of that. He knows that, and also knows that he needs to redeem himself in the eyes of some fans.
That’s a shame that the big picture gets overlooked. This guy is one of the top 10 pitchers in Rangers history. Consider that before continuing to hold Game 1 against him.
4. Rangers coaches have been fairly cautious so far this camp, dating to the first workout for pitchers and catcher. They haven’t been too willing to name a player who has impressed early on in camp.
One who has been mentioned, though, is Nick Martinez, and that shouldn’t rate as a surprise.
Remember that Martinez was the surprise of all surprises in 2014, when on the final day in Arizona the Rangers picked him as the No. 5 starter. He wasn’t even in big-league camp that spring.
Come 2015, Martinez, in big-league camp this time, again opened in the rotation.
Brocail said that Martinez had a wow factor about him during his bullpen over the weekend. Martinez feels like he has moved over the hump in the road that stalled him in 2016.
A.J. Griffin remains the front-runner to be the No. 5 starter, but Martinez wouldn’t be a complete shocker.
5. A word of warning to those who are attempting to come to the Valley of the Sun in the coming days: Pack a jacket and some long pants.
The weather hasn’t been particularly Arizona-like so far this spring. I’d rate it as unacceptable. The forecast highs for Thursday and Friday are 63 degrees and 62.
Monday’s forecast calls for 60 degrees and rain.
Check that: Completely unacceptable.
The weather the past two days has been good enough for shorts, though it took a hardy soul to handle the early-morning temps. But temperature aren’t supposed to climb back into the 70s — 70s! — until late next week.
If you’re coming to town soon, pack a jacket and some long pants.