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Bullpen arm turned starter: Will it work for Rangers?

Photo: Julie Fennell/Flickr

Bullpen arm turned starter: Will it work for Rangers?

The Texas Rangers are entering this spring with more questions than answers when it comes to their starting rotation.  As of right now, the plan seems to be going with a six man rotation to start the season.  Two of the most prominent candidates for those spots as a starter did not start a single game last season: Matt Bush and offseason acquisition Mike Minor.

In two seasons as a reliever for the Rangers, Bush has been a mix of absolutely dominant and downright shaky.   In 2016, Bush had a fastball that seem to blast right by everyone he faced as he posted a .94 WHIP and only walked 14 batters in just over 61 innings.  Things were a bit different in 2017 he fared worse in nearly each statistical category as the Rangers bullpen as a whole went from a perceived strength to an unquestionable weakness.

Mike Minor came up as a starting pitcher in the Atlanta Braves system and logged 110 career starts in Atlanta before missing all of 2015 and 2016 because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder.  Upon his return to the majors in 2017, the Royals (With whom he signed with before the 2016 season) trotted him out as a relief pitcher.  Minor did not disappoint as he posted a 1.017 WHIP over 65 relief appearances.

Both Bush and Minor got their chances at first impressions as a starter this week in different Spring Training games.

Matt Bush logged two scoreless innings in Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies.

Mike Minor didn’t fare quite as well.  He lasted 1 and 2/3 innings while giving up three runs on three hits and three walks on Monday against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

It seems that both are virtually a lock for the Opening Day starting rotation unless they have insane struggles or injury come up between now and March 29th when the Rangers open the season against the World Series champion Houston Astros.

While Bush has only one career start at the minor league level to fall back on, it was back in 2010, he has pitched in so many high leverage situations for Texas over the past two seasons.  That includes logging 3 and 2/3 innings back in the intense 2016 ALDS against the Toronto Blue Jays.  His experience in those situations will only help him as the team begins rely on him to get those extra outs to get out of jams earlier in games.

Even though it’s been three plus seasons since his last regular season start, Mike Minor has a very solid track record as a major league starter.  In his 110 career starts, he has a 4.10 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP in over 610 innings, including 204 innings and a 1.04 WHIP in 2013.  While far from perfect, he’s now at the age of 30 and is coming off his most dominant major league season, albeit as a reliever.

The way the Rangers have constructed their starting rotation ahead of the 2018 season is leaving a lot of fans with doubts, but the potential for a stroke of genius is definitely there for the front office and coaching staff.  Besides staff ace Cole Hamels making $22.5 million this season, the other five Rangers rotation candidates (Bush, Minor, Martin Perez, Matt Moore and Doug Fister) make a collective $27.3 million this season.  If even just a few of these guys pitch above expectations, it will have been a great way to allocate funds for Texas.  If they don’t, the Rangers have team options on Hamels, Moore,  Perez and Fister for 2019.  So while many fans went up in arms when the front office and ownership didn’t hand out five year/$100 million plus contracts to questionable long-term investments like former Ranger Yu Darvish or former Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta (both seemingly on the slight decline), the Rangers have control over the vast majority of their rotation for a low price and for however long they want them.

At this odd time in the team’s trajectory, it’s the right way to approach a building what can tend to be costly: a starting rotation.  The Rangers are being cautious but have surely valid research and scouting that backs up why they opted to gamble on the likes of Bush, Minor, Fister and Moore.  Hell, let’s throw in Bartolo Colon if we want to.  Every conversation gets a little more exciting if he’s in it.

C.J. Wilson and Alexi Ogando would surely endorse this kind of move to the rotation for Bush and Minor as they were both All Stars in their first or second season as a reliever-turned-starter for the Rangers back during the two World Series seasons.  While neither exactly finished with Hall of Fame resumes as starters, they were more than solid for multiple seasons.  That’s really all an organization can ask for each season.

The rotation may remain as much of a mystery going into the season as it is now, but there’s reason for cautious optimism with the likes of Matt Bush and Mike Minor in the fray.

Photo courtesy of Julie Flinell on Flickr.

Born and raised in Dallas, I received my Bachelor's Degree from the University of North Texas in 2014 after majoring in Radio/TV/Film. I'm a lover of all sports and support every DFW team. I also announce high school sporting events for many DFW schools for "Friday Night Glory." Married with a wife and two wonderful kids. They know they have games to watch every night.

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