Monday night, Colby Lewis returns to the mound for the Texas Rangers. It will be his first Major League start since July 18, 2012. His return is a testament to his heart and determination, qualities that he has in ample supply. His imminent return has Ranger fans everywhere rejoicing.
There’s never been any doubt about what Lewis has meant to this franchise. He is, without question, the best post-season pitcher in franchise history. Lewis has a career post-season record of 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA in eight starts, all during the 2010 and 2011 World Series runs. It was Lewis who collected the only Rangers win in the 2010 World Series. It was Lewis who beat the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS to put them there.
For all of these things, he deserves all the credit you can give him. He is a pitcher in the truest sense of the word. He doesn’t get by on talent alone, relying on a singular great pitch. Every pitch is a chess match for Lewis, who needs to out-think hitters, mix his pitches and hit his spots to be successful. He has proven capable of doing that with regularity.
Lewis’ return is sorely needed. The Ranger pitching staff has been hit or miss this year. Former relievers Robbie Ross and Tanner Scheppers have shown some ability, but both are having trouble proving that they really belong in the rotation. Scheppers especially has had a rough time. Joe Saunders was a disaster before he took a liner off his ankle against Tampa Bay and landed on the DL. Shoot, the first quality start of the season came from AA pitcher Nick Martinez, and the bullpen blew that game.
Luckily for Texas, Yu Darvish and Martin Perez have been rock solid as the 1-2 starters, but the Rangers are going to need more depth in the rotation if they are to fulfill their potential. That’s where Lewis comes in. If Lewis can be the same pitcher he was pre-injury, it will go a long way toward settling that rotation, in addition to allowing Scheppers and/or Ross to move back to the bullpen where they are more desperately needed.
Ranger fans should be careful, however, when it comes to assigning expectations for Colby Lewis. Lewis is not a savior and his return should not be expected to ignite what is currently a mediocre Ranger team. Lewis was only 32-29 in the regular season from 2010-2012 with a 3.85 ERA. In his Major League career, he is 44-44 with a 4.76 ERA. That’s the stuff of a 4th or 5th starter, which is exactly what Lewis is.
Those numbers came when he was healthy, before having his hip resurfaced and before he spent a year and half on the shelf. As nice as it would be for Lewis to come back and perform at his post-season level, it is both unlikely and unrealistic.
At this point in his career, the 34-year-old is not going to be an innings eater. In fact, six innings will probably be his limit, anything more runs an unnecessary risk of reinjuring him. Ron Washington and Mike Maddux will have to express extreme caution to keep from wearing him out too soon. After all this time away, it is very likely that he will run out of gas by August if the team does not handle him carefully.
All of this is assuming that Lewis can even stick in the Majors after all of this time, which is far from a given. Lewis could easily be another Dave Dravecky, the former San Francisco Giants lefty who returned to the mound after a bout with cancer only to break his arm in his second Major League start, ending his career. Granted, Dravecky’s condition was far more serious than Lewis’, but the possibility remains that simply making it back to the Majors could be the highlight of Colby Lewis’ story.
Even if Lewis can’t make it, he still deserves all the respect in the word for not giving up and calling it a career when many others would have. The Rangers certainly hope that he’s still got some magic left in him. I think all Ranger fans are hoping for the Hollywood happy ending. Just don’t be surprised if it doesn’t work out that way.
It rarely ever does.