Chances are that no one at Surprise Stadium on Monday afternoon was rooting harder for Ronald Guzman or Pat Kivlehan, who was waiting on deck, to get a hit in the ninth inning than the assembled media, but not because they’re homers.
The visiting media wanted a hit, too.
A hit would win the game for the Texas Rangers, but, far more importantly, keep the game from going extra innings. Unlike the tie the Rangers agreed to last week, the Rangers and San Francisco Giants had agreed to play one extra inning.
Guzman delivered, the Rangers beat the Giants 6-5 after scoring three times in the ninth, and everyone got to go home at least 30 minutes sooner.
The Rangers are 4-1-1 this spring. The media is 2-0 when it has been faced with extras.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Taking away the media’s desire to not see extra innings: Does a walk-off win really matter at spring training, considering that most the players who decide the outcome (good and bad) are unlikely to make their team’s Opening Day roster?
In some cases, yes, and the Rangers’ win is one of those cases.
Outfielders James Jones and Ryan Rua were right in the middle of the three-run rally. Jones singled Lewis Brinson to second base and scored on Rua’s two-run double. Rua scored the winning run on Guzman’s long single.
Both are competing for the only open spot among position players, the last spot on the bench. Rua, who entered as the replacement in left fielder for starter Ian Desmond, went 3 for 3 with three RBIs. Jones, who replaced Shin-Soo Choo in right field, was 1 for 3.
Rua can hit for power and can play the infield. Jones can fly and has a big arm at all three outfield spots.
Jones might have the advantage because he is a left-handed hitter who can play center field and spell Delino DeShields against a tough right-hander. Rua, as memory serves, was the Rangers’ left fielder on Opening Day last year and remains highly regarded.
The catch is that the winner of the final spot is only supposed to spend the first month with the Rangers until Josh Hamilton is healthy. What are the odds that Hamilton’s return actually goes as planned?
2. Colby Lewis was pleased with how his second spring start ended after battling an arm that wasn’t functioning quite the way he wanted.
There wasn’t any soreness, but it took some effort to get the arm to get loose. Lewis said that he was throwing mechanically early on rather than free and easy, and thought the game was going to be a grind.
Instead, his best inning was his last, and he allowed only the two-run Kyle Blanks homer in the first inning that might have been one of those thin-air Arizona-style homers. Lewis conceded that Blanks hit it well, but it was a towering fly ball that barely got past the center-field wall.
Whatever. Lewis left happy, his velocity picked up, and he said that he might have to consider a tweak to his warm-up routine.
He’s 36 after all, and in his career he’s had surgery to fix his elbow, shoulder, hip and knee. At this point, he might need to add some oil before each start.
The velocity topped out at 86, which isn’t Mark Buehrle territory but also isn’t Jake Diekman territory. Lewis’ arm might be a bit behind after not throwing any bullpen sessions prior to camp as he took a cautious approach with his knee.
There’s more velocity coming, just not much more. He won 17 games and pitched more than 200 innings without much of it last year.
33 Games started in 2015 by Colby Lewis, a career-high and tied for the most on the team with Yovani Gallardo
3. Anthony Ranaudo followed Lewis and posted a similar pitching line — two earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. He was undone in his third inning, the seventh, by an error by the usually sure-handed Hanser Alberto that paved the way to three Giants runs.
But Ranaudo was mostly sharp in his first two innings, though he got away with a few balls up in the zone. That’s been an issue in the past, and he didn’t get away with them as he tried to pitch around the error.
He remains in the mix for the fifth rotation spot. My scorecard has him trailing Nick Martinez and Chi Chi Gonzalez, even with or slightly ahead of Nick Tepesch, Phil Klein and Cesar Ramos, and healthier than A.J. Griffin and Jeremy Guthrie.
(Those two aren’t exactly in traction. Griffin worked an inning Sunday, and Guthrie will pitch Tuesday).
Ranaudo lasted until the last week of camp last spring while competing for a rotation spot that went to Martinez. I still think he lasts deep into camp this year.
The fastball seemed to be in play for him today when he got ahead. That’s a key for Ranaudo, to get ahead. I felt like he left some balls up.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister
4. The Rangers have only two spots open on their pitching staff — the fifth starter and the seventh man in the bullpen.
The winner of the last bullpen spot must throw multiple innings, but he won’t necessarily be a true long man nor will the winner come from the group that misses out on the rotation.
The Rangers remain leery about heading into a season without enough starting depth. They want capable hands at Triple A when, not if, a starter needs a stint on the disabled list.
Scott Baker and Anthony Bass were more along the lines of true long relievers the past two seasons, and they showed their value many times. They were veterans who knew how to maintain their arm strength and their stuff during the long stretches in which they weren’t needed.
If previous relief experience is a requisite, Martinez, Ramos and Klein have that. If being a veteran is a requisite, Ramos and Guthrie fit that.
Griffin seems unlikely because of his recent injury past, and team’s frequently shy away from putting an injured pitcher’s arm through the rigors of being in a relief roles.
Gonzalez and Ranaudo look like starters all the way.
So, my logic could leave Ramos with the edge, at least in that group. Sam Freeman and Andrew Faulkner can go multiple innings, and so could a guy like Steve Johnson.
If I’ve learned anything in covering the Rangers, it’s to not rule out a long shot, so I’m not ruling out Ramos or Johnson.
You've got to have starting depth in Triple A. As we get deeper in camp, we'll start evaluating that. However it goes, you've got to have a guy that can go multiple innings for you.
Rangers manager Jeff Banister
5. Robinson Chirinos showed off his arm early Monday, throwing out a runner trying to advance on a dirtball and nailing a would-be base stealer at second from his knees.
His performance came a day after Seattle ran wild against presumed Chirinos backup Chris Gimenez. The Mariners got six bases with Gimenez in the game, though he wasn’t given much of a chance as Tepesch and Adam Parks took their sweet time getting the ball home.
Gimenez wasn’t blaming the pitchers, though. They have things they’re working on, and he doesn’t want to take away from that. But he wants to shed his 2-for-20 performance last season throwing out runners.
He said that he is working with catching instructor Hector Ortiz on some footwork that should allow for a quicker release and enable his throws to carry more oomph. To that end, a few of Gimenez’s throws Sunday from catching the ball to it getting to second base were around 1.9 seconds. That’s good.
Could dicey throwing cost Gimenez a roster spot? Not in my book, for a few reasons. First on the list, followed by his guaranteed money and being out of options, is that Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish love throwing to him.
Gimenez caught Darvish’s first time off a half-mound a few weeks ago, and Gimenez caught Hamels’ extended bullpen session Monday.
Manager Jeff Banister had said that he doesn’t believe in personal catchers for pitchers, but when push comes to shove, the Hamels-Darvish-Gimenez relationship will count for something.