Some Texas Rangers players were so eager Wednesday to return home from spring training that they used their vast resources to purchase commercial airfare at last-minute prices rather than wait out some mechanical issues on the team’s charter plane.
Those who did made the right call, as the charter didn’t touch down until after 2 a.m.
Better now than during the regular season, which opens at home at 3 p.m. Monday against the Seattle Mariners. The Rangers have exhibition games Friday and Saturday against the Cleveland Indians and a Sunday afternoon workout standing between them and Opening Day.
Only two decisions are pending — the No. 5 starter and the eighth man in the bullpen — but the Rangers could look to tie up some other loose ends this weekend before the 2016 lid-lifter.
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Here are some areas they might consider:
The Rangers switched up their catching plans less than a week before the opener with the acquisition Tuesday of former TCU star Bryan Holaday in a trade with Detroit.
Holaday’s task, in a week’s time, is to gather as much information as he can via video and conversations with complete strangers to learn the pitching staff.
That’s not easy.
“It’s going to be a lot of work this first month learning how these guys want to pitch and I’m going to work with them,” Holaday said Thursday at Globe Life Park. “But I think we’re going to mesh pretty well. I’m excited to get it going.”
Working in Holaday’s favor is that he doesn’t need to find a place for his family to live. He and his wife purchased a home near TCU during the off-season.
Holaday has also spent his entire career in the American League, working with quality pitchers in Detroit, so he has a good catalog of information on how to attack hitters to best get them out.
After his initial looks at Rangers pitchers on video, he likes their chances.
“My first impression is we’ve got a pretty good pitching staff,” Holaday said. “I’ve been looking at the way that they like to pitch, the way they use their pitches and just getting general information. I think when I sit down with each guy, I’ll get to know more of the specific details.”
The good news for the Rangers is that the four starting pitchers who have cemented spots in the rotation saved their best for last this spring.
Martin Perez declared himself ready to go Saturday.
Colby Lewis did the same Sunday.
Ditto for Derek Holland on Monday.
Cole Hamels put it all together Wednesday.
It’s hardly unusual for such an occurrence.
“The whole process is to be ready to go for Day One,” Holland said. “Some guys it might take longer. Some guys it doesn’t.”
Spring training is a process for starting pitchers more than other players, as they are not only building arm strength but making sure their mechanics are repeatable and all of their pitches can be commanded for more than 100 pitches.
“When you get into the season you have to have confidence that you can throw certain pitches at certain times,” Hamels said on Wednesday after allowing one run in five innings.
Taking the fifth
The Rangers have refused to incriminate themselves by continuing to not name a fifth starter, though all signs point to that pitcher being right-hander A.J. Griffin. He had the best audition among a large group of candidates, most of whom have been shipped to minor league camp.
Righty Phil Klein and left-hander Cesar Ramos are the only candidates still in the hunt besides Griffin, and at this point they appear to be battling for the last spot on the roster as the eighth man in an expanded bullpen for the first four games of the season.
The fifth starter is not needed until the fifth game, at which point the Rangers will add Griffin and subtract Klein or Ramos.
The Rangers have their reasons for not naming Griffin, and technically they don’t have to until rosters have to be set Sunday morning.
Closer Shawn Tolleson said that he has overcome any lag caused by the stretch he missed because of lower back stiffness, but he would like to throw once this weekend to knock off any rust and prevent any from building before Opening Day.
Tolleson didn’t log as many innings as manager Jeff Banister would have preferred, but he did work back-to-back days and saw gradual improvement each time out. Banister said that Tolleson’s rhythm and mechanics looked much cleaner during an inning Tuesday.
“Everything feels really good,” Tolleson said. “I’d like another outing, but at the same time I feel confident I could go right now if we had to start the season tomorrow.”
The Rangers don’t have to start until Monday, giving them some extra time to tie up any loose ends.
Our baseball special section analyzes the Rangers’ chances for a long postseason run and previews the division races.