Another off day awaits the Texas Rangers, who could use the extra rest ahead of a busy weekend.
They will play four games in two days Friday and Saturday, with split squads playing in Arizona and San Antonio as part of Big League Weekend. The Rangers have only one game Sunday, before playing back-to-back night games Monday and Tuesday.
The mid-camp day off is usually when the pace of spring training picks up. Regulars begin to play longer, and pitchers start logging longer outings. Just-in-case players from the minors are used less and less, so games tend to be played more cleanly.
The Rangers will also begin to get players back from the World Baseball Classic. Players from either Team USA, the Dominican Republic or Venezuela will be headed back to Surprise.
The Netherlands, though, has advanced to the semifinals, meaning Jurickson Profar will be away for at least six more days.
The Rangers aren’t worried about him one bit.
They’ve never been worried about Cole Hamels, who had his spring breakthrough outing.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five from Wednesday.
1. Hamels never gets too excited after a start, good or bad, so his reaction to his best outing of the spring was rather subdued. He knows it’s only spring training and that he was facing a High A team from the San Diego Padres organization, but he didn’t hide the fact that he finally felt good after an outing.
The left-hander allowed one run on three hits in three innings, but those results weren’t his concern. He wanted to feel smoother mechanically and to have the feel for his three primary pitches.
He did both over 41 pitches, 29 of which were strikes, and he said that he’s now in a better position to move toward the form he wants to open the season.
“Just getting the necessary reps and now having the build-up and the feel and having my body behind me with the strength and the energy it takes to go out there and pitch numerous innings,” Hamels said. “I know I need to be able to throw the four to five pitches that I have and throw them effectively to both sides of the plate. If I’m able to do that, and gaining the right repetition with my mechanics, that’s what’s going to allow me to go out there and have success.”
Anyone who worries about Hamels in spring training at this point in his career needs to stop. He’s entering his 12th season, so he knows exactly what he needs to do to be ready for Opening Day and how to get there.
He prefers pitching in minor-league games, where the action can be controlled. Minor-league hitters usually hack away, something that drives some big-leaguers nuts, but Hamels doesn’t mind it and values the feedback from their swings.
The Rangers will make him pitch in another Cactus League game before leaving town, but he wants another minor-league game for his next outing. Here’s betting he gets what he wants.
Now, stop worrying about him.
2. It’s probably OK to stop worrying about Nick Martinez, too, and start hoping that he is able to work his way into shape at Triple A Round Rock. He had another rough outing, allowing seven runs in 2 2/3 inning, and appears to be fading in the competition to round out the Rangers’ rotation.
His talk with the media afterward was short and somewhat uncomfortable. Then again, there wasn’t much for him to say.
Martinez tried to draw on the positives, as buddy and fellow right-hander Chi Chi Gonzalez did Tuesday while allowing eight runs (seven earned). Martinez said that he is pleased that he got ahead of hitters, but he couldn’t put them away.
The command of his off-speed pitches abandoned him to the point where he couldn’t get a swing-and-miss or weak contact at a defender.
Martinez could still make a late charge, technically. The Rangers, though, will start to run out of innings and might have to determine if Martinez would be better served getting his innings in minor-league games and getting some more individualized coaching.
3. Jake Diekman could be seen throwing a baseball Monday afternoon, very lightly and from a short distance but still probably something that his doctor wouldn’t want to see.
“I don’t care,” Diekman said. “I’m feeling great, so why shouldn’t I throw some?”
Maybe because he doesn’t have a colon? But The Surprise Five is no doctor.
Diekman, though, is in a good place physically and mentally as he awaits his next operation. It will be invasive, too.
“Creating the pouch inside your body,” he said.
In all seriousness, Diekman said that he’s putting on weight and is lifting weights ahead of the April 13 procedure. After he’s released from the hospital, he will have two bags to collect waste and will be at risk for dehydration and weight loss.
He doesn’t seem worried. He’s happy to be ridding himself of ulcerative colitis.
“I feel unbelievable,” Diekman said.
4. Mike Napoli, the third longest-tenured player on the Rangers’ roster, is headed to San Antonio. Typically, that’s a trip veterans are allowed to avoid, and many other veterans are staying in lovely Surprise.
Napoli, though, wants to break up the monotony of spring training, and baseball at the Alamodome certainly isn’t monotonous.
The Rangers will play the Cleveland Indians, who the Rangers played Wednesday. Before the game, Napoli and Indians manager Terry Francona met behind home plate for what appeared to be there first meeting since the World Series.
They shared a hug, but it wasn’t an ordinary hug. It looked like Francona was going to try to pick him up and carry him back to the Indians’ spring facility in Goodyear and maybe all the way back to Cleveland.
Teams miss Napoli. The Angels did, the Rangers did, the Red Sox did and the Indians will. He’s a winner. He has fun but knows how to go about his business. Managers want young players to be around him.
The Rangers have him, again, and they probably won’t want to let go him after the season.
5. Good news for the players of DJ Trivia at the local watering hole: The two-time reigning champions, Fake News, will be off be working next week, so someone else has a chance to win.
The team of mlb.com writer T.R. Sullivan and The Surprise Five blew out the field Tuesday night, scoring 880 points and doubling up the second-place team. T.R. did all the heavy lifting, as usual, and we got an assist from a local named Lisa en route to the crown.
The final question is an all-or-nothing proposition, and T.R. has nailed it all four times Fake News has played. The first two weeks we lost in overtime, as Stefan Stevenson let us down on a Nirvana question, and at the buzzer as Stefan again let us down by no-showing and then declaring he would have known the photo was of Treat Williams.
In other words, Fake News is 2-0 when Stefan is not involved. I see a trend developing.