For the most part, this has been a spring of pleasant surprises. The rotation has received a number of effective and efficient starts from its younger members and Millwood has already thrown more “A” game innings than I can ever remember him throwing as a Rangers pitcher. Our veterans in the lineup look to be rounding into shape and the core group has had a strong spring. Our young catchers have only increased their value, and our young OFs have displayed their tantalizing physical tools. Most important, the injury bug has stayed away (vigorously knocking on wood).
But I am still worried, because without a strong bullpen, this team is destined to fail. The formula for winning in Texas was well established by Melvin’s late 90’s teams and revisited and reconfirmed in 2004: a good offense, a decent and efficient enough rotation, and a strong bullpen. We don’t exactly have a rotation full of established workhorses. Rather we are asking many pitchers to either establish new professional career highs after setting doing the same last year (Harrison, Feldman) or to reestablish themselves as effective 180-200 inning guys after a couple of years of falling pathetically short and with a contract situation acting as some sort of carrot-on-a-stick/elixir (Millwood, Padilla). But even if we get significantly more innings from our starters (and it is almost impossible not to after last season), we will still need an effective bullpen in order to compete and, some might argue, to grow as a team, as nothing causes clubhouse strife and managerial second-guessing like late inning losses.
It would be heartbreaking to see the team finally assemble a decent rotation, only to see a weak bullpen prove to be the Achilles heal of the team. But as of right now, we are looking at only three bullpen locks in Francisco, Wilson (whose status as a lock is now in question because of a blister injury that could linger and will certainly cause him to miss a significant amount of ST) and Eddie Guardardo (who has been utterly hittable since last July). Beyond that, the best bets are probably Nippert (whose lack of options and strong spring have all but assured his spot as resident long man) and Warner Madrigal. But Mad Dog is a guy who, going into ST, most agreed would benefit greatly from more time in the minors.
Josh Rupe is beginning to near Loe/Littleton territory in his frustrating stuff/results quotient and his lack of control and player options, and he is coming off a year in which his arm was abused. It would be a huge help to the org if he stepped up and looked sharp from here on out and then proceeded to remain healthy, but that is hard to bank on. Our wildcards, Donnelly and Turnbow, still look like wildcards, and at this point are probably behind Willie Eyre because Eyre is already on the 40. Guys like Diamond, Torres and Gabbard, three quality arms who could have laid claim to a spot with a strong, healthy spring, have taken themselves out of consideration. The 40 man roster and player options will undoubtedly have a large effect on our ultimate assembly of arms, possibly to the detriment of the team.
Granted, it would only take three or four strong outings in a row by someone like Rupe or Turnbow to drastically alter the projection, but as of right now, with so few sure things, I just don’t see a way this collection of guys can congeal into a strong bullpen unit.
Sorry for the length. Can anyone give me "reasons to believe"?