A tour of Texas Rangers spring camp serves up one glaring question: Where are the starting pitchers? The real guys, that is.
Cole Hamels, who scuffled a bit down the stretch last year, hasn’t made an appearance. Yu Darvish, who pitched just 100 innings in 2016 after recovering from 2015 elbow surgery, is taking it slow and easy.
Martin Perez left camp to join the Venezuelan squad for the World Baseball Classic, which starts this week.
Projected Nos. 4 and 5 starters Andrew Cashner and Tyson Ross are shut down with injuries.
So the most important issue for the two-time defending American League West champs is finding legitimate options for the last two spots in the rotation. That’s where some recent Round Rock Express arms come into play.
“Chi Chi (Gonzalez) has been impressive in both outings this spring. He’s been in attack mode, getting weak contact,” Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels said Sunday. “Nick Martinez has gained confidence built off winter ball.”
Gonzalez, the club’s top draft pick in 2013, made changes to his delivery and increased his fastball velocity from the 89-90 mph range to 93-94 when he reaches back for something extra.
One long-term option who won’t be force fed is Yohander Mendez, the organization’s No. 1 prospect according to Baseball Prospectus. Assistant General Manager Mike Daly told the American-Statesman the 22-year-old lefty is ticketed to start the season at Round Rock for “more seasoning.”
Daniels mentioned two pitchers to keep an eye on, Eddie Gamboa, acquired in a recent trade with Tampa Bay, and Mike Hauschild, a Rule 5 draft selection from the Astros.
“Gamboa is intriguing with that knuckleball,” Daniels said. “The knuckler is still fairly new to him so he keeps refining it. Hauschild has an interesting mix of pitches.”
Assuming Hamels and Darvish take their places as one of the better lefty-righty duos in the major leagues, the real scrutiny starts with No. 3 starter Perez, an Express alum.
Perez, once an elite prospect, showed progress in the second half last year but finished with too many walks (76) and too few strikeouts (103 in 198 innings). He pitched to the majors’ sixth-highest contact rate, yet the team is sold on Perez, who underwent elbow surgery in 2014.
“Martin is 25; he’s just scratching the surface,” Daniels said.
Cashner, a former TCU star who’s been on the disabled list six times in his career, was signed to a one-year, $10 million gamble. Cashner has not reached 200 innings in his four years as an MLB starter. Biceps tendinitis has the hard thrower sidelined again.
“We’re being cautious with Cash,” Daniels said. “He has big upside.”
Ross, a promising pitcher with the Padres, signed a one-year, $6 million contract with the Rangers after undergoing thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in October. He made just one start last year and might not be back for a few months. He’ll throw his first bullpen session Monday.
“I’m feeling better. We knew this would be a bit of a process,” Ross said.
A.J. Griffin, who had Tommy John surgery in 2015 and spent time on the DL in ’16, probably will start the season in the rotation, though he’s looked rough so far this spring.
“There are always questions,” Griffin said, “but I think we have a lot of potential answers in this group.”
Rangers arm check
When healthy, the rotation should line up like this:
1-LH Cole Hamels: 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA, though it was 5.49 in September
2-RH Yu Darvish: 7-5, 3.41 ERA and had 132 strikeouts in 100 innings
3-LH Martin Perez: 10-11, 4.39 ERA and an ugly 1.414 WHIP
4-RH Andrew Cashner: 1-4, 5.98 ERA split between San Diego, Miami
5-RH Tyson Ross: 10-12, 3.26 ERA in last full season, 2015 with Padres