When the Rangers lost their ace Yu Darvish for the season and their number two starter, Derek Holland for at least half a season, most fans pointed to the anticipated Holland’s return as well as that of starting pitcher Martin Perez around mid season for hope. If the team could remain in contention, within striking distance of the wild card spots, Perez and Holland and maybe even Matt Harrison come riding into the ballpark on their white horses just in time to rescue the season.
However, the success of the current patchwork rotation is giving these three injured starters more time to rehabilitate. There is now no need to push reinforcements to the major leagues before they are entirely healthy which is the best case scenario.
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Harrison seems to be the closest to return after allowing two runs in five innings in his first start for Triple-A Round Rock on Wednesday. However, Harrison is trying to return from two major back surgeries, one in 2013 for herniated discs and one in 2014 to correct a condition known as spondyloisthesis, in which the vertebrae slip out of position.
After his 2014 procedure, most doctors as well as team physicians were cynical about Harrison ever playing baseball again. But he has not wavered in his commitment to pitch in Arlington again and he appears close to provide the cynics wrong.
Yet, Harrison needs to show that his back is healthy enough to withstand multiple starts over the course of at least a few weeks. He needs this not only for the Rangers to be able to trust him but also for his mind to trust his body enough to put his back out of his consciousness and just focus on pitching again. He should stay in Triple-A to test his back until the Rangers are in absolute need of a starter due to injury or ineffectiveness, even if that is through the end of the season.
In mid-March, young lefty Martin Perez began throwing off of a mound for the first time since undergoing Tommy John surgery at the end of May 2014. The youngster, who was as exciting to Ranger fans in 2012 and 2013 as Chi Chi Gonzalez has been this year, currently finds himself in Arizona for extended spring training.
After getting ready to pitch in games again, Perez will need significant time in the minors before a return to the majors is even a remote possibility. The timetable for Tommy John surgery rehabilitation is at least one year but some players like the Rangers’ own Neftali Feliz prove that complications from this operation can linger as he is two years out from his surgery and still not the same pitcher he was. Keep in mind that the one year timetable is what is needed before a player is ready to being playing baseball again, not necessarily pitching in the major leagues.
Finally, there is the Rangers expected No. 2 starter for 2015, Holland who is recovering from a shoulder injury in his throwing arm. In late May, he began a cautious throwing program starting by throwing off of flat ground.
Holland is trying to avoid surgery but shoulder injuries are tricky and potentially career threatening. Holland is nowhere near being ready to return and the Rangers would be wise to keep his rehabilitation progressing cautiously.
Ranger fans shouldn’t expect Holland back until at least late July or early August at the earliest. And because of the Rangers’ success thus far, fans shouldn’t want to see him any time soon.
As constructed the Rangers’ present day rotation’s strength is that each veteran pitcher has a reputation of eating up innings and Gonzalez, fresh off of a complete game shutout over the defending American League Champion Kansas City Royals, seems to fit that mold as well. The five starters in the Texas rotation are averaging 6.07 innings per start decreasing the workload on the young bullpen.
Jon Daniels has often been vilified since his public dismissal of team President Nolan Ryan and subsequent personnel moves but he should be credited for this year’s pitching success. He traded for Yovani Gallardo in the offseason without giving up any top prospects, signed Wandy Rodriguez off of the scrap heap and stuck with Colby Lewis despite his having a surgically rebuilt hip.
Starting pitching is a valuable commodity and the Rangers have an effective rotation that has pushed them into contention in the American League. They also have four of their best pitchers (including Darvish) working through different stages of rehabilitation from injury.
Fortunately, these players and the organization do not have to deal with the desperation that floundering teams feel when rehabbing starters are coming close to a return because the organization has been able to reinforce it’s rotation with effective and inexpensive players. The 2015 starting rotation is paying immediate dividends on the field and is also helping secure the future of the Texas Rangers by giving injured starters proper time to heal.