We start a 3 game series with the Rangers tonight. They are 20-21, which puts them 4th in the AL West, 5 games back of the A's. It is so rare that I feel happy to be in the AL East.
I sent some questions off to Adam J. Morris, manager of Lone Star Ball, SB Nation's very popular Rangers blog.
The Rangers aren’t off to a great start, why not? What’s different this year?
The biggest issue this year has been that the team hasn't been healthy -- Derek Holland hasn't pitched this year, Matt Harrison started the year on the d.l. and is now back on it, Yu Darvish started the year on the d.l., Martin Perez was awesome to start the year but now needs TJ surgery, Jurickson Profar hasn't played yet, Geovany Soto hasn't played yet, Adrian Beltre was on the d.l. Its been ridiculous. Aside from injuries, the offense hasn't been up to expectations, with Prince Fielder, in particular, having disappointed, and the team has gotten basically nothing offensively from second base and catcher (where they are missing, of course, Profar and Soto).
How are you enjoying our old friend JP Arencibia? What do you think of his defense? Has there been any off the field issues?
Arencibia hasn't hit, and his defense hasn't gotten good reviews. I wouldn't be shocked if he ends up getting dropped when Soto is healthy, as he's basically become the backup to Robinson Chirinos, who was supposed to be the third catcher waiting in AAA in case someone got hurt. No off the field incidents, other than he and Alex Rios getting together to change up the at bat music for all the hitters before a recent game, in an effort to get the bats going.
What are your thoughts on the Kinsler-Fielder trade? Why is Fielder having troubles?
Kinsler is one of my all time favorite Rangers, and on an emotional level, the trade was devastating. That being said, I understood why the deal was made, and why it made sense. The Rangers were rolling the dice that Fielder's 2013 season was an aberration, they desperately needed a power-hitting first baseman, and they really liked Fielder when they met with him while courting him as a free agent prior to the 2012 season. Fielder's problem this far is that he's not hitting the ball in the air often enough, and when he does hit the ball in the air, the ball isn't leaving the park enough. He has a career-low 30.2% fly ball rate, compared to 38.8% career, and a 7.9% HR/FB rate, compared to 18.9% for his career. The Rangers are paying him $24M this year and next year, and then $18M per year for five years after that, so the lack of production is very concerning.
Can you give us a scouting report on manager Ron Washington? Strengths/weaknesses?
Ron Washington is not considered a good in-game manager...he bunts a lot, hits and runs a lot, loves the squeeze play, and makes a fair amount of idiosyncratic decisions. The Rangers hired Tim Bogar as a bench coach in the hopes that he'd get more help on strategy, though I'm not sure how much difference there has been. But expect a lot of small ball from Wash.
And a scouting report on the starting pitchers we are likely to see? How should a team approach hitting off Darvish?
With Darvish, it comes down to if he's commanding his fastball. If he is commanding his fastball, he can be incredibly hard to hit, because he'll get ahead in the count and then make batters chase the slider...except when they think the slider is coming, and they lay off, and he ends up throwing a two strike fastball down the middle for a called strike three. When Darvish isn't commanding the fastball, he struggles to throw strikes, and will get away from it, throwing more breaking balls. The best thing with him is to be patient, hope he's struggling with his command, run his pitch count up, and look to jump on the fastball if he leaves it out over the plate.
Colby Lewis, who has turned into a high-80s command and location righty who is good for 5 innings and change per start, was scheduled to go Saturday, but it sounds like they may push him back a couple of days to get him some extra rest. If so, it will be Robbie Ross and Nick Martinez this weekend. Ross is a strike-throwing groundball lefty whose fastball has a natural cutting action, and who thus has had more success against righthanders. He was a starter in the minors, won a spot in the major league pen out of camp in 2012, pitched in relief in 2012 and 2013, and then won a spot in the depleted Ranger rotation this spring. He had a few good starts to start the season, but has really struggled his last few times out, and has been too hittable. Nick Martinez is an interesting story, a college second baseman who pitched a few innings in relief, who the Rangers drafted as a pitcher in the 18th round of the 2011 draft. He had 32 innings above A ball when he broke camp as the team's #5 starter this year, went back to the minors as a starter, then was brought back to the majors because of injuries, being used in middle relief lately. With Martin Perez and Matt Harrison both out, Martinez may be back in the rotation for good. He's not a high ceiling guy, but is a fastball/slider/changeup righthander who won't miss a lot of bats, but who will get ground balls and shows good composure for a young pitcher. I did a write-up on him in March, when we thought he was starting the season in AA rather than the majors, here:
Other than JP, who is your favourite Ranger to watch?
Favorite Ranger to watch...probably Elvis Andrus. He's just a terrific, fun player, and does some amazing things in the field at shortstop. Adrian Beltre is also a blast, one of those guys who the cliche, "You don't appreciate him until you see him play every day" applies to. He does all sorts of odd things on the field, and he and Elvis have an entertaining chemistry together on the left side of the infield, as exemplified by this gif from a couple of years ago:
And of course there is Yu Darvish...when Yu is on, there's nothing more fun in baseball than watching him pitch. He's just incredible.
Has there been any change in pitching philosophy since Nolan Ryan isn’t with the team anymore? Or is the only difference that he’s not around to complain about pitch counts?
I think the whole "Nolan Ryan got rid of pitch counts" thing was overblown. Nolan oversaw both the business and the baseball side of things with the Rangers, but he wasn't micromanaging how the pitchers were being developed...his biggest influence there was hiring Mike Maddux as pitching coach several years ago. I think its largely a non-issue.