Outside of the four impressive innings of two-hit, one-run and no-walk baseball woven together by Jason Jennings, I can find little else of positive note worth taking away from Monday afternoon's dreadful 5-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners in Surprise.
Jason Ellison went 2-for-2, I guess? Yippee.
Jennings dispelled any lingering concerns the Rangers might have had about his velocity on Monday, ramping his trademark sinker up to 87 MPH while flashing a "sharp" slider that has caught the eye of players and coaches alike:
"Jennings was the bright spot of the day," [pitching coach Mark] Connor said. "His command was good, and his velocity jumped up a little bit. I just wanted to see it creep up a little, and it's creeping up there."
The club had previously expressed some degree of concern that Jennings might have to begin the 2008 season on the 15-day disabled list, in order to further improve upon his lackluster velocity. Such a development would have almost certainly forced Jennings to miss his scheduled April 8th start (the date of the Rangers' home opener against the Baltimore Orioles in Arlington), a possibility that the Dallas native was eager to avoid.
Jennings, 29, completed his four innings of work in fewer than 60 pitches, and went on to toss another 17 pitches in the bullpen. He's expected to put in more long-tossing between starts to further strengthen his pitching arm, which should solidify his role as the #3 starter in the Rangers' Opening Day starting rotation.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News notes that right-hander Eric Hurley is still third in the ongoing competition for the final spot in the rotation behind Luis Mendoza (the current front-runner, per T.R. Sullivan) and Sidney Ponson, but that his chances of breaking camp as a Ranger aren't quite dead yet. Mendoza is scheduled to pitch both today and Sunday, while Ponson is scheduled to pitch Friday; a couple more poor outings from the hurlers could open the door for Hurley.
Grant also writes that the relief quartet of C.J. Wilson (left biceps tendinitis), Joaquin Benoit (weak right arm), Eddie Guardado (strained left knee tendon) and Kazuo Fukumori looks to be on target for Opening Day in terms of health, but that the final four bullpen spots are still up for grabs:
[...] Wes Littleton and Jamey Wright have pitched well in middle- and long-relief roles. The Rangers would like to have one more of each for the start of the regular season. [Robinson] Tejeda or Franklyn German, the most impressive reliever in camp, could be in the mix for the former. Tejeda is expected to pitch again today, and German will go Thursday and Friday. Being effective on back-to-back days is crucial for a middle reliever.
Rupe, Scott Feldman and Kameron Loe could be the finalists for the other long relief spot. Rupe pitched two innings Monday and is expected to be stretched out to three. Feldman has already had a four-inning stint.
Mike Hindman of "Rangers Farm Report" has some final ruminations to offer on his weekend in Surprise, including the following thoughts on hard-throwing right-hander Wilmer Font, whom Hindman believes would have been one of "two or three candidates" to go #1 overall in the 2008 MLB Draft had he grown up stateside:
Font, who turns 18 in late May, is the most outlandishly gifted young pitching prospect I've ever seen.Not only did he show the big, ungodly gas (98 mph), but his breaking ball and changeup are both far more advanced than I'd expected them to be. Moreover, he's a guy who seems to be playing the game on his own time.
What I mean by that is not that he works slow, but that when he's on the mound, you get the impression that he knows it's his ballgame to do with as he pleases. He's the center attention. He's aware of it. And he seems to like it that way. Every element of a true ace resides in the Wilmer Font package, and those elements that aren't yet fully developed aren't terribly far away from being so.
It's hard to imagine that he'll need three more years to flesh everything out. Really hard.
ESPN.com's Keith Law, meanwhile, is similarly optimistic about not only Font, but right-hander Neftali Feliz as well:
Neftali Feliz was part of Texas' substantial haul from Atlanta for Mark Teixeira last summer, but was pitching in the Appalachian League at the time and didn't get much attention when the trade occurred. Feliz has an electric arm, throwing 92-97 mph fastballs without much effort. He has a reliever's delivery, almost slinging the ball from a three-quarter to low three-quarter slot, but takes a nice long stride and explodes forward off the mound. His best secondary pitch is his changeup; he turns the pitch over well and will throw the pitch away to left-handed hitters. His slider is short with a little tilt, but he has little feel for the pitch and has trouble with it backing up on him.
Feliz was just the opening act for the star attraction, 17-year-old Wilmer Font. Font checks in at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds and attracted a crowd of pitchers behind the plate to watch him work. Fitting for a big guy, he has a big fastball, hitting 98 and working mostly at 93-96 mph, with good downhill plane, and he shows good command for a 17-year-old with just 45 innings of U.S. experience. There's an obvious plan to work down in the zone, and he can execute on it well given his age and history. His secondary stuff is still raw; his slider was a little ahead of his changeup, with good tilt but a long, loose break. His arm action is a little long in back, but his delivery is otherwise solid, and his velocity is very easy.
The Hardball Times has published their fantastic "Five Questions" season preview for the Texas Rangers, penned by Lone Star Ball's Adam Morris.
Gil LeBreton of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram appears to be just a bit too worked up over David Murphy's fabulous spring numbers, all but suggesting that the 26-year-old outfielder should be the club's starting left fielder to begin the 2008 season. Really?
Former Ranger great R.A. Dickey, who tossed three shutout innings against his former club on Monday, is the main focus of Jim Caple's latest ESPN.com Page 2 article (complete with video!)
Rangerfans.com's Joe Siegler has some entertaining thoughts on the current state of the baseball card industry worthy of your perusal, including a few high-resolution shots of the newer "photoshopped" cards.
And finally, Juan Gonzalez is hurt. Again.
Quick Hits: Outfielder Frank Catalanotto (back spasms) went 0-for-3 on Monday, his first game since last Thursday...outfielder Milton Bradley is now expected to bypass the minor leagues entirely, and will attempt to DH in Friday's "A" game...right-hander Michael Main (rib stress fracture) is not expected to pitch before late May, though the Rangers weren't planning to send him on assignment until late May regardless...Baseball America reports that outfielder Julio Borbon will open the 2008 season at High-A Bakersfield.