Rangers’ second-half goal: Get healthy, stay healthy

Injuries are a part of baseball, and every sport for that matter, and the Texas Rangers weren’t the only team in the major leagues to suffer from poor health during the first half of the 2013 season.

Their division rivals in Anaheim, the preseason favorites in the American League West, early on lost their best pitcher, among others, and Toronto, another preseason darling, lost an All-Star shortstop, among others.

New York was so devastated by injuries before the season that the Yankees were written off as certain also-rans, but they have survived and sit seven games over .500.

The Angels and Blue Jays, though, couldn’t overcome the injuries. They are flawed beyond just which players have been on the disabled list.

And then there are the Rangers, who are 13 games above .500 and the possessors of one of the two wild-card spots despite having 11 players hit the DL. That doesn’t include four pitchers who opened the year on the shelf.

The Rangers didn’t just survive during the first half. They thrived, despite relying on a cast of pitchers who should be in the minors and with a lineup that at times sputters like a 1970 AMC Gremlin.

But things are looking up for the second half, even though the Rangers lost four of their final five games before the All-Star break.

Players are on the mend, with some expected to return within a week and others by next month. The prevailing thought among players, coaches and executives is that the Rangers have a chance to strengthen their postseason chances as they get healthier during the second half.

“We’ve got all the pieces we need, but we need every one to come back healthy and stay healthy,” left fielder David Murphy said. “I think we’ve done better than surviving. We’ve been successful. In my mind, surviving is playing .500 ball. We’ve exceeded just surviving.”

Looking back

Getting bullish: The Rangers wouldn’t be only two games out in the AL West if not for a bullpen that could shorten games and bail out young starters. Closer Joe Nathan blew only one save in 31 chances en route to the All-Star Game, but strong out-of-nowhere performances by right-hander Tanner Scheppers and left-hander Neal Cotts proved just as vital. Robbie Ross started well before lagging some the past few weeks, and Joakim Soria finally came off the disabled list to provide a scoreless inning in each of his first three appearances.

O no: Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz have been productive, and those two and Nathan are likely the three candidates for the Rangers’ first-half MVP. But the offense has been more inconsistent this season than in previous years, and, yes, that includes the 2012 unit that folded down the stretch. That team, nevertheless, led baseball in runs (808). This year’s group ranks 13th (411). They are batting .245 (20th) with runners in scoring position.

Best off-season acquisition: A.J. Pierzysnki’s greatest value so far hasn’t been at the plate, where he produced a nice first half (.284, nine HRs, 34 RBIs), or even in throwing out base runners (8 for 39). He has helped to nurture a pitching staff that at various times has had three rookies in the rotation and a few more in the bullpen, and the Rangers have the league’s second-best ERA (3.73) despite all of that inexperience. He also wants to win badly, and shows it more than any player young or old. That has rubbed off, too.

Looking forward

Let’s make a deal: The Rangers have become regular buyers at the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, and they are pursuing deals as another approaches. Even though pitchers are on the mend, there are no guarantees that they won’t have a setback. Right-hander Matt Garza would be a quality addition from the Cubs’ rotation. Here’s another possibility from Chicago: White Sox righty Jake Peavy. He is healthy again, and a package deal with outfielder Alex Rios could also help satisfy the Rangers’ desire to add a right-handed bat.

Cruz-in’ for a bruisin’? Suspensions are coming from the Biogenesis of America scandal, the players union confirmed Tuesday. On the bright side, though, suspended players who appeal might be able to play the rest of the season. So if Cruz is penalized for his ties to the clinic that supplied performance-enhancing drugs to major leaguers, the Rangers might not need a replacement for him. Then again, he could choose to take the penalty and get it out of the way now so that he will enter free agency having served his time. While the story isn’t going anywhere, things look much better for Cruz than they did even a week ago.

You da Manny: Manny Ramirez, age 41 and the only player in baseball history to fail two tests for PEDs, has three homers in his first 30 at-bats at Triple A Round Rock since signing a minor league deal. He cut his hair, his uniform no longer looks like a pair of pajamas, and he is being a positive influence in the clubhouse instead of the disruptive personality he was in the past. He seems to be genuine about getting a second chance, but he needs to remain productive over a larger sampling to get on the roster.

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