Young makes debut at first base
Michael Young made his spring training debut at first base Monday afternoon in Texas’ 12-11 win over Kansas City.
Young, who played at third yesterday in place of an injured Adrian Beltre, played first base for the first time in his career. Chris Davis, who has been both a first baseman and a DH in his time at the major league level, started at third.
Young didn’t get much action, just one play through four innings, but being out there and adjusting to the feel of a new position (in nearly 30 years of playing organized baseball not once has Young played first base) today and in the next month or so of spring training will go a long way when it comes time for Young to possibly play the position in the regular season.
The quick injury of Beltre proves that Young’s at-bats won’t diminish at all in his new role. He’ll get the majority of the starts at DH and when Texas’ infielders get hurt or banged up, which they will, or simply need a day off, Young will fill in where necessary.
Young is aging but one of his trademark qualities as a ballplayer has been his durability. He’s played in more than 155 games in eight of his nine full major league seasons and has led the Rangers in hits in each of those years. Don’t be surprised if he does both again in 2011.
Lewis all about stability
Second-year Ranger Colby Lewis started Monday against the Royals and threw two scoreless innings of no-hit ball with only one walk. ESPN.com’s Jeff Caplan made a good point in a blog entry earlier today regarding how C.J. Wilson and Lewis stack up against each other.
Basically, Caplan’s argument was if you were to consider Wilson the Rangers’ number one starter then Lewis can’t be far behind and should be viewed as sort of a 1A starter in the Texas rotation.
Have to agree with Caplan here.
Lewis started last year as Texas’ number three starter and as Scott Feldman and Rich Harden began to both struggle and get injured, he suddenly became the anchor of an AL West-leading pitching staff prior.
Lewis began to struggle in the second half of 2010 but he carried Texas April through June and entered July with a 3.06 ERA before the acquisition of Cliff Lee.
Two reasons why Ranger fans should expect more from Lewis than Wilson in 2011:
1) Lewis is more of a pure starter than Wilson in the sense that he had success in the minor leagues, had trouble in the major leagues, left America for Japan then worked his way back into an MLB starting rotation all as a starter. Whether he’s pitching good or bad, his mindset stays the same and his composure stays intact because he’s fallen to the lowest of lows and knows there’s always going to be a way to find success again.
Wilson, though, c
ame up as a reliever. He’s a hard-throwing, lefty who as a setup man relied on emotion, sometimes a little too much. Of course, in 2010 this was never really an issue partly because Wilson realized as a starter he’d have to take a different mental approach and partly because he never ran in to much adversity. He went 15-8 with a team-leading 3.35 ERA and threw 204 innings without getting hurt or overly fatigued. Not many guys have years like that in their careers much less having one as their first year starting after being in the bullpen his whole career. It’ll be interesting to see how Wilson responds to adversity in 2011.
2) Innings, innings, innings. Lewis threw 176 innings in 2009 as a member of the Hiroshima Carp of the Japan League. Because of the longer MLB season, his innings rose a bit to 201 last year but still, that increase wasn’t even close to Wilson’s spike in innings. In 2009, Wilson threw 73.2 innings as a reliever but last year, as a fulltime starter, he threw 204 innings, a 131 inning increase. The Texas front office and coaching staff is fully aware of this and they’ll make sure Wilson is on the right throwing program to prevent any injury or fatigue.
Still, though, every pitcher in baseball is on a program to prevent injury and fatigue and guys still get hurt.
Just ask Adam Wainwright and the Cardinals.
Borbon struggles in the field, but is backed by his manager
Outfielder Julio Borbon, who was recently named the opening day starter at center field by manager Ron Washington, has played two spring training games at his newly-won position and has already made two errors.
The 25-year-old, who played his first full season in the major leagues last year, missed a fly ball Sunday and let a grounder go under his glove Monday afternoon.
Washington, though, still fully backs Borbon, telling Jeff Caplan “He’s my centerfielder.”
Smart call on Washington’s part. Any time a guy wins a job, especially a younger player like Borbon, then comes out and doesn’t perform right away, criticism will usually start to fly. Borbon, more than anything, needs confidence from his coaching staff and teammates. And obviously, he’s getting it.
Plus, Borbon is by far Texas’ best option in centerfield. Josh Hamilton may be the better, more experience fielder but the Rangers know playing him in center holds too high of a risk for injury. The only other option would be David Murphy. Murphy may be a bit better than Borbon at the plate, but sometimes he can be a liability in centerfield because he doesn’t have the speed to track down line drives like Borbon can.
Forget the early errors. Borbon is Texas’ best bet in centerfield.
Let the arms race begin
The next few days will be the beginning of what should be an interesting race for the last three spots in the rotation. Matt Harrison will start tomorrow, Tommy Hunter will start Wednesday and Derek Holland and Neftali Feliz will each get work Thursday.
Obviously, the top two spots in the rotation are essentially locked up by Wilson and Lewis. Hunter pitched well last season going 13-4 with a 3.73 ERA in 22 starts so if he has a decent spring, he should seal up the third spot in the rotation.
But after that, it should get interesting.
By all accounts, the Texas front office wants Holland to make the rotation as the number four starter. He came up to the big leagues in 2009 and has been up and down ever since. He was groomed as a starter in the minor leagues and as a lefty whose fastball stays around 93 mph, he’s be the perfect addition to the rotation. Still, though, he has to prove he can be more t
han just a great one day, bad the next kind of pitcher. Consistency is what Texas will be looking for out of Holland.
Who is given the final spot in the rotation might be one of the most important, and consequential decisions Texas makes all season. Right now, it looks as if it is going to come down to one of three pitchers: Brandon Webb, Neftali Feliz, or Matt Harrison.
Ideally, Webb would stay healthy, pitch well, and earn the spot by opening day. That would bolster the Ranger bullpen by sending Harrison into a middle relief role and allowing Feliz to stay in the closer’s role.
But Webb hasn’t pitched in nearly two years so there’s no guarantee he’ll be ready by April to be an effective major league starter again. So, if Webb can’t get ready, the decision will come down to either Feliz or Harrison.
Let’s hope Harrison can win the job.
If he does, Texas can keep one of the best closers in the American League in a weakened bullpen. If Feliz has to come out of the bullpen, then either Darren O’Day, Tanner Scheppers, or Alexi Ogando will have to be the new closer. Scheppers has yet to see big league action, O’day fits more into a setup role, and Ogando, as good as he was in 2010, still might have not seen enough MLB innings to be able to step in and be the fulltime starter.