Not that anybody is counting, but the Texas Rangers have only three more days until they hop on a plane and head to Arlington for a pair of exhibition games to be followed by Opening Day.
That’s in seven days.
The Rangers have made it a thing to try to not leave any players wondering about their roster fates as they board the plane. It doesn’t always work out that way, as they left A.J. Griffin hanging last year, but decisions should be announced Wednesday morning.
With the way baseball works this time of year, the Rangers might not be able to settle all roster business. But the rotation order became clear Sunday.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. The big reveal of the Opening Day starter is an annual rite of spring training, and the pitcher who scores the honor typically is considered his team’s ace. Tanner Scheppers in 2014 rates as an exception.
The order of the rest of the rotation counts, too, though to some far more than others. Here’s why: Once the season is underway, everything gets jumbled up by off days, rainouts, injuries, the need for rest, babies being born, whatever.
So, no one should read anything into Cole Hamels potentially not starting the Rangers’ second game of the season after Yu Darvish starts the opener. Pitching coach Doug Brocail said that Hamels will stay on turn after pitching Sunday, which lines him up for April 5.
Hamels has been around the block long enough to know the caliber of pitcher he is and that where he slots in the rotation doesn’t matter. If the Rangers are still relevant in September, he and Darvish will be pitching back to back in some order.
Hamels said that all is well after allowing one run in five innings Sunday. The run that scored shouldn’t have scored, as the webbing on Mike Napoli’s glove ripped as he tried to catch what should have been a double-play grounder. The run came home two batters later.
His goal is 34 starts and 200 innings, a plateau he has reached in seven consecutive seasons. The Rangers are going to watch Hamels, 33, more closely in his 12th big-league season, and maybe starting him in the third game is part of that.
2. Andrew Cashner’s pitching line after three innings of a High A minor-league game wasn’t overly impressive. He allowed four runs on four hits, including a two-run homer.
But he was better than that. The homer was the only solid contact, and he struck out four during a stretch in which he retired seven of the final eight batters he faced.
Up next is a four-inning stint, possibly next weekend at Globe Life Park. He could then throw five innings, say, April 5, six on April 10 and be ready to face the Seattle Mariners on April 15, the first time the Rangers need their fifth starter.
That seems like the preferred route to open the season, with Darvish, Perez, Hamels and Griffin staying on schedule around two off days. That would allow for an eight-man bullpen and plenty of available relief length early on as starters keep building arm strength.
Tyson Ross might not be too far behind. His next outing will be a simulated game/live batting practice that includes him taking a break between 15-pitch sessions. After that, he’ll hop into a regular every-five-days routine that could have him back in early May.
He could make his Rangers debut against his and Cashner’s old team, the San Diego Padres, during the two-game home-and-home series May 8-11.
Oh, the storylines.
3. Delino DeShields isn’t slowing down any as the end of camp nears. He walked twice, scored once, stole two bases and beat out a bunt in the first six innings Sunday, giving him the team lead in walks (12), runs (11) and steals (11).
It’s been said here once and will be said here again: How can the Rangers not play him every day in left field?
Because he was terrible in 2016, one might argue. Because spring stats don’t matter, another might say. Because of Jurickson Profar, yet another point to debate.
The results don’t matter, but the process of getting to those results does. DeShields is better than he was in 2015, when he was a Rule 5 pick and the last man to make the team before becoming the offense’s spark plug.
DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo made for a potent 1-2 lineup punch late in 2015 and could be capable of the same. Carlos Gomez batting deeper in the order only stretches the lineup and makes it that much tougher on opposing pitchers.
Profar would still get his at-bats, and some would be at DeShields’ expense. He’s just been too good to not ride into the season.
4. The Surprise Five from Saturday brought you an educated guess at the Opening Day roster, with hesitancy about Drew Robinson making the team and Dario Alvarez as the second lefty in an eight-man bullpen.
Today’s edition brings up the following question: Are the 25 players who will be on the roster April 3 currently in Rangers camp? There’s a good chance that answer is no.
The final days of camp each year is a frenzied time for front offices, as players on other clubs are released or opt out of deals. Those players in many cases would be upgrades for some clubs.
The Rangers are no exception and could be seeking an upgrade at utility infielder (Robinson) or an upgraded lefty reliever (Alvarez).
Robinson has been described often this spring as a “nice player.” He can play seven positions, can run, and has left-handed pop. That’s nice.
But he has no experience, having never played above Triple A, and though he might be a late bloomer, he isn’t pushing the prospect rankings.
His lack of development while rusting away on the Rangers’ bench might not be as big of a concern as it would be for, say, Joey Gallo. That would actually help Robinson’s roster case, as would the lingering shoulder soreness Hanser Alberto is experiencing.
The Rangers will be scouring the daily transactions. They are no stranger to making last-minute roster additions. Don’t be shocked if they do something again.
5. Wondering where all the back-of-the-bullpen relievers have been getting in their work? In minor-league games on the back fields, that’s where.
The back fields are busy these days and have been for more than a week. Cashner, Matt Bush and Tony Barnette all pitched there Sunday afternoon. Darvish was there Friday, with Keone Kela and Jeremy Jeffress on another field.
The action back there can be far more interesting than what’s happening in the A game that day. And it’s not just the major-leaguers who make it interesting.
Such as the case Sunday opposite Cashner, as right-handed prospect Michael Matuella threw in a game for the first time this spring, for the first time since June 17 and for only the second time since having Tommy John surgery in April 2015.
Even over 20 pitches, in which he retired only one of the four batters he faced, it was easy to tell that Matuella is different. Different as in potentially something special.
The Rangers know it. He might know it. As the Rangers continue to be unable to produce a home-grown stud, Matuella rates as the best.
He’s also a high-risk prospect after the elbow issues. Like any prospect, he must stay healthy to realize the potential that had many projecting him as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 draft before the elbow injury in his final season at Duke.
The Rangers took him with the fourth pick of the third round. It was risky then, but for an organization that can’t produce starting pitching, it was a risk worth taking. Matuella is nowhere close to the majors, but he’s had a successful spring and now is at least on a track that might get him there in a couple years.