When Tanner Scheppers takes the hill Monday, he will become the Texas Rangers’ 25th different Opening Day starter. (For a brief history of Ranger opening day starters, check out Ben Dieter’s piece here). His opponent for the Philadelphia Phillies will be a familiar one, Cliff Lee.
Lee was a huge contributor for the Rangers’ 2010 World Series run. That year, Lee became the first pitcher to have three 10+ strikeout games in one post-season. Lee has to go down as one of the best mid-season rentals in baseball history. He stabilized the Ranger staff in the second half of the season. Then, he was nearly unhittable in the American League playoffs against the Rays and Yankees, going 3-0 with a .57 ERA as the Rangers won their first pennant.
Unfortunately, Lee ran out of gas in the World Series that year. He gave up almost seven runs a game in two appearances and took two losses, including the clinching Game 5 loss. After the series, Lee packed up his glove and went home, returning to the Philadelphia Phillies.
At age 35, Lee still shows no signs of slowing down. Lee features five pitches and he shows excellent command of each. Although he is beginning to lose some velocity, his two and four seam fastballs still hit the low 90s with regularity. He counters that with a cut fastball in the high 80s, a change-up he throws in the mid-80s and a big curveball he throws in the 70s.
Lee’s ability to change speeds makes him difficult to hit, but what really makes him excel is his command. Lee likes to run his two seam fastball and his change-up in on right-handed hitters. He also features a big 12-to-6 curve that’s hard to hit no matter what side you’re swinging from.
Lee brings a bulldog mentality to the mound. He shows no fear pitching inside and often comes up big in big situations. He knows Globe Life Park fairly well, so you can bet that he will come into the game with a plan of attack.
For the Rangers to be successful, they need to touch Lee early and keep him from getting into a groove.
If Lee does start strong, then it will fall on Scheppers to match him and keep the game close. Scheppers surprised some with his strong spring, but now he will have to show that he can do it when it counts.
Scheppers has two main pitches, a mid to high 90s fastball and a hard curve. However, Scheppers is developing the rest of his repertoire. During the Cactus League season, he struck out 14 while walking only four in fourteen innings of work, adding to the hope that he can be more than just a late inning reliever.
The ultimate test for Scheppers won’t be in this game, but as the season goes along. There is little doubt that he has the stuff to be a Major League starter. What remains to be seen is if he will have the stamina to last the season as a starter.
Opening Day will probably reveal more about his make-up than his stuff. Globe Life Park is going to be electric Monday afternoon. There will be pressure for him to have a good showing in his debut. On the other side, he has one of the Major League’s best opposing him. If he can get the Rangers to the late innings with a chance to win, consider it a win for Texas.
So, Ranger fans, how do you think Tanner will do and what are your feelings on Cliff Lee’s return. Leave a comment below.