Boxes were packed and stacked outside the Texas Rangers’ clubhouse Saturday morning, and an 18-wheeler had backed its way almost to the back door.
Spring training has entered the home stretch.
Following the Saturday matinee against the Cincinnati Reds at Goodyear Stadium, the Rangers have only nine Cactus League games remaining. Two of those are split-squad games Thursday, and the March 24 finale will feature exactly zero players from what’s left of the big-league spring roster.
So, yeah, things are winding down at the Surprise Recreation Campus, which means that things will be picking up for all those involved in making the final roster decisions.
Here are the five key decisions that are pending:
The five starting pitchers are set and have been since the start of spring training. Mike Minor will start the lid-lifter March 28 against the Chicago Cubs, and he will be joined in the rotation by fellow left-hander Drew Smyly and right-handers Lance Lynn, Edinson Volquez and Shelby Miller.
All that is left to decide is the order that will follow Minor.
It could stay as it has all spring – Lynn, Volquez, Smyly and Miller – but the Rangers are considering flopping Volquez and Lynn. The reason: To avoid having the three pitchers returning from Tommy John surgery making consecutive starts.
The fear is that the trio might not be able to handle a heavy workload to start the season, and bunching them together could put an extra strain on the bullpen.
“We haven’t solidified that yet, but it’s definitely an option,” manager Chris Woodward said. “If you go with those guys back to back to back, over the course of the season there may be some games where if all three of them don’t have a bounce-back game and have to come out after 70 pitches, it puts our bullpen in a bind for three straight days. It’s something we’ve considered.”
Seven or eight relievers
The health concerns of Volquez, Smyly and Miller, each of whom underwent Tommy John surgery in 2017, is weighing on club brass as they determine how many relievers to carry in the bullpen.
Eight would ensure that the Rangers will have enough relievers to cover just about every situation. They could take an extra lefty reliever or carry a true long man or keep Rule 5 pick Jordan Romano.
The bench would be short, though.
Seven relievers would give Woodward a four-man bench but require multiple relievers to be able to log multiple innings. Romano would have next to no chance at making the team, and out-of-options Connor Sadzeck is a candidate to be designated for assignment.
But there might be a way to carry an eighth reliever and have a seven-man bullpen.
Matt Davidson is supposed to pitch in a Cactus League game this week after slowly building his arm strength on the mound while also trying to win a roster spot as an extra corner infielder. His ability to pitch could be the difference in him making the team.
“It can’t hurt,” Woodward said. “It adds a lot of value. It adds that little extra, if he’s not playing, to get us out of a game or not set us back a week.”
Davidson looks to be the front-runner to back up Asdrubal Cabrera at third base and Ronald Guzman at first if the Rangers go with a four-man bench. He could make the team even if they go with three reserves, though that would require Cabrera to serve as the backup middle infielder.
Logan Forsythe can play third, along with shortstop and second base, but not first. He might have the edge on Danny Santana, though Santana can also play center field and would be the only extra who can hit left-handed.
Which lefty is in bullpen?
Only three of the eight lefties competing for a bullpen spot at the start of camp remain in the hunt – pre-camp favorite Jeffrey Springs, Kyle Bird and Brett Martin.
Each of them can log multiple innings and has been effective against lefty hitters. They can get righties out, too, but that’s more of an issue next season.
The race is even with a week to go, Woodward said.
“They’ve pitched well enough to make this team,” he said. “I can honestly say that.”
Where is Willie going?
The longer the spring has gone on, the less surprising it has become for Willie Calhoun to end up at Triple A Nashville.
That isn’t where he wants to be or where the Rangers want him to be, but that’s the road he was put on when the Rangers signed Hunter Pence and Pence, subsequently, didn’t stink.
The clearest path for Calhoun to make the team is with a late-camp injury to one of the outfielders expected to make the roster or designated hitter Shin-Soo Choo. Not even Calhoun wants that to happen.
But he can take some solace in the off-season and spring he has had. His body transformation has made him a better player, and his approach to spring training has been more professional and will serve him well whenever he is in the majors this season.
“Regardless whether he makes the team or not, he’s done everything he has to do to make the team,” Woodward said. “That will be my conversation with him in the next couple of days, whether he does or not, he is a big part of this moving forward.”