Ogando's resilience paying off for Rangers
Reliever-turned-starter overcomes life mistakes to thrive
Before he was a savior to the Texas bullpen in 2010 and the rotation in 2011, Ogando was a pawn in a human-trafficking scheme in the Dominican. He was still an outfielder in the lower levels of the Oakland system back in 2005, when he agreed to be paid to marry a woman to get her into the United States. It was part of a wide-ranging scandal -- Rangers right-hander Omar Beltre, who is currently on the disabled list after spinal surgery, was also involved -- that had caught the attention of the U.S. embassy. "They didn't know what they were getting involved in and the consequences," said Charisse Espinosa-Dash, who represents both Ogando and Beltre. "They were promised that nothing was going to happen to them. They were promised payments that were never received. They were inexperienced. They thought they were just helping someone."
|"When we saw how sincere they were to rectify the mistakes they made, we were willing to stand behind them. We felt they paid for their mistakes appropriately."|
-- Rangers assistant GM Thad Levine|
on Alexi Ogando and Omar Beltre
With no legal obstacles in his way, Ogando could put all his focus into pitching. He reached the big leagues last June and was a major spark to the relief corps of a Rangers team that ran away with the American League West, en route to the organization's first World Series appearance. But with Cliff Lee gone and questions aplenty in the rotation outlook for 2011, Ogando made it clear to his club where he felt he belonged. While the possibility of the team converting closer Neftali Feliz into a starter gained national attention and interest, Ogando was the one viewed internally as the best candidate for a starting slot, in part because of his sheer desire for the role. "I had a conversation with him toward the tail end of camp," Espinosa-Dash recalled, "and he said, 'Please tell them I want to open. I really want to open.'" Hunter's injury created an opening, and Ogando, despite having little preparation for the assignment and virtually no experience as a starter, was given a shot. This, unlike that 2006 experiment, was no whim. Ogando showed real signs this spring that his secondary pitches were sharp enough to allow him to work multiple innings and remain effective. "What we saw in Spring Training was progress every inning," pitching coach Mike Maddux said. "Last year, coming out of the 'pen, it was all stuff. But this spring, he started actually making pitches. That pretty much sold everybody that, 'My God, he's actually kinda getting it.'" What's notable about Ogando's first two starts -- beyond the obvious eye-catching statistics -- is that his stuff and his focus have been maintained late. He's using his breaking ball effectively, and he's repeating his deceptive delivery. The Rangers once viewed this as a temporary fix before Ogando goes back to the setup role. But two starts in, it's beginning to look like a long-term fit. Additionally, the loss of reigning AL MVP Award winner Josh Hamilton for six to eight weeks will reshape the offense, and put more focus on the upside Ogando brings to the rotation. "Will this continue where he ain't gonna lose a game? No way," Washington said. "Will he go out one day and get his butt whipped? Yes, he will. But then, when he gets his butt whipped, all I want to see is how he reacts to it. And knowing him, he's going to come back the next time and do exactly what he did before. That's the character he has." Besides, no setbacks Ogando endures could be more challenging than the visa issues that once stood before him. "I never gave up," he said. "I always thought I was going to get the visa to get here and do my job."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his columns and his blog, CastroTurf, and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.