Texas Rangers

Should Hamels, 34, be more open-minded about extra rest from a six-man rotation?

Matt Bush allowed two solo homers in 2 2/3 innings Saturday in his second spring outing and said that he is as convinced as ever that he will be in the rotation.
Matt Bush allowed two solo homers in 2 2/3 innings Saturday in his second spring outing and said that he is as convinced as ever that he will be in the rotation. rmallison@star-telegram.com

The Cactus League venue that receives the most attention and acclaim is Salt River Fields, and a chunk of that stems from the hometown team playing its games there.

The spring home of the Arizona Diamondbacks (and Colorado Rockies) is nice, no doubt. And it can squeeze in 15,000 fans, many of whom sit on the grassy knoll beyond the outfield fence and drink the afternoon away.

But in terms of sheer atmosphere, it's an also-ran behind the other Scottsdale ballpark, Scottsdale Stadium.

The home of the San Francisco Giants packs in the fans, though not nearly as many. That's part of the charm. Fans sit beyond the fences here, too, where, gasp, there are actual trees.

The lounge in right field provides plenty of quality people-watching, though the fans at Giants spring games actually watch the game.

But if anybody drinks too much or is overcome by the heat, or both, there's a hospital across the street.

Here's the Surprise Five from Saturday.

1. That screeching sound coming from Scottsdale Stadium on Saturday afternoon wasn't caused by some drunk fan staggering into traffic and toward the hospital.

It was Cole Hamels putting the breaks on the Texas Rangers' idea of a six-man rotation.

He diplomatically, and at times pointedly, explained why it's not good for him or for any starting pitcher. It seems he was under the impression that the Rangers would have gone with it had they signed Shohei Ohtani, but would stick with five once that didn't happen.

And the Rangers haven't etched their six-man plans in stone. They continue to "explore" the possibility, though, and Hamels doesn't want to go to it now after training his entire career to pitch every fifth day.

But should he be more open to it? He is 34, not 24. There are some miles on his shoulder after 12 seasons, eight of them with at least 200 innings. It looked like he could use a fresh set of tires after last season.

One set of stats says no.

On normal four days' rests, Hamels has a 3.21 career ERA. His ERA on five days' rest is 3.31. It balloons to 4.33 on six days' rest or greater.

However, last season he posted a 4.72 ERA on four days' rest and a 2.20 ERA in five starts on five days' rest, and in 2016 he was again better with an extra day (3.30 to 3.65).

Hamels acknowledges feeling stronger with extra rest, but, like many starters, he prefers pitching without extra rest. And he did concede that he would view the six-man rotation different if he were 40 years old.

But he's not there yet, and the idea of a six-man rotation makes him want to puke. Or something like that.

Manager Jeff Banister said that the Hamels' opinion matters. He has earned the right to object.

He does.

2. Spring training still isn't half way over, though innings are about to become scarce for some starters in Rangers camp.

That's part of the reason why God made B games, and minor-league games will get under way in another couple weeks and will serve as a vehicle for starters who need to build up their arms.

But roster cuts are looming, too, and pitchers either on the fringe or with no chance of making the team will be shipped out to begin getting their innings in tune with the minor-league schedule.

The relievers who are being stretched out as starters are also going see a reduction in their innings at some point soon. Decisions are on that group are on the way.

No starter-or-reliever decision will be bigger than the one involving Matt Bush, who technically was a reliever Saturday as the Rangers lost 9-4 to the Giants.

He piggy-backed Hamels and logged starter's load of pitches, 45 of them in 2 2/3 innings. Bush allowed two solo homers, the thin-air wind-aided Arizona homers that wouldn't be homers in most ballparks.

The most important thing is that he felt strong throughout, even after not getting the normal starter's warm-up, and really liked the way his fastball was coming out of his hand.

Among the critical things he must check off his list is navigating a lineup multiple times, remaining loose after multiple between-innings breaks and having no issues recovering after a start.

