Andrew Cashner returned to Texas Rangers spring training Sunday morning after a long flight delay Saturday night because of storms that passed through the Metroplex.
He knew that the media wanted a piece of him as soon as the clubhouse opened, and there he was waiting with a smile on his face. Must be that TCU education.
He was also wearing a Willie Nelson bandana that he turned into a scarf. Hard to argue with that wardrobe selection.
Anyhoo, Cashner was thrilled with the news he received from the latest exam on his right biceps. He isn’t as far behind as he was fearing, but it’s still going to be hard to get him ready for the start of the season.
So, the rotation battle for the No. 5 spot now also includes Cashner’s No. 4 spot, and front-runners have emerged in the competition.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five from Sunday at Rangers camp.
1. Nothing says “spring training” quite like a story about the candidates to fill out the back end of a starting rotation.
The news is slow at this point every year in camp, but who fills out the rotation isn’t insignificant. The Rangers are looking for 40 percent of their rotation or four starts every 10 games.
The leaders have established themselves the past two days. A.J. Griffin jumped in front Saturday by allowing two hits in four scoreless innings. Mike Hauschild matched that Sunday, but he struggled with his command at times.
Nevertheless, they have raised the bar for Dillon Gee, Nick Martinez, Chi Chi Gonzalez and Eddie Gamboa.
Hauschild’s not the most exciting pitcher out there. He’s a 27-year-old who hasn’t pitched in the majors. He throws two changeups, but doesn’t walk a ton of guys and keeps the ball in the park.
Those are admirable traits.
As has been mentioned a thousand times previously, he’s a Rule 5 pick who has a spot on the 40-man roster and must remain on the 25-man roster if he makes the team out of camp. That’s a tough road for him and the club.
But he’s the guy, or one of the two guys, right now.
“It’s still a little early, but they’re making a nice push for themselves,” manager Jeff Banister said.
2. Delino DeShields singled to start Sunday’s game, stole second base and went to third on a throwing error on the next pitch, and scored as Nomar Mazara doubled on the next pitch.
That’s the effect on a game DeShields had as a rookie in 2015 and is still capable of having. With the spring he’s having, it’s not out of the question that he gets a chance in 2017.
He started in left field, where the opening exists. The Rangers really want to see Jurickson Profar there as they attempt to get him as many at-bats as they can. With him batting .500 (8 for 16) in the World Baseball Classic, it’s hard to argue.
But it’s hard to deny what DeShields is doing and has done in the very recent past. Having trimmed away all that muscle he added last spring, he has rediscovered the step — maybe half-step — he lost last season before getting sent to Triple A Round Rock.
DeShields doesn’t look like a Triple A player this spring.
3. The Rangers’ leader in home runs this spring is ... ?
A. Joey Gallo
B. Mike Napoli
C. Rougned Odor
D. Drew Robinson
The answer is D. The next question is, does Robinson have a chance to make the Rangers’ Opening Day roster?
He’s taking advantage of Profar’s WBC-related absence, logging games at five different positions. He played seven positions last season. He bats left-handed with pop, which is always nice coming off the bench.
But Robinson has played as many major-league games as you have. In other words, none. He’s not as good of a defender as Profar, who takes away some of the shine on Robinson by showing in the WBC that he can play center field adequately.
If nothing else, he is proving that he was worth the Texas Rangers protecting from the Rule 5 draft and that he could be a capable player if needed during the regular season. It seems like he won’t be needed on Opening Day, but there’s a lot of camp remaining to change that.
4. Good fortune fell into the lap of Robinson Chirinos, who started at catcher Sunday for Team Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic. But as good of a guy as he is, he likely hates that an injury to Salvador Perez is what put him behind the plate.
But it happened, and Chirinos found himself in the spotlight for his native country’s baseball team in a tournament that means plenty to the beleaguered South American nation.
Perez’s left knee is expected to be fine, and he is expected to not miss much, if any, time at the start of the season with the Kansas City Royals. As far as catchers go, Perez ranks near the top in the majors.
So does Jonathan Lucroy, who Chirinos is scheduled to back up this season with the Rangers. Banister said that he won’t complain about Chirinos getting the chance to play and pile up at-bats.
Banister didn’t say it, but Chirinos is a foul tip or a hit by pitch away from being the Rangers’ primary catcher again. Bryan Holaday found himself replacing Chirinos only a week into last season after Chirinos’ forearm was broken by a Garrett Richards fastball in only the sixth game.
This is baseball, man. Anything can happen.
5. Which takes us back to Saturday night, when Team USA blew a 5-0 lead in a 7-5 loss to the Dominican Republic in the WBC. Andrew Miller, the Cleveland Indians’ relief hero in October, coughed up the lead in the eighth as Nelson Cruz connected for a three-run homer.
The story, though, was the crowd at Marlins Park. By all accounts, U.S. fans were outnumbered 9 to 1 by Dominicans, who brought their own noisemakers in addition to their screaming and dancing.
The Dominican Republic team lost it when Cruz hit his homer. Cruz lost it when he hit his homer. You would have thought it was a ninth-inning walk-off homer, but all it did was give the Dominicans a 6-5 lead.
But that’s the culture on the baseball-crazed island. It’s beautiful. The WBC means something. The best of the best players play.
Contrast that to the WBC’s reception in the U.S. The best of the best — Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Kris Bryant and Clayton Kershaw — aren’t playing, and Team USA games aren’t exactly must-see TV.
That is probably behind a lot of the talk that the 2017 WBC is the final WBC. Let’s hope not. It means too much to the rest of the baseball-playing world.