In the 19 games that followed the New York-Boston trip at the beginning of June, Texas faced these starting pitchers:
In the four games since that run, the Rangers' opposing starters have been:
If you were taking on the Rangers, you might take Billingsley, Rodriguez, Cain, and Haren from that first group over the foursome Texas has just finished facing, but it wouldn't be a slam dunk (Kazmir has struggled this season but is a career Rangers-slayer).
But taking the first group as a whole, you also have a handful of journeymen, veterans on the tail end (if not released since the above match-ups), and rookies far less heralded than Price.
The Rangers' offense in games started by the first group: .212/.277/.365.
In the Saunders/Weaver/Kazmir/Price games: .307/.389/.606.
Texas was 7-12 in the first grouping, falling from 4.5 games up in the division to 2.5 games back.
The club went 4-0 in the next grouping (which included two games started by Rangers rookies who'd never won a big league start), and is back to a tie atop the West.
Will Josh Hamilton's return to the lineup help? Of course.
But has his absence been a legitimate excuse for the offensive ineptitude that highlighted the Rangers' three-week slide? Far from it.
It's beyond obvious to suggest that if the offense is finally re-finding its stride, and if the pitching continues to give this club workmanlike efficiency, and if the defense doesn't slump (it shouldn't, but if Chris Davis is taken out of the lineup we'll notice a difference), then there's no reason Texas can't stick around in the race all summer.
I still think the bullpen needs another righthander (though maybe less so than a couple weeks ago), but at this point it's fair to expect help to arrive internally, considering the lack of teams who have fallen into the seller category and the emergence of a handful of righties at Oklahoma City who could help soon.
Orlando Hernandez (five innings, one hit, one walk, six strikeouts) is likely to get the first look, if for no other reason than his minor league deal permits him to leave for another opportunity if he's not added to the big club by July 20. He's worked on a day of rest twice and two days once for the RedHawks. Expect to see him used on consecutive days soon.
Neftali Feliz (4.2 innings, one run on three hits and one walk, four strikeouts in three relief appearances): same issue. His work has come on three days' rest, two days, and two days. He last pitched on Wednesday. Chances are Hernandez will be tested on back-to-back days before Feliz is.
In Warner Madrigal's last 16 Oklahoma City appearances, he's issued zero walks and set 21 hitters down on strikes. Over that stretch, he's allowed four runs (2.08 ERA) on 13 hits in 17.1 innings, saving eight games in eight opportunities. Is he earning some trust back?
Hernandez would cost the removal of someone else from the 40-man roster, as would Feliz (another reason Hernandez might get a look before Feliz does). Same with Dustin Nippert, who is presently on the 60-day disabled list but pitching well as Texas gets him not only back into pitching rhythm but also into a starter's routine.
Would Nippert be a better option to reinforce the rotation than, say, San Diego's Correia, in whom Texas is reported (by Peter Gammons) to have shown interest? It's an interesting question. Correia is making $750,000 as a second-year arbitration player, will have one more season before he'll be eligible to take free agency, and had an impressive 5-3, 3.57 run in 10 May and June starts (including eight quality starts, culminating with a strong seven-inning, nine-strikeout, one-walk effort in Arlington on June 27), but who does he replace in the rotation?
Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla (whose start in Anaheim Tuesday night needs to be a lot better than his June 29 home effort against the Angels) and Scott Feldman are locks. Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland are coming off excellent starts against what had been a hot Rays lineup, and Matt Harrison should be back soon.
Is Correia a better bet than three of Harrison, Hunter, Holland, and Nippert? Maybe. But Correia would cost Texas at least one legitimate prospect. Nippert will cost the exposure of the 40th player on the roster to waivers - or maybe just a transfer of Brandon McCarthy to the 60-day DL himself - and the other three internal options will cost Texas nothing.
Texas has shown some interest in struggling Yankees starter Chien-Ming Wang, says Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman, but he left his start yesterday with a shoulder strain and is back on the disabled list.
Oklahoma City outfielder Brandon Boggs dislocated his left shoulder on routine catch on Friday. No word yet on how much time he's expected to miss.
RedHawks catcher/DH Max Ramirez has been sidelined since Tuesday with continued wrist soreness.
The Rangers released Frisco left-handed reliever Joe Torres, who had an impressive 28 strikeouts in 22 innings, a 2.36 groundout-to-flyout rate, a .235 opponents' average, and a 3.68 ERA in 17 RoughRiders appearances, but two things roadblocked any thought of him helping the Rangers this season: 22 walks in those 22 innings, and the effectiveness at AAA of fellow southpaws A.J. Murray (1.19 ERA, no home runs, 2.37 G/F, 24/12 K/BB in 30.1 innings, no extra-base hits in 42 at-bats by left-handed hitters) and Mike Hinckley (2.17 ERA). Those two were clearly going to get looks before the 26-year-old Torres if the need for another left-handed bullpen arm were to arise.
Outfielders Mitch Moreland (.330/.397/.535 between Bakersfield and Frisco) and Tim Smith (.342/.406/.476 between Bakersfield and Frisco) both found spots on Baseball America's Mid-Season Minor League All-Surprise Team.
Right-handed reliever Brendan Donnelly, who got a camp look with Texas, opted out of his minor league deal with Houston to sign a big league deal with Florida. Donnelly posted a 1.75 ERA in 24 relief appearances with AAA Round Rock (23 strikeouts and seven walks in 25.2 innings, no home runs) and has joined the Marlins' pen.
Yes, with 20-year-old Elvis Andrus in place, shortstop may be the position at which Texas arguably has the least long-term planning to do, and yet the top two 16-year-olds the Rangers reportedly signed in the last few days as the international signing period opened - Curacao's Jurickson Profar and Venezuela's Luis Sardinas - are shortstops.
The two situations are unrelated.
For a depressing story about how this organization did a poor job planning ahead at another premium position in the decade or so before Jon Daniels took over as general manager, click here.
Another questionable Rangers decision came in 2005, when the club drafted Stanford outfielder John Mayberry Jr. with the 19th pick in the first round, with Fresno State righthander Matt Garza among others still on the board.
Tonight Texas faces Garza, who has a 1.98 career ERA against the Rangers (and a 2.08 ERA in Rangers Ballpark).
But Scott Feldman (3.00 ERA) has been effective in his career against the Rays as well, and maybe more importantly, the Rangers offense - at least over the last four days - seems to have found a long-lost rhythm at the plate, no matter who is standing 60 feet, six inches away.
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(c) Jamey Newberg
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