Tanner Scheppers began his outing today by allowing three hits -- two doubles and a single -- to the first four hitters he faced. He then got a ground ball double play to get out of the inning, but it was a bad beginning to what was expected to be a critical start in determining whether he would be in the rotation or the bullpen on Opening Day.
Scheppers responded by allowing just two hits and no runs over the next five innings, ending up going 6 innings on 75 pitches, and going to the bullpen to throw some more pitches after he was pulled.
The possibility of Scheppers starting the season in the rotation at the beginning of spring training seemed far-fetched -- he and Robbie Ross were going to go into camp working as starters, but I think most of us thought that was a formality, and they would be back in a reliever role soon enough.
But both Scheppers and Ross have pitched their way into serious contention for the Opening Day rotation, and Scheppers' outing today may have ensured him one of the five starting pitcher jobs to begin the season.
Part of this is due to issues with other candidates -- Matt Harrison's stiff back, Colby Lewis being brought back slowly, and Alexi Ogando's overall struggles -- but Jon Daniels spoke recently about the belief within the organization that Scheppers has the ability to be a legitimate top of the rotation starter, and if he earns a shot in the rotation, they'd rather take a chance with him and give him the opportunity to sink or swim as a starter than limit him to a bullpen role.
At this point, if I were to guess, I'd say the Opening Day rotation will be Darvish, Perez, Saunders, Scheppers and Ross, with Harrison and Lewis starting the season on the disabled list. Both Harrison and Lewis would seem likely to be back in the rotation sometime in April, so Saunders, Scheppers and Ross may simply be getting an extended tryout to see which of the three will still be in the rotation come May 1.
But at this point, I'm guessing the Rangers are going to give Scheppers at least a couple of starts to see what he has to offer as a member of the rotation.