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Colby Lewis and a six man September rotation

Colby Lewis will make a rehab start today as he targets an early September return

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Colby Lewis was supposed to make a rehab start for the Frisco Roughriders against Midland yesterday, but that game was rained out.  As a result, Lewis is expected to start for Frisco today against Corpus Christi, with the goal of doing 4 innings or 65 pitches.

Colby had been shooting for a return on Saturday against Houston, but with his start pushed back a day, he would instead be on track to pitch Sunday against the Astros, assuming the Rangers activate him after this start.  Jeff Banister acknowledged the possibility of Texas going with a six man rotation for a period of time in September once Colby returns.

Its an interesting situation that the Rangers find themselves in, somewhat similar to last year when the team headed into September with a certain amount of uncertainty in the rotation.  Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels are, of course, Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels, and they are rotation locks so long as they are healthy, as well as part of the playoff rotation.  Behind those two are four pitchers -- Colby Lewis, Derek Holland, Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin -- who would be vying for three rotation spots in a traditional five man rotation, and for two rotation spots in a playoff rotation.  There's also Lucas Harrell, who is on the disabled list currently, but he appears to be on the outside looking in at this point, and most likely will (barring something extraordinary) be relegated to a long man role should he even return to the active roster.

The advantage the Rangers have in sporting an 8.5 game lead in the West at this point is that it allows them to be somewhat cautious and creative in how they use their starting pitchers.  This could allow them the luxury of giving pitchers more time off in the final month, while also getting a chance to evaluate the four non-ace starters while deciding what a playoff rotation would look like.  Colby Lewis is Colby Lewis, and after a solid 2016, one would think he has a playoff rotation spot set if he comes back healthy in September, but he will have to show he is healthy.  Derek Holland has not had a good 2016, or at least hadn't before landing on the d.l. with shoulder issues, but he's had two very good starts in a row since coming off the disabled list -- September will give him a chance to build on that success.

Meanwhile, Martin Perez and A.J. Griffin will have the opportunity to get some more innings and try to earn a spot on the playoff roster as well.  Perez has been up-and-down in his first full season returning from Tommy John surgery, showing inconsistency with his command and with his offspeed pitches, though he has stayed healthy and given the Rangers innings.  Griffin, in his first season back since missing two years with Tommy John surgery and shoulder problems, has been up and down as well, spending time on the d.l. and struggling over the last couple of months, particularly after the first time through the order.

My guess at this point is that, if Holland and Lewis are healthy and pitch okay, Griffin ends up going to the bullpen as a long man -- hitters are hitting .272/.337/.550 off of him since the break, compared to a .281/.338/.415 line against Perez since the break (though Griffin's ERA is about a half-run better than Perez's).  I think both Griffin and Perez are unlikely to be in the playoff rotation if Holland keeps pitching like he has his last couple of starts and Lewis is healthy, with Perez possibly getting a spot in the playoff bullpen as a combination of long man a lefty specialist (lefties are hitting just .175/.275/.254 against him).

If either Lewis or Holland aren't viable playoff rotation members, what Jeff Banister might consider doing is going with a Griffin/Perez tandem in a Game Four situation -- having A.J. Griffin pitch the first three innings, have Perez follow him for two or three innings, and then going to the bullpen.  Going righty then lefty forces the opposing manager to make some difficult choices in the fourth or fifth innings if they are platooning, and with the off days in October, the bullpen can be asked to pitch quite a few innings if need be.

In fact, you could conceivably go with Griffin or Perez and just ask them to give you four innings in a playoff start -- that would allow you to then go with Jeremy Jeffress in the fifth, Keone Kela in the sixth, Jake Diekman in the seventh, Matt Bush in the eighth, and Sam Dyson in the ninth, with Alex Claudio and Dario Alvarez available to match up against a particular lefty if need be.

Anyway, just some things to mull over as we wait for the return of Colbyashi and contemplate the final month of the regular season...