Gil LeBreton

Rangers’ starting pitchers could fly under the AL radar

After his hip resurfacing surgery, Rangers No. 4 starter Colby Lewis pitched like a man with a new set of legs during the second half last season.
After his hip resurfacing surgery, Rangers No. 4 starter Colby Lewis pitched like a man with a new set of legs during the second half last season. AP

Much ink will be spilled and talk show verbiage dislodged this spring on the subject of who will be the Texas Rangers’ No. 5 starter.

But we’ll be missing the better story.

Before (pick one) Ross Detwiler, Nick Tepesch, Nick Martinez or Anthony Ranaudo ever take the mound for the Rangers this season, four quietly solid starting pitchers will precede them.

Nobody is writing or talking about this, of course. The Rangers are baseball’s wounded sparrows of 2015. In forecasting the coming season, nobody wants to touch them.

There are no trendy analytics to predict what may happen to Yu Darvish’s elbow, or Derek Holland’s post-stairway knee, or Martin Perez’s Tommy John recovery, or Matt Harrison’s multi-operated-upon back, or Colby Lewis’ bionic hip.

The odds of pitching coach Mike Maddux turning over his cards and finding a healthy four-of-a-kind are long. But it happens.

In their pennant-winning season of 2011, five Rangers pitchers made 157 of the 162 starts. Last year it took 15 able bodies to make all of the starts.

The preseason magazines and websites are opting to look the other way. The Rangers are a safe middle-of-the-pack pick, and it’s been easy for the forecasters to ignore a rotation that will begin with Darvish, Holland, Yovani Gallardo and Lewis.

Maddux acknowledges that front of his rotation may be flying under the preseason radar.

“No better way to do it, man,” he said Monday. “Stealth.”

There are dozens of 2015 rankings out there of Major League Baseball’s starting pitching staffs. The almost unanimous Nos. 1 and 2 appear to be the Nationals and the Dodgers.

The broken-winged Rangers, alas, usually fall in the 20-something range, though one bold prognosticator ranked them 11th with the notation, “This group has a chance to surprise some people.”

Exactly.

After recovering from his knee surgery last season, lefty Holland made only five starts. He was given a precautionary day off Sunday after experiencing some soreness in the knee, but Holland was back throwing Monday. He is 28 now and should be on the threshold of having his best season.

It’s also safe to say that the predictors are not abundantly impressed by seeing 35-year-old Lewis in the rotation’s No. 4 slot. They see his 5.18 ERA of a year ago and his 10-14 record, and they probably conclude it’s the same old Colby Lewis.

But it’s not. After his first-of-a-kind hip resurfacing surgery, Lewis came back last season and performed like a man with a new set of legs.

In the second half of the season, as he grew more and more accustomed to his new hip, Lewis got better and better. Opponents batted only .251 against him and had a .738 on-base-plus-slugging after the All-Star break.

That’s the Colby Lewis that Maddux and general manager Jon Daniels are expecting to see.

“He’s a veteran,” Maddux said. “He’s 35 years old. But not only did he overcome his hip, it got better.”

As Daniels put it, Lewis’ second half “turned a corner.”

“It’s a pretty amazing story,” bullpen coach Andy Hawkins agreed. “Almost an against-all-odds thing.

“But it’s a testament to his inner strength. That’s what we know Colby for — that and a nasty slider. He’s going to show up every five days and give you his best.”

The club’s 2015 rotation likely will not be the American League’s best. The preseason magazines seem to be fawning over the Mariners, White Sox and Tigers rotations. A wise man might also add the Indians and, once healthy, the Angels.

But the Rangers may well get young lefty Martin Perez back at some point.

In the meantime, four solid, proven starting pitchers will get to fly under the AL radar.

Maybe no better way, as Maddux said, to do it.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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