Early in camp, when the news came out the Matt Harrison had a stiff back, there was panic among Rangers fans over the state of the Texas rotation, which suddenly was filled with question marks.
With Opening Day just 19 days away, do the Rangers have any more clarity on what they are going to do with their starting rotation?
I'm not sure that there's more "clarity," but as things stand now, the Rangers probably feel better about what their options are, and about having a serviceable rotation for the first part of the season while they wait for Derek Holland to return.
There are still three rotation spots that, for Opening Day, seem to be in flux. Yu Darvish is the Opening Day starter. Martin Perez will be in the rotation. The three starters behind them appear to be unknown.
That being said, Matt Harrison's back issues appear to be behind him, and his target date of joining the Ranger rotation in mid-April appears to be realistic. The Rangers need a fifth starter either on April 5, at Tampa, or on April 8, at Boston. If the fifth starter to start the season goes on April 5, then that spot would come up again on April 11, at home against Houston, or on April 15, at home against Seattle (if the Rangers used the April 10 off day to move the rest of the rotation up).
Given Matt Harrison's schedule, it seems realistic to expect that can be back by the Houston or Seattle series and step into the #5 starter spot, which means that whoever starts the season in that slot in the rotation will only need to make one or two starts.
Colby Lewis is also healthy and has his velocity back, and has one bad outing and one solid outing under his belt this spring. Lewis is in camp on a minor league deal, but it seems almost assured that the Rangers will purchase his contract, and either put him in the rotation to start the season, or put him on the d.l. so he can make a couple of rehab starts in the minors to continue working on his release point, if he's shaky in his next few outings. Either way, it seems like Lewis is going to be in the rotation, if not on Opening Day, by the end of April.
Joe Saunders and Tommy Hanson, meanwhile, are both in camp on non-guaranteed major league deals. The Rangers brought both pitchers in as insurance, but can release either of them before Opening Day with minimal financial consequences. My perception is that these two guys are essentially battling for the right to keep Derek Holland's spot in the rotation warm until Holland returns from microfracture surgery -- particularly since both are pitching on the same day, at least as of yesterday. Hanson has options remaining, and so I believe the Rangers could potentially send him to the minors rather than keep him on the major league roster, though I'm not sure what his contract terms provide for in regards to his salary, if he's in the minors, or if the Rangers would want to pay him to pitch in AAA.
And then there's Alexi Ogando, who has bounced between the rotation and the bullpen, and who I think, at this point, has to be penciled in to the rotation for the start of the season, especially if both Harrison and Lewis aren't ready. Yes, Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers are technically in the rotation mix, as are Nick Tepesch and Michael Kirkman, but I don't think they necessarily impact the major league rotation, at least beyond the first couple of weeks.
At this point, my guess is that Harrison and Lewis are in the rotation at some point in April, meaning that the Rangers are looking at a Darvish, Perez, Harrison and Lewis rotation for four of the five spots. I also would guess than either Saunders or Hanson lands the final spot in the rotation, with the loser getting released. Ogando would fill Harrison's spot in the rotation until Harrison returns, and if Lewis isn't ready for the start of the season, Tepesch or Kirkman would take a start or two.
But by May 1, I'd guess the rotation will be Darvish, Harrison, Lewis, Perez and, most likely, Saunders.
Feel free to bookmark this and flame me later if I'm wrong.