Rangers finalize deal with righty Lewis
Pitcher returns to compete for spot after two years in Japan
ARLINGTON -- The Rangers believe they have found a third starter for the rotation.
Texas officially announced on Tuesday the signing of pitcher Colby Lewis to a two-year deal worth $5 million with the intention of him being a part of a rotation that already includes Scott Feldman and Rich Harden."We expect Colby to be one of five in our Opening Day rotation," Daniels said at Tuesday's news conference. Lewis rejoins the Rangers after spending two successful seasons in Japan pitching for the Hiroshima Carp. He was 26-17 with a 2.82 ERA over the past two seasons and twice led the Central League in strikeouts. In 354 1/3 innings, he struck out 369 and walked just 46. Lewis was the Rangers' first pick (38th overall) in the 1999 First-Year Player Draft and pitched for them from 2002-04. "This was not the development program we had in mind," Daniels said. "It may be a little different path, but he has had a lot of success and a lot of experiences that make us feel that Colby will be a strong addition to our staff." Lewis, who had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff in 2004, was 12-15 with a 6.71 ERA in 72 games, including 34 starts, in the Major Leagues with the Rangers, Tigers and Athletics before going to Japan in 2008. The Rangers expect to see a different pitcher this time around. Lewis said he does not throw as hard as he did before the surgery. Instead of 95-97 mph, he is around 91-93 most of the time. But he is a more complete pitcher with a larger repertoire. He still throws a curveball but has added a slider, cut-fastball and the elusive changeup that he was missing when he first pitched for the Rangers. He also knows how to sink his fastball. "Being able to command all of my pitches is big," Lewis said. "I take pride in being able to command my fastball and make them put the ball in play." The strikeouts-to-walk ratio is huge. As a Major Leaguer, Lewis walked 5.1 batters per nine innings and had a 1.25 strikeouts-to-walk-ratio. In Japan, he walked 1.2 batters per nine innings and had an 8.02 strikeouts-to-walk ratio. The highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the Majors last season was 5.94, by Roy Halladay. In the past 40 years, only six pitchers have ever had an 8.0 or better strikeouts-to-walk ratio in a single season. "When I was young, I didn't have command of the strike zone," Lewis said. "I tried to throw the ball by everybody. I don't know if you ever master the art of pitching, but I'm able to take a little bit off my pitches, sink the ball. For me, it's all about being able to locate pitches where you want to locate them. I've done that the past couple of years." Lewis, who was a free agent after two years in Japan, agreed to a base salary of $1.75 million in 2010 and a $3 million salary for 2011. The Rangers have a $3.25 million option for 2012 with a $250,000 buyout. That seems to be a bargain for a pitcher coming out of Japan. The Red Sox had to pay a $51 million posting fee to Seibu Lions just to have the chance to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006. He then signed a six-year, $52 million deal with the Red Sox. Matsuzaka was 31-18 with a 2.22 ERA in his final two years in Japan. Last year the Dodgers signed Hiroki Kuroda to a three-year $35.3 million contract out of Japan. He was 25-14 with a 2.68 ERA in his last two years over there. Kenshin Kawakami was 21-13 with a 3.04 ERA in 2007-2008 in Japan and received three years and $23 million from the Braves. "That was behind our thought process," Daniels said. "We feel this is the type of risk we should be taking. We know the makeup, we know the person, we spent a lot of time watching him. There's no doubt we were in a position to make this acquisition because of the work our scouts have done over there developing a foundation. They understood what it took to acquire one of these guys." The biggest difference is Lewis struggled in the United States before going to Japan. That may have sent up a red flag, but the Pirates, Twins, Athletics and Yankees were all interested. With the addition of Lewis to go with Feldman and Harden, the Rangers have two spots left in the rotation. The leading candidates are Tommy Hunter, Derek Holland, Brandon McCarthy and Matt Harrison. Doug Mathis and Dustin Nippert are also candidates but will more likely be competing for spots in the bullpen. The Rangers have also discussed the possibility of giving left-handed reliever C.J. Wilson and right-hander Neftali Feliz a chance to win a spot in the rotation. But signing Lewis gives them more of a compelling reason to keep them in the bullpen. "Guys who don't make the rotation might be in the bullpen or they might be in [Triple-A] Oklahoma City," Daniels said. "One of the designs of this ballclub is to have as much depth as possible in the pitching staff." The Rangers were among the teams that scouted Ben Sheets during a Tuesday workout in Monroe, La. But given the high interest in Sheets and the Rangers' limited financial situation, it's unlikely at this point they will be a big player in that market. The Rangers, for the most part, are likely done for the winter. "I don't think you'll see us have another press conference for awhile," Daniels said. Hunter, who was 9-6 with a 4.10 ERA in 19 starts, has an inside track for one spot, according to Daniels. "We just want to see Tommy to continue to make strides," Daniels said. Holland was 6-12 with a 6.23 ERA in his 21 starts for the Rangers and was in the rotation at the end of the season. "He has a good chance of making the rotation...just like the other guys," Daniels said. "We love Derek Holland. He showed a lot of promise last year and made a lot of strikes. If he continues to improve the way we feel he can. He's going to make a lot of starts for us over a lot of years." Both Harrison and McCarthy were in the Rangers rotation at the beginning of last year but had their seasons cut short by injuries. Harrison was 4-5 with a 6.11 ERA in 11 starts before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. McCarthy was 7-4 with a 4.62 ERA in 17 starts while missing three months with a stress fracture in his right shoulder blade.
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.