Gil LeBreton

Rangers could use Cliff Lee for needed pitching depth

Cliff Lee, who sat out last season with an injury, is said to be at home waiting for the phone to ring.
Cliff Lee, who sat out last season with an injury, is said to be at home waiting for the phone to ring. Star-Telegram

As we saw last October — Blue Jays 6, Rangers 3 in Game 5 — there is indeed crying in baseball.

Losing to Toronto in a four-run, three-error, face-slap bat-flip seventh-inning nightmare moistened postgame eyeballs throughout the Texas Rangers’ losing clubhouse.

There is crying, therefore, in baseball. But, alas, no mulligans.

Baseball people pride themselves on going the distance, showing up day after day through the six-month regular-season marathon. But as last season should have reminded manager Jeff Banister and the Rangers, every day counts.

Every game won in April and May is one fewer that a contender has to win at the end.

The Rangers paid for their 7-15 start all the way to October.

If that deciding American League Division Series game had been played in Arlington instead of Ontario, who knows? No errors, maybe. No Jose Bautista showboat bat flip.

Banister said last week that he doesn’t plan to approach spring training any differently than he did in his first camp in Surprise. But what else could the American League manager of the year do — schedule full pads and two-a-days?

“We didn’t swing the bat consistently like we felt we could or how we did the rest of the season,” Banister said. “But I don’t think that was due to what we did or didn’t do in spring training.”

A year ago, he was the new guy in the spring clubhouse. Now he enters this spring with a broader perspective on what players such as Delino DeShields, Derek Holland and Ryan Rua can do. Banister knows what his core group is, and he can manage this spring accordingly.

That can’t hurt.

The biggest question remains depth in the starting rotation. The club had the rug pulled from under it, losing Yu Darvish and Holland, before the 2015 season really got under way.

Darvish probably won’t be available until May, but when he returns, he and Cole Hamels should form as good a one-two pitching punch as the franchise has ever had.

The key to the rotation’s early success is Holland. At age 29 and entering his eighth big-league season, he should be one of the dependable mainstays on the pitching staff — instead of its biggest question mark.

Because of injuries, Holland has pitched only 96 innings over the past two seasons. In his one postseason start against the Blue Jays, he laid a two-inning, six-run stink bomb.

To me, expecting Holland to be a 16-game winner as he was in 2011 is rolling the dice.

Which is why the Rangers should be looking for another starter, even as they prepare to open camp.

Twelve pitchers started games for the Rangers in 2015, a group that included Wandy Rodriguez (15 starts) and Ross Detweiler (7). A slimmer, surgically repaired Colby Lewis should help, as will Martin Perez. But another, back-of-the-order arm seems necessary.

Like Cliff Lee, the hero of the Rangers’ 2010 World Series season. Lee is said to be home in Arkansas, waiting for the phone to ring after only starting 13 games over the past two seasons.

The left-hander was diagnosed with a torn flexor tendon in his pitching elbow last March and sat out the 2015 season. He elected not to have surgery, but reportedly was given medical clearance to resume throwing two months ago.

It’s been variously reported that Lee, 37, was originally seeking a one-year deal worth $6 million-8 million with a contender. Thus, he’s still waiting for the phone to ring, and his price is expected to drop.

If he gets to the $5 million range, why shouldn’t the Rangers call? The deal can be laced with incentives and make-goods, and the Rangers certainly qualify as a contender.

Lee knows how to pitch, and I’d wager that he will be savvy enough to know how to pitch after two years of resting his elbow. The upside could be huge.

Lee likely wouldn’t help in April, but every game counts.

The Rangers are contenders again. They should be thinking like one.

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