Texas Rangers

Surprise Five: Fake news? Minor doesn't see reason for concern over durability

Mike Minor felt fine Friday after throwing 72 pitches over five innings of a minor-league game and has zero concerns about his ability to handle a starter's workload.
Mike Minor felt fine Friday after throwing 72 pitches over five innings of a minor-league game and has zero concerns about his ability to handle a starter's workload. rmallison@star-telegram.com

The last chance for many spring breakers to get a glimpse at Bartolo Colon arrives Saturday, when the right-hander takes the mound at high noon Arizona time for the first game of a doubleheader against the Kansas City Royals.

Colon has made a case for the Texas Rangers' Opening Day roster, posting solid outing after solid outing. Considering the Rangers' pitching plans are in flux — five or six starters, or seven or eight relievers — he might find his way onto the staff.

If nothing else, he would be fun to watch. Maybe more of a novelty, but potentially entertaining nonetheless.

Yohander Mendez will start the second game, which is intriguing, but of more importance is who will replace him. Jesse Chavez is also a candidate to be on the Opening Day roster and is scheduled for four innings.

Should they be effective innings, the right-hander could take hold of a roster spot as a swing man capable of starting or working in long relief. The Rangers believe they need that kind of reliever with Mike Minor in their rotation.

Minor's thoughts? Here's the Surprise Five from Friday.

1. Minor breezed through a minor-league intrasquad game Friday morning, allowing one run on three hits in five innings. He finished his outing with seven consecutive strikeouts and continued confidence that he is ready to be a starting pitcher again.

There was never really a doubt in his mind entering camp. But the talk of a six-man rotation, or a five-plus-one, or the occasional need for a spot starter stems in part from the lack of innings he has thrown the past three seasons.

"I knew early in spring that I felt different than two years ago, just the way I was pitching and the way I was feeling," Minor said. "I feel like I'm close, even though it's been a while since I've gotten this far with pitch count and innings."

Minor hasn't started a game since 2014, for those who need a reminder. He knows but doesn't seem all that worried. Maybe it's because of the six-man talk, which he endorses.

Whatever. He thinks too much is being made of his potential inability to be a starter again.

"I think it's more of a story, something to write about, right now," said Minor, who threw

72 pitches. "But not around the clubhouse."

Banister, though, said that the Rangers are going to have a Chavez-type or a Colon-type to drop into the rotation when needed, giving the occasional extra rest to every starter. That includes ...

2. ... Cole Hamels, who was named as the Opening Day starter and remains a critic of a six-man rotation. The Rangers will attempt to keep him on four days' rest, but there will be times when he pitches on five days' rest.

That's the case in a five-man rotation when the rotation isn't altered to account for a day off. There are more days off this season, so, yeah, it's going to happen.

Hamels said that he hasn't given his schedule much thought, choosing to dive head-first into his routine and not bothering to come air. He said enough earlier this month when he said a six-man rotation "isn't part of baseball."

But he is looking forward to his first start, the fourth in a season-opener in his career and his second with the Rangers. Yu Darvish got the nod last season, even though Hamels was the better pitcher in 2016.

He said then it wasn't a big deal that he wouldn't pitch the lid-lifter. But it is a big deal to get the ball for 1 of 162.

"Any time that you have the honor to pitch Opening Day, it's the respect that you have with your teammates and the confidence that have in you to be starting off the season," Hamels said. "It's a tremendous honor, and it's a lot of work to do so. It's how you've played in the past and how well you've training in the off-season and how well you're doing in spring training."

Matt Moore had been having a fine spring training until ...

3. ... The Seattle Mariners jumped him for five runs and seven hits in his first three innings. There was a lot of loud contact. I don't think it was solely the acoustics at Surprise Stadium.

Granted, both Mariners runs in the second inning should have never scored but did thanks to an Elvis Andrus error. Moore induced a double play to erase a leadoff single in a scoreless fourth.

So, it wasn't terrible over 4 1/3 innings, but it wasn't his best. But that's spring training, and, as is often the case, Moore was getting his work in on feel for pitch and pitch sequencing and getting his arm stretched out further.

"I like this time of year to get the conditioning in my arm and not beat myself up if I gave up five runs," Moore said. "I don't feel like I gave up five runs. I'm not happy, but at the same time I think there were enough things out there I was able to recognize."

Here's a thought: With Hamels, Doug Fister, Moore and Minor in the midst of nice springs, and with Martin Perez planning to start Sunday, is the Rangers' rotation on the verge of being better than expected?

It sure has seemed that way all spring. The Rangers are keeping their fingers crossed for their big-league starters and for ...

4. ... Lefty Cole Ragans, the Rangers' No. 1 pick in 2016. He left a minor-league game early Friday with elbow discomfort and was headed to an MRI tube.

The Rangers were bracing for the worst after several coaches and scouts watching the game noticed a decrease in velocity and a lack of extension on his pitches.

The worst, of course, would be Tommy John surgery for a starting pitcher who was rated last year by Baseball America as the best prospect in the Northwest League and who was likely headed to Low A Hickory for his first full professional season.

Maybe he still is. If he's headed to Arlington or to Birmingham, Ala., for Tommy John surgery, one of the Rangers' top pitching prospects would be delayed until at least the middle of next season.

In that case, he wouldn't be appearing under the big top at Globe Life Field until 2022. It'll be time for a new ballpark by then.

Dr. Keith Meister will get a look at the MRI results this weekend and deliver the Ragan news.

In the meantime, the Rangers will be keeping their fingers crossed.

They might be doing the same with ...

5. ... Rougned Odor and Matt Bush. Neither had their best day (again) against the Mariners.

Odor batted three times and went down swinging in all three at-bats. His spring batting average dropped to .162 (6 for 37).

The pitches he swung through appeared to be slightly off the plate, technically chases but not with the wild swings he showed last season. I guess that counts as a sliver lining.

Banister said that Odor is in-between, a common timing ailment this time of year.

"I'm not concerned just yet," Banister said.

Ditto for Bush, who left a few too many pitches over the plate. That's not good.

Bush allowed a double, single and double to the first three batters he faced and ended up allowing three runs in his inning. That makes eight runs he has allowed in his two relief appearance since being told he was no longer a starting pitcher.

"Today it was more missed location than anything else," Banister said. "He's got to get back to being able to pitch inside. I'm not concerned. He came from being a starter. It's going to take a little bit of an adjustment period."

Check back late next week on that level of concern.

Jeff Wilson, 817-390-7760
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