The official word that ace right-hander Yu Darvish will undergo Tommy John surgery next week should be delivered Friday, but the other 63 players in the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse already seem to know.
Among them are the eight starters now competing for the final two spots in the rotation, though it’s likely seven right-handers competing to be the No. 5 starter. Left-hander Ross Detwiler hasn’t officially sewn up a spot behind Yovani Gallardo, Derek Holland and Colby Lewis, but is a heavy favorite to do so.
Thursday against the Chicago White Sox, Anthony Ranaudo and Nick Tepesch were the latest to audition in the chase to replace Darvish, and Nick Martinez will take his turn Friday against San Francisco.
“We all have the same competitive feel right now, and no one’s exactly sure what’s going to happen,” Martinez said. “Someone’s going to step up. I hope it’s me.”
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Alex Gonzalez and Ross Ohlendorf will also get multiple looks the rest of the Cactus League schedule. Each has a chance to make the season-opening rotation, and Lisalverto Bonilla and Anthony Bass are still pumping but are probably long shots.
Martinez and Tepesch are likely a tick ahead in the competition. Both posted strong finishes to 2014, showing they could go deep in games and pitch themselves out of trouble.
Tepesch posted a 3.81 ERA over the final two months, and Martinez had a 2.40 ERA in five September starts.
“I still have some stuff to learn, but I definitely took a step in the right direction finishing last year,” said Martinez, who could find a spot in the bullpen if he doesn’t make the rotation. “That was with the help of a lot of people for it to finally click that last month.”
To make strides like that requires experience, something Martinez, Tepesch and Ohlendorf have more of as big league starters than Ranaudo, Gonzalez, Bonilla and Bass.
“It’s about getting outs and what your process is,” pitching coach Mike Maddux said. “That’s one thing they have. They understand the process and the philosophies we have and how it applies to them.”
Ranaudo tasted the majors after debuting late last season with Boston and going 4-3 with a 4.81 ERA in seven starts. Just as Martinez and Tepesch did, Ranaudo got a lesson in what it takes to be successful in the big leagues.
Ranaudo said that he quickly made a few adjustments Thursday to White Sox hitters, but his start was cut short after 2 1/3 innings with discomfort in his right elbow. He explained that it’s a normal sensation, and he threw later on a back field without incident and expects to make his next start.
To fall behind in the competition by missing time would likely punch his ticket to Triple A Round Rock. He feels he’s ready to help the Rangers, but he’s trying to balance the competition with trying to get ready for the season.
“I would love to be that guy and contribute and help this team,” said Ranaudo, who threw 44 pitches. “There’s outside distractions, but ultimately something I’ve clung to the last couple years is just focusing on what you can control. The people that can really do it are ultimately the people who are really successful in the game.”
Tepesch rebounded from his first outing, when he surrendered seven runs in 1 1/3 innings. But he allowed only three hits in 3 1/3 scoreless innings Thursday, commanding his fastball and throwing his secondary pitches for strikes.
He didn’t register a strikeout while throwing 52 pitches.
“He’s a pitch-to-contact guy,” manager Jeff Banister said. “That’s got to be his mindset right now. Let his defense do his work and get some balls on the ground. All in all, I thought it was a good day for him.”
All seven pitchers competing to be the No. 5 starter will get more chances this spring, and none have been eliminated from the race. Though Gonzalez hasn’t pitched a full season above Double A, he’s starting to warm on some of the club’s decision-makers.
It’s a competition to help replace Darvish that won’t be decided until the final week of the spring.
“I know that if I keep doing the right things and working hard and focusing on the things I can control, I know I’ll be in a good position to help the team,” Ranaudo said. “If that’s in one of the starting roles, that’s great. That’s what I’m going for.”
Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
With Ross Detwiler likely assured of a rotation spot now that Yu Darvish is injured, these seven pitchers are vying for the No. 5 spot in the rotation:
▪ RHP Nick Martinez: 2.40 ERA in five September starts.
▪ RHP Nick Tepesch: 3 1/3 scoreless innings Thursday.
▪ RHP Anthony Ranaudo: Doesn’t think elbow discomfort Thursday will keep him out
▪ RHP Alex Gonzalez: Inexperienced, but is making a favorable impression.
▪ RHP Ross Ohlendorf: Two perfect innings with five Ks in spring debut.
▪ RHP Lisalverto Bonilla: Nice September, but needs better command.
▪ RHP Anthony Bass: Starting Saturday, but ultimately could be long-relief candidate.