Rangers are going to need a major pitching makeover

06/28/2014 9:03 PM

06/28/2014 10:34 PM

At some point next year, one would think, first baseman Prince Fielder will return to the Texas Rangers’ lineup and become the kind of run-producing goliath that he’s paid to be.

At some point, too, one might assume, catcher Geovany Soto will be back on the field, and maybe young Jurickson Profar will return and try to live up to his predicted promise.

But the 2015 lineup isn’t the problem, is it?

It’s going to be the pitching.

As Yu Darvish reminded Saturday, while striking out 10 and beating the Minnesota Twins 5-0, he can be counted upon.

The rest of the 2015 Texas staff, however, is going to be flying on a wing and a prayer. Maybe a half-dozen wings and a book of prayers, to be more accurate.

The Rangers headed into the 2014 off-season expecting — or was that hoping? — their starting rotation would be Darvish, Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and Alexi Ogando.

Instead, Harrison and Perez have undergone surgeries and are lost for the season. Holland wrecked his knee and hasn’t thrown a pitch. Ogando has had elbow inflammation and may be back in six weeks — or six months.

That’s just the starting rotation. Of the original bullpen arms, only Neal Cotts, Jason Frasor and Joakim Soria are healthy enough to still be contributing.

For a Rangers team that thought it had the pitching staff to contend this season for a third American League pennant, the future has been turned upside-down.

At least there is Darvish, and that’s not a bad place to start. After two subpar outings, he was his dominating self against the Minnesota Twins, allowing only four singles in eight shutout innings.

“I thought he was Yu Darvish again,” manager Ron Washington assessed. “It was nice to see him back.”

Washington’s likely No. 2 starter for next season, however?

That now figures to be lefty Holland, who’s trying to come back from microfracture knee surgery and spent the morning pitching a simulated game. Maybe he’ll be back in July ... or maybe not. Microfracture surgery can be complicated.

Perez probably won’t be back until mid-July next season at the earliest. Harrison, who’s due to be paid $13.2 million, underwent a spinal fusion operation and may never pitch again.

What the rotation has, therefore, are Darvish, Holland and three starters to be determined later.

Maybe Nick Tepesch will be one of them, and maybe Nick Martinez. Both were rocketed, by necessity, through the Texas farm system and are learning this season with the waters chin-deep.

The No. 5 starter for next season? Your guess is as good as any.

The hope here, however, is that Rangers Inc., quits trying to find another genie in the pitching bottle.

C.J. Wilson had the kind of arm and soft brain tissue to handle the switch from the bullpen to a starting role. He did so successfully, and now the Los Angeles Angels are paying him $16 million to start.

Every subsequent Rangers attempt, however, to convert a reliever into a starter has failed, some with devastating injury consequences. I’m not saying the attempts precipitated the consequences, but circumstantial suspicions abound.

Ogando, Neftali Feliz, Tanner Scheppers, Robbie Ross — the experiment is over. Turn in your lab coats and head back to the bullpen.

The club clearly hopes that Tepesch and Martinez will seize this season’s opportunity and each earn a starting spot. Luke Jackson, 22, recently promoted to Triple A Round Rock, will get his chance next spring as well.

But it’s also likely that the Rangers’ No. 5 starter for next season currently pitches for somebody else.

The lineup should be healed and productive. Rebuilding the pitching staff, however, is going to be the problem.

The franchise’s future, once so bright, has been turned upside-down.

About Gil LeBreton

Gil LeBreton

@gilebreton

Whether it's pondering Moose McNuggets at the McDonald's in Norway or chasing Lance Armstrong up some mountaintop in France, Gil LeBreton has been entertaining Star-Telegram readers for nearly 30 years. He's covered 21 Super Bowls, 14 Olympic Games (summer and winter), saw Muhammad Ali box, Paul Newman drive a race car and Prince Albert try to steer a bobsled.

Gil also once briefly held the WBC Junior Welterweight title belt -- he had to, because the guy he was interviewing, champ Bruce Curry, had to suddenly step into the men's room.

Email Gil at gilebreton@star-telegram.com

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