Welcome to the world of rebuilding, everyone!
Heading into Spring Training, the highest attribute for this starting rotation was “experimental”. Three of the five starters came off Tommy John Surgery, and it was unpredictable to project if the Rangers found more diamonds in the dirt. Six weeks later, things look a little bleak with the starting five, but the experiment remains.
The Rangers handed Mike Minor the “ace” badge, and he’s worn it with pride. In his eight starts in 2019, Minor pitched three scoreless starts, a complete game shutout, and is on pace for his lowest WHIP (1.043) and ERA (2.68) in his career as a starter. After a rough opening day start, Minor is back on track and resembles what the Braves saw when they drafted him.
Lance Lynn is an unusual case. The overall numbers mislead the viewer and don’t present the overall season and improvements Lynn made this season. In Lance’s eight starts, he’s given up five or more runs three times with a seven-run outing to open against the Cubs and an eight-run outing in Oakland. However, in four of his eight starts, Lynn went six or more innings with three or fewer runs.
In Friday’s start against a robust Astros lineup, Lynn limited the destruction to three solo home runs. After the game, Lynn liked his pitch selection in the Robinson Chirinos at-bat, resulting in one of the three home runs. Chirinos flicked an 83 MPH off-speed pitch on the lower outside corner to right field that snuck past Nomar Mazara. After a stale 2018 with the Twins and Yankees, Lynn is showing progression as a full-time starter. He needs to avoid bad luck and command issues to see better results.
— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) May 11, 2019
Adrian Sampson got the next nod after Edinson Volquez went down, and Volquez’s future is still uncertain due to his elbow. Sampson has four starts under his belt in 2019 along with a couple of three-inning relief outings. Sampson’s last two outings occurred against the Pirates, one at home and one at Pittsburgh. In that home start, Sampson pitched a 5.2 inning masterpiece allowing five hits and five strikeouts. He was able to control both sides of the plate with all of his pitches, especially against a lefty-heavy Bucs lineup. However, his command abandoned him a week later, and the Pirates took advantage. For a pitcher like Sampson who doesn’t blow batters away with velocity, control is the key. His outing depends on if he can command both sides of the dish.
— FOX Sports Southwest (@FOXSportsSW) May 8, 2019
The main question the Rangers have is in the final two spots. Shelby Miller controls one of those rotation spots. However, it’s been a battle back and forth of consistency for Shelby, especially within the start. In his seven starts this season, Miller pitched into the fifth inning three times and walked five batters in two separate starts. The dilemma for Miller is the erratic control problems within an inning. In both starts against Pirates (last two), Miller cruised through the first three innings allowing only one hit in each game and striking out seven total. However, in the fourth inning on May 8th, Miller allowed three hits, a walk, and a Josh Bell river homer, Miller did not start the fifth inning. On May 1st, Shelby allowed four runs, three hits, and two walks. Miller only recorded one out in that fourth inning.
There’s speculation going around that in Miller’s next turn that the Rangers will use the game as a split start, or possibly an opener. The issue with that idea is that Shelby Miller’s struggles come within the second time around in the opposition’s lineup. Miller’s velocity is excellent, and his pitch arsenal is able to handle big league hitters. However, it’s the hitter adjustments that trouble Shelby and his command inconsistency. An opener doesn’t seem like it would benefit him unless you’re looking to reduce his pitch count.
Drew Smyly and Others
The latter speck of the rotation is unknown with Drew Smyly recovering from arm nerve tightness that placed him on the IL last month. After Friday’s loss to Houston, Chris Woodward announced that the Rangers will use an opener for Saturday, starting Jesse Chavez and then inserting Drew Smyly. It was a topic throughout Spring Training to help these pitchers, who missed significant time with Tommy John Surgery, build their arm back again.
The main question is can Smyly stay healthy enough to keep his spot in the rotation. Ariel Jurado is a primary candidate to take that fifth spot, with small starting experience last season. Jurado has pitched in eight innings this season. He hasn’t yielded an earned run (only run allowed scored on his throwing miscue, but wasn’t earned), and retired 24 of the 28 batters he’s faced. Kyle Dowdy is another name thrown into the mix. Dowdy made his first big league start, in an emergency role, on April 24 at Oakland. In that start against the Athletics, Dowdy went three innings and gave up three runs.
If you presented all of this data to me back in March, I’d be moderately impressed, in a positive way. The best trend to describe the projection of the Rangers rotation is “chaotic”. Moving players around, navigating through inconsistencies, it reminds me of watching Cheaper by the Dozen, the remake. With the trade deadline looming, more complications are on the horizon, if the Rangers decide to market Mike Minor. As a former Ranger manager would say regularly, “That’s the way baseball go.”
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