Rangers hurlers in search of elusive hardware
In 40-year club history, no pitcher has won AL Cy Young Award
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Over the past 40 years, Rangers players have won six American League Most Valuable Player Awards, 35 Gold Gloves and 31 Silver Slugger trophies. But no pitcher has ever won the AL Cy Young Award."Really?" pitcher Matt Harrison said. "That's interesting. I'd love to be the first one." "Never? I didn't know that," left-hander Derek Holland said. "That's always a goal of mine ... to win the Cy Young Award. It would take a lot of hard work, though, because there are a lot of good pitchers out there." The Tampa Bay Rays have some good pitchers, too, but they and the Rangers remain the only two teams without a Cy Young winner in club history. The Rangers have been going at it much longer than the Rays. The only Texas pitcher to finish in the top three in voting was Ferguson Jenkins in 1974, when the right-hander was second to Jim "Catfish" Hunter of the Athletics. C.J. Wilson finished sixth last season, the first Rangers pitcher to be listed since Aaron Sele finished fifth and John Wetteland finished sixth in 1999.
"We're working on it," said pitching coach Mike Maddux, whose brother Greg won four Cy Young Awards in the National League.The only pitcher in the Texas clubhouse to receive votes for a Cy Young Award was reliever Joe Nathan, who was fourth in 2004 and sixth in '06 as the Twins' closer. But what the Rangers do have are five pitchers who have won at least 13 games in a season, an All-Star closer -- Neftali Feliz -- moving into the rotation and new addition Yu Darvish, who won the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award back in 2007. As club president Nolan Ryan said, "One of the exciting things about this team is we have some young pitchers who I don't think have hit their ceiling yet." So maybe this is the year the Rangers finally bring home that elusive trophy. "It's possible," right-hander Colby Lewis said. "Why wouldn't there by a Cy Young winner in this clubhouse? You never know until we finish the season. You just have to have opportunity and luck on your side. Every one of these guys have talent. You look at Feliz -- if he comes out throwing 95-100 mph every night, he could win it." So what would it take? How about at least 20 wins, 200 strikeouts and an ERA of under 3.00? Of the past 16 AL Cy Young winners, 11 were 20-game winners, 12 struck out at least 200 batters and 11 had an ERA under 3.00. The Rangers have boasted just three 20-game winners in franchise history, and the last was Rick Helling in 1998. Wilson's 2.94 ERA in 2011 was the seventh lowest in franchise history and the first under 3.00 since Ryan in 1991. Wilson's 206 strikeouts were also the most by a Rangers pitcher since Ryan struck out 232 in 1990. That was the second of three straight seasons in which Ryan led the league in strikeouts. "That's what I want to do," Holland said. "I want to win a Cy Young, be a 20-game winner, win the ERA title. That's what all starters want to do." How about a pitcher who makes 36 starts, pitches 225 innings, goes 18-5 with a 2.34 ERA, 198 strikeouts and an opponents batting average of .176? That's what Lewis' numbers would look like over 36 starts if he were able to duplicate his postseason work over a full season in the Majors. Lewis may not win a Cy Young Award, especially if Justin Verlander has another lights-out season, but it would certainly put him among the elite pitchers in the AL.
Over the past two years, Lewis has averaged a 13-11 record with a 4.06 ERA, 200 innings pitched, 182 strikeouts and an opponents batting average of .236. His postseason work, however, is what really stands out."The postseason is a different animal," Lewis said. "I really don't try to dissect that. I don't think my mindset is different or I do anything different than I do any other game." Maybe it's that coolness and experience under pressure that's the reason why manager Ron Washington is likely to peg Lewis as his Opening Day starter. Washington is a believer in having a No. 1 starter, and right now, Lewis is that person for the Rangers. "A No. 1 starter means he's the guy who usually takes on the No. 1 starter on the other team," Washington said. "He's not fazed by the fact that he's facing a No. 1 starter. He's also the guy that when a team is struggling, he steps in and picks it up." Lewis has done that in some big moments for the Rangers in the playoffs. He may not be the most overpowering pitcher on the staff, but he commands respect among the others, and that's another reason why he is being considered the leader of the rotation. "I love how he is not scared," Holland said. "He may not throw 98, but when the ball comes out of his hand, he pretty much says, 'Here it is, try and hit it.' He's not scared or intimidated." The other starters don't have Lewis' experience, but as Ryan pointed out, they have significant upside. Holland and Harrison are a couple of young left-handers who can throw in the mid-90s and combined to win 30 games last year. Alexi Ogando may get pushed to the bullpen because of the addition of Darvish, but the right-hander was an All-Star as a starter last season. Ogando struggled in the second half, but he was 9-3 with a 2.92 ERA in 17 starts before the break. The Rangers still don't know about Feliz, but he may have the most talent of any pitcher in camp if he can develop his offspeed pitches. "I like the makeup of our rotation," Maddux said. "We have a chance to win every night. You don't have that letdown from one to five. I love the balance that we have." The Rangers' rotation has talent, they have youth on their side and they have balance. All that's missing is that one big trophy. Maybe their starters ought to take up that now-famous slogan from two years ago: "It's Time." "The goal is still to win the World Series, not individual goals," Harrison said. "Winning a Cy Young would be really nice, but my goal is to help this team win the World Series."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Postcards from Elysian Fields, and follow him on Twitter @Sullivan_Ranger. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.