He might be able to accomplish those things this spring, though starting lineups often turn over before a starter can see the same set of hitters twice. And, like it or not, there's the chance that the Rangers run out of innings.

He will likely be stretch to four innings before the Rangers sit down to discuss his 2018 role. He could hit four in his next start.

The Rangers need time to transition him to a relievers schedule if they nix him from the starting mix. He would have to pitch on back-to-back days before the end of camp.

But they also know what he can do as a reliever and keep him starting deeper into camp.

In his mind, there is no doubt.

"I'm starting," Bush said.

3. When looking at the decision to be made with Bush, whether to put him in the rotation or ship him back to the bullpen, the Rangers might have only one road to get him out a starting role.

Jesse Chavez Way.

If the Rangers indeed go with six starters and Bush is one of them, the bullpen might look like this: Alex Claudio, Jake Diekman, Tony Barnette, Keone Kela, Chris Martin, Tim Lincecum and Chavez.

Chavez, though, has started at least 21 games in three of the past four seasons. The Rangers could swap him for Bush. The Rangers would be left without a true long man, a role Chavez has filled throughout his career.

Chavez pitched two innings Saturday, allowing a run on four hits.

A caveat to consider with Chavez is that he's in camp on a non-guaranteed deal. Maybe the Rangers choose Bush for the bullpen and create a roster spot for Bartolo Colon by designating Chavez for assignment without eating a ton of money.

But the longer this goes, and, again, it will go at least until Bush is stretched out to four innings, the more it seems like he will be a starter.

4. Here's a name to watch in the race to be the left fielder or claim a bench spot: Destin Hood.

"He's showing up well, isn't he?" Banister said. "He's an intriguing guy. Very intriguing."

Hood would make five candidates trying to cram themselves into two spots, and his odds are the longest, primarily because he's not on the 40-man roster as Willie Calhoun, Drew Robinson, Ryan Rua and Carlos Tocci are.

Tocci is the Rule 5 pick whose defense is highly-regarded. It's been evident so far that he struggles with the bat, more than the most recent Rangers Rule 5 success story, Delino DeShields, ever did.

Robinson and Rua have versatility that Calhoun doesn't have. No one has Robinson's versatility.

Hood, though, is trying to make himself more than just an outfielder. He brought a first-baseman's glove to camp on his own accord, is practicing there, and could get some game action there.

He also offers value as a right-handed hitter. Rua and Tocci also bat right-handed, but it can't just be a righty bat.

"Usable right-handedness, that's the key," Banister said."

So far, Hood has been usable.

5. Derek Holland ventured over to the Rangers' dugout before the game and shoot hands with several former teammates, including his tenant.

Delino DeShields is living in Holland's house in Surprise again this spring while Holland is living closer to the Giants' spring home on the other side of the valley. He doesn't want to deal with that commute, and no one can blame him.

Besides, he doesn't need to be road weary each day as he tries to save his career by winning a spot on the Giants' pitching staff. He's competing for the fifth spot in their rotation, and is the most experienced of the candidates, but he is willing to pitch in relief if they ask.

He is coming off a rocky season with the Chicago White Sox, who cuts ties with him before the end of the season. But the one thing Holland took into the off-season was that he was complete healthy for the first time since 2013.

He knows that he must show Giants brass that he is healthy and that he is keeping the ball on the ground, though AT&T Park in San Francisco is an ideal spot for flyball pitchers. He's in compete mode, and survival mode.

"It's win or maybe find another job or go home," Holland said. "I've got to keep competing. I feel like I'm doing my job right now."

Holland allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits in 2 2/3 innings against the Rangers. He struck out four batters, an element that has been declining in recent seasons, and walked two.

Holland is 31 and left-handed, two things that should enable him to extend his career. He's in a fight now and can win it.

"I've got to just go out there every single time that I'm still healthy and still got what it takes to compete and get the outs," he said. "That's what it's about."

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