Gil LeBreton

March 23, 2014

Black Sunday calls out buzzards for Rangers

Jurickson Profar news brings the club’s injury woes to a head.

After six weeks of whistling in the spring training dark, the Texas Rangers’ injury bug turned into a buzzard Sunday.

A bright, sunshine-kissed Cactus League afternoon became Black Sunday.

It was a day that began with the revelation that Yu Darvish may not be ready to start the season opener next week, that continued with yet another ghastly performance by a starting pitcher candidate, and then ended with the camp’s worst news of all, that youngster Jurickson Profar could be lost for three months.

An MRI exam disclosed that Profar, 21, expected to be the Rangers’ starting second baseman this season, tore the teres major muscle of his right shoulder. A club official said the estimated recovery time is 10 to 12 weeks.

When asked to describe the impact of losing Profar for an extended period, assistant general manager Thad Levine said, “It’s our everyday second baseman. It’s someone who we had every expectation of going to take a meaningful step forward in his career and be a big part of our 2014 campaign.”

Manager Ron Washington didn’t learn the extent of Profar’s injury until after Sunday’s 11-7 exhibition loss to the San Diego Padres.

“We’ll get somebody here to play,” Washington said, bravely.

Veteran middle infielder Josh Wilson has played in 20 of the club’s 21 spring games and brought a .268 average into Sunday. But he’s only a career .225 hitter in cameos with nine major league teams spread over seven seasons.

A week of Wilson at second base could be sustainable. But three months could negatively impact the Rangers’ playoff hopes.

Washington’s other close-at-hand option is Adam Rosales, but he’s been one of the camp’s biggest disappointments. A hitless day Sunday lowered his average to .111, and his fielding hasn’t been all that redemptive.

When someone asked Sunday whether the club would consider calling up 20-year-old Rougned Odor to replace Profar, Washington quickly replied, “He’s a kid ... he’s still getting an education in baseball.”

Odor’s professional resume to date peaked last season with 30 games at Double A Frisco.

It is hard to imagine Washington, who once played Michael Young 159 games and Ian Kinsler 157, going with a 20-year-old second baseman for three months.

But who knows? The St. Louis Cardinals are preparing to start the season with young prospect Kolten Wong at second base. In Baseball America’s rankings, Wong is rated as baseball’s second-best second base prospect.

The first? Rougned Odor.

“We’re a big-league club,” Washington said, “and once again it gives somebody else the opportunity to show what they can do.”

The Profar news threatened to turn the day’s other developments into footnotes.

Darvish, for one, is still bothered by a stiff neck, enough where he likely will not start another exhibition game this spring.

More concerning should be pitcher Joe Saunders. In Sunday’s exhibition game, left-hander Saunders was rocked for eight hits and nine runs (four earned) while only lasting four outs. Saunders, who complained of having a “dead arm” later, faced 15 Padres and 11 reached base.

With starters Matt Harrison and Derek Holland out, the rotation was a question mark even before veterans Saunders and Tommy Hanson stunk up the ballpark in their most recent outings.

On merit, the job should go to lefty Robbie Ross, who has successfully shown that he can make the same transition from the bullpen that Tanner Scheppers has.

Saunders’ trumpeted niche is supposed to be his durability. He has worked at least 179 innings in each of the last six seasons.

A contending team, however, isn’t supposed to need a guy who’s just an innings eater. The Rangers need to be filling their rotation with quality, not quantity.

Dead arm, dead chance, if you ask me.

A pitching rotation with Scheppers and Ross in it and a lineup with Odor, Elvis Andrus, Leonys Martin and Michael Choice might scare most big-league managers, but maybe it shouldn’t. If the Rangers have a thin crop of replacements, that’s the general manager’s fault not Washington’s.

Injuries and question marks have darkened this spring training camp from the beginning.

Black Sunday finally called out the buzzards.

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