Texas Rangers

Texas Rangers’ camp starts countdown to baseball Opening Day

Colby Lewis and Derek Holland can joke around knowing they are in the Rangers’ rotation, and they will learn before March 30 which spots they will occupy.
Colby Lewis and Derek Holland can joke around knowing they are in the Rangers’ rotation, and they will learn before March 30 which spots they will occupy. mfaulkner@star-telegram.com

So long for another year to the Alamodome, which for the past two days was a spring break destination for several players, willing or otherwise, in Texas Rangers camp.

The travel squad that made the quick trip climbed back onto the Rangers’ charter flight for Arizona after a 13-6 victory over Kansas City to wrap up the fourth annual Big League Weekend.

The full squad will be back together again Sunday at the Surprise Recreation Campus, and with everyone back under the same roof, the stretch run to determining the season-opening roster will officially begin.

Roster cuts will be made in the coming days, position players will be asked to play deeper and deeper into games, starting pitchers will throw longer and relievers will work on consecutive days.

The rotation will be lined up for the regular season, with Cole Hamels likely to be announced at some point in the next week as the starter April 4 against Seattle.

We’ll announce this next week who everyone knows will be Opening Day.

Manager Jeff Banister on the Rangers’ Opening Day starter (Hint: Cole Hamels)

Beginning Sunday, Opening Day is 15 days away.

“We’re at that point where we need to start getting our numbers down,” manager Jeff Banister said. “Position players will start pushing that nine innings. We’ll get some nines in there for most of our guys this week and some back-to-backs. There will be a limited number of at-bats for some of the young guys, and same for the arms.”

Here’s a look at the major business to be conducted the rest of the spring in Rangers camp:

Setting rotation

Barring an unexpected development, Hamels will sit atop the Rangers’ rotation.

“We’ll announce this next week who everyone knows will be Opening Day,” Banister said. “I at least like to let these guys get to their third time around before we start making all those announcements. Heaven forbid you have to retract your announcement.”

Derek Holland is almost where he wants to be for the regular season and isn't concerned about where he lines up in the Rangers' rotation (video by Jeff Wilson).

The Rangers will likely have three left-handers and two right-handers in their rotation, and lefties will likely fill the first two spots before Colby Lewis starts the third game of the season.

Either Derek Holland or Martin Perez will follow Hamels, and the odd man out will follow Lewis and be followed by a righty in the fifth spot. Jeremy Guthrie, Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez, all righties, are the front-runners for that slot.

Taking the fifth

As the roster gets trimmed, those vying for the last spot in the rotation will get more of the spotlight. That started Saturday in Scottsdale as Gonzalez faced Arizona, and A.J. Griffin and Cesar Ramos faced the Royals.

Guthrie, who will work in another minor league game Monday, could move back into a Cactus League game next weekend.

“We’ve got to keep pushing those fifth-starter candidates out on the main stage and let them battle it out,” Banister said.

A.J. Griffin said that he felt Sunday as if he could have thrown two more innings than the 3 2/3 he pitched Saturday (video by Jeff Wilson).

Getting benched

Before the Rangers can decide who will fill out the bench for Opening Day, they have to decide if they want to go with an eight-man bullpen to begin the season.

The extra reliever would help the Rangers minimize early workloads for the relievers expected to form one of the best bullpens in the American League, and also provide some depth in case a starter has an early-season hiccup.

No matter the configuration, the Rangers will have a reliever capable of logging multiple innings.

A three-man bench would include a backup catcher, an outfielder/third baseman and a utility infielder who can play second base. Ian Desmond, who is learning to play left field, could be a backup at both shortstop and center field.

Ratcheting up

The annual rites of the end of spring training are pending. The glorious days of playing only five get-your-feet-wet innings will be coming to an end for position players, and starters will begin to see the fifth, sixth and seventh innings as they continue to build arm strength.

Another item on the annual to-do list involved relievers pitching in back-to-back games, something that is often accomplished with an appearance in a minor league rather than two Cactus League games.

Don’t expect to see the Rangers’ regulars playing nine innings during the final few exhibitions of the season. They might not play at all in the Arizona finale March 30, and they will likely play only until they have two at-bats in the games April 1 and April 2 against Cleveland at Globe Life Park.

The Rangers have 14 games remaining before Opening Day, including a two-game series April 1-2 against the Cleveland Indians at Globe Life Park.

Cutting down

The Rangers can’t keep everyone currently in camp around much longer, and players who don’t figure into the plans will likely begin to be shuttled off to minor league camp in the coming days.

Some of the decision are easier to make than others as the Rangers weigh the importance of their prospects heading to the minors to get regular work versus keeping them around to continue their exposure to the major league squad.

So, prospects Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara and Lewis Brinson, all targeted for Triple A Round Rock, might not be optioned or reassigned as soon as, say, Drew Robinson or Ryan Cordell would be.

Chi Chi Gonzalez allowed seven runs in 3 1/3 innings Saturday against the Diamondbacks in Scottsdale, Ariz. (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Pitching coach Doug Brocail said Yu Darvish threw his best slider this spring during an 18-pitch bullpen session Saturday morning (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

Rangers ace Yu Darvish threw his sixth bullpen session off a regular mound Saturday morning in Surprise, Ariz. He threw 18 pitches, seven fewer than his last session on Thursday (Video by Stefan Stevenson/Star-Telegram).

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