Gil LeBreton

Texas Rangers’ starting rotation still can’t count to five

Jeremy Guthrie had a rough sixth inning against the Rockies on Monday, giving up a two-out single, then back-to-back home runs.
Jeremy Guthrie had a rough sixth inning against the Rockies on Monday, giving up a two-out single, then back-to-back home runs.

The Texas Rangers have the “Help Wanted” sign plainly in sight.

But another spring training day brought another disappointment Monday afternoon.

Is somebody going to claim the pitching rotation’s No. 5 starter role or not?

Veteran Jeremy Guthrie was the latest to spill gravy on his job application.

Entering Monday’s game against the Colorado Rockies in the sixth inning, Guthrie gave up a two-out single to career minor leaguer Jackson Williams and then back-to-back home runs to Gerardo Parra and Cristhian Adames.

Guthrie’s pitching line when it was all over showed three innings, five hits, five runs (three earned) and one strikeout.

“Obviously, today was not an outing that I wanted,” Guthrie assessed after the game. “I didn’t throw the ball well. I would have liked to have had much better results with better execution.”

Trying to piece together one more chapter in his 13-year major league career after a miserable 2015 season, Guthrie has not been drawing rave reviews for his progress.

He’s had his moments — he did pitch a scoreless eighth inning Monday in the Rangers’ 9-6 loss — but his spring training body of work has yet to resemble the Guthrie of, say, 2013, when he won 15 games.

Guthrie has started 272 games in his big-league career and thrown 1,764 innings. He knows what the stakes are as camp heads toward its final week.

The candidates for the fifth starter spot — mostly Guthrie, Chi Chi Gonzalez and Nick Martinez — need to start getting people consistently out.

“I always pitch trying to get outs, whether I’m in ‘competition’ for a position or preparing for a season,” said Guthrie, who turns 37 in three weeks.

“To me, the approach is the same. It’s getting people out and executing pitches. I’m not trying just to get reps or win a job. I’m trying to execute pitches.”

Gonzalez and Martinez, alas, have been no less inconsistent. Gonzalez has started three exhibition games and has allowed opponents a .343 batting average while striking out nobody. Martinez has pitched 11 innings in Cactus League games and allowed 11 earned runs.

It won’t be enough this year to shrug that it’s only the No. 5 starter and whoever it is will be confined to a cameo role.

When presented Monday with that disclaimer, manager Jeff Banister responded with a valid explanation of why this year, especially after last year, it wouldn’t be prudent to start the season 8-16.

“Here’s the deal,” Banister began before launching into a discussion of off days (there are only two in April this season) and rest days.

“I think it’s important that we find the best fifth starter option that we have, so that it protects our bullpen and gives us an opportunity to win ballgames.

“The last thing we want to do is dig ourselves a hole like we did last year. You can do it once, but to ask your ballclub to do it twice is a great challenge. And it’s not how we want to start.”

Harking back to how the franchise treated some previous Aprils, Banister said, “I wouldn’t think it would be an extended tryout, no.”

By now one of the pitching candidates should have gripped his teeth around the No. 5 job with few signs of letting go.

Instead, there was Banister after Monday’s loss, rendering a polite, but not glowing assessment of Guthrie’s performance.

“I did like the mix of pitches,” Banister said. “The velocity was up to 92 mph. So, there’s something there to work with.

“He has a wealth of experience. But even with experience, you’ve still got to be able to execute pitches.”

The No. 5 starting job, therefore, remains wide open as camp heads toward its final days.

If the Rangers learned anything last season, it’s that the April games count just as much as the September ones.

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