The Texas Rangers’ dream of going undefeated this spring came to an end at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, who scored three times in the first two innings and had the Rangers’ kryptonite on the mound en route to a 7-3 win.
The loss left the Rangers’ record at 3-1-1. Their offense was kept in check for the first time after they entered the game with the highest average (.364) and on-base percentage (.418) in the majors.
But they did win the B game earlier Sunday as Martin Perez logged three scoreless innings. Former Rangers first-rounder and former TCU All-American Matt Purke made a cameo for the Chicago White Sox, allowing one run in 1 2/3 innings.
Purke decided not to sign in 2009 for $4 million after he had been promised $6 million before the Rangers’ financial woes under Tom Hicks came to the forefront. He got $4 million two years later from Washington but has been injured pretty much ever since.
Interesting, but it didn’t make the cut for the Surprise Five.
1. No matter the time of year, spring or summer or fall, the Rangers can’t hit Hisashi Iwakuma. Really, only one Rangers player ever has, and he was traded to the Detroit Tigers for Prince Fielder.
Iwakuma tossed two hitless innings for the Mariners and exited with a 3-0 lead and without any sweat leaking from his forehead.
Seattle had no issues pitching Iwakuma against the Rangers’ best hitters, but the Rangers opted to not pitch Martin Perez against a Mariners lineup that didn’t include their best hitters — Nelson Cruz, Robinson Cano and Kyle Seager.
That’s their prerogative to not give the Mariners a preview for the many times Perez will face them in the regular season, but Perez would have been better served pitching in the big stadium rather than in a back-field B game against a lineup of White Sox minor leaguers.
2. The B game gave Justin Ruggiano the first chance in his lifetime to play first base, a move the Rangers said was coming when they signed him in December.
An outfielder his entire career, including roaming center field on occasion, Ruggiano has spent all of camp trying to learn the new position.
This isn’t an experiment on the same level as Mike Napoli moving to left field, but the purpose is the same. The Rangers want a right-handed hitter who can help them against left-handed pitchers, in this case as an occasional platoon partner with the lefty-hitting Mitch Moreland.
It could develop into more than an occasional platoon.
It’s kind of fun, actually. It’s a little bit of a challenge. It’s exhausting compared with the outfield because you have to be involved in every play.
Jason Ruggiano after his first game at first base
3. Nick Tepesch allowed three runs in two innings of his first spring start, and also saw the Mariners swipe four bases off him. Catcher Chris Gimenez had a shot at only one of them, Leonys Martin in the first, but his throw hit Martin and went into the outfield for an error.
Tepesch said that the steals became a distraction and that he needs to work on holding runners closer. Bases, in most cases, are stolen on the pitcher and how long it takes them to get the ball to home plate.
Gimenez had a rotten time last season throwing out runners, who were 18 for 20 against him. Yeah, that’s a 90 percent success rate against a catcher who figures to get around 60 games this season.
He’s not one to make excuses, but he did finish last season with a right shoulder injury that required surgery after the season. He had a minor setback during an off-season fall at his home, but reported to camp with no limitations and vowed to be better than 2 for 20 in 2016.
Rangers pitchers have a hand in that, too.
23.4 Caught-stealing percentage (25 of 107) by Rangers catchers in 2015. The league average was 32 percent.
4. Ronald Guzman was not one of the Rangers’ JICs (just-in-case players) against the Mariners, but has been twice this spring and both were in the same game as fellow July 2, 2011, classmate Nomar Mazara.
The first time I talked to Guzman and Mazara was January 2014 at the Rangers’ academy in the Dominican Republic, and both wowed me with their ability to speak English and what I perceived as impressive maturity for 19-year-olds.
But Guzman still had some youthfulness in him, which led to him missing a team bus that season at Low A Hickory and getting busted down to extended spring training as punishment.
He wasn’t a good prospect in 2014, batting .218, and things got worse in the off-season when he was detained by police in the Dominican Republic after a motorcyclist ran into his car and died.
Guzman was later exonerated of any wrongdoing. The motorcyclist, tests showed, had been driving drunk. The incident rattled Guzman, but he has used it to his advantage.
He said the incident and the fallout forced him to mature. He then posted his best season as a pro and should start 2016 at Double A Frisco.
Guzman is only 21, which means he is the age of a college junior. There’s still time for him to blossom into a big leaguer. It feels like a long shot, especially if he can’t find more power, but he is no longer a bean pole physically after a noticeable addition of muscle in his upper body.
Guzman has dealt also with a life-changing moment that has also changed his career path. Big leagues? Stranger things have happened.
5. An unusual day is coming Monday at Rangers camp, primarily in that there really isn’t much happening before the 1 p.m. game at Surprise Stadium.
Players don’t have to arrive until 8:45 a.m., and hitters will take batting practice in the cages. Ordinarily, the full squad is heading to the field for stretch at 8:45.
Monday also serves as the first day of workouts for the minor leaguers, though many have been in camp for weeks. By the middle of last week, 72 of the 90 pitchers had already reported, and some pitchers and position players had been asked to report by mid-February to get themselves ready to help in big-league camp and serve as JICs.
For those coming to the game against the Giants, bring a jacket. The forecast calls for temperatures to climb only to around 70, which would be the coolest day so far of camp.