Over the last two MLB seasons, no team in baseball has played more games than the Texas Rangers. Many of the members of the Rangers in 2012 were also Rangers in 2010 and Rangers in 2011. Among those members are Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando, and Neftali Feliz. All four of these pitchers find themselves on the disabled list this year. Also joining them on the disabled list are two more bullpen arms – Mark Lowe (a Ranger since July 2010) and Koji Uehara (in Texas since July 2011). Much has been discussed about the Rangers fighting through so many injuries ransacking the roster at once, but little attention has been given to the silver lining that may come out of these disabled list stints.
Now, the health of the Rangers pitching staff has regressed to the mean, and did so in a rather abrupt way. The Rangers opened the year with a 12-man pitching staff. Six of those have been on the DL at the same time for the last two weeks, and some before that too. Going through that kind of stretch is never desirable, but in baseball, sometimes those things just happen. The Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees are having similar issues this year.
Lewis reached 200 innings pitched each of the last two years, plus an additional 50 postseason innings. Holland’s 198 innings in 2011 were well beyond his previous career high, and he tacked on another 25 innings in the playoffs. Ogando had never pitched as a starter, and in 2011 he threw 169 innings, with another 13 appearances as a reliever during the Rangers playoff run. This year is the first year Feliz has attempted starting pitching at the major league level, and despite a full offseason of conditioning for the role, there are doubts regarding his ability to endure a full season.
Last year, Ogando and Matt Harrison showed definite signs of fatigue as the season drew to an end. That fatigue carried over to their playoff performance as well. Ogando moved to the bullpen, and was nearly untouchable in the first two rounds of the playoffs, but in his last two innings pitched in the World Series he walked seven batters. Harrison never recorded an out in the 6th inning of any of his playoff starts.
The Rangers management has known all year that they need to be conscious of their pitcher’s workloads. Every starting pitcher has had a start skipped for the sole purpose of getting him extra rest. Now, all of the Rangers pitchers who are on the disabled list are getting a forced break in the middle of the season. Despite the hardship it brings to the team to not be fully staffed, the extra rest may pay dividends if the Rangers are able to make another deep playoff run.
Obviously, these injuries would be much more difficult to spin in a positive light if the Rangers’ performance had dipped significantly because of them, but that has not been the case. Yes, there have been some stinkers thrown by Scott Feldman and now Roy Oswalt, but in the end all that matters is winning. The Rangers were 25-16 before they put Feliz on the disabled list. They are 25-17 since. Timing is a big part of that, as a soft interleague schedule came at just the right time, but there is no need to look a gift horse in the mouth. Wins are wins. The lead in the AL West was five games when Feliz hit the DL, and as of today it is at four games. The division lead has been three games or greater since April 17th.
Another big component of whether or not these injuries actually do end up helping the club is dependent on how each pitcher performs upon his return. If all goes according to plan, having half of the pitching staff rejoin the club in midseason may have the same kind of shot-in-the-arm effect that a July trade can have. Jon Daniels alluded to the same idea last week. The Rangers will still turn over every stone in the trade market, but they’re not in a position where they have a clear need in their pitching staff like they have each of the last two years. The beginning of those reinforcements will begin this weekend, as Holland returns to the mound on Saturday.
The last three seasons of Rangers baseball have been hugely successful, but also immensely educational. The Rangers, and their fans, have learned firsthand the importance of the bullpen, the bench, and now of health. This young staff has grown up a lot in two and a half seasons, and I believe this year is better prepared than ever for a deep playoff run. The current injuries to the staff are a speed bump along the road to that goal, but in the end might just be a blessing in disguise.