The Texas Rangers bid the Alamodome a fond farewell Saturday afternoon and headed back to Arizona for the final leg of spring training. Their next flight will be March 30, back to Texas for the start of the regular season.
It’s really going to happen. It was going to happen all along, but at some point during long stretches in Surprise, Ariz., doubt starts to creep in.
Camp will no longer be like the movie Groundhog Day. Genuine news is going to develop. Tough decisions are coming, though an easy one is on deck.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Among the many decisions left facing the Rangers the rest of camp is setting the rotation. Selecting Cole Hamels as the Opening Day starter is not one of those calls still remaining to be made.
That decision was probably made July 31, when he was acquired from Philadelphia. If not then, then on Oct. 4 as he tossed a complete game to clinch the American League West.
Or maybe the Rangers were just waiting for him to show up to camp with a pulse. An official announcement is due within the next week.
Who follows Hamels could be interesting. Manager Jeff Banister said that it will be a left-hander, so either Derek Holland or Martin Perez. It should be Holland, though it seems he has to prove something to the Rangers this spring.
Colby Lewis will be third in the rotation, splitting up the lefties, and Holland/Perez will be fourth. The fifth starter will be right-handed and again be used to split up lefties.
So, left, left, right, left, right for the Rangers, and it will stay three lefties and two righties if everything goes according to plan and everyone has stayed healthy when Yu Darvish returns in mid- to late-May.
We have some yard work to do. We need to make some decisions.
Manager Jeff Banister
2. A.J. Griffin breezed through three perfect innings Saturday before surrendering three runs on three hits in his fourth inning and second time through the lineup. Eric Hosmer hit a two-out, two-run homer, and Salvador Perez followed with a solo shot.
Justin Ruggiano mixed in a throwing error on a pickoff attempt during his first A game at first base, though Christian Colon left so early that he might have been safe had the throw not skipped into left field.
What shouldn’t be lost is that the Royals found some success the second time through and as Griffin’s pitch count climbed.
That could be all it was, that he is still building arm strength and his stuff declines when he’s tired. That’s what the Rangers tend to believe. It could be that, after dealing with injuries the past two years, that he’s still a work in progress and not yet ready for a rotation spot.
The competition will go on, and he likely has two more chances to convincingly show that he’s good to go. He says that he is and very well might be, but the verdict could also still be out.
3. The home run Sam Dyson allowed in the ninth inning Friday was nothing more than an outfield pop-up at a regular ballpark, but he was unhappy to surrender the go-ahead homer nonetheless.
Maybe Dyson, a sinkerballer, was upset to allow a ball to be hit in the air, period.
The only thing that cushioned the homer in Dyson’s mind, perhaps besides Lewis Brinson’s three-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the inning, was that a former college teammate hit it.
Whit Merrifield and Dyson played together at South Carolina, and Merrifield clinched the 2010 College World Series for the Gamecocks with a walk-off single.
“I’m ticked I gave up a home run,” Dyson said. “If anyone was going to hit one, [I’m glad] it was him.”
1 Home runs allowed by Sam Dyson in 31 appearances last season for the Rangers. The homer came in his first game.
4. Among the many youngsters used this spring as just-in-case players, one who has stood out to Banister is 2014 third-round pick Josh Morgan.
Morgan made a diving stab at third base Friday night, stepped on the bag for a forceout and threw to first to complete a double play. He also made a dazzling play March 11 against Milwaukee as a second baseman.
This spring, Morgan is also trying to convert to catcher, an experiment that started during instructs last fall.
“I’m open to it,” said Morgan, who hadn’t caught since his freshman year of high school. “Whatever gets me to the big leagues. I’m definitely looking forward to that adventure. I have totally new respect for the position and a totally new respect for all the catchers in the organization and catchers period.”
Banister, a former catcher, noted that many of the game’s best catchers were once infielders before converting. Included on the list is Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos.
“You’ve still got to be athletic,” Banister said.
Rangers prospect Josh Morgan played only third base and shortstop for Class A Hickory. He played second base in 2014 and is debuting at catcher this spring.
5. The Rangers’ flight to and from Arizona was the first chance for as many as 15 players from minor league camp to make their first trip on the team charter, and apparently it was an eye-opening experience.
Banister noted the wide eyes on the players, most of whom aren’t able to legally consume a beer or ready to play in the major leagues. Banister assumed that many were expecting a regular commercial jet, with rows and rows of seats, instead of the customized jet they borrowed from the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes.
“It was a nice ride,” Banister said. “You get used to that kind of travel. How about that experience from some of these young guys who have never been on a charter plane before? They walk in and they see this plane all configured with tables and big lounge chairs. It was a little bit of an experience for them.”
Morgan said that he had an idea of what to expect, but the charter exceeded those expectations.
“It makes it a little better than the bus rides in the minor leagues,” he said.