And just as the angst over the Rangers' post-April mediocrity and assortment of difficulties reached its apparent climax and just when it seemed that the sky might be caving in upon the Rangers' heads, they go out and win seven of nine games in pretty convincing fashion, and the starting rotation (sans Scott Feldman) kicks its game into a monstrous new gear. There's a lot of work left to be done, a lot of guys who still need to get healthy and perhaps a roster-bolstering trade or two that needs to be engineered, but the Rangers back on a nice little run, and they're making it awfully hard for anyone to stay mad at them right now:
● Another chapter of this oddly spellbinding Colby Lewis narrative is being written right now, a very K/BB-intensive chapter, and regardless of your opinion on his long-term prospects here in Texas, you have to acknowledge that we're watching something pretty remarkable unfold right now. He rarely gets the fastball above 90 mph at this point (only 61 of his pitches this season have been clocked at 90.0 mph or better, and only 14 times has he been clocked at 91.0 mph or better), he leads the Rangers in home runs allowed by a significant margin, he's got the degenerative hip condition that still elicits concern about how he'll be performing three, twelve, twenty-four months from now ... but right now, he's got it.
There are those that will downplay Lewis's dominance yesterday (7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 10 K, 1 BB, 0 HR, 92 pitches) because he shut down the Astros, but he boasted full command of everything in his arsenal and even sharper bite on the slider than usual, and I feel pretty comfortable in declaring that he would have manhandled even a good lineup. Two items of particular note: (a) Lewis finished seven swinging strikeouts with the slider, which is his second-best single-game total since his return to Texas, and (b) Lewis, per ESPN's Stats & Info database, wields a 26.9 percent swinging-strike rate on the slider this year -- the second-best rate among 80 major league starting pitchers who have thrown at least 50 sliders thus far this season, behind only Edwin Jackson. It's a monster pitch.
After 96 innings pitched thus far this season, Lewis is sitting on a Cliff Lee-esque strikeout-to-walk ratio of 84-to-12, with the only fly in the ointment being the still-high 1.4 homers per nine innings rate; even there, though, you're talking about Lewis having allowed just one homer in his last four starts, and though this probably sounds a bit strange and incongruous after his May struggles, Lewis is very much interjecting himself right into the middle of the All-Star conversation. That doesn't carry the kind of impact it once did thanks to the pervasive cynicism that baseball fans feel towards the All-Star Game nowadays (the weird selection process, "this time it counts" and all of that), but after everything he's been through to get here ... yeah, that would be pretty cool.
● It would also be cool to see Justin Grimm toe the big league rubber at least one more time before he's once again relegated to Double-A Frisco, although that may end up being a no-go with Roy Oswalt quite possibly being ready to go come Friday (the date of Grimm's next scheduled start), and, unfortunately, Grimm can't replace Scott Feldman during this rotation turn because Feldman is slated to start on Tuesday at San Diego. On Saturday night, though, Grimm gave you just about everything you could hope for -- he attacked the Astros with low-90s heat (grazing 94 mph at one point) and a morale-crushing swing-and-miss curveball, and though he was predictably socked in the jaw a few times, he still became just the 11th starting pitcher pitcher in at least the last 95 years to punch out seven batters and walk no one in his major league debut:
|Sammy Stewart||1978-09-01 (2)||BAL||CHW||5.1||6||2||2||0||9||0||57|
|Floyd Weaver||1962-09-30 (2)||CLE||LAA||5.0||3||1||1||0||8||1||65|
He won't be a viable long-term rotation piece unless/until he develops his third pitch -- the change-up -- into a legitimate offering, but he's good enough right now to give you 5-6 innings and keep you in the game, and that, unfortunately, may be more than what you can say for Scott Feldman at this point. If the Rangers stick with their current rotation schedule and don't use Thursday's off day to skip over anyone, and if they elect to bring Oswalt into the fold on Friday, the earliest date that Grimm could replace Feldman in the rotation is on June 25th vs. Detroit ... by which point Derek Holland could very well be back. Either way, though, I don't think we've seen the last of Grimm.
● On Friday night, the Rangers scored no runs on five baserunners through the first four innings, and then blew up for five runs in the fifth inning. On Saturday night, the Rangers scored no runs on two baserunners through the first five innings, and then blew up for five runs in the sixth inning. On Sunday afternoon, the Rangers scored no runs on seven baserunners through the first five innings, and then blew up for seven runs in the sixth inning. Last Thursday night was the Diamondbacks' curb-stomping of Texas with Scott Feldman on the bump (where the Rangers pretty much did nothing after the first inning), and one night before that was the narrow 1-0 Harrison/Nathan shutout. To say that it's been a strange five days for the offense would be a vast understatement.
● Turning my attention back once more to guys who got play in last Friday's "what's wrong with ..." installment, Michael Young injected a bit of life into what had been his cratering triple-slash line by stroking a run-scoring single and collecting his first multi-walk game of the season on Sunday. Ian Kinsler, meanwhile, popped out with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth inning, put an enormous target on his back by not even bothering to run down to first base, and then nearly popped out again with two outs and the bases loaded in the sixth inning ... but that one crept just far enough behind the backstop to land in foul territory, and he proceeded to smash a 3-2 bases-clearing triple into the left-center field gap that rammed open the floodgates and cut off the stream of snarky comments.
● Neither Tanner Scheppers nor Michael Kirkman seem to have especially secure footing in the bullpen hierarchy right now, and while it was only one game, it was nevertheless a rough game for both -- Scheppers got dinged for a couple of runs on three hits and a walk while recording just two outs, in an appearance where the stuff looked good but the location was poor, and Kirkman, after going walk/fly out/pop out to begin the ninth inning in a six-run game, gave up another runner on an Elvis Andrus error (beyond his control), but then issued another walk and then nearly walked in a run before finally inducing a game-ending Jose Altuve ground out. Yeah, that wasn't a good look.
● Shortly before yesterday's sixth-inning outburst that put Texas ahead for good, I facetiously asked the Twitterverse to give me someone to blame for Colby Lewis being behind despite pitching a gem, and was slightly taken aback by the responses that named Yorvit Torrealba. Yeah, he got eaten alive on what ended up being a two-base wild pitch, but he's been getting unanimous praise for his game-calling this season (I strongly doubt yesterday was an exception in that regard), did a masterful job of framing Lewis's pitches (which, along with the sharp game-calling, is something that both saber and non-saber types can appreciate), and ... yeah, it was strange to see Torrealba getting pegged on that particular count, given the rest of his positive contributions behind the plate.
But then, I've also found the smattering of calls on Twitter to just outright release Torrealba -- and the occasional labeling of those who disagree with that notion as Torrealba apologists or lovers -- to be pretty odd, too, because even though the bat hasn't been where you'd like to see it this year, he's still a fully capable No. 2 catcher, and trying to get cute and find an upgrade there is pretty likely to net you no meaningful upgrade at all, with the added downside of having to pay both Torrealba's salary and that of his replacement, plus whatever talent you would end up relinquishing if you were to make a trade for his replacement. I just don't get it.