The sun comes up, the sun goes down.
In baseball’s Cactus League, the strategy seldom gets any more complicated than that.
Nevertheless, a savvy manager doesn’t want the wrong people getting too long of a look at his starting pitchers. Not this month, not this spring training.
Go figure. The Texas Rangers and Oakland Athletics will play each other 19 times during the regular season. No less than a dozen Rangers spring games will be seen on TV. And on the back fields at the Surprise Recreation Campus, spring training home of the Rangers, fans and scouts alike are free to roam the grounds at will.
Yet, when a league or division rival is the day’s opponent, most managers play Hide the Pitcher.
Which is why it somewhat took us aback Tuesday night to see Cole Hamels, co-ace of the Texas staff, standing on the mound to face the Chicago White Sox.
Until Tuesday, it seemed, lefty Hamels had only faced simulated rookies on Field No. 3, whose birthdays fell between August and October. Or something like that.
Media had been instructed not to make eye contact with Cole or ask him anything with the words “arm” or “pitches” in it.
I’m only half-kidding.
Using Google Maps, I presume, Hamels finally found his way to the mound at the complex’s main stadium Tuesday night. After a slightly ruffled first inning, Hamels settled down and retired all but one of the next 14 White Sox.
His pitching line for the evening showed four innings, 63 pitches, three hits allowed, one earned run, no walks and five strikeouts.
When he’s good, he is so good.
Afterwards, when asked where the outing left his spring training preparations, Hamels said, “I think right where I need to be for four innings — still trying to build up the arm strength.”
It’s not as if he’d been bubble-wrapped and stored under lock and key all spring. Tuesday’s game was actually Hamels’ fifth outing, counting a simulated game, a B-game in Glendale, a brief cameo against the Dodgers and three innings against the Lake Elsinore Storm, Class-A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.
He had done . . . well-l-l . .. OK, though the appearance against the Dodgers — six batters, only one retired — left him with an earned run average of 108.00.
Truth be told, though, because Hamels was seemingly being fermented like fine wine as opposed to being trained for Opening Day, it was hard to figure out where he stood, especially after Tuesday’s first inning.
First, shortstop Elvis Andrus let Peter Bourjos’ hot shot flash right under his glove for an error. Tim Anderson then tripled to right field. A sacrifice fly and a single by Todd Frazier put two men on, and Avisail Garcia followed with what appeared to be an inning-ending hopper right back to Hamels, who instead launched the baseball into center field.
“I just didn’t have the grip,” Hamels explained. “Super excited to try to get two outs, but I just didn’t have the grip to throw a ball to second base.”
It was the kind of goofy inning that seems to abound in the desert and usually runs up a starter’s pitch count. But Hamels, ever the pro, made it a fuzzy memory by retiring 13 of the next 14.
“Now it’s kind of building up that arm strength to be able to do so for 100 pitches, and the competition of facing a lineup two or three different times around,” he said.
“It’s just kinda the nature of what goes with the game right now, two weeks out.”
Two more starts, he meant, and the season will be here. The dust covers will be removed from the furniture, Adrian Beltre included. The plastic wrapping will come off the entire Rangers starting rotation.
For now, however, Tuesday Night Live, starring Cole Hamels, clearly worked.
When he’s good, he is so good.