It wasn't Colby Lewis's best start of the season, but close to it.
But his eight-pitch at-bat in the sixth inning, facing off against Milwaukee righthander Yovani Gallardo, was one of the great Rangers' at-bats of the season.
With Texas ahead, 2-1, Vladimir Guerrero singled and Josh Hamilton doubled to lead off the inning. Justin Smoak then struck out looking and Max Ramirez went down swinging, and Gallardo probably felt like he'd all but escaped,
with punchless number eight hitter Andres Blanco and Lewis slated to hit. Brewers manager Ken Macha put Blanco on first, asking Gallardo to get Lewis out to end the inning.
Gallardo - top 10 in the National League in strikeouts (and ERA) - snapped off a curve that broke more than a foot to start the at-bat, and Lewis swung through it. Lewis then looked at a 94-mph fastball that missed a bit outside. Then he fouled off another sharp curve. And fouled off another 94-mph heater. And fouled off another curve. And watched a curve that Gallardo buried in the dirt. And fouled yet another 94-mph fastball.
And Lewis then did bad things to a curve that broke 12 inches but stayed inside, raking it just inside the bag at third base and down the line for a two-run single to give himself and his teammates a 4-1 lead.
Gallardo then struck Elvis Andrus out, just as he'd done with Smoak and Ramirez earlier in the inning.
C.J. Wilson faces Josh Johnson tomorrow night, and has immediately fallen far behind Lewis in the battle for starting pitcher bragging rights at the plate.
Alexi Ogando didn't pitch yesterday (why Frankie Francisco was called on to pitch the ninth inning of a 7-2 contest, in a day game after a night game in which he'd thrown 26 pitches, I'm not sure). But Tanner Scheppers did.
Ryan Aber of the Daily Oklahoman and Bob Hersom of OKCRedhawks.com shed some light on the Rangers' plan with Scheppers, who made his first minor league start yesterday and held Albuquerque scoreless on two hits (by ex-big leaguers Michael Restovich and Nick Green) and no walks, fanning a pair of Isotopes (ex-big leaguers Jay Gibbons and Restovich). Meanwhile, Oklahoma City spanked Vicente Padilla for six runs (four earned) in his 5.2 rehab innings.
Scheppers threw 55 pitches, 37 for strikes. Of his 40 fastballs, a number touched 99 mph, and he mixed in a good curve and inconsistent change. In blanking the Isotopes, he lowered his RedHawks ERA to 1.57 and his opponents' batting average to .188. In 23 AAA innings, he's walked 10 and punched out 29. The 23-year-old righty has now faced 28 straight hitters without a base on balls.
RedHawks pitching coach Terry Clark told Aber and Hersom that the organization's plan for Scheppers is to make three more starts at about four innings apiece (which would bring him to 46 innings between AA and AAA for the year). He'll then be shut down for a week (just as he was early this month), and make another four starts at five innings each, which would raise his total to 66 innings as of the last week or so of July.
At that point - assuming Scheppers hasn't first been summoned to the big league bullpen - Texas will be right up against the trade deadline, having blueprinted about 35 or 40 more 2010 innings for Scheppers. A majority, if not all, of those innings will probably come in the Texas bullpen. The plan is for Scheppers to help the Rangers in relief this year, and in a best case, in their rotation next year, when the organization believes he'll be ready to log 150-200 innings. The timing of all this is interesting, given that Texas might be weighing opportunities to trade for another power arm to stick in the bullpen for the stretch run - but they might have the right guy in AAA right now.
The big league focus is on this week's series in Florida and Houston, as it should be, but when you get looks at Ogando and Scheppers this summer, with Tommy Hunter and Neftali Feliz and Derek Holland ahead of them and Martin Perez and Blake Beavan and Pedro Strop behind them, it's going to be hard not to think about where this pitching staff is headed over the next couple years.
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(c) Jamey Newberg