Texas Rangers

Miller wasn’t bad, but knows he must be better. Which ‘simple’ tweak will get him there?

Shelby Miller said that it’s time to dial things in for the regular season after he worked on pitching lower in the strike zone and was trying to hit corners Saturday.
Shelby Miller said that it’s time to dial things in for the regular season after he worked on pitching lower in the strike zone and was trying to hit corners Saturday. AP Photo

That was the kind of weather that people should expect when they come to spring training.

Brilliant sunshine, the kind that makes outfielders miss routine flyballs (that happened twice Saturday to the Cincinnati Reds in their 5-2 victory over the Texas Rangers). Temperatures in the low 80s. A nice breeze.

Perfect, in other words.

Forecasts for the rest of camp call for much of the same, though things might get a little chilly Thursday with temps in the low 70s. Brrrrr.

The uptick in weather is better late than never.

Speaking of better late than never, here’s the Surprise Five from Saturday.

1. The following happens too often: Someone in the press box will say, “How many full counts has this guy gone to?”

On Saturday, that happened at least twice as right-hander Shelby Miller made his fourth start of the spring. He estimated that the threw 65 pitches in only 3 1/3 innings, and he also knew that he went deep in counts to way too many hitters.

That’s not ideal.

The good news, of course, is that it’s spring training, and, yes, he was working on a couple things. He said that he had been pitching up in the zone too much in his previous starts, so he was trying to work down and work the corners.

Despite falling behind in counts and putting himself in tough spots, he allowed only one run and was able to get out of trouble with some timely pitches.

More good news: He knows how to resolve Saturday’s issue.

“It’s simple: Just throw the ball over the plate,” Miller said.

Brilliant!

He expects to do so over his final two starts before Opening Day as he starts to hone in for the regular season. The time to experiment is coming to an end for many starters.

“If I’m doing a decent job right now, when I dial it in it’s going to be even better,” Miller said. “I can look back at some at-bats, I just wasted some pitches. By the season, my main focus is I’m not going to nibble on the corners as much as I’ve been doing and just get back on the thirds a little more.”

Drew Smyly also pitched Saturday, though in a Triple A game, and appeared to fare better. The left-hander tossed four scoreless innings, allowing a run on four hits with five strikeouts and no walks.

Smyly is likely to be fourth in the rotation and Miller fifth. Both are still trying to come back from Tommy John surgery, though Miller pitched briefly last season before some elbow issues flared up again.

Neither has been concerned about his health all spring.

2. Good news for starting pitchers and baseball traditionalists was delivered Saturday morning as Woodward said that the Rangers will not use The Opener this season, or at least as long as the five members of the rotation are pumping.

The Rangers were expected to use relievers to start games entering the off-season, when Yohander Mendez and Ariel Jurado looked like they might be on the Opening Day roster. The Rangers wanted to have a reliever work an inning or two to keep the young guys from having to get through an opposing lineup more than two or three times.

That changed during the off-season with the acquisitions Smyly from the Cubs, the addition of Edinson Volquez to the 40-man roster and the free-agent signings of Lance Lynn and Miller.

Just as much as the health of Volquez, Smyly and Miller is a factor in determining how many pitchers are in the bullpen, health is also the factor behind dumping The Opener.

Woodward doesn’t want to make any of those three change their pregame routine and potential risk an injury.

“With the staff we have, Lynn and Minor I wouldn’t do it, and the other three guys I wouldn’t do it from a health standpoint,” Woodward said. “Warming up on the field is part of the routine. Now, all of a sudden you’re taking a guy coming off Tommy John a year ago and ‘Hey, you’ve got to warm up in the bullpen and be ready for the season.’

“They have a long-toss routine. You can’t long-toss in the bullpen. I want them do what they normally do, and it’s not fair for them to put them in that situation. They’re coming off surgery. We’re trying to look after them.”

An injury might change that, though Mendez and Jurado might not even be the first choice to come from Triple A. Adrian Sampson would be if he didn’t make the Opening Day roster, or Jason Hammel would jump into the rotation if he was in the bullpen as the long man.

Would the Rangers try to protect Taylor Hearn or Jonathan Hernandez or Joe Palumbo later in the season? Maybe, but why not let them try the first inning before deciding if they need help from The Opener?

For now, that baseball trend is closed to the Rangers.

3. Not closed: The Opening Day roster to Danny Santana, who has played shortstop and center field this spring and who had a really nice day Saturday against the Reds.

The assumption here is that if he can play shortstop, he can play second base. The question is if he can play those two positions capably after spending much of his career in center field.

Santana came up with the Minnesota Twins at shortstop, but hasn’t played there too much in the ensuing seasons. His spring stats (three errors in 16 chances) suggest that he has plenty of rust to knock off. But he played for the Atlanta Braves last season and spent time doing infield work with former Rangers manager Ron Washington.

Reached via text Saturday night, Washington said that Santana can play shortstop well enough for short stretches, meaning if Elvis Andrus needs a day off or two. If Andrus needs 10 days, the Rangers would be better served with someone else.

In this camp, the primary someone else is Logan Forsythe. He was at shortstop Saturday as the Rangers continue to get the veteran reps at the infield position he has played the least.

Woodward, who spent parts of the past two seasons with Forsythe with the Los Angeles Dodgers, believes Forsythe can be a quality shortstop in addition to his duties at second base and shortstop.

Santana, though, is opening eyes with his camp.

“He’s very intriguing guy,” Woodward said.

Santana was in center field Saturday, and he threw out a runner at home to help Miller hold the Reds to one run. Santana scored one of the Rangers’ two runs, racing to a leadoff triple in the sixth and scoring on Hunter Pence’s double.

The other run came on Forsythe’s first homer of the spring.

Santana also had a double and finished the day 2 for 3 to push his spring average to .324. Aside from his versatility defensively, Santana is also a switch-hitter.

As the Rangers put together a bench, they might determine that a left-handed bat is a necessity. Willie Calhoun bats left-handed, but his roster chances seem slim. Santana might have a better chance.

“He does a lot of things well,” Woodward said. “He can run. He can switch hit. He can pretty much play anywhere on the field. He brings a lot of value.”

4. Bold prediction time: DeMarcus Evans will pitch in the major leagues this season.

The right-hander tossed a scoreless seventh inning against the Reds, striking out two, as he was awarded a Cactus League game by virtue of being named the Rangers’ Minor League Reliever of the Year for 2018.

One appearance late in a spring game isn’t the basis for the bold prediction. It seems that every season the Rangers have a reliever who shoots through the system, pitching at multiple levels.

C.D. Pelham did it last season, starting at High A Down East, moving to Double A Frisco and finishing with the Rangers. The 22-year-old Evans, a 25th-round pick in 2015, could be on that path.

He throws hard and has a big 12-to-6 curveball. He’s a big spin-rate guy who has been compared to Keone Kela, just without all the baggage.

Evans spent the 2018 season at Low A Hickory, going 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA, a .148 opponents average, 27 walks and 103 strikeouts in 56 innings. Another Hickory right-hander, Joe Barlow, impressed with a 3-3 mark, a 1.68 ERA, a .118 opponents average and 91 strikeouts in 59 innings.

Barlow, an 11th-rounder in 2016, is 23, had some control issues early and finished with 41 walks. He and Evans both pitched in the Arizona Fall League in an effort to help keep their mechanics and rhythm together over the off-season.

Maybe Barlow is the guy to leap frog to the majors this season. If the season falls part, as many are anticipating, maybe they both get a look for the rebuilding Rangers as Pelham did in 2018.

The Rangers also gave infielder Ryan Dorow, the Defender of the Year, a start at third base. He has appeared a few times this spring as a just-in-case (JIC) player. They planned to give Pitcher of the Year Tyler Phillips an inning, but he came down with pink eye.

Player of the Year Scott Heineman is still out after off-season surgery on his left/non-throwing shoulder.

5. Another minor-leaguer continued to impress Woodward on Saturday, and he should be familiar to folks back home.

Preston Beck, who went to Dallas Bishop Lynch and played at UT-Arlington, was a JIC for, oh, the thousandth time in his Rangers career, and the he has made the most of the opportunities.

As T.R. Sullivan from mlb.com reported, Beck became the all-time Rangers leader in hits by a JIC when he reached on an infield single in the ninth. It was his 14th JIC hit, one more than Nate Gold, in only 51 at-bats.

Beck was a fifth-round pick in 2012. He’s not a hot young prospect at age 28. After playing at Triple A in 2017, and dealing with injuries, he spent all of last season at Double A.

But he has worked out locally in the off-season with the rest of the Rangers, and Woodward has taken a liking to Beck.

“I like him,” Woodward said. “We all like him. He comes over a lot because we want to see him. I think it will eventually lead him to being in big-league camp. He is one of those guys who will play in the big leagues because he brings a lot of quality intangibles. He gives you a good at-bat. It’s just one of those things where he is going to have to fight, but I can see him playing in the big leagues.”

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