After Thursday’s announcement, one vacancy remains in what was once a yawning cavity known as the Texas Rangers pitching rotation.
Which means that Friday’s exhibition start for newcomer Anthony Ranaudo, just like Thursday night’s for Nick Martinez, could well be the outing that seals the decision on making the team.
“I think it’s pretty big,” said Ranaudo, who will start Friday in Mesa against the Oakland A’s.
“I realize the implications and what it might do for the future. But I’m trying not to think of it that way. I’m trying to think of it as preparing for one of my last starts before the season.”
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The 6-foot-7 right-hander has some work to do. In the five times that he’s taken the mound this spring, Ranaudo mostly has pitched to mixed reviews, with the prevailing critique being that he has to start throwing his fastball more for strikes.
Martinez, in the meantime, has been doing that, and he continued deftly mixing his fastball and breaking stuff Thursday with five scoreless innings against the Rockies.
In the 24-year-old’s first four outings, including B games on the back fields, he walked only one in 10 1/3 innings along with 10 strikeouts.
Ranaudo’s five spring appearances, meanwhile, were skewed somewhat by a three-homer bombardment last weekend in the Alamodome.
Banister offered a frank managerial assessment of the ex-Red Sox prospect Thursday.
“It’s the same thing we talked about earlier,” Banister said. “It’s the fastball command. He’s got to be able to pitch down, pitch up, use his secondary pitches when necessary. It’s not about swing and miss, it’s about getting ahead in the count, getting early contact when necessary, and the ability to utilize his out pitch when he needs to.”
If Ranaudo needed marching orders for Friday, the manager’s words should do.
But he already knew that, Ranaudo said.
“The biggest thing right now is honing in on my fastball command,” he agreed. “That’s usually the last thing to come for me. This is my fourth or fifth spring training. Usually throughout the spring that’s something that I find as my timing gets better and as the spring goes on, it gets better and better.”
He may not have enough time. Martinez hasn’t pitched at all like an 18th-round draft choice whose minor league preparation included only seven games above High-A. He’s pitched like the Nick from the second half of 2014, the one who allowed opponents only a .246 average and a .706 OPS, as opposed to the .305 and .885 of the first half.
“Mike Daly and Danny Clark saw him in Miami this winter,” general manager Jon Daniels said, “and they said Nick had a different look in his eye from a maturity standpoint.
“Look at his first versus second half last year. That’s what you want to see, guys displaying some aptitude and getting better.”
If it sounds as if Daniels and Banister are leaning toward Martinez, that’s what the media consensus seems to be, too.
But Banister stopped short of any other announcements Thursday, saying, “We’re still not ready to say who the fifth starter is definitely. There are a group of guys who are going to continue to throw and get time off the mound.”
Though new to the Rangers, Ranaudo has nearly a full season at the Triple level on his résumé and legitimately earned his late-season promotion to Boston last year. It would be a stretch to imagine him not pitching for the Rangers at some point this season, even if it isn’t in the April rotation.
“We’re all working hard towards that same goal,” Ranaudo said of the group still fighting for the last rotation spot. “I think we’ve taken the approach that we’re going to work real hard and let somebody else make that decision for us.”
No announcement came Thursday. But Ranaudo knows what Friday holds.
Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697