Gil LeBreton

Gonzalez’s injury another blow to Rangers’ homegrown pitching woes

Rangers starter Chi Chi Gonzalez suffered a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and may need surgery that would sideline him for at least one year.
Rangers starter Chi Chi Gonzalez suffered a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and may need surgery that would sideline him for at least one year. AP

A lot of internet bandwidth and dead trees have been wasted each spring, speculating on who will be the Texas Rangers’ fifth starter.

It’s the bane of every baseball beat writer and columnist.

We weigh the candidacies. We scrutinize the performances. We troll the manager for insights.

One constant remains:

The Rangers are certain to float the notion that the multiple off-days in April will allow them to hide their fifth-best starting pitcher.

Thus, we sat last season through a four-inning, seven-run spot start by Kyle Lohse. And we noted that in fifth starter Nick Martinez’s five starts in mid-June he allowed 32 hits, 20 runs and seven homers, all in 23-plus innings.

And we noticed that the No. 5 starter tag-team of, at various times last season, Martinez, Lohse, Cesar Ramos, Lucas Harrell and Chi Chi Gonzalez combined to start more games (18) than Yu Darvish.

To suggest, therefore, that the fifth starter is merely a placeholder betrays the reality. Those two dozen pitching starts still count.

Some teams, not necessarily the Rangers, are far too cavalier about the identity of their No. 5 guy. And that’s my point.

Games handed away by ill-chosen No. 5 starters in April and May become victories a team has to recompense in August and September.

Rangers manager Jeff Banister says he hasn’t decided yet who this April’s No. 5 starter will be. But things have a way of working themselves out.

Chi Chi had pitched so badly, something had to be wrong.

Martinez hasn’t pitched well in nearly three weeks. Knuckleballer Eddie Gamboa, who was Sunday’s starter in a 3-2 win over the Seattle Mariners, is still more a curiosity than a viable rotation candidate.

And then there is the regrettable tale of Chi Chi Gonzalez, the franchise’s first-round pick in the 2013 draft.

At 25 years old, Gonzalez has struggled to show the Rangers that he is a bona fide major league pitcher. The numbers increasingly suggest otherwise.

When team physician Dr. Keith Meister informed Gonzalez over the weekend that he had a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, the news should not have been met with surprise. Chi Chi had pitched so badly, something had to be wrong.

The Rangers have advised a conservative treatment plan that involves no surgery. Gonzalez said he will meet with Phoenix physician Dr. Michael Lee and get a second opinion.

“I thought it was just typical soreness,” Gonzalez said. “It was the days in-between.

“The bullpen days were the hardest. It just wasn’t getting any better and kept staying the same, and I figured I should say something. I wasn’t thinking anything was wrong with my elbow. I was just thinking maybe I’ll get a day off, get some rehab, and it should be good.”

The cavalry may be coming, but pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are still recovering from injuries and confined to bullpen sessions.

If the elbow doesn’t respond to a stem-cell injection, Gonzalez may have to undergo Tommy John surgery, which would sideline him for at least an entire year.

But truth be told, Chi Chi Gonzalez, the 23rd player selected in the 2013 draft, wasn’t pitching like a guy who was banging on the door of a big league rotation, anyway.

A.J. Griffin and Dillon Gee are, in varying degrees. Both pitched well amidst gridiron dimensions over the weekend at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

If I had to make an educated guess, those two will follow No. 3 starter Martin Perez to the mound in the season’s first week.

The cavalry may be coming, but pitchers Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are still recovering from injuries and confined to bullpen sessions.

How did this team’s pitching cupboard become so bare of options?

Answer: Trades for veterans. Tanner Roark. Kyle Hendricks. Carl Edwards. Jerad Eickhoff.

Yikes.

Homegrown Rangers pitching is thriving — somewhere else.

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