Shelby Miller filled out the Tommy John threesome Friday afternoon, becoming the third straight pitcher with a new elbow ligament to start a Cactus League game for the Texas Rangers.
It seemed almost like an afterthought to the native Texan.
“It was good,” Miller said. “I saw that the velocity was up, and that’s a positive sign. Right now, I feel like I’m in a good spot.”
But his, Volquez’s and Smyly’s health will be on the Rangers’ mind during the season and the rest of this spring as they construct their Opening Day roster.
A rotation with 60 percent of its members coming back from major surgery could dictate the need for a long man in the bullpen. The Rangers, though, have only two spots, maybe three, for what is looking more and more like a bevy of deserving candidates.
“I wish we could carry 12 relievers, but we can’t,” manager Chris Woodward said. “We’re constantly evaluating every pitch, looking for what we want to see. It’s going to be some tough conversations at the end of camp, because not everybody is going to make it.”
The Rangers appear to have five locks for the bullpen, all right-handers: closer Jose Leclerc and set-up relievers Shawn Kelley, Zach McAllister, Chris Martin and Jesse Chavez.
In a perfect world, they would carry to left-handers, and there are eight this spring competing. The Rangers also have righties Connor Sadzeck, who is out of options, and Jordan Romano, a Rule 5 selection.
“Some of this is how much depth can we keep?” Woodward said. “We have to consider that when putting the staff together.”
When it comes to the long man, veteran righty Jason Hammel could be the guy. He has more starts than anyone in camp and wants to continue being a starter, but he wants to be in the majors more than anything and would gladly take a long role.
Hammel has yet to pitch in a game this spring but is expected to throw in the coming days after getting his work in during live batting practice and a simulated game. Despite being among the club’s leaders in MLB service time, Hammel has no sense of entitlement.
He’s on a minor-league contract and knows what he must do.
“I’m just here trying to make the team,” said Hammel, who worked out of the Kansas City bullpen for part of last season. “I’m not expecting anything. I’m not opposed to any job.”
Woodward said that the Tommy John threesome will be monitored early in the season and might have to be yanked early because of an escalating pitching count or just a bad outing.
If they lineup consecutively in the rotation behind Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, that could be a heavy burden on the bullpen. Of those who are either in the bullpen or candidates for it, Chavez, McAllister and lefty Jeffrey Springs can cover multiple innings.
“You just never know what might happen,” Woodward said. “It would be nice to have somebody that can throw multiple innings. If everybody’s a one-inning guy, it kind of puts us in a bind if we do have one game where we go out early.”
Miller was asked when he thinks the media can finally stop referring to him, Volquez and Smyly as pitchers coming back from Tommy John. Miller didn’t have an answer, but he is encouraged by what is happening this spring.
He allowed two runs to the Chicago White Sox in his inning Friday, but threw all of his pitches and hit 95 on the Surprise Stadium radar gun. He felt like he could have continued into a second inning.
That will happen next week.
“It’s one inning so far,” Miller said. “The thing you’re looking for most is how your pitches are working and the command and really just getting that one out of the way and getting back out there Wednesday and hopefully going deeper.”