It was the same Jekkyl and Hyde story over the weekend, coming from the same team that has made a frustrating habit out of looking utterly superb one day and lousy the next ... except that in this series, there was twice as much good as there was bad, and a climax that culminated in the Rangers' first series win in a fortnight. The pitching was dominant *, the defense was crisp and on point, and even though you'd generally anticipate squeezing something closer to 7-8 runs out of an 11-hit (five of the extra-base sort), four-walk assault, the five runs that actually did scamper across the plate were still more than enough. It had the same context-neutral value as any other win, but you really wanted to see some sort of positive signs going into the off day, and, hey, there they were.
[* Texas did briefly flirt with a combined perfect game yesterday, as Alexi Ogando spun three flawless frames before being lifted due to a groin strain that he incurred on a max-effort sprint to first base, and Robbie Ross kept the dream alive into the fifth and sixth innings, when an Ian Kinsler error and a clean Aubrey Huff double terminated the perfect and no-hit bids, respectively. Ultimately, the Rangers shut out the Giants on three hits and no walks; incredibly (are you enjoying this torrent of adverbs?), this rubber game marked just the 11th occasion in the history of the franchise that the Rangers' pitching staff shut out the opposition while allowing three or fewer hits and no walks, and only the second time it has done so since 1996. That's 11 times in 6,409 regular-season games dating back to Opening Day 1972, or about once for every 583 games played on average.]
Since these are the Rangers, though, the big reward going into today's momentary respite is an unwelcome game of watch-and-wait on Ogando's groin, which he declared to be quite painful during yesterday's post-game line of questioning. I had harbored some hope that it was no worse than it actually looked (Ogando didn't seem to be in too much distress, or walking with a noticeable hitch as he left the game), and it's possible that he's feeling significantly better today and on track for favorable MRI results, but the safe money is probably on a 15-day DL assignment, and the ushering of yet another minor league hurler through what has become a bothersome revolving door in the rotation.
This is going to be a tad lengthy and crudely formated, but it's the best possible way to illustrate the issue that the Rangers face with the starting rotation at this point:
June 6th: Colby Lewis
June 7th: Yu Darvish (Derek Holland lands on 15-day disabled list)
June 8th: Matt Harrison
June 9th: Scott Feldman
June 10th: Alexi Ogando
June 11th: Off day
June 12th: Colby Lewis (Roy Oswalt makes tune-up start at Double-A Frisco)
June 13th: Matt Harrison
June 14th: Scott Feldman
June 15th: Yu Darvish (starting on extra rest)
June 16th: ?!?!? (Alexi Ogando if healthy, unknown if not)
June 17th: Colby Lewis (possible Roy Oswalt tune-up start)
June 18th: Matt Harrison
June 19th: Scott Feldman
June 20th: Yu Darvish
June 21st: Off day
June 22nd: Unknown (earliest possible date that Holland can be activated)
[Editorial note: I originally failed to account for the fact that Darvish had been pushed back from this Wednesday to this Friday, which changes up the ordering here a bit and which I've corrected both above and below; however, that correction does not materially alter the analysis of the situation, as the Rangers still have a question mark to deal with on June 16th, and the same unknown on June 22nd as before.]
There are a couple of different ways that the Rangers could decide to play this. The simpliest, and probably the likeliest, option is to get a fill-in spot start out of somebody on June 16th against the Astros, use the available off days to max out everyone at a full five days' rest where possible, and then slide Oswalt into the starting rotation on June 22nd, which would keep him on his regular four days' rest and ensure that he gets two more tune-up starts before throwing him back into the fire. Under that scenario, Oswalt effectively takes over Holland's rotation slot (which had been filled briefly by Ogando), and Feldman keeps his rotation spot until Holland is finally ready to take the bump again.
There's also the more far-fetched possibility of Oswalt going short tomorrow, and being called up to smooth over the looming June 16th dilemma without making two more tune-up starts. I'm not sure if that's an especially great idea, or if it's even on the table, but it's within the realm of possibility. Texas could also use the off day on June 21st to skip over that uncertain Ogando-held spot, and roll with Lewis/Harrison on regular rest from June 22-23rd, which could open up the possibility of, say, replacing Feldman with Oswalt on June 24th and bringing back Holland on June 26th -- if, you know, Holland is actually ready to go by then. There are a few additional creative ways that the schedule can be manipulated, but these are probably the most straightforward ways of looking at it.
Assuming that Ogando is going to end up going down for a few weeks, though, and assuming that you do need somebody to go out there and chew up some innings on June 16th, the menu of options gets ... kind of strange. Robbie Ross makes sense from a meritocracy standpoint, and he was stretched out to the tune of 45 pitches yesterday (thereby making 60 pitches, or 4-5 innings, a realistic goal), but Ron Washington seems adamant about Ross not being in this conversation. Frisco's Justin Grimm makes some sense from that same meritocracy angle (77.0 IP, 1.87 ERA, 67 K, 14 BB, 3 HR), but his absence from the 40-man roster would necessitate a trade or a roster cut or Neftali Feliz being placed on the 60-day disabled list to clear room for him, and I'm not sure any of those likely.
And, of course, there's always Michael Kirkman and Neil Ramirez and Martin Perez, all of whom occupy space on the 40-man roster but none of whom are pitching especially well at Triple-A Round Rock; Perez, in fact, allowed five runs on 11 hits in seven innings yesterday while striking out and walking nobody, thereby prompting Jason Cole to issue this semi-alarming tweet on the hurler who's not doing himself any favors of late:
Martin Perez induced only two swings and misses out of his 79 pitches today. That's an issue.— Jason Cole (@LoneStarDugout) June 11, 2012
The most elegant and least messy and, for that matter, most favorable choice from that whole "let's try and actually win this stupid June 16th game" angle would seem to be Ross, with Kirkman sort of feeling like the only other viable option; actually, I'm not sure any of the other options come especially close on the sensibility scale. If you buy into that notion, then this element of the rotation puzzle is pretty easy to solve -- either Washington and company cave on this issue and give the start to Ross, or they don't and it goes to Kirkman. Or Nolan flips a coin and forces one of the pair to call it Anton Chigurh style, with the winner getting that spot start and the loser meeting an unfortunate demise.
Because, you know, it wouldn't be fair if Nolan called it for them.