Not that anyone here is counting, but only four days remain until the Texas Rangers spring break camp and head for home to begin the regular season.
They broke last year with everything all lined up. The roster was set, the rotation was in order, and nothing needed to be settled in the two exhibition games against the New York Mets.
The feeling this year, though, is that they could load up the plane Wednesday with decisions still pending. That’s not the preference of manager Jeff Banister, but things aren’t as simple as they might seem as they weigh who should fill out the rotation, the bench and the bullpen.
The two games next weekend against Cleveland might matter. The roster might not be settled until the Opening Day Eve workout next Sunday.
Say it isn’t so.
Thoughts? Here are The Surprise Five.
1. Martin Perez declared himself ready for the regular season after allowing four runs in five-plus innings Saturday against Colorado. One of the seven hits should have been an error, and he still isn’t sure how a couple of his pitches were turned into hits.
The key for him is that he didn’t issue any walks and struck out six. He was around the plate with quality stuff, and he said his work here this spring is done.
The work actually really is done, at least in terms of Cactus League games. His next turn comes up Thursday, a scheduled off day for the Rangers. It’s conceivable that he could stay in Arizona an extra day to work a minor league game or possibly work a simulated game at Globe Life Park or just have two extended bullpen sessions before his regular season debut.
It continues to look as though he will pitch the second game of the season after Cole Hamels works the 2016 lid-lifter. Colby Lewis is scheduled to pitch Sunday with Derek Holland pitching Monday. They look like the No. 3 and No. 4 starters if the current rotation holds.
2. Time for more scintillating talk about the fifth spot in the rotation. Hopefuls Jeremy Guthrie and Nick Martinez pitched Saturday, with Guthrie allowing three solo homers in a minor league game and Martinez struggling against Colorado.
Martinez’s outing had some intrigue, aside from his shaky performance, in that he came out of the bullpen during an inning. In every instance I can remember this spring of a starter leaving during an inning, a fill-in from minor league camp came out of the bullpen and finished up.
But Martinez inherited two runners with no outs. Granted, he needed all the pitches he could get, but he had the look of being a candidate for multi-inning spot in the bullpen.
He has been a reliever previously, and he could do it again. He could also be the fifth starter and a member of the bullpen for all the times the Rangers skip that spot in the rotation. He could also go to Triple A to preserve the Rangers’ rotation depth.
A.J. Griffin still has the best resume among the candidates, but his injury history doesn’t favor him being a reliever. The wear and tear of being in the bullpen, which could include warming up multiple times in a game, doesn’t necessarily suit pitchers coming off injuries.
Guthrie could probably be a long reliever, though he signed with the Rangers over the Royals expressly because the Rangers gave him a chance to win a rotation spot. Kansas City wanted him only to be a candidate for a long-relief spot.
3. Banister all but put Drew Stubbs on the roster Saturday, a near-declaration that could also indicate that the Rangers plan to have four players in their bench on Opening Day.
All along Banister has wanted defense to be a priority when assembling his bench. Stubbs checks that box with his speed and arm in all three outfield spots, and his speed can also be used late in games.
Also checking the defense box? Ryan Rua at first base. Banister said that when it comes to the Rangers’ first baseman, Rua is behind only Mitch Moreland and the gap isn’t all that significant.
If Stubbs, who has a Monday out clause in his contract, indeed is on the roster, it eliminates the need for the utility infielder to play the outfield. That could move Hanser Alberto into the lead over Pedro Ciriaco for a bench spot.
Ciriaco could make the team. He’s a veteran who entered Saturday batting almost .500. But he would require a spot on the 40-man roster if picked over Alberto, who is the better defender of the two.
Stubbs will need to be added to the 40-man roster, too, and Griffin or Guthrie would as well. So would Mike McKenry or Bobby Wilson in the unlikely event that they unseat Chris Gimenez as the backup catcher.
The Rangers don’t have any player headed to the 60-day disabled list to start the season, which would create a 40-man spot. Yu Darvish will open on the 15-day disabled list, as 60-day stints can’t be back-dated into spring training. A player must spend 60 days of the season on the 60-day DL.
Those things matter this time of year.
0 Spots currently available on the Rangers’ 40-man roster. In other words, it’s full.
4. The Rangers didn’t bring any of their top prospects across the Valley on Saturday as just-in-case players to replace the starters, but this spring has been a showcase for prospects.
The latest to impress was outfielder Eric Jenkins, the second-round pick last year. He started the Rangers’ winning rally Friday night with a triple to center field. It was a triple as soon as it found the ground in the outfield, with his plus-speed.
The 19-year-old might be the fastest player in the organization, along with fellow outfielder Chris Garia.
Earlier, as San Diego was building an 11-8 lead with six unearned runs in the eighth, Leody Taveras made a questionable throw from center field as he failed to throw to the cut-off man and allowed a runner to move into scoring position.
He knew it was a mistake and owned up to it after the inning.
“As he watched all the runners run around the bases, you think he wasn’t feeling pain?” Banister said. “When he came in, he said, ‘That’s on me.’ You know what I know now? I know the chances of him actually making that decision again are a little less.”
How fun was that last night? It’s been fun to watch those guys keep showing up and do their thing.
Manager Jeff Banister
5. The Rangers media was reminded again of life on the other side of town and all that it has to offer compared to Surprise, though being a Rockies writer could be expensive.
Directly across the 101 from Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the Talking Stick Resort, which features a casino with a poker room. Thank God it doesn’t have a sports book. Also across the way is a Top Golf, which could turn into a gambling thing with the right company.
The wife would certainly like this side of town more, with infinite more shopping opportunities and more ways to distract the kids.
Surprise, though, is just fine. It’s getting younger. It’s getting its roads improved to catch up to the growth. Hopefully the new Greenway and Bell roads will have lanes for golf carts only.
We’ll all find out in 11 months, but the goal now to survive four more days.