SURPRISE, AZ - MARCH 02: Starting pitcher Tommy Hunter #35 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the spring training game at Surprise Stadium on March 2, 2011 in Surprise, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
The Confidence Index at the left of this page is at the lowest point that I can remember, and I'm pretty sure it is the low water mark for the Rangers since the Confidence Index kicked off.
I would say the biggest reason for the current lack of confidence is the mess than is the bullpen. I whole-heartedly agree with Joey Matches' post, and in particular, his saying that the ultimate "lost cause" moment of the season was watching Ryan Tucker last night.
I sent out this tweet in the midst of that disaster:
I've been saying for a while this team would be fine, not to panic, they'll get it straightened out. But...I'm getting close to panicking.
Yeah, the Rangers are still just two games back of Anaheim, just a game back of Oakland, are dealing with injuries and should have reinforcements back soon...but man, it is hard to feel good about this team right now. And that is, for me, because of the bullpen.
I don't understand why Tucker is up here. He had a 6+ ERA in the minors last season. He wasn't particularly effective in AAA this year. He hasn't shown anything so far in the majors that leads you to believe he can be a viable piece of a winning bullpen right now.
And yet, Pedro Strop got sent down because the Rangers don't want to lose Tucker.*
* Which leads one to wonder...if the Rangers were so scared of losing Tucker on waivers, why did they call him up in the first place, given he was expected to fill a short-term low-leverage role? If Yoshinori Tateyama can't even be asked to be a warm body in the bullpen for a week or two, what is he doing on the 40 man roster, and why did we sign him in the first place?
But as much as we might complain (not unfairly) that Tucker shouldn't have been pitching in a two run game in the 8th last night, who do you have more confidence in? The Rangers have an eight man bullpen right now, but for me, that means the Rangers have seven relievers that I personally don't trust in a close game. Darren Oliver and Arthur Rhodes are showing signs that Father Time may have caught up with them, Cody Eppley has some promise but is really a short-stint ROOGY right now, and Brett Tomko, Dave Bush, Mark Lowe, and Ryan Tucker are nothing more than mop-up men at this point.
And even when we look out on the horizon, what is out there to feel good about? I thought Tommy Hunter's return could mean Alexi Ogando going back to the bullpen, but Hunter tweaked his groin on his final pitch in his rehab start yesterday, and rather than his return being close, he could still be a ways away. And of course, if you do plug Hunter into the rotation and put Ogando back in the pen, that means you are counting on Derek Holland and Matt Harrison to hold down rotation spots indefinitely.
The Rangers' pitching depth, which seemed like a strength of sorts coming into the season, has become a huge problem. Omar Beltre, who handled a couple of spot starts last season, is on the 60 day disabled list. Ditto Eric Hurley, who opened eyes this spring and looked like someone who could contribute at the major league level this summer.
Scott Feldman and Brandon Webb have yet to even start rehab stints, and Webb is someone I'm not even going to think about anymore -- he's gone, as far as I'm concerned. Feldman could help, but he's probably still a month away.
Tommy Hunter, expected to be a rotation member on Opening Day, has been on the disabled list all year. Michael Kirkman, expected to be a key piece of the Rangers depth (if not a member of the Opening Day 25 man roster), has struggled all year. Tanner Scheppers, viewed as a potential difference-maker out of the bullpen, started the season on the d.l., pitched one game, and then went back on the d.l., return date unknown.
And then there's Mark Lowe, thought to be a potential closer if Neftali Feliz moved to the rotation. Lowe has been, quite simply, terrible.
Eight pitchers who the Rangers hoped would be able to contribute in the majors this season, if need be, are either hurt or can't be counted on to give the Rangers anything of value. Is it any wonder I'm sitting here thinking to myself, "Maybe Neil Ramirez can come pitch out of the pen?"
I think the offense is fine. Its had some rough patches, but I'm not worried about this offense's ability to score runs. I'm not that worried about the starting rotation, really, at least as it consists of the guys currently in the rotation.
But the bullpen, and the rotation depth, is a huge problem right now. And unless guys get healthy or get their acts together, I expect to see the Confidence Index continue to drop as we head into summer.