2/26/2013 7:25 P.M. ET
Rangers prepared to round out rotation in house
By T.R. Sullivan / MLB.com
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- The Rangers have made it through one turn of their spring rotation. Yu Darvish started for the Rangers on Tuesday and set down six straight hitters in his first Cactus League game.
He will be followed by Alexi Ogando, who will start at 2:05 p.m. CT on Wednesday against the White Sox, and Derek Holland, who pitches on Thursday against the Indians in his final outing before leaving for the World Baseball Classic. Randy Wells, one of several pitchers competing for the fifth-starter spot, is scheduled to start on Friday.
Nobody knows when Kyle Lohse is scheduled to pitch. Lohse remains a free agent, and there are no signs that the Rangers are trying to sign him. But he was a 16-game winner for the Cardinals in 2012 and club officials said they're keeping an eye on his situation as the spring progresses.
Right now, the Rangers are not inclined to act on anything, even though Lohse's asking price may be dropping and the club has the financial flexibility to make a major addition.
General manager Jon Daniels said Tuesday "nothing has changed" in the Rangers' position toward Lohse. They are not involved at this point and are not engaged in talks with his agent, Scott Boras.
One reason for the Rangers' reluctance is they would forfeit their first-round pick in the 2013 First-Year Draft if they signed Lohse. The Rangers aren't inclined to do that, especially since they are getting good news from Colby Lewis in his recovery from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. The Rangers believe there is a good chance he could return to the rotation sometime in May.
Darvish's outing was the most impressive performance by a Rangers starter this spring. Relying on a fastball that was clocked at 96 mph, Darvish struck out two of the six batters faced. He threw 28 pitches, 16 for strikes.
"Compared to last year, my comfort level is very high," Darvish said. "Physically, I feel a lot better. It isn't complete yet, but overall I feel pretty good."
The outing reinforced the prevailing theory in camp that says Darvish is more comfortable in his second Major League camp, and that could play a big part in improving upon what was a solid rookie season.
"He's just been a part of things," manager Ron Washington said. "It's been a very relaxing spring for him. He doesn't stand out as much as last year, and that's a good thing. He blends in with his teammates more, and that should help. What I see more of this spring than last year at this time is he's commanding the ball better. That's because he doesn't have to impress people as much."
The Rangers are expecting a smooth spring from Darvish, Matt Harrison and Holland. They are also expecting Ogando to move back into the rotation, although he struggled in his first Cactus League appearance, allowing three runs on two hits and two walks in 1 1/3 innings against the Royals on Friday.
The Rangers are eager to see Ogando sharpen his breaking pitch and develop the necessary changeup that would allow him to more effective as a starter. But Rangers officials stress they are committed to Ogando being moved to the rotation even if early spring returns continue to be shaky.
The most impressive fifth-starter candidates through the first turn were Martin Perez and Robbie Ross. Both threw two scoreless innings, and Washington said he is seeing Ross pitch the way he did in the first half of last season when he was a rookie reliever. Ross had a 0.95 ERA before the All-Star break and a 5.60 ERA afterward.
"His aggressiveness is back, which he lost in the second half," Washington said. "His command of his [cut fastball] is back, which he lost in the second half. He's using his changeup more and he's starting to use his slider. He has to rely on more pitches because he's trying to be a starter. He wants to be a starter and he's doing everything he can to win that spot."
Kyle McClellan's fifth-starter bid is on hold while he's dealing with muscle soreness in the back of his right shoulder, and Justin Grimm is off to a rough start. But the Rangers have been pleased with Wells. The former Cubs starter is described as a "pitch-maker" who knows how to keep the ball down and change speeds.
The Rangers are only forming early impressions of what they have for a rotation. There is still a month left in Spring Training and 33 games left to play before final evaluations are made.
But at this point, the Rangers believe they have enough in camp to put together a rotation that could be a strength for them this season no matter which way they go on the fifth starter.
The Rangers just have to keep in mind Lewis may be back in May but not as effective as he once was, that the young kids ultimately may show they need more time in the Minors, that Ross is needed more in the bullpen and that Ogando may not make a seamless transition back to the rotation.
These are things to consider over the next month and are why the Rangers ponder whether Lohse would be worth both the financial investment and the loss of a potentially valuable draft pick. The Rangers also know their first-round draft picks from the past 10 years included pitchers Thomas Diamond, Eric Hurley, Kasey Kiker, Michael Main and Matt Purke. None are currently in the organization.
The Rangers have survived lost draft picks before. As long as Lohse remains unsigned, any club with a rotation that's not completely set still has to at least monitor the situation.
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.