Gil LeBreton

March 25, 2014

Add Yu Darvish to Rangers’ woes

Rangers had better hope it’s just a pain in the neck.

Midway into his brief question-and-answer session with the media Tuesday, Texas Rangers pitcher Yu Darvish was asked if he was really, truly, surely-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding certain that his stiff neck was caused by “sleeping wrong.”

Darvish didn’t even need to wait for the translation.

“It was sleeping wrong,” he assured through his interpreter.

Of course he was. At this spring training camp, the Rangers haven’t been safe even when they’re asleep.

Darvish was scratched from his Opening Day start Tuesday and soon left camp in order to fly home to be examined by the team’s neck and back specialist, Dr. Drew Dossett.

While Tuesday’s news was not unexpected — Darvish felt discomfort and shut down a bullpen session the day before — the real white-knuckle moment could come Wednesday afternoon, after Dossett has a chance to look at the star pitcher’s MRI results.

Darvish missing Opening Day is, relatively speaking, a ceremonial footnote.

Darvish missing anything more than that, however — yikes!

“As soon as I get an injection and acupuncture, I think it’s going to heal right away,” Darvish said.

Manager Ron Washington appreciates Darvish’s stoic self-diagnosis, no doubt, but he knows that players don’t always make good doctors.

Second baseman Jurickson Profar thought his sore shoulder was healed enough to return to the infield, yet he was diagnosed Sunday with a torn muscle and will be out for 10-12 weeks. And catcher Geovany Soto walked off the field under his own power that same day, only to discover the next morning that he had a torn meniscus and also will be lost for 10-12 weeks.

Acupuncture? At this point, Washington might feel like he needs a few sharp needles himself.

“He’s got the stiff neck,” Washington explained. “We need to get him right, physically and mentally. We certainly don’t want him out there trying to pitch when what he has in the back of his mind is that something is wrong and he’s trying to gut it out. We don’t want that.”

Depending upon Wednesday’s diagnosis, Darvish seems unlikely to pitch in the team’s season-opening series against Philadelphia. A back-dated trip to the disabled list, instead, will open a temporary rotation spot for someone.

The feeling here is that will be Alexi Ogando, who was moved back to the bullpen for what seemed like 15 minutes. Despite his brief demotion, there are people at Rangers, Inc., who continue to value Ogando’s potential as a starting pitcher.

Darvish’s situation appears to also indicate that veteran lefty Joe Saunders will begin the season in the rotation. Saunders says he’s still rounding into shape because he was a late addition to the spring training roster, but even his most recent start was abysmal.

The bright spot Tuesday was Robbie Ross, the former bullpen lefty who has successfully made his case to join the starting rotation. Ross pitched seven innings of four-hit, shut-out ball against the Cleveland Indians.

The question of who will get the honor of starting on Opening Day at Globe Life Park now seems almost incidental, compared to the injury problems that linger. Lefty Martin Perez will get strong consideration, but Tanner Scheppers — four years older, 115 games in the major leagues — needs to be considered a candidate as well.

Forget protocol here. Scheppers simply has been pitching better than Perez this spring. He should start on Opening Day.

Much will depend on what Dossett says Wednesday. It is possible that Darvish may only miss a single start, and that lefty Matt Harrison will be ready to rejoin the rotation in two weeks, and even that Colby Lewis will be primed and ready to start by mid-April.

Or, on the other hand, Washington could need those sharp needles.

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