The last weekend of spring training is upon the Texas Rangers, and their work is almost done.
They have a few things left to iron out, like what they plan to do the first couple weeks with the starting rotation and how they are going to get playing time for three bench players who could probably each start in left field.
The bullpen needs a long man, with left-hander Alex Claudio likely needed in a more specialized role with Jake Diekman out.
The equipment truck has already left for Arlington with much of their stuff. The car carries are coming soon.
All signs are pointing to the end of a long camp, including one of the biggest remaining decisions.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
Darvish has been the better pitcher this spring, though Hamels doesn’t concern himself with spring results. He was unimpressive in 2016 but allowed only two runs in seven innings against Seattle to open the season.
But, in playing the role of a conspiracy theorist, maybe there’s more to it than what happens on the field.
The Rangers want Darvish to stay with them beyond this season, though there are no guarantees as he heads toward free agency. Giving him the Opening Day assignment, the first of his MLB career, might be the Rangers extending an olive branch to make him feel welcome.
The Rangers are already confident that Darvish wants to stay and don’t want to rock that boat. Darvish does want to stay. He has a wife and two young boys, one less than a week old, and enjoys living in the Metroplex.
He is opening up more to the pitching coaches after getting comfortable with them. He is opening up to the beat writers, both in Texas and from Japan, who he no longer views as the enemy.
To give up all of that comfort for another would be a potential step back.
That’s nothing that hasn’t been said here before but is worth saying again. The Rangers are the favorites to re-sign him, assuming he doesn’t give them any reason (read, injury) to change their thinking.
That’s probably one of the few things left that could keep them from giving him the ball on Opening Day.
2. Martin Perez said that he’s also ready to go after tossing five scoreless innings in the A game against the San Diego Padres. He cleared his mind of thoughts of his mechanics and just pitched.
He might want to do that all the time, if the results are going to be as good as they were Friday. But he also said that he has been trying to apply some of the things he learned in the World Baseball Classic while talking pitching with Venezuela teammate Felix Hernandez.
The former Cy Young winner and Perez talked game situations and when to throw what. Hernandez was bullish on Perez’s sinker and told him not to abandon it. Perez won’t, though he needs to have other pitches to keep hitters from looking for that pitch.
Perez will start again before the season begins. He could start next Friday at Globe Life Park in an exhibition against the Kansas City Royals or Wednesday in a minor-league game before camp breaks.
His confidence was soaring so much Friday that he would probably take the ball again Saturday.
3. Nick Martinez is scheduled to pitch Saturday for the Rangers against Seattle. A performance similar to the one he had Monday night could convince the Rangers that he should be their fifth starter and perhaps convince them to not open the season with a four-man rotation.
He would need to be really good for that to happen, but what he did Monday against the Padres left an impression on the Rangers. He pitched inside effectively, got ahead of batters and commanded his out pitches.
They had seen bits and pieces of that in his previous outings, even though he was giving up plenty of hard contact. The thought processes have been right, and he finally executed his last time out.
The Rangers are set with Darvish, Hamels, Perez and A.J. Griffin. Martinez, Dillon Gee and Mike Hauschild are in the mix to be the fifth starter, though the Rangers are curious to see how Hauschild performs coming out of the bullpen.
It’s been good, as it was Friday over two scoreless innings. He’s got that whole Rule 5 thing attached to him, too, and that will be a factor on who makes the team.
Martinez has options, which could work for or against him. Gee can opt out of his minor-league deal Wednesday, and that could work in his favor.
The biggest favor Martinez can do for himself is to pitch well Saturday.
Jurickson Profar walked and scored a run as the first baseman.
Ryan Rua had the day off.
Those three are all looking like roster locks as camp draws to a close, and it will be up to manager Jeff Banister to decide how to play them. All three can help the team.
But it will be tricky to keep them engaged while addressing the other needs of the team.
Shin-Soo Choo wants to play in right field some instead of being a full-time designated hitter, and Banister is open to that. Nomar Mazara will play left field when Choo isn’t the DH.
Adrian Beltre never wants to take a day off defensively, and Banister is usually open to that.
First baseman Mike Napoli is going to play every day, Banister has said, but will get many starts at DH.
In all likelihood, Banister is going to let matchups and who has the hot bat dictate who plays in left field or other spots. DeShields, Profar and Rua are all hot, and DeShields and Rua do well against left-handed pitchers.
Profar can also play shortstop and second base.
The at-bats can pile up quickly, but Banister makes sure he finds a way to make them pile up quickly enough to keep that trio sharp.
5. The gang is all here, with all participants in the World Baseball Classic having returned to sunny Arizona. Among them is Jonathan Lucroy, who is about as bullish as can be about the future of the WBC.
He was a proponent of the tournament before going, as he was a member of Team USA for the second time. He would encourage any player to play just for the experience and what it means to play for your country, but he now believes all position players will listen to him for 2021.
Sadly, it takes the U.S. winning the event for the first time to generate interest in the stars of stars who didn’t play, namely Mike Trout and Bryce Harper. Lucroy said that he understands pitchers taking a pass next time around, but not position players.
The players Team USA did have were certainly noteworthy, many of them All-Stars and Gold Glove winners. The pitching staff wasn’t as loaded as the position players — with Clayton Kershaw, among others, bypassing the event — but Team USA won with pitching nonetheless.
So, if the cream of the crop will be playing in four years after the U.S. won without its best, Team USA should easily repeat, right? (A just reward for the 2017 team members should be an automatic invite to participate in future WBCs, kind of like winning the Masters. I’m looking at you, Sandy Lyle.)
But this is baseball. Nothing is guaranteed, except that anything can happen